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'Ignoring' the system gives speeders an 86% chance of avoiding punishment

John O’Brien, the former head of the Garda Traffic Corps, told the PAC that GSOC failed to act on foot of a report he carried out on the penalty points system in 2008.

John O'Brien
John O'Brien
Image: Oireachtas TV

THE PENALTY POINTS system needs to be overhauled to stop serial offenders from “escaping” sanctions, the Public Accounts Committee has heard.

John O’Brien, the former head of the Garda Traffic Corps, told the committee that the current system is unsustainable for a number of reasons.

“The worst offenders escape … all you have to do is ignore the system.”

The retired Chief Superintendent said that once an offence goes to the summonses-issuing stage, “a very small percentage of summonses are served” and “even less are convicted”.

He said only 14% of cases that went to court resulted in convictions so people had an 86% chance of escaping sanctions.

A recent report into the quashing of penalty points carried out by Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahoney found that 52% of the summonses issued in respect of 178,500 cases in 2012 and 2013 were never served.

In total, notices were terminated for 42,700 offences (5%) detected in 2011 and 2012.

On Tuesday, acting Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan announced a raft of reforms of the fixed charge notice system, including that local gardaí could no longer overturn penalty points.

Speed Cameras

O’Brien noted that speed cameras had done a lot in helping reduce the number of road deaths, which dropped from 396 in 2006 to 190 in 2013.

He said that Irish roads had “come a long way” over the years, noting that over 600 people were killed in road accidents in 1972, the worst year on record.

O’Brien admitted these figures would “do little to comfort” people who have lost someone on our roads, but said it was important to note the progress that had been made.

However, he questioned the fact that “eight or ten” Garda detection cameras accounted for about 24% of all speeding detections on Irish roads while 40 GoSafe cameras detected 22% of speeding.

Screenshot 2014-06-19 at 4.21.19 PM Source: Report on the Accounts of the Public Services 2012

He also said that the GoSafe system is not “flexible” enough as people are becoming familiar with where the cameras are stationed and it is a “major exercise” to move them.

PAC Chairman John McGuinness said that the cameras were “just a waste of a resource” if they could not be moved freely.

O’Brien previously raised these and other issues in a report he compiled for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman in 2008, but said both GSOC and the Department of Justice ignored his recommendations.

He added that the photos taken when a person is caught speeding should be used to identify people who are driving company cars and trying to avoid penalty points.

GoSafe

An Garda Síochána’s speed camera operations were outsourced to GoSafe in November 2010 and became fully operational in March 2011.

The cost of operating the GoSafe system was €0.2 million including VAT in 2010, €15.8 million in 2011 and €15.6 million in 2012. The estimated cost for 2013 is €16.6 million.

Receipts collected in 2012 from fixed charge notices issued on foot of detections by the GoSafe safety cameras amounted to €4.6 million.

As a result, there was a shortfall of €11 million relative to the cost of the service. An Garda Síochána made up for this through money made from penalty points issued in other ways such as Garda camera vans.

Screenshot 2014-06-19 at 11.25.46 AM Source: Report on the Accounts of the Public Services 2012

GoSafe speed cameras record about 7,375 hours of driving in 727 locations across the country each month.

In April, Assistant Garda Commissioner John Twomey of the Garda National Traffic Bureau told the Oireachtas Transport Committee that the average compliance in the monitored zones by speed cameras was above 90%.

Related: Three ‘possible breaches’ identified in penalty points report

Read: Speed cameras record more than 7,000 hours of driving each month

Related: Local gardaí can no longer overturn penalty points

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Órla Ryan

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