Drivers still flouting phone law
Motorists are continuing to flout the law by using hand-held mobile phones while driving.
Some offenders even told gardai that they thought only phone calls were unlawful and that it was legal to send texts while driving.
More than 33,200 motorists were caught on the phone by gardai while behind the wheel in the past year.
This represents an increase on the 2007 figure and is only marginally down on the figure for 2010.
The new garda traffic supremo, Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahony, admitted yesterday that the latest figure for phone detections was "a source of serious concern".
He pointed out that while the publicity campaign about wearing seat belts had paid dividends among drivers and passengers over the past five years, with the number of detections being halved, there had not been a similar response over phone usage.
Mr O'Mahony warned that hand-held phones could be hugely distracting while driving and he said greater compliance with the law could help to save lives and serious injury.
He said the gardai would continue to crack down on offending motorists.
Mr O'Mahony was speaking at the official launch of Operation Focus, a 24-hour initiative aimed at concentrating garda resources on blackspot locations.
Focus began at 6am yesterday in the Dublin region, with traffic corps gardai setting up a total of 54 checkpoints around the capital.
These involved 110 gardai and more than 50 patrol cars, while a further fleet of garda vehicles patrolled the M50 motorway on a continuous basis over the 24-hour period.
The gardai were equipped with the latest ANPR (automated number-plate recognition) technology, which "read" 12,000 vehicles, while a further 14,000 vehicles were checked by the civilian-operated Go-Safe monitoring vans.
This is the start of a rollout of high-visibility operations across the region over the next six months.
"This is not about catching people who are breaking the law," Mr O'Mahony said.
"We opted for high-visibility operations to remind people that the laws are there and should be obeyed."
Although the number of fatalities on the nation's road dropped below 200 last year for the first time since records began in 1959, he said gardai could not become complacent.
This was confirmed by the death toll of 22 killed on the roads in the first seven weeks of 2012.
Chief Supt Aidan Reid, who is now doubling up as operational head of the National Traffic Bureau and the Dublin Traffic Corps, said they were compensating for the loss of personnel by making more efficient use of the latest technology and he pointed out that they still had some 900 gardai dedicated to traffic duties.
He said Dublin now had the safest roads of any capital city in Europe.
An analysis of trends emerging so far this year show that the times most likely for fatal traffic collisions are in the early evening from 4pm to 8pm, accounting for 46pc of incidents, and early morning, between midnight and 4am (32pc).
As a single group, young male drivers still account for 23pc of all road fatalities.
Chief Supt Reid called on all community, social, sports and educational groups to join the effort in improving road safety and he warned that errant drivers would be caught and prosecuted.