Doubts raised over Shane Ross plans for graduated speed sanctions

Gardaí fear speeding prosecutions under Minister’s proposal will be contested robustly

Minister for Transport Shane  Ross has said motorists travelling in excess of the speed limit may face “four, six, eight or more points, depending on how fast they are going”. Photograph: Frank Miller

Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said motorists travelling in excess of the speed limit may face “four, six, eight or more points, depending on how fast they are going”. Photograph: Frank Miller

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Doubt has been expressed over plans to introduce harsher sanctions for excessive speeding.

Road safety advocacy group Parc and motoring body AA Ireland have both said while the plans were welcome in principle, they would be very hard to enforce.

Garda sources have also expressed doubt over the proposal by Minister for Transport and Tourism Shane Ross. He said he was considering new speeding sanctions that would involve more penalty points being incurred by those motorists caught driving furthest over the speed limit.

He told The Irish Times on Monday that a driving ban could be introduced for a first-time offence if the speed was very excessive.

However, Garda sources said under the new system speeding would become a much more serious offence, with one or two breaches resulting in a ban.

That would result in more cases being robustly contested, as has been the case with drink-driving prosecutions which also commonly result in driving bans.

Some of the gardaí were doubtful current legislation and speeding enforcement practices would withstand repeated closer legal scrutiny.

Speed zone

For example, ambiguity around identifying the exact location on a road where speed limit zones changed might be used to derail a case on a technicality, they believed.

Mr Ross said motorists travelling far in excess of the speed limit may now face “four, six, eight or more points, depending on how fast they are going, and I wouldn’t rule out disqualification on a first offence, for really extreme cases”.

The method of graduation, he added, and whether the points imposed would increase with every 10km or 20km over the limit a driver was travelling, was being worked on by his officials.

But he stressed there would be “multiple steps of graduation”.

Conor Faughnan of AA Ireland welcomed the idea by Mr Ross, before casting doubt on its practicability.

He noted a driving ban was already available for first-time speeding offences, saying they could be prosecuted under dangerous driving legislation which can carry a ban on conviction.

And he also believed many motorists and their lawyers would take issue with the ability of the Garda’s speed-detection equipment distinguishing between different grades of speeding.

Existing road traffic legislation was already “byzantine” and “a playground for lawyers”. And he believed the latest plans would make that situation worse.

“Irish legislation is already very strong. We need more gardaí to enforce those laws,” he said.

Technology needed

Chairwoman of road safety group Parc Susan Gray welcomed Mr Ross’s idea in theory. However, she was concerned the infrastructure required to ban motorists for grades of speeding did not exist.

She said the vast majority of drivers were already escaping penalty points for a range of offences because they were not producing their driver’s licence in courts. And those who should be banned were also failing to surrender their licences.

Because gardaí had no handheld device that could scan a driver’s licence produced to them at the roadside, they had no way of knowing if a driver they encountered should be driving or not. Ms Gray added the shortcomings already in the system needed to be addressed.

Mr Ross also maintained he was not interfering with the independence of the judiciary in calling for narrow guidelines for speeding offences.

This would give the judiciary less discretion when dealing with such cases. Mr Ross wants, for example, an automatic disqualification for all drink-driving offences.

At present those only marginally over the legal alcohol limit can incur fines and penalty points but they are not banned.

“We should consider giving the judges narrower guidelines so it gives them less discretion in the penalties they impose,” he said.

“The wrong message goes out if one judge gives the poor box for a traffic offence and another person awards penalty points and a big fine.

“Some people will take much greater chances, thinking they’re just going to get a very lenient fine.

“What I want to see is a consistency among the judges in the penalties they impose after conviction so that people who are thinking of offending or who have offended can be absolutely certain that they will get a certain degree of penalty.”

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