Raised points limit gives learners one more chance

Amended law allows for at least three offences before being banned from driving. Plus: concern over increase in vehicle fires


A new law to impose a reduced penalty points limit on inexperienced drivers has been changed to permit at least three offences before being banned. The Road Traffic Bill 2013 had proposed a learner permit holder be banned after accumulating six points, but this has been raised to seven after TDs expressed concerns that an inexperienced driver could be off the road after committing just two road traffic offences.

This is because the legislation provides for increases in the points applied to some of the most commonly detected road traffic offences: speeding, illegal mobile phone use, and not wearing a seatbelt. Penalty points for these offences will now rise from two to three under the new law, as part of a series of legislative measures being introduced by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar.

Fine Gael’s Helen McEntee proposed the increase in the points limit for learner drivers, noting that currently a driver had to be caught speeding or using a mobile phone six times before they were disqualified. Under the new regime a learner driver would face a ban if they were caught for two such offences.

Accepting the proposal, Mr Varadkar said there was a risk that the new legislation was going too far, although he admitted he was not “100 per cent sure” it was necessary.He noted that a limit of seven points would move the Republic out of alignment with Northern Ireland, where a novice driver faces a ban after six points.

A project is underway to have penalty points mutually recognised in the Republic and Northern Ireland. This would see points acquired by a Northern Irish driver in this State applied to their licence and vice versa. As part of this project the points applied for road traffic offences and the periods of disqualification need to be harmonised.

Under the Road Traffic (No 2) Bill 2013, which is due to become law early next year, a learner permit holder will also face two penalty points if detected driving without being accompanied by a full licence holder. This measure is recognition that while driving unaccompanied is already an offence it is rarely enforced.

The Minister and the Road Safety Authority said young and recently qualified drivers are involved in a disproportionally high level of serious collisions and that a restrictive probation period is

Other measures include a requirement for people who pass their driving test to display an N plate on the front and rear of their vehicle for two years after obtaining a licence.

Vehicle fires now more common than house fires, according to Dept of Environment

Problems with the rules on end-of life-vehicles have been blamed for vehicle fires becoming more common than house fires. Data from the Department of the Environment show that in 2011 firefighters attended more than 3,500 vehicle fires compared with 3,490 house fires. The same pattern can be seen in data from 2010.

Conor Faughnan of AA Ireland said there was a general lack of awareness among car owners of vehicle fires and the associated costs and dangers. He said vehicle fires fell into two broad categories: those that were started deliberately and those in a vehicle in use. Mr Faughnan said weaknesses with the current provisions for end-of-life vehicles were also a significant factor.

“The absence of a proper end-of-life vehicle regime means there are a growing number of these older vehicles available which will never pass an NCT. Very often these cars are sold, sometimes for scrap or parts, and find their way back on to the road. These vehicles are then driven until they fall apart and are torched.”

He warned drivers tempted to sell a clapped-out car to someone who calls to the door that if they remained the registered owner they were liable for the fire brigade call-out cost, which averages between €400 and €500.

Mr Faughnan called on the Minister for the Environment to change the end-of-vehicle regime and introduce a tax-back scheme whereby the last registered owner would get a “reward” of several hundred euros once their vehicle was disposed of properly.

Unwanted cars
Mr Faughnan said the destruction of unwanted cars was a major cause of vehicle fires and noted that AA roadside technicians had not reported a significant increase in fires in vehicles in use. An electrical fault or issue with the fuel system were the two most common causes of fires among vehicles in use.

“If a fuel pipe frets against another part it can leak and this will cause a fire.”

Ross MacCobb, the national vice-chairman of The Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association, said vehicle fires are a daily part of his job as a firefighter and paramedic in Dublin.

“The majority we would attend appear to be the result of anti-social behaviour. We also get vehicle fires when a person was just driving along. Fires after a collision are rare.”

Vehicle fires were highly dangerous due to the materials used and the contents of the fuel tank and engine, he said.

“There are a huge number of risks and they are very fierce fires. Aside from the fuels, there is often magnesium in the steering column, the tyres will often explode and the rubber can be a projectile.”

Another risk can be the contents of the boot. “You can find anything in the boot, from a body to weapons. You just have to check them.”

Despite the risks he said firefighters were reluctant to allow a vehicle fire burn itself out due to the highly carcinogenic nature of the smoke.

The association represents around one third of fire fighters.