22 June 2006

Speed camera fiasco: 46% of photos taken are useless

By Shaun Connolly, Political Correspondent
IRELAND’S speed camera system was exposed as a shambles last night as it emerged almost half the photos taken are useless.

Even if an offence is captured on film, there is only a one-in-seven chance of motorists who refuse to pay fines being punished, a damning probe by the Dáil’s all-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found.

In a further damaging blow to the Government’s road safety policy it found penalty points were no longer a deterrent and drivers consistently exploited every loophole.

PAC chairman Michael Noonan warned plans to greatly expand the number of penalty point offences in the Road Traffic Bill currently before the Dáil could drive the “creaking” system to breakdown.

The probe blamed bad planning and administrative error for the problems and found the situation is getting worse, with the number of spoiled photos increasing to 50,000, or 46%, in 2005, up from 43% the previous year.

“There is a seven-to-one chance of walking away scott free and that means that people know they can ignore the law,” former Fine Gael leader Mr Noonan said.

Mobile and fixed cameras operated by private companies will be rolled out from the end of this year and used in up to 800 locations around the country, under the proposed new traffic laws.

Mr Noonan warned that with garda resources stretched so thinly, extending fixed penalty fines could backfire.

“I’m not sure that a system that is creaking under the strain already will be able to carry the burden of all the additional offences and the administrative difficulties that will run from these,” he said.

The PAC study found that while half of offenders paid their fines, thousands of motorists avoided enforcement by claiming a driver living outside the State was at the wheel at the time of the offence.

The report noted that up to the end of 2003, there was a high rate of non-payment of fines, 44% of 87,004 notices issued, low subsequent enforcement at 18%, and many cases were statute-barred due to delays in administrative processing.

The report praised the fixed penalty system for saving an estimated 100-150 lives since 2002.

However, once the “fear factor” wore off and drivers realised it was possible to get away with offences, motoring habits worsened.

Justice Minister Michael McDowell’s spokesperson admitted the introduction of the fixed charge penalty points system was “less than ideal” but said a new computer system had improved matters since April.