Not one driver prosecuted under new phone law

Legislation closed loophole allowing motorists to escape fines for texting

Paschal Donohoe: said he planned to revisit in legislation the use of mobile phones and electronic communications

Paschal Donohoe: said he planned to revisit in legislation the use of mobile phones and electronic communications

 

Not one driver has been prosecuted under a law introduced last May to target motorists who text while behind the wheel.

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

It was already illegal to text while driving, but Mr Varadkar announced the offence would now attract a mandatory court summons and a fine, instead of just penalty points.

The Department of Transport’s view was that penalty points are seen as a lesser offence to mandatory court appearances and that this, coupled with a “severe financial penalty” would be a more effective deterrent for what is considered a very dangerous and growing road safety issue.

However, the move is understood to have come as a surprise to senior members of the Road Traffic Corps as it had not been discussed to any significant degree prior to the announcement.

No prosecutions

In correspondence last week, seen by The Irish Times, Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe admitted no prosecution had been taken under the new legislation nine months after its introduction on May 1st.

He said he planned to revisit in legislation the use of mobile phones and electronic communications.

Mr Donohoe also planned to consult gardaí to ensure they have the powers to effectively enforce road safety law.

According to gardaí there were 30,000 cases of holding a mobile phone while driving last year. It is unclear if the new law has had a deterrent effect since its introduction.

Several members of the Traffic Corps said they were not surprised the law is not being used, citing the complexity of gathering evidence to support a prosecution.

Hands-free kits

“The fact is not many drivers text with the phone up on top of the steering wheel, where you can see it, and most hands-free kits are low down.

“So it is hard to prove a distracted driver was using a mobile phone. They could tell the court they were just changing the radio station.

“Unless you happen across them while they are stopped at lights and can clearly see down into the vehicle you have no chance.”

Another garda said officers do not have the powers to seize and examine a mobile phone from someone suspected of texting and driving, meaning they cannot pull over a driver and check if a phone was being used.

As a result gardaí said they are using the penalty point offence of holding a mobile phone while driving rather than the new law to target mobile phone use. On August 1st, 2014, the penalty points for this offence rose from two to three.

Susan Gray, founder of road safety group Parc, called on legislators and senior gardaí to consult officers who are on the ground before any proposed laws are introduced.

“Only when legislators, senior gardaí and officers on the ground are all moving in the same direction will we see effective laws.”

Under the new rules, 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.