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Home > Joint Committee on Transport and Communications debate - Conviction rates for drink driving: discussion.

[Oireachtas] Joint Committee on Transport and Communications debate - Conviction rates for drink driving: discussion. (25 Nov 2015)

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Chairman: The purpose of this part of the meeting is to engage with representatives from An Garda Síochána and the Road Safety Authority, RSA, regarding recent media reports suggesting low conviction rates for drink driving offences. On behalf of the committee, I welcome the Deputy Garda Commissioner, Mr. John Twomey, Chief Superintendent Mark Curran, Superintendent Con O'Donoghue of the traffic bureau and Chief Superintendent Fergus Healy of the crime policy and administration unit. I also welcome Ms Moyagh Murdock, chief executive officer, Mr. Declan Naughton and Ms Denise Barry from the Road Safety Authority.

 

I wish to draw our guests' attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if witnesses are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Any submission or opening statements witnesses have made to the committee will be published on the committee website after the meeting.

 

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or persons outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I ask Deputy Commissioner Twomey to make his opening statement.

 

Mr. John Twomey: I thank the Chairman and the committee for the opportunity to address them on matters relating to drink driving convictions. While there have been significant changes in the drink driving culture in Ireland over the past decade, drink driving continues to be a major contributing factor to road deaths and injuries on our roads.  Just one drink impairs a person's ability to drive. A recent survey of driver attitudes conducted on behalf of the RSA in which one in ten drivers admitted to consuming alcohol before driving in the preceding 12 months is a concern, as it shows there is still work to be done if we are to achieve a culture in which people never drive if they drink.

 

Since the introduction of penalty points in 2002 and other changes to road traffic legislation, such as mandatory alcohol testing and the reduction in blood alcohol limits, as well as the establishment of a dedicated Garda traffic corps in 2005, we have seen significant improvements in road safety. In 2002, there were 376 road deaths. In 2014, there were 195. To date in 2015, there have been 144 fatalities on Irish roads, a decrease of 31 over the same period in 2014.

 

An Garda Síochána continually conducts enforcement and other campaigns aimed at improving compliance with road traffic legislation and thus reducing the number of road fatalities. The objective of this Garda activity is to increase driver awareness, increase the number of detections for breaches of road traffic and road transport legislation, and promote an improved compliance culture among the public. Campaigns with the objective of promoting voluntary compliance with road traffic legislation, particularly as regards drink driving, are conducted nationwide. Operations to detect drink driving offences, seatbelt non-compliance and breaches of road traffic and transport legislation by heavy goods vehicle, HGV, drivers are also conducted. Through these operations, the Garda and its counterparts within the European Traffic Police Network aim to assist the European Union in reducing the death rate on Europe's roads.

 

In 2014, An Garda Síochána arrested 7,519 drivers on suspicion of driving under the influence of an intoxicant, of whom 6,548 were over the legal limit. Some 2,141 drivers who were over the legal limit received a fixed penalty notice, of whom 1,270 paid the fixed penalties. Proceedings were instituted against drivers who did not qualify for receipt of a fixed penalty notice or who did not pay when served. The Courts Service has indicated that, in 2014, a total of 4,123 drink driving offences were heard, finalised and decided upon by the country's District Courts. This resulted in 3,488 convictions and 635 acquittals. The conviction rate is therefore 85% and the acquittal rate is 15%.

 

By 30 October 2015, the Garda had arrested 5,951 drivers on suspicion of driving under the influence of an intoxicant this year, of whom 5,281 were over the legal limit. Some 757 drivers who were over the legal limit received a fixed penalty notice, of whom 522 have paid those fixed penalties to date. Proceedings have been or will be instituted against drivers who did not qualify for receipt of a fixed penalty notice or who did not pay after being served with a notice. The Courts Service has also indicated that, for the first seven months of 2015, a total of 2,334 drink driving cases were heard in full and decided upon by the District Courts. This resulted in 2,021 convictions, with 313 dismissed. The conviction rate is 87% and the acquittal rate 13%. Where proceedings are instituted, prosecution files are prepared by the local district officer and prosecuted in court by the district officer, local inspector, local State solicitor or a representative from the Chief Prosecution Solicitor's office.

 

Regarding the management and oversight of drink driving cases, the use of IT systems is key to effective and efficient management, and a PULSE incident management function, under PULSE release 6.8, became effective on 1 November 2015. The introduction of the PULSE incident management function will allow investigating members, supervisors and district officers to monitor and have greater oversight of drink driving incidents. This function is an aid for investigators, supervisors and management and facilitates accountability, governance and oversight at all levels. Its aim is to provide a standardised, systematic and consistent approach to incident management throughout An Garda Síochána.

 

The Road Traffic Act 2014 saw the introduction of the status of novice driver, changes to the endorsement of penalty points and changes in respect of intoxicated driver offences, including impairment testing and the taking of blood from unconscious drivers. Changes to the penalty points system were introduced on 1 August 2014 and again on 8 December. On 1 August, the most notable changes involved an increase in penalty points for speeding, not wearing a seatbelt and using a mobile phone while driving. A further significant change is that a person taking out a first learner permit after 1 August will be disqualified on reaching seven penalty points. The same rule will apply to a person taking out a full licence for the first two years of that full licence. This is the two-year period while someone is considered to be a novice driver.

 

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