Harsher penalty points system from next year

Motorists will face a range of new penalty point offences from early 2014 under legislation being introduced by the Government.

They include penalty points for illegal U-turns, failure to display learner or novice plates, passing “no entry” signs, and learner drivers caught driving unaccompanied.

The Road Traffic (No 2) Bill announced by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar will also create a new class of novice driver and will allow gardaí test for drug driving.

In addition, it will increase the number of pen-alty points associated with various existing offences.

In most cases, offences such as speeding, mobile phone use, and non-wearing of seatbelt which currently incur two penalty points will in future result in three points on payment of a fixed charge, while the penalty points upon conviction will generally go from four to five.

Mr Varadkar said there had been great improvements in road safety in recent years with a record low of 161 people killed on Irish roads last year compared to 415 deaths in 2001.

However, the minister warned about complacency, especially given the fact that the total number of road deaths so far in 2013 is significantly up on the corresponding period last year.

“It’s a sobering reminder of the need to maintain pressure on road safety and that we all have a role to play,” said Mr Varadkar.

While legislation alone is not the answer, he said the new bill would bring in new measures to better prepare learner drivers and to aid gardaí in their fight against traffic offences.

Under the proposed legislation, which is expected to be enacted before the end of 2013, motorists will be classified as novice drivers for the first two years of holding a full licence and they will be obliged to display an N-plate on their vehicle.

Learner and novice drivers will also be disqualified from driving if they amass six penalty points, compared to the disqualification threshold of 12 points for other drivers.

Learner drivers will also have to undergo a certain minimum amount of logged accompanied driving (in addition to the obligatory 12 formal driving lessons) before taking their driving test.

The legislation will allow gardaí to ask motorists suspected of drink or drug driving to walk in a straight line with the results being admissible as evidence.

It will also permit blood samples to be taken from unconscious drivers injured during a collision subject to the permission of the treating doctor.

Meanwhile, tolls for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) will be lifted on a trial basis for the month of November on four motorways.

Mr Varadkar said the experiment was to see if the lifting of the tolls for HGVs would reduce the number of trucks diverting to regional roads and through villages in order to avoid paying tolls.

The minister said he was concerned at the large number of trucks that were continuing to use local roads instead of motorways because of the road safety implications of such traffic.

He also claimed the use of such roads by HGVs added to the wear and tear on the network of local roads.

From Nov 1, HGV drivers will not have to pay tolls for a month on four motorways: the M1 (Dublin-Dundalk), M3 (Dublin-Kells), M6 (Ballinasloe-Galway) and the Limerick Tunnel.

The National Roads Authority has paid out €15m to the operators of the M3 and Limerick Tunnel tolls since 2010 in compensation for traffic levels failing to reach agreed targets.

Mr Varadkar said the trial could indicate how the level of HGVs on the motorways might change if the tolls were temporarily removed.

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