Just three drivers convicted over mobile phone use

Gardaí have been slow to use the new law due to concerns about the gathering of evidence to support a prosecution

Last year 77,414 penalty points were issued to motorists detected driving while holding a mobile phone

Last year 77,414 penalty points were issued to motorists detected driving while holding a mobile phone

 

Nine drivers have been prosecuted and three convicted under a law introduced almost four years ago to target motorists who text and “access information” on their smart phones while driving.

The law was introduced by then minister for transport Leo Varadkar in May 2014 to close a loophole which meant drivers could escape fines and penalties if they were texting or browsing on a phone which was resting in a cradle.

While it was already illegal to text while driving, Mr Varadkar decided the new offence would attract a mandatory court appearance and a fine on conviction, instead of penalty points. It is also understood gardaí were not consulted prior to the introduction of the new penalties.

At the time the Department of Transport said a mandatory court appearances coupled with a “severe financial penalty” was a more effective deterrent for what was considered a very dangerous road safety issue.

In response to questions from The Irish Times, the Courts Service said nine drivers had been prosecuted under the Restriction on Use of Mobile Phones Regulations 2014, and three drivers had been convicted.

Gardaí have been slow to use the new law due to concerns about the gathering of evidence to support a prosecution.

This is because drivers who text or browse on their mobile tend to do it low down in the car at near lap height. This means it is hard for a Garda to have a clear enough view of the incident to be able to state in court that a driver was texting, as opposed to changing the car radio or adjusting the temperature.

One Traffic Corps member said shortly after the law was introduced: “Unless you happen across them [the driver] while they are stopped at lights and can clearly see down into the vehicle you have no chance.”

A second factor is that gardaí do not have the powers to seize and examine a mobile phone from someone suspected of texting while driving, meaning they cannot check if a phone was being used.

Asked for his view on penalties for mobile phone use by drivers, Minister for Transport Shane Ross said: “I think mobile phones are a curse . . . [but] we have no plans for doing anything immediately on them.

“If there are any measures that should be taken; or the RSA, or my officials convinces us that should be taken, we would be happy to introduce them.”

Last year 77,414 penalty points were issued to motorists detected driving while holding a mobile phone. This offence attracts three penalty points, and five on conviction in court.

The 2014 law states anyone caught texting or “accessing information” on their phones faces a mandatory court appearance and a fine of up to €1,000 for a first offence.

This rises to a maximum of €2,000 for a second, and a possible three-month jail sentence, and a €2,000 fine, for three offences or more within a 12-month period.