15 years on from the introduction of penalty points, where do we stand today?
Our RSA expert has some startling figures as he urges road users: 'Get the point, not the points'
THIS month marks the fifteenth anniversary of the introduction of the penalty points system by the then Minister for Transport Seamus Brennan.
It wasn't introduced without controversy. When it was brought in back in 2002 it covered just one offence, speeding. Because the electronic system planned to support its enforcement wasn't ready, it had to be operated manually by the gardai. Despite the administrative nightmare this created, penalty points had an immediate impact in reducing road trauma.
For the first time we started to note that road deaths were dropping from the now unimaginable annual toll of more than 400 people.
As the system improved it was extended to insurance, seat-belt wearing and careless driving offences in 2003 and 2004. In July 2006 the offence of using a hand-held mobile phone while driving was added to the list.
The aim of the system is to improve driver behaviour and reduce road casualties. Any driver accumulating 12 penalty points within any given three-year period is automatically disqualified from driving for six months.
More recently there were additions to the list of offences and some increases in the number points for certain offences. In August 2014 a lower threshold of seven penalty points leading to disqualification of learner and novice drivers was introduced. Later that year penalty points for unaccompanied learner drivers and for failing to display L and N plates were added. Points for seatbelt, mobile phone and speeding offences increased from two to three points.
As of now there are 63 road traffic offences that attract penalty points. The full list of these can be found on the website rsa.ie.
I suppose it's no surprise that speeding is the number one offence. A total of 507,582 penalty points notices have been issued to drivers for speeding by the gardai.
The number two offence is driving while holding a mobile phone. Some 76,919 notices have been issued to drivers for this menace on our roads.
In third place is seatbelt offences. A total of 25,580 penalty point notices have been issued for various offences ranging from a driver failing to wear a seatbelt to children travelling unrestrained.
Since the offence of driving without a valid NCT was changed - from a court summons to an offence that attracts three penalty points that can be dealt with at the side of the road - a total of 19,224 notices have been issued to motorists.
This is shocking and shows many are not getting their cars serviced by a mechanic regularly or maintaining vehicles properly. Not only is this a road safety issue, 14pc of fatal crashes are linked to vehicle roadworthiness. It could end up costing you big money in the long run as you pay for damage caused by problems you ignored.
Continuing with the roadworthiness theme, I see the gardai have issued 1,383 points notices to drivers for defective tyres since this offence went live 18 months ago.
The points were handed out for tyre defects including cuts, bulges, wire or cord exposed, under-inflation and tyres below the legal tread depth of 1.6mm. An average of 14 deaths occur annually due to defective tyres on vehicles.
Other big-ticket offences include drivers detected with no insurance (10,488 notices issued)and failing to obey traffic lights, with 10,307 penalty points notices issued to drivers.
Despite the high number of drivers getting points, it is clear the gardai are enforcing our road safety laws, especially those we know are linked to trauma.
Critically, despite the past controversies surrounding the system, it has prevented countless deaths and injuries. So please, get the point, not the points.