Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross TD today welcomed the passing of the Road Traffic Bill 2016 by the Oireachtas. The Bill contains a series of reforms dealing with drug driving; written off vehicles; mutual recognition of driver disqualifications between Ireland and the UK; uninsured drivers; and a new optional 20km/h speed limit in built-up areas among other measures.
The main provisions outlined in the Bill are detailed below:
An Garda Síochána have been given new powers to test drivers for drugs at the roadside. Current provisions for Mandatory Alcohol Testing (MAT) checkpoints will be extended to provide for Mandatory Intoxication Testing (MIT) checkpoints testing drivers for both alcohol and drugs.
Under the new measures, Gardaí can ask drivers to undergo a preliminary drug test for cannabis, cocaine, a range of opiates (including heroin and morphine) and a range of benzodiazepines (including diazepam and flurazepam).
Speaking after the passing of the Bill Minister Ross said: “The new powers given to the Gardaí to test for drugs at the roadside will allow them to test for a wide range of drugs which could not be previously tested for. These represent 95% of all drugs found by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety in samples sent to it for confirmatory testing in 2015.”
Minister Ross added that; “drivers taking opiates and benzodiazepines prescribed by their doctors, [who are taking these prescribed drugs in accordance with their prescriptions, and are not impaired], have nothing to fear from the new measures. However, drivers abusing drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, benzodiazepines and opiate and driving while impaired will face a minimum disqualification of 4 years for their first offence and 6 years for their second and subsequent offence.”
A new offence of driving/being in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle with the presence of three illicit drugs (Cannabis, Cocaine, and Heroin) has also been introduced. This means that for the first time drivers found above new legal thresholds for these drugs will commit an offence without An Garda Síochána having to prove impairment as is currently the case under existing legislation.
In seeking to address concerns of those prescribed Sativex (which contains cannabis) for illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, the Minister introduced in the Bill a medical exemption certificate for those prescribed with Sativex so that they do not fall under the new offence. This will ensure that they cannot be arrested for driving with cannabis in their system. He warned however, that if such drivers are impaired, they face the same sanctions as other drivers under existing drug driving legislation.
The Minister said that; “In addition to current legislation on defective vehicles, the provisions in this Bill change the current arrangements between the insurance industry and my Department in relation to domestic write-offs from ‘voluntary’ to ‘statutory’. All insurers will be statutorily required to notify my Department of category A (irreparable and fit for scrap only) and category B (useful for viable spare parts only) write-offs so that these vehicles' records can be locked down on the National Vehicle and Driver File and their circulation prevented.”
Mutual Recognition of Driving Disqualifications with the UK
The Bill will give effect to an agreement with the UK on mutual recognition of driver disqualifications which was signed in October 2015. If a driver is disqualified in the UK they are automatically barred from driving abroad, as they do not have a valid licence. However, if a driver from the UK is disqualified from driving in Ireland, the ban applies only in Ireland, the country that imposed it. The person could still drive in UK or anywhere else. The Minister commented that; “The provisions to back up the new agreement on mutual recognition of driver disqualification between ourselves and the UK will ensure that dangerous drivers who are a risk to the public are kept off the roads in both jurisdictions.”
20km/h Speed Limit
The Bill creates a new option for local authorities to impose a special speed limit of 20km/h in built-up areas. This will be in addition to the existing possible speed limits for built-up areas of 50km/h, 40km/h and 30km/h. The Minister added that; “the new speed limit option has been introduced following the Jake's Legacy campaign. This was set up following the tragic death of six year old Jake Brennan who was killed in a road traffic incident in the housing estate where he lived. A new special speed limit of 20km/hour is now being made available for local authorities to impose where they see fit.”
The increasing number of uninsured drivers is a huge concern and one of the issues identified to tackle this problem has been the Garda Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system which is reliant on information provided by the insurance industry in respect of insured drivers. While this data set has proven to be unreliable to date, the Bill provides for detailed information that the insurance industry must now provide which will address this exact issue.
The Minister said that; “This is a very vital provision which will allow for the establishment of the Insured and Uninsured Database by Insurance Ireland and MIBI which will provide reliable data to An Garda Síochána to enable them to detect uninsured drivers and take them off our roads.”
Measures to ensure that drivers convicted in court have penalty points endorsed on their driver record
The Bill provides for a new requirement for the presiding judge to ask a driver convicted in court for a driving offence to produce their licence to the court. The court will then record the licence details, or the fact that it was not produced with failure to produce a licence an offence. Speaking today, the Minister said; “This new provision addresses a significant loophole in our legislation whereby some drivers were escaping having their penalty points recorded on their licences following conviction in court.”
In conclusion, the Minister commented that; “the Road Traffic Bill 2016 is a major step forward in many areas - the fight against drug driving in particular. Its other provisions will also improve our laws and help to keep all of our citizens safer on the roads, and to keep dangerous drivers off them. I look forward to the signing of this Bill into law, and I am looking forward to implementing its provisions as soon as possible.”
Unaccompanied learner drivers
We know, unfortunately, that there is a real and continuing problem with learner drivers who persist in driving unaccompanied on our roads despite this being illegal. The question of responsibility regarding owners who knowingly allow learners to drive their cars unaccompanied has been highlighted by the family of Geraldine and Louise Clancy, who were tragically killed in an incident for which an unaccompanied learner driver was found responsible. Speaking today, the Minister said “I was pleased to be able to work with my parliamentary colleagues on this extremely important Bill, and to include an amendment proposed by Deputy Imelda Munster TD, with regard to unaccompanied learner drivers. Learners who drive unaccompanied are committing an offence, and I think it is reasonable to see people who knowingly facilitate this offence as sharing a responsibility for it.”
The Minister added that he “will engage with the Office of the Attorney General as quickly as possible in the new year to ensure that this provision is sufficiently robust for early commencement and enforcement.”