Motorists caught on mobiles to get double penalty points
PENALTY points are to be doubled for motorists caught using a mobile phone while driving.
That will increase points for using a mobile from two to four.
It is among a range of measures designed to re-introduce the 'fear factor' into the points system.
The measures will be outlined in the new Road Traffic Bill 2012 and will take effect next year.
Authorities regard mobile phone use and texting while driving as being at epidemic levels.
More than 110 drivers are being caught every day using their phones behind the wheel.
A total of 98,200 penalty points have been issued to motorists for using their mobile phone so far this year.
Authorities believe drivers will be far less inclined to risk using their phone if they face four points for a single offence, as that would be a third of the 12 that would automatically disqualify them from driving for six months.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar had asked the the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications to review the penalty points system and their report proposed a range of changes.
The Irish Independent has learnt the Government has accepted the recommendations.
Mr Varadkar has decided to introduce a tougher penalty points regime in an attempt to "change the culture".
Mr Varadkar said the behaviour of some drivers on mobile phones was unacceptable.
"People everywhere know that society will no longer tolerate drinking and driving, but the message still needs to be sent out that it's not acceptable to text or make a call while driving," he told the Irish Independent.
"It's very dangerous. We have to change the culture and get to a point where it becomes socially unacceptable," he added.
The changes to the penalty points offences would be included in the Road Traffic Bill that was being currently drafted, he said.
Mr Varadkar, who was speaking after the annual Road Safety Authority (RSA) lecture at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in Dublin, said he also wanted to increase penalty points for speeding in order to further improve road safety.
However, this would not happen until an ongoing review of speed limits had been completed by his department.
This review involves a range of bodies including the gardai and the Automobile Association (AA) and would not be concluded for some months, he said.
Transport Committee chairperson Tom Hayes TD said: "Use of mobile phones is viewed as particularly dangerous by road users and, accordingly, the committee supports the recommended four points."
Penalty points were introduced in Ireland in November 2002, and were credited with leading to a dramatic fall in road deaths in subsequent months.
However, road safety campaigners have been clamouring for higher points for certain offences including mobile phone use, to 're-invigorate' the system. An AA survey found that 50pc of motorists admit to making phone calls from mobile phones, while 40pc say they have sent texts.
Gardai are also to be given powers to check the mobile phone records of drivers involved in fatal crashes.
Such a move would enable investigators to find out if the motorists were on the phone or texting at the time of the accident. If they survived the crash they could then be prosecuted in court.