Sunday 19 November 2017

Overhaul to eliminate loopholes in road-traffic laws 'will take years'

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe
Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe

Philip Ryan and Paul Melia

An overhaul of road traffic legislation aimed at cracking down on legal loopholes will take "a number of years" to complete, the Government has admitted.

Work on consolidating more than 50 years of legislation will not begin until early 2016, and will involve a comprehensive scoping exercise to determine how much time and resources will be required, the Department of Transport has said.

The move comes amid growing concern about some of the country's most dangerous drivers escaping convictions due to the complex nature of road traffic laws.

There are at least 18 separate pieces of legislation dating back to 1933, with almost 640 different statutory instruments enacted to deal with offences ranging from drink driving to speeding, according to - the website of the Office of the Attorney General.

The most recent controversy involves figures released to Independent TD Tommy Broughan which found that, of 20,000 motorists who appeared before the district courts on drink driving charges between January 2013 and May 2015, just 6,709 were convicted.

It follows revelations in recent months that motorists facing speeding charges were escaping prosecution because summonses were not being served by gardaí , while hundreds of convicted drivers were escaping penalty points because they did not take their licence with them to court.

The Department of Transport said that gardaí would mount further prosecutions from next month against motorists identified as failing to have produced their licence in a bid to "promote greater compliance".

The cases will be taken in a number of courts. The penalty for a first offence is a fine of up to €1,000, rising to €2,000 for a second offence and €2,000 and/or three months' imprisonment for a third or subsequent offence.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman said that work on consolidating road traffic legislation would only commence following the passage of the Road Traffic Bill 2015 through the Houses of the Oireachtas. This legislation allows for gardaí to test motorists for illegal drugs, and is currently being drafted.

"It is expected that it (the bill) will be finalised in the coming weeks with the intention of enacting it by the end of the year," she said.

"After the passage of the 2015 Bill, the department will begin examining the process of consolidation. This will, as a first step, involve a scoping exercise to estimate what is necessary, how much time will be required, and what resources will need to be allocated to the project.

"This is not a short-term project and is expected to take a number of years."

The overhaul is aimed at cracking down on legal loopholes exploited by solicitors which result in motorists escaping prosecution. It is hoped that the changes will result in the law becoming less open to interpretation and result in more successful outcomes.

"We have reached a time where we don't need new laws, but we need to consolidate the existing laws," one source said.

However, it is accepted that even the consolidated legislation will be subject to future examination due to technological advances and other factors.

There are also concerns in the Department of Transport that there is still a culture of drinking and driving among older motorists.

"A younger person would be mortified to get caught drink driving but there is still a belief among some older people that they will be able to dodge conviction if they get caught," a Government source said.

The Government is anticipating pressure from lobby groups when it is drafting the consolidated law, but it is not expected to amend existing legislation or introduce new laws until the consolidation process is completed.

Irish Independent

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