Minister tries to accelerate drivers' points system plan

 

The Minister for Transport, Mr Brennan, met senior gardaí yesterday in an effort to overcome delays in the introduction of the proposed penalty points system for drivers.

Mr Brennan has set September as a new target date for the introduction of the scheme, which was first promised in 1998.

He said the delays had been caused by technology problems. He planned to meet the computer company charged with installing the relevant software.

He said he was also planning further meetings with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and the Garda Síochána who, he said, would report back to him by the end of next week.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice confirmed yesterday that arrangements were in place to fund the computerised scheme, to be known as the Fixed Penalty Processing System.

Earlier this year it was revealed that the Department of Finance had refused to grant the necessary funding for the system, which will cost an estimated €11 million to set up.

The Government first pledged to introduce a penalty points system in July 1998 when it published its Road Safety Strategy. Speaking ahead of its launch, the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, said it was important to implement the strategy recommendations as soon as possible.

The strategy, he said, sought "to position us among the best in the world in relation to road safety".

The document featured a target date of 1999 for the introduction of legislation to provide for the scheme, and 2000 for the upgrading of Garda and other relevant information technology systems. It was not until March 2001, however, that the relevant legislation, the Road Traffic Bill, 2001, was published, while the appropriate computer systems have yet to be fully upgraded.

The legislation contains almost 70 offences to which penalty points are attached. A driver who accumulates 12 points in a three-year period will be disqualified from driving for six months.

Penalties range from one to three points for offences which lead to the payment of a fine to gardaí, and three to five points for those leading to a conviction in court.

The most serious offences, such as drink-driving, already attract automatic disqualification upon first court conviction and so are not included in the scheme.

Among those listed are: using a vehicle with defective brakes (one point, rising to three on conviction); speeding (two points, rising to four); and breaking a red light (two points, rising to five).

Drivers will be penalised at least two points for allowing a person aged under 17 to occupy a front or rear seat without a safety belt or appropriate child restraint. Provisional licence-holders are also covered by the scheme and will be penalised one point, rising to three on conviction, if caught driving unsupervised.

The 1998 strategy also included a target to reduce by 2002 road deaths by "a minimum of 20 per cent" on the 1997 figure of 472. Last year's toll of 411 represented a drop of 13 per cent since 1997.

The National Safety Council said earlier this year that full implementation of the strategy could save 200 lives a year.