Thursday 5 December 2019

Ministers back penalty points reform - once law is not in place before election

Fine Gael ministers waved through proposals for reform of the penalty points system because they believe it will not be completed before a general election. Stock Image
Fine Gael ministers waved through proposals for reform of the penalty points system because they believe it will not be completed before a general election. Stock Image

Kevin Doyle and Hugh O'Connell

Fine Gael ministers waved through proposals for reform of the penalty points system because they believe it will not be completed before a general election.

In a bid to head off a revolt Transport Minister Shane Ross agreed graduated speeding fines won't come into effect until a national review of speed limits is published.

A number of rural ministers were prepared to try to derail the minister's plan - but backed down after being briefed on the proposals by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Sources said the Taoiseach's message to his colleagues was not to create a fight with Mr Ross over the issue. The fact the plan got through Cabinet without major debate is a victory for the Independent Alliance minister.

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However, Fine Gael ministers don't believe the legislation will be passed before a likely election date in April or May.

A Government spokesperson admitted: "Time wouldn't necessary be anybody's friend at the moment."

But it is understood Mr Ross has secured agreement with the Department of An Taoiseach that his legislation will be listed as a priority after Christmas. He wants to reduce the punishment for speeders at the lower end of the scale, but dramatically increase the fall-out for the worst offenders.

Drivers caught breaking the speed limit by 20-30kmh will get four penalty points and a €100 fine. A new offence of driving more than 30kmh above the limit is to be created and will result in a court prosecution and €2,000 fine and seven penalty points.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney confirmed the review of speed limits was crucial to convincing Fine Gael colleagues to provisionally back the changes.

"I think the review of the speed limits made a big difference because I think what people don't want is people who are caught for speeding unfairly and then punished unfairly," he said.

"What we don't want is people essentially being stopped for speeding when they're travelling through areas where there's significant changes in terms of speeding zones that drivers can't see or are caught out by."

Mr Coveney said the review would lead to changes to how speed limit zones are applied and address inconsistencies between counties on borders and between county councils and city councils "where you travel from one end to the other".

He said: "There were a number of examples pointed to during the discussion around the cabinet table that need to be changed.

"I think Shane's commitment to publish that and put a review mechanism in place so if people feel there's an unfair speed limit application that actually they can appeal and have it looked at, I think that certainly addressed some of the concerns."

Mr Ross has also committed to designing an appeals mechanism which will allow "questionable speed limits" to be reconsidered by road authorities.

A process will be put in place whereby, if an individual or group believe a particular speed limit in a location is not correct (too high or too low), a technical review which takes account of the Speed Limit Guidelines will be undertaken by an assessment panel.

The Government spokesperson said the mechanism doesn't yet have a name "so it's really just in its very infancy at the moment".

In a statement Mr Ross indicated he hopes to get the legislation passed by the Dáil and Seanad as quickly as possible.

"The objective is not to penalise people but to change behaviour. We don't want to catch people speeding; we want to encourage them to stop speeding," he said.

He said the current "one penalty fits all" system "is not particularly fair".

"Increasingly, it is international practice to make distinctions based on how much people are speeding over the limit. This enables a focus on the more dangerous drivers and offers a deterrent to the most dangerous speeding offences," he said.

How speeding rules will work

Schools, businesses, community groups and individuals will be able to have speed limits in their area reviewed by engineers under a plan agreed at Cabinet.

The precise process for a new appeal mechanism is to be worked out - but it is understood it will involve a panel of road assessors making recommendations to local councils. Officials in Transport Minister Shane Ross's department will begin work on the system in January.

Where an individual or group believe a speed limit is too high or too low, they can complete a standard form to be referred to a panel of three assessors. Reports will be presented to councillors on an annual basis for adoption in new bye-laws.

Irish Independent

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