SENIOR gardaí are concerned about potential plans to hit drink drivers with penalty points instead of disqualifying them from getting behind the wheel.
The move, being examined by the Department of Transport, could see thousands of drink drivers escape any punishment because of a legal loophole motorists are exploiting in court for dodging speeding fines.
Drivers are simply claiming they never receive the fine notice in the post.
Gardaí yesterday stressed any proposal to downgrade punishments for drink driving would need to close off the loophole.
“It’s an issue that needs to be addressed. They get into a witness box and just say they never got a letter. This needs to be stopped with legislation that says this cannot be a defence,” explained a senior garda.
The Department of Transport last night confirmed it was examining future legislation which could see motorists landed with fines or penalty points instead of, or alongside, bans from driving.
It was being considered as part of the Road Traffic Bill, legislation that will not be drafted until the end of the year, said a spokeswoman for the department.
Most EU countries use a combination of measures for first-time offending drink drivers, according to the department.
“Every other state in the EU has a combination of fines, penalty points and suspensions. Ireland has the most stringent laws in place,” said a spokeswoman.
Gardaí intend to meet department officials over their concerns about motorists managing to get speeding cases struck out of court on technicalities, which it is feared might be used to escape future penalties for drink driving.
The Road Safety Authority said yesterday it had not been informed about the possible measure and had no details on it.
Under the current system, drivers receive speeding notices by post saying they have been given two penalty points, with details about paying a fine. Failure to pay the fine results in a summons and four penalty points.
Judges are having no choice but to throw cases out of court when drivers claim a notice never arrives by post.
According to recently published figures from the courts, of more than 38,000 speeding summonses issued last year, nearly 23,000 were struck out because it could not be proved defendants had received fines. More than 10,000 were struck out for the same reason in 2006.
The option to give drink drivers penalty points is one of a number of measures being considered under the new bill. Another is the intention to proceed with implementing RSA plans to reduce blood alcohol levels for drivers from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood.
According to the department, Ireland, Britain and Malta are the only countries operating a blood alcohol level for drivers of 80mg per 100ml of blood.
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