— Portal would include the ability to upload footage of close passing of cyclists by motorists without visiting Garda station with physical media.
A dedicated online portal should be set up for submission of video evidence of road traffic offences, a Government TD recently told the Dail, but a Government Minister responding to him said there might be issues with recording from the public being used as evidence and also raised privacy concerns.
The idea that there might be issues with video evidence submitted by members of the public is despite members of the public regularly providing such evidence to Gardai and Gardai often publicly calling for dash cam evidence after serious collisions. Footage from the public is also accepted as evidence in other areas of law.
Deputy Ciarán Cannon (Fine Gael) recently told the Dail that: “In February last year, the European Transport Safety Council published a report on cyclist deaths across the European Union. It revealed that Ireland had recorded the highest annual increase in cyclist fatality rates among all EU member states in the past decade. In fact, our rate had risen by an average of 8% per annum over that period, which was four times the rate of the next worst country. All of those deaths were avoidable.”
He said that there has been great work done by the Garda and the Road Safety Authority in making our roads much safer in general, but that is no reason to become complacent and we should be striving for zero deaths.
He said: “I am deeply grateful to Mr Phil Skelton who has campaigned tirelessly for the creation of that [passing distance] safe space. I am also grateful to the former Minister, Shane Ross, who in 2019 signed into law a new traffic offence, namely, the dangerous overtaking of a cyclist, which carries a fine of €120 and three penalty points.”
Cannon said: “An increasing number of cyclists and indeed motorists are now using cameras on their vehicles which automatically record footage of every journey. Those cameras can become a valuable aid in enforcing all of our road safety legislation. They can become additional eyes on our roads and streets for the Garda and they can provide evidence that can be used in prosecuting road safety offenders. As such, I am simply asking that An Garda Síochána sets up a dedicated portal for the submission of video evidence by all road users and that officers would assess that evidence and bring forward prosecutions if necessary.”
He added: “It has been done successfully and there is no reason why it cannot be done here. Such a portal would set us on that road to Vision Zero, to a safer and indeed healthier Ireland.”
Responding on behalf of the Government, Peter Burke (Fine Gael), Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, said that the Government does not have any responsibility for operational matters.
The Minister said: “Protecting vulnerable road users involves an array of measures, of which legislation and law enforcement are only a part. Improvements in infrastructure, such as dedicated cycle lanes, will reduce the danger by keeping vulnerable road users separate from motorised traffic.”
He said that the Government has committed to investing up to €1.8 billion in cycling and walking infrastructure during its lifetime.
“As regards the establishment of a dedicated online portal for the submission of video evidence of potential violations of road traffic legislation, the Deputy may be aware that the current Traffic Watch facility allows for members of the public to report driver behaviour to An Garda Síochána. Matters reported via this facility are forwarded to the relevant district office for investigation. Similarly, citizens may make complaints to any member of An Garda Síochána or through the Garda website,” he said.
The Gardai website currently only has a system for reporting theft of the property, it does not allow for traffic offences to be reported.
Minister Burke said: “I am advised by the Minister that there are strict standards in legislation relating to photographic evidence obtained by An Garda Síochána. While An Garda Síochána has confirmed that private dashcam footage may be used during a prosecution, its use must be in accordance with best evidential practices and entails ensuring structures exist around continuity of evidence.”
He added: “The Minister has further advised that any decision to allow film by members of the public to be used in evidence in road traffic cases would raise questions of reliability of and possible tampering with the apparatus used, and potential privacy issues. It might also raise questions about why Garda apparatus was held to a standard not required of private individuals, if both were ultimately to be treated as reliable evidence.”
Cannon said: “There is no reason why the Departments of Justice and Transport could not collaborate to create the portal I am referring to. I mentioned in my earlier contribution that other countries have already set up a dedicated portal for the submission of video evidence. In the UK, the national dashcam safety portal was established three years ago in response to the ever increasing submission of video and photographic evidence from members of the public. It was set up with the simple aim of reducing road accidents and making the UK’s roads safer.”
“In his response, the Minister of State referred to the Minister having concerns about the quality of the evidence being submitted and the quality of the evidence being submitted using dashcams, be they on bicycles or in cars. That evidence has already been accepted by numerous Garda stations around the country and successful prosecutions have already been brought, he said.
Cannon explained: “The issue here is the inconsistency of the approach when it comes to bringing forward these prosecutions. That again could be resolved by a portal manned by specially-trained officers in An Garda Síochána who have the skills and knowledge to determine whether or not an offence has occurred.”
He said that when video evidence of unsafe driving is submitted to the UK portal it is reviewed by a police officer and depending on the seriousness of the offence, options include a warning letter, fines and points, court prosecution, and driver retraining.
He added: “Not doing this can only lead us to one conclusion: that we do not really care about the safety of our vulnerable road users. I would really like to think we are not that kind of country. This can be done and it should be done, with the greatest possible urgency.”