Enforcing road safety


ENFORCEMENT IS a vital element in the improvement of road safety. In spite of that, the presence of gardaí on our roads to check on drink-driving, speeding and other offences remains a hit-and-miss affair. Bank holiday weekend enforcement blitzes, with plenty of advance warning for motorists, are simply not enough. And, as financial cutbacks begin to take effect, the situation is likely to deteriorate.
Against this background, the introduction of five new penalty point offences – no matter how worthy of implementation – carries the hint of a public relations exercise. In this State, politicians are good at considering rules and regulations to be definitive exercises, and then turning a blind eye towards implementation. Some 600,000 drivers received penalty points for road traffic offences between 2002 and 2008. Nearly one-third of them did not even have a valid driving licence. What does that say about road traffic enforcement and conformity to the law?
The new penalties, which come into effect on May 1st, relate primarily to the safety of vehicles. Five points will be imposed for failing to have an NCT test conducted and for driving an untested car or a dangerous vehicle. Failing to fix identified faults will attract three points. A similar penalty will be imposed on lorry drivers who strike overhead bridges, following a swathe of countrywide damage caused to 720 bridges and costing €25 million.
There was a time when you could not tax your car without evidence of a successful NCT visit. No longer. The NCT operator once advised when the test was due. Now, it may, or may not, do so. The car owner has been made wholly liable for having the test conducted on time. Inevitably, there will be hard cases in court as motorists, faced by a maximum fine of €1,500, claim genuine oversight. Some advance notice would be of considerable benefit. The Road Safety Authority should discuss the issue with the international company that takes over the new NCT contract next year.
Our roads have become safer places because of NCT tests, penalty points and the enforcement of traffic laws by the Garda Traffic Corps. When NCT testing began, back in 2000, nine out of ten cars failed their initial inspections because of various faults. That figure has now been reduced to one in ten. Penalty points have also helped. Last year, we had the lowest number of road deaths since records began. But there is no room for complacency. We need strict Garda enforcement.
This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times