Hit-and-run drivers face crackdown as Government backs tougher jail sentences
MOTORISTS convicted of a hit-and-run offence face much stiffer penalties as part of a major crackdown on dangerous driving.
The cabinet tonight supported a Fianna Fail proposal which will see those who flee the scene of a crash handed a jail term of several years.
A mandatory minimum sentence is set to be introduced, which will bring hit-and-run offences in line with other road offences.
The measures are designed to "toughen up" the penalties handed down to motorists who leave the scene of a collision.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar believes the current penalty of a maximum six month prison term is "far too lenient" in cases of a serious hit-and-run such as fatalities.
The crackdown on hit-and- run drivers, contained in a Bill drawn up Fianna Fáil's Timmy Dooley, is due to debated in the Dail on Friday.
While Minister Varadkar accepts the majority of the measures, his spokesman said he is opposed to lengthening the period during which a driver can be tested for alcohol or drugs from three to 24 hours.
However the department said it received "sound medical advice" that this measure should not be implemented.
"The Minister wants to see meaningful jail sentences of several years being imposed for serious hit and run incidents," a spokesman told the Irish Independent.
"The aim is to deter people from leaving the scene of a collision, and ensure that appropriate penalties are in place for anyone who does leave the scene of an accident after causing death or serious injury," he added.
Advice on providing harsh sentences for hit- and- run offences has been sought from the Attorney General in recent months.
Deputy Dooley said he believed the proposals will ensure hit- and-run drivers will feel the "full rigours of the law".
He added: "Current legislation is far too lenient on those who deliberately flee the scene of an accident. The maximum jail sentence is just six months and the gardaí only have three hours to find the alleged offenders and test them for drugs and alcohol. "
The proposals are due to be introduced as an amendment to the Road Traffic No.2 Bill, which is currently in front of the Oireachtas.
The news of the crackdown comes following a number of tragic cases involving victims who have been struck down.
Deputy Dooley said he consulted with the family of 23-year-old Shane Farrell - who died in 2011 close to his home in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan.
The trainee barrister was knocked off his bicycle by a driver who then fled the scene.
His family spoke of their shock after the motorist responsible walked free from court in February of this year.
Lithuanian national Zigimantas Gridzuiska (39), was spared jail and instead was ordered to leave the jurisdiction after the trial judge described him as a "massive liability" who "offers nothing to the community".
The dead man's mother Lucia O'Farrell spoke of the family's grief, adding:"To lose a child is not a bereavement – it's an apocalypse."