Higher road traffic fines won’t work without more enforcement and judges stopping accepting excuses, says campaigners

— Rather than pleading in Court that they need to drive to work, motorists should think when they get “behind that steering wheel and decided to break the law”.

Ireland has some of the lowest fines for road traffic offences in Europe, but road safety campaigners have said it’s not enough to just increase fines — extra enforcement is needed and judges need to stop accepting excuses from motorists, the campaigners have said.

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Hildegarde Naughton, yesterday announced the planned increase in fines due to the increase in road traffic deaths this year.

Naughton said: “I intend to double the fines for key road traffic offences which are putting drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists at most risk of death on our roads. For example, the fine for speeding will soon increase from €80 to €160 and the fine for using a mobile phone while driving or for not wearing a seatbelt will double to €120.”

She added: “I will also be doubling fines for offences which put the safety of our children who are walking, cycling, or scooting to school at risk. Increasing fines for these offences will act as a stronger deterrent to those who break our lifesaving rules of the road.”

Campaigners, however, said that increased fines alone will not be effective.

Leo Lieghio, a campaigner with the Irish Road Victims Association, said: “It’s not enough, not nearly enough. The fines are not going to work, there has to be a proper deterrent and proper enforcement.”

Speaking on the Tonight Show on Virgin Media, Lieghio said: “God rest his sole, Gay Byarn said ‘you need more [Gardai on the roads in] yellow jackets’, I don’t see those yellow jackets out there on the streets. I drove from Baltinglass to Clonskeagh, from Clonskeagh to Walkinstown, and then Walkinstown to Leixlip, and back down here, and I didn’t see one Garda car. “

Lieghio’s daughter Marsia was 16 when she was killed after being knocked down in Clondalkin on October 16, 2005.

He added: “Penalty points need to be doubled — there has to be a fear out there. The only way to get through to people is a fear of losing their licence, a fear of losing their livelihood. The Judges have to stop taking excuses like ‘I’m going going to lose my house because I’m going to lose my job’ — the time for thinking of that is when you got behind that steering wheel and decided to break the law.”

An example of Judges letting speeding motorits off the hook was reported two weeks ago by Limerick’s Live 95 radio station.

The radio station reported that Judge Patricia Harney said that the speeding recorded in ten cases were “too close”, that there should be a “reasonable 10% margin applied”, and the station reported that the Judge said the consequences of a speeding conviction are too serious for a driving licence. 

The UK’s National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) has what is been reported as “informal” guidance which calls for a “10% plus 2 mph” tolerance before motorists are finned or prosecuted. But, in 2018, Anthony Bangham, the NPCC’s lead road policing officer, criticised the guidance and said that the tolerance should be 3mph.

This would be more in line with other European countries, such as Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Germany where the tolerance is around 3km/h or 3% over 100km/h. According to Speedingeurope.com, Italy and France use 5km/h tolerance while others use a higher level.

The suggestion of increasing points in Ireland would require primary legislation, while the Government can increase fines relatively quickly.

Geraldine Herbert, motoring editor with Independent newspapers, said: “I don’t think there’s one thing, We have to look at enforcement — because there’s a very direct connection between compliance and the risk of getting caught. We see that with the average speed cameras on the M7 in County Tipperary, there has been a huge reduction in the amount of people breaking the speed limit, simply because they know they are going to get caught.”

On the Tonight Show, she said: “So, we need investment in enforcement. We need investment in engineering as well, we can engineer out risks in roads.”

However, on the same show, Niall Collins, a Fianna Fáil TD and junior Minister for Skills and Further Education, said: “I think a lot has been done in the last number of years in terms of road safety, it’s a very important issue and I think it’s something we all take serious. It’s my view — and I travel the roads up and down the county a lot — I see a lot of enforcement.”

When challenged by the presenter about Lieghio’s experience, Minister Collins said: “I can just give you my experience. I see a lot of enforcement on the roads that I’m travelling. That’s good. I think we need to see more. I think the rollout of extra zones where there will be speed enforcement and motoring is the right thing as those zones are shown to be high-danger hot spots.”

He said that there’s a “lot going on” including the population going up and the number of cars going up, but it is unclear how these factors would lead to the increases in deaths compared to last year or 2019.

Minister Collins said that he has no issue with the increase in fines and said there was a need for enforcement, but he said that there has been no decision made around the increase in points and he doesn’t think it would be a “silver bullet”.

Herbert said: “The M7 where the average speed cameras are is a classic example — you tell people that they will get caught and they will modify their behaviour.”

She added: “I really think Leo being here tonight makes a huge difference, what people fail to remember is that behind every grim statistic there is devastated family. The other really scary statistic is that for every fatality on the road there are nine people seriously injured and at least three of those have life-changing injuries. These are people who we don’t read about in the papers.”

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