Cabinet agrees new Road Traffic Bill – Varadka.

Specific ban on texting, and new range of penalty points for mobile phone use, speeding, seatbelts and driving unaccompanied

New road safety measures are among a range of provisions in the Road Traffic Bill 2012 signed off by Cabinet today, including new and higher penalty points on key offences and a specific ban on text messages while driving, Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar has confirmed.

“Ireland has made huge strides in reducing road deaths, under successive governments. However, we can never become complacent about road safety. The Christmas safety campaign launched this week should remind people to be vigilant over the festive season. My Department is also bringing forward a range of other long-term measures in the Road Traffic Bill 2012. Ireland is currently ranked sixth in the EU for road safety. I want us to become the safest country in Europe,” Minister Varadkar said.

The new Bill will include a Graduated Driver Licensing system. The Graduated system will include a new category of Novice Driver, covering people in their first two years after qualification. This will be denoted by an ‘N’ plate on vehicles.

Novice and learner drivers will be subject to a new, lower threshold of six penalty points for automatic disqualification, rather than the normal 12. The lower alcohol limit of 20mg (‘virtual zero’) already applies to L and N plate drivers, as well as professional drivers.

The Penalty Points system is also being adjusted in light of a review conducted earlier this year. This review involved consultations with a range of groups, including the Oireachtas Transport Committee involving members of the Opposition.

The changes to the Penalty Points are as follows:

Learner drivers who are driving without a qualified driver will face penalty points for the first time with 2 penalty points applying (4 on conviction);

Not displaying L or N plates will face penalty points for the first time, with 2 penalty points applying (4 on conviction);

Penalty points for mobile phone use, including the new provision related to texting, will rise from 2 to 3 points (5 on conviction);

Penalty points for speeding will rise from 2 to 3 points (5 on conviction) –contingent on the conclusion of the current review of speed limits;

Penalty points for not wearing a seatbelt will rise from 2 to 3 points (5 on conviction).

The Bill will allow a blood sample to be taken from an unconscious driver following a serious road traffic collision, and tested when they give their consent.

Non-technological tests for impaired driving – such as walking a straight line, pupil dilation – will in future be usable as evidence in Court. This test can be used to detect drug driving.

The Bill will also strengthen the law in relation to texting while driving by making it an offence to use or handle the keypad of a mobile phone for the purpose of texting or receiving information. While the current legislation makes it an offence to hold a mobile phone while driving, the new Bill will clarify that this also relates to texting.

It will be possible for the first time to prohibit the driving of a vehicle which has been deemed unroadworthy by the NCT.  There will also be enabling legislation to allow local authorities to provide parking and charging bays for electric vehicles and for car clubs. These and other measures provided for in the Bill will help to promote safer driving on our roads, as well as safer vehicles.

Following approval of the proposals by Government, legal drafting of the Bill will now take place in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. The Minister hopes to bring the Bill before the Oireachtas early in 2013.

The proposals are currently available on the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport website.