Government failure to tackle road deaths

For eight years none of the three vital road safety measure promised in the government's Road to Safety strategy were implemented. The three measures were random breath testing, a reduction in waiting time for driving tests and full implementation of penalty points. They were all recommend as “vital” in the government's road safety campaign launched in 1998.

During that time 3,181, people died on Ireland's roads, almost as many people killed in the Troubles between 1969-1994.

Random breath testing was meant to be introduced by 1999. It was considered an urgent measure as alcohol is associated with at least 25 per cent of all accidents and 33 per cent of fatal accidents. It was finally introduced in July 2006.

The second prong in the 1998 road safety strategy was a reduction in the waiting time for driving tests to ten weeks by 1999. At present there are 425,000 provisional drivers on the waiting list and some test centres currently have a waiting period of over 53 weeks. Nationwide, over 130,000 people are waiting an average of 32 weeks to take a driving test.

The relevance of the driving test is underlined by figures from the National Roads Authority (NRA) which show driver error was the cause of 81 per cent of all fatal and injury crashes from 1997 to 2000.

The Government Strategy also recommended that legislation for a penalty points system be brought in by 1999. The Road Traffic Act 2002 devised 69 offences to be incorporated by 2003. This didn't happen. In October 2002 four penalty point offences were introduced (speeding, driving without insurance, careless driving and ignoring seat-belt laws). On l April 2006 a further 31 new offences were added, a total of 35, just over half the number of offences provided for in the Road Traffic Act 2002.

Martin CullenThe delay has been blamed on the failure to update and co-ordinate the three computer systems (the National Driver File, the Garda records and Courts Service records) necessary for the effective administration of penalty points. As well the handheld computer system used by gardaí on duty is still not effectively linked to the National Driver File, with the result that they cannot tell whether a driver has penalty points or not.

Drivers who have reached the 12 point mark ought to have their licence revoked, yet many gardaí believe they do not have the legal right to confiscate a licence in these circumstances. As a result of this, the gardaí are relying on drivers voluntarily to hand in their licences. The Department of Transport has said that not all 49 people who have reached the 12 point limit have voluntarily handed in their licences.

The central aim of the Government Strategy on Road Safety 2004-2006 was to reduce road deaths per year to 300 by 2006. There were 368 people killed on the roads in 2006