Sunday 19 November 2017

One-in-five fined in €30m garda road clampdown

Traffic Corps accused of 'shooting fish in the ­barrel' as 357,189 drivers hit with fines in 2014

Tests: Despite the emphasis on drink driving, only 7,697 people were prosecuted last year for being over the limit
Tests: Despite the emphasis on drink driving, only 7,697 people were prosecuted last year for being over the limit
Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

One-in-five drivers were hit with penalty point fines last year, providing a massive €30m windfall for the Garda Traffic Corps.

New figures obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal gardai issued 357,189 'fixed charge penalty notices' (FCPNs) to motorists in 2014.

The revelation comes in the wake of the latest in a seemingly endless series of controversies over the quashing of penalty points.

And many senior gardai have expressed disquiet at what they say is the rampant prosecution of otherwise law-abiding citizens for minor traffic offences.

One officer described the clampdown on drivers as like "shooting fish-in-the-barrel policing".

He told the Sunday Independent: "It's all decent people who are being caught up. I'm not saying there should be squaring [the term used for quashing penalties] for some and not for others. That is wrong and nobody should ever do that.

"But what people see is that serious crime is not being investigated and gangland murderers are not being caught. Yet the whole media seems to be caught up in this business of guards and penalty points. There's indifference to what's going on. It's a poor kind of policing. It's shooting fish-in-the-barrel policing."

Another garda source complained that the traffic corps was becoming "a branch of Revenue".

Last week it emerged that 114 penalties quashed by senior officers last year are now the subject of another investigation as the Government announced the setting up of yet another semi-state authority to oversee the issuing and handling of the hundreds of thousands of points by gardai each year.

Of the fixed penalties handed out last year, more than half of these were for 'speeding', which carried an automatic €80 fine and two penalty points.

According to the garda website, 247,886 drivers were fined for speeding offences last year. A further 28,549 motorists received three points and €60 fines for talking on their mobile phones. A total of 11,018 were prosecuted for driving without wearing their safety belts.

However, the published figures do not include details of 'other' offences, such as illegal parking and driving in bus lanes. When these are taken into account, this brings the number of drivers hit by fines in 2014 up to 357,189, which is in or around the annual 'national performance indicator' target of 400,000 set for the traffic corps.

Garda management denies that traffic corps gardai are set targets.

However, this is contradicted by senior members of the force who also say bad practices have crept in whereby "lazy" traffic gardai pick certain spots where they know they can quickly maximise prosecutions. One source said certain gardai can reach ­weekly targets in a single morning by locating themselves in road locations at certain times where they know drivers will breach certain road rules.

The term 'maximise' is also used in the Garda Traffic Corps' 'performance indicator' guidelines which state that their roles should be to "maximise use of speed detection equipment, ie robot vehicles, handheld speed detectors and ANPR equipment" to "improve road safety".

While the annual prosecution figures remain at around the 400,000 level - about one in five of all drivers in the country - each year, the figures show that the gradual decrease in annual road fatalities has begun rising again after reaching a historical low of 162 in 2012. Last year 197 people were killed on our roads.

The 'national performance indicators' for the Garda Traffic Corps state that its work is to be measured against the "reduction in incidence of fatal and serious injuries and improved safety through increased road user compliance".

And despite the emphasis on drink driving as a cause of deaths, the statistics show that despite having carried out some 397,512 compulsory breath tests last year, gardai prosecuted just 7,697 people for being over the limit.

Garda sources claim the huge number of breath tests is due to the fact that traffic gardai have been set targets they are required to meet.

The traffic corps' performance indicators also call for the "increased use of mandatory alcohol testing and high visibility checkpoints".

Sunday Independent

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