Wednesday 13 November 2019

Safer driving course for 'boy racers' may be extended - Donohoe

Pascal Donohoe
Pascal Donohoe

TRANSPORT Minister Pascal Donohoe is looking at proposals to extend a 'boy racers' safer driving course after a pilot scheme was deemed a success.

Young motorists sent by a judge on the Pro-Social Driving Course in Co Donegal have had a re-offending rate of less than one per cent. The current rate in the rest of the country is 30pc.

Meath man Gary Doggett, who has helped pilot the project with gardai, the probation service and District Court Judge Paul Kelly, has put proposals to the minister to extend the scheme to six more counties including Cavan, Monaghan, Leitrim, Sligo, Longford and Roscommon.

Judge Kelly has sent 104 motorists on the four-day education programme since 2012. Just one motorist has appeared back in court on similar charges.

Sentences for offences are then later reduced or withdrawn altogether for first time offenders.

Motorists who have served part of a road ban sentence have also been given the option to go on the course in order to get their driving licenses back early.

Offenders don't actually do any driving during the four-day course, but do talk sessions with victims of car crimes and counsellors trained in psychology and criminology.

"They meet people who have lost loved ones and get to hear the first hand consequences of dangerous driving," said Gary Doggett.

"They also get to meet members of the fire service who talk of the trauma of dealing with the affects of a fatal road crash.

"But it's also about simple attitudes in situations where as a driver you have stopped at a junction to let someone out and that driver hasn't bothered to acknowledge you.

"On the face of it, this seems rude, but we have to ask if that driver had a reason. Maybe he or she had just lost a loved one, had just been fired from their job. If you think like that you are less likely to react."

Just four of the motorists who have taken the course have been women, he said.

"There is a high incidents of car crime involving younger male drivers and that is reflected in the people we see here," he added.

The Traffic Inspector for the Donegal gardai Michael Harrison said: "In my opinion this course is saving lives and should be rolled out nationally.

"This was always going to be about the re-offending rate and so far it has proved incrediblly valuable."

Just one of those on the course actually volunteered.

Meath man Dwayne O'Donnell (31) had been banned from driving for ten of his 14 years on the road for multiple offences.

"I wish I had met Gary earlier in my life," he said.

"If I had my way, these courses would be run in schools. I got to see how bad I really was on the road and it has changed my life."

Minister Donohoe told the Irish Independent: "The Pro-Social Drivers Programme is a programme which targets high risk groups of drivers who are initially identified through the justice and legal system.

"I am aware that the Road Safety Authority has provided dedicated support to the Pro-Social Drivers Programme by sharing road safety education resources and providing training on same to the leaders.  I have met the leaders of the Programme and have been impressed by the good work being done in Donegal through the programme.

He said the government's road action plan made provision for the introduction of rehabilitation and driving awareness courses as court-based sentencing options for specific offenders.

"The RSA is finalising a paper on Driver Rehabilitation schemes, and I am awaiting the conclusions before considering what steps might then be taken," he added.

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