Sunday 21 July 2019

We have an enduring problem... and 78,000 swoops isn't putting us off

In focus: driving laws

We have a problem. A real problem. What to do?
We have a problem. A real problem. What to do?
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

It would be reasonable to assume that if the penalties for doing something wrong are fairly severe we would be less inclined to contravene the laws.

Not in Ireland, it appears.

Take using your phone at the wheel. The sanction for using a mobile while driving is three penalty points and a €60 fine.

If you unsuccessfully challenge that in court the penalty points increase to five.

If you get 12 points in a three-year period you will be disqualified from driving for six months.

For learner and novice drivers, that's seven points in a three-year period - and they face being six months off the road.

By any standards these are fairly severe deterrents.

But they don't seem to bother many, many drivers on our roads.

Since I wrote a small piece here on 'phone drivers' a few weeks back, I have been surprised at the stories that have come my way.

They all follow a pattern in that they have drivers using their phones when:

* They have children on board;

* They are driving into and out of car parking areas;

* Going around corners/bends on narrow country roads;

* In bumper-to-bumper traffic;

* Slipping through orange lights.

And much more.

What struck me most forcibly was how widespread, and common, instances of such behaviour appear to be - the responses came from people all over the country. I also thought it was interesting that people on regular commutes saw the same drivers on the phone at the same juncture most mornings.

So it is a common and regular practise - which makes it all the more serious.

Predictably some people blame the gardai for not clamping down more, but most agree it is up to people themselves; you cannot have a garda on every road.

What is it and why is it that, despite so much focus on the dangers of phone/distracted driving, there is no sign of so many paying the slightest bit of heed?

Up until the end of November last, the number of penalty-point notices issued in connection with driving while holding a mobile phone came to 77,722 (a cumulative three-year figure). Who says the gardai are not out there?

But can you imagine the volume of undetected incidents if gardai are picking up that number of detectable offences?

It must be off the radar entirely.

We have a problem. A real problem.

What to do?

People responded to that query the last time with a variety of sanctions ranging from instantly impounding the offending driver's car, to a €1,000 fine, to arrest on a charge of dangerous driving.

Do we need such draconian measures?

Sadly, the evidence is pointing in that direction.

* Would you favour it? ecunningham@independent.ie

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