MOTORISTS face 16 new penalty-point offences and fines next year, the Irish Independent has learned.
Aimed at issues such as seatbelts, vehicle lighting and crash helmets on motorcyclists, they will bring to 63 the number of road offences that attract penalty points.
Drivers who put their babies beside them in rear-facing car seats next to airbags will face points under the raft of new offences being rolled out.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has said he is committed to bringing in the new penalty points by the end of 2012.
He also revealed that he is considering raising the penalty points that motorists get for common offences, such as speeding or driving while using a mobile phone.
The new points offences planned for 2012 include:
- A tightening up on seatbelt laws to cover children travelling in goods vehicles, not just in cars.
- Penalty points for drivers who do not have a good view through their windscreen, which could affect those who have very dark tinted windows.
- Driving a car with a faulty light will become a stand-alone offence, attracting one point or three upon conviction in court.
- Bus and truck drivers caught not wearing a seat belt will receive two penalty points and a €60 fine or four points upon conviction in court.
- And for the first time, driving a motorcycle without a crash helmet will become a points offence.
One of the new offences will act as a major deterrent for drivers who put their infants in rear-facing baby seats in the front seat of the car.
Many of these seats can block airbags located at the front of the vehicle, meaning that drivers are liable for two penalty points on payment of a fixed charge -- rising to four if the driver is convicted in court.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) has warned that rear-facing baby seats are best placed in the back seat and "should never be used in a front passenger seat that has an active airbag".
This is because of the risk of the baby's neck being broken if the airbag is deployed in a crash.
Many of the other new offences relate to trucks, trailers, taxis and buses and tighten up laws on seatbelts, maximum weights and lighting.
The new fines have not been finalised but will all be in the €60 to €80 range.
Mr Varadkar justified the clampdown, saying: "Each measure we take to advance road safety increases the likelihood that lives will be saved.
"This Government has made road safety a priority and we will continue to focus efforts on saving lives in 2012."
The minister also confirmed that he is considering an increase in penalty points for speeding and mobile-phone use.
The RSA has recommended that the points for speeding should be increased from two to three. And driving while using a mobile phone has now overtaken not wearing seatbelts as the second biggest offence after speeding.
The penalty-points system, which enters its 10th year in 2012, was last night branded a major success in changing driver behaviour.
New figures show that most drivers who get penalty points turn over a new leaf to avoid more points, hefty fines and higher insurance premiums.
More than one in three motorists have received penalty points. But only 138 of the 758,665 motorists with points have notched up the maximum 12, which is enough to put them off the road for six months.
More than half-a-million drivers are sticking on just two points, according to figures to the end of November.
RSA spokesman Brian Farrell said: "It is a case of once bitter, twice shy. People who get points are not prepared to get many more and risk losing their licence or paying higher insurance premiums."
Mr Farrell said the fact that there were now almost 100,000 drivers with points for mobile phone use showed that gardai were determined to clamp down on this.
He added: "It's simply crazy to use your mobile phone while driving as you are four times more likely to be involved in a crash. And texting while driving is just incredibly dangerous."
Automobile Association spokesman Conor Faughnan said the penalty-points system had actually succeeded in changing driver behaviour.
He added: "I predicted that it would be a success when it was first introduced, and it is clear from the figures that this is the case."