Untrained garda drivers responding to emergencies, says expert

Untrained garda drivers currently attend emergency calls, putting themselves and the public at risk, according to a former garda driving instructor.

Speaking today on RTÉ radio, Tony Toner, a former garda who spent 21 years as an instructor attached to the specialist driving unit, said that an operational garda car “puts demands on a driver way above that of a domestic vehicle”.

“The professional approach of gardaí to do their job in terms of responding to a call; that can compromise somebody if they’re not trained, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.

More than 2,500 gardaí around the country currently drive patrol cars under a measure known as Chief Superintendent’s Authorization.

Mr Toner said that the base requirement for driving under Chief Superintendent’s Authorization is that a garda be a holder of a regular Class B driving licence.

“The Chief’s Authorization was introduced because of the demands on units… where suitable candidates with a clean B licence would be authorized to drive for a short time of up to 12 months.”

According to Toner, there have been gardaí driving on Chief’s Authorization for longer than 12 months.

“Availability for courses was not there and the demands of work meant those units had to be out mobile, hence the chief’s permission extended for longer than what was normal.”

Mr Toner said that this was originally intended to be an interim solution to a problem that was resource-based.

The latest proposal to deal with the backlog in driver training is a 90-minute competency assessment for all those driving on Chief’s Authorization.

If a garda passes that assessment, he or she will be given a three-year extension on Chief’s Authorization, with a view to getting the training done in the meantime.

Mr Toner said that this assessment “seems quite short because you never know what call is going to come down the line when you’re driving an operational police vehicle”.

There have been two fatal accidents involving garda cars this year. There have been 16 in 10 years. Every year, an average of 500 accidents are recorded involving garda vehicles.

Mr Toner said that untrained garda drivers are putting themselves, their colleagues and members of the public at risk.

“Everybody should be trained and the basic standard car course should be made available to every garda. Everybody should be trained,” he said.

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