LONG REPORT: There are widespread attempts from Gardai officers to dissuade people from reporting close passing by motorists and there seems to be a poor understanding of the overtaking law among officers, according to the results from an IrishCycle.com survey.
Nearly 100 people responded to the IrishCycle.com survey on reporting close passes by motorists to the Gardai. With 138 incidents logged in the survey, most respondents only logged one incident.
In the vast majority of cases where respondents had video footage, 79% of cases, respondents to the survey said that Gardai accepted the video evidence. But then dismissiveness, a lack of understanding of the law or other inaction kicked in.
As outlined in IrishCycle.com’s explainer article on overtaking cyclists in Ireland: The law was changed by former transport Minister Shane Ross in 2019 to separate out the offence of dangerous overtaking of a cyclist from the general dangerous overtaking offence — no contact or injury is required to be in breach of the law, and there’s no distance to prove.
The offence carries 3 points and the fixed charge fine is €120, the number of points is the same but the fine is higher than the general dangerous overtaking law.
71 of the incidents logged in the survey were cases where the respondents said that a Garda officer tried to dissuade them from reporting the incident or was dismissive.
Of those 71, there were 19 responses that said officers did not seem to be fully aware of the close passing law, while in 11 cases respondents to the survey said that the officer’s superior rejected the case.
And 11 cases include where officers wrongly claimed that no offence took place because the driver didn’t hit the person or their bicycle — in one of those cases, a respondent said they were told by an officer that “the road was narrow and the motorist had to get past” and two others were told similar in by Gardai in different parts of the country.
Another 7 cases were where Gardai wrongly claimed that the 1 or 1.5 metres distance would have to be proven. The reality is that no distance is mentioned in the law and a proposed law that did mention an exact distance was ruled out because people might then have to prove the distance.
Claims from officers that the passing law is an “intercept offence” in that Gardai must witness the incident or that the exact driver had to be confirmed before a fine and points were sent out were made in Dublin Metropolitan Region North, a Garda area, at Malahide, Coolock, and Swords Garda stations and well as at Salthill Garda Station in Galway and Donnybrook Garda Station in Dublin 4.
As IrishCycle.com has previously covered, the Garda Roads Policing have said that it is not a requirement for officers to witness the incident.
In one case, a respondent said that an officer “Initially, told me that it was something to work out between myself and the driver. When I persisted, and quoted the piece of legislation, which had been given to me by a cycling group on Twitter, the Garda became very understanding and helped to write the [statement] with me.”
A number of people in different parts of the country said that Gardai told them that their cameras and not just their memory card would have to be taken as evidence — this is unheard of in cases of CCTV on a shop or integrated into a bus, so, it is seen by campaigners as an excuse to fob cyclist away.
Many find that Gardai only accept USB sticks of video evidence, while one respondent said: “At this stage, I am now telling any Garda that mentions a memory stick that other Gardaí take them via email.”
Although, another said: “They couldn’t open the files I sent — the Garda system does not allow Gmail links to open” and added: “The Garda just watched it on my phone, it would have been very difficult for them to really view what I was reporting.”
Most respondents — 55.5% — said they felt their report was treated professionally, but a surprising number of people who said that officers acted professionally also responded to a separate question which outlined how officers tried to dissuade them from reporting the incident or were dismissive.
The vast bulk of respondents said they had bicycle-mounted or helmet-mounted camera footage or footage from another source such as CCTV on a bus, but 26 of the incidents did not include any video. The outcome of one of these examples without video evidence includes “fine and points for motorist” and a warning to motorists.
Of the responses where the people said they had no video evidence, seven said they were still waiting for a “still awaiting outcome”, four said they did not know, and two more said “n/a”, so, it is hard to be conclusive about the outcomes where people were reporting an incident without video.
Of the 99 incidents where there was camera footage and the responses could be categorised, motorists were given verbal warnings more often than fines and points — 23 warnings vs 22 fines (19 out of court fines and 3 court fines).
It has been indicated in this survey and previously that the dangerous overtaking of a cyclist is not the only offence used to cover close passes, both when motorists accept the points and fine, or if they go to court. Offences such as careless driving are often used instead according to some who regularly report incidents to Gardai.
The verbal warnings given to motorist seems to be often informal — “we’ll have a word with him“ — rather than formal cautions. Often officers believe that can be enough to change at least some drivers and, outside of this survey, some people who report incidents agree with this approach at least some of the time.
Dismissive or dissuading
With the below and the previous quotes from respondents, IrishCycle.com has names and details of each, but is using the quotes from respondents without naming them as the voices tell a common theme of dismissiveness.
Of those that felt that officers were dismissive of the incident or that officers tried to dissuade them from reporting the incident, here is a sample of other open-ended responses:
One respondent said there was “Zero outcome. The garda at Irishtown refused to take my report. I was assaulted and threatened, and the Guard said that because it happened — 1 meter over the line — within another [station’s] jurisdiction, that he couldn’t take the report. He was completely dismissive. He simply couldn’t be bothered. Unreal stuff.”
This kind of issue where a “garda just sounded like he didn’t want the hassle of dealing with it”, as another respondent said, is a recurring response within the open-ended replies.
A respondent said: “The Garda phoned me saying that he had tracked down the driver, who seemed to be a nice lad and was very embarrassed and apologetic about what he said when we spoke at the junction after the incident.”
This is in relation to where this respondent reported to Gardai that the driver had said “I’ll knock you down, you cunt”, but the officer said that the apology seemed genuine and wanted to facilitate an over-the-phone apology. The respondent said: “I felt that the Garda wasn’t quite taking the matter as seriously as he should.”
In another case, the same respondent said: “The Garda had spoken to the driver who said ‘he was a cyclist himself and knew how much room to give cyclists’ and that ‘He beeped the horn because he was worried the cyclist would wobble’.” These are common excuses often given to clear close passes often heard in both Ireland and the UK.
Fault with the process
92% of respondents agreed that it was very important that the process be streamlined with an online portal for submitting videos to the Gardai, and the remaining 8% said that it was important.
An online portal is promised in the Government’s Road Safety Strategy, but there are fears that its implementation will be delayed or that it will be problematic.
There seemed to be a general acceptance among most respondents to the survey that the current process does not serve victims or Gardai, and is a poor use of time when the system could be streamlined.
A respondent sums up his views on reporting incidents, which is in line with many other responses: “Getting the incident reported, video to the Gardai and making a statement was a very long and cumbersome process, and needlessly so, not the fault of the Gardai, they are following the process they must. It also seemed needlessly time-consuming for the Gardai to deal with something which should be straightforward. It would definitely put me off making another complaint unless another incident was particularly nasty or dangerous.”
He added: “Also often incidents do not look as bad in video as they are in real life, I think people assessing video evidence should have experience and training to do so.”