Penalty points to play key role in ramped up road safety regime
Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe to reveal more offences prior to festive season
Chairwoman of the Road Safety Authority Liz O’Donnell at the RSA and An Garda Síochána launch of their Christmas and New Year road safety campaign. Photograph: Dara MacDónaill/The Irish Times
Further tightening of road safety measures involving changes to the penalty point system are to be announced by Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe, in early December.
The changes will affect the number of offences which make drivers liable for penalty points.
In some cases the changes will alter the manner in which penalty points are applied. For example, not having a valid NCT carries a five-point penalty on conviction. But under the new rules a driver can opt to admit the offence and accept three penalty points on detection at the roadside.
Department of Transport sources were reluctant to go into the detail of the new offences but it is understood penalty points will apply to the offence of learner drivers not displaying an L-plate.
A further offence for learner drivers which will garner penalty points is to be driving while not accompanied by a qualified driver.
For recently qualified drivers it will be an offence not to display an N-plate.
A range of further penalty points will apply to safety issues in the transport sector.
Sources said the question of the number of penalty points per offence, and the level of fines was being finalised.
News of the penalty point changes came as Mr Donohoe and the Road Safety Authority announced a tighter road-safety rules regime at the launch of the annual Christmas safety campaign.
Included are measures to take blood samples from drivers injured in crashes, and roadside drug-impairment tests.
Chairwoman of the Road Safety Authority Liz O’Donnell said research had shown that those who drove under the influence of drugs believed it was less shaming than drunk-driving.
She said research had also shown that drug-drivers believed their driving was perfectly fine. The research also showed a failure among drug-drivers to realise the risks posed by their behaviour.
Ms O’Donnell said this represented a “big awareness challenge”in terms of educating drug-drivers. But she warned that new roadside impairment tests were commencing immediately; and the message was that if you took drugs and drove, the gardaí would catch you.
Prof Denis Cusack of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety at UCD said roadside impairment tests including touching one’s nose and standing on one leg, while comical, were extremely difficult for drug-drivers to perform.
He said those on prescription and off-the-shelf medication had nothing to fear from the new anti-drug driving measures as long as they obeyed the medical advice and kept within the recommended dosage. But he warned the responsibility was on the driver not to drive if they did not feel fit.
He said further development of the drug-testing system will be incorporated in the forthcoming Road Traffic Bill, the heads of which are expected to be published by Mr Donohoe in coming weeks.
This will involve new Breathalyser-type machines that can test saliva for drugs and gardaí will be trained in their use next year.
Mandatory alcohol testing will become known as mandatory impairment testing to reflect the changes.
As of Wednesday morning, 179 people had died on the State’s roads since the beginning of the year, eight more than the figure of 171 for a similar period in 2013.
Fatalities in 2013 were 190 and there is concern figures for 2014 will exceed that number.
Road deaths hit a record low in 2012 when 162 people died.