I am delighted to be here today to launch the National Safety Council new penalty point advertising campaign.
We have deployed a range of road safety measures in recent years to attempt to combat the level of road deaths and serious injuries. A number of these measures relate to education, legislation and enforcement. This launch today is a good example of how a legislative and enforcement measure, such as penalty points, needs to be supported by information measures in order to maximise effectiveness.
As you will know, penalty points are currently operational for speeding, seat-belt wearing offences, driving without insurance and careless driving. With effect from next Monday, April 3rd, penalty points offences will increase to apply to a total of 35 offences. The extension of the application of penalty points will focus on driver behaviour and will again be highlighting key safety issues such as dangerous overtaking, failure to obey traffic lights, stop signs, yield signs, plus vehicles crossing centre white lines on roads.
It is our intention to ensure that the most serious road safety offences are taken seriously by road users. It is a matter for all road users to exercise caution and act responsibly. The extension of penalty points means that carelessness or lack of consideration in relation to safe driving will have the potential to result in driving disqualification. Many road users do not realise the value of their driving licence until faced with the prospect of losing it.
Penalty Points have worked.
The response to earlier roll outs of the penalty point offences resulted in a significant reduction in road collisions and consequent injuries and fatalities. The reductions in road deaths experienced immediately after the launch of penalty points for speeding in October 2003 were exceptional. The number of road deaths fell to a 40-year low, people responded - they slowed down and obeyed the rules. However, that dramatic impact did wane. The primary glitch in the system, an administrative one, was identified, a remedy brought forward and a new system now in place. This is why we can now expand offences from next Monday.
The application of penalty points to a number of safety related offences is a response to the fact that almost 9 out of 10 collisions are caused by driver behaviour. Critics of the penalty point system will say that the system is penalising hard-pressed motorists and is a means of raising revenue. I want to re-assure those critics that the purpose of the system is to instil a cautionary approach to driving and to change driver behaviour to the extent that collisions will be avoided and lives saved. We saw what happened in 2003 and the kind of impact that a change in driving behaviour can have on road death statistics. This launch is a timely reminder to us all not to become complacent and to adopt safer driving habits. A substantial increase in the amount of penalty point offences will highlight the downsides attached to dangerous and irresponsible driving. This extension can have a positive impact on road safety. However, that impact will be given maximum potency when the new points are fully enforced.
At the end of February, nearly 310,000 drivers had accumulated penalty points. The introduction of penalty points means that road users must learn to exercise caution when using the roads, or there will be consequences. Those who don't learn from their mistakes and persistently commit road traffic offences will lose their licence and feel the pinch in their pocket with increased insurance costs.
The campaign being launched here today comprises both television and press advertising and the re-launch of the penalty point website www.penaltypoints.ie, which contains updated information in relation to the additional offences. Raising public awareness of the causes of collisions and the fact that most are preventable is essential to build support for road safety measures, especially enforcement, and as a prerequisite for changing road user behaviour. That is why the launch of this campaign is so important. I want the public to be aware of the benefits of the system and the positive effects which can result from a change in driver behaviour.
The roll-out of the penalty point system is just one of a number of initiatives which I am pursuing at present. The extension of the penalty points system will be supported by the application of the fixed charge system to the majority of the new penalty point offences, details of which were published this morning. The levels of fixed charges to be applied to those offences will be either €80 or €60. In both instances where payment is not made within 28 days these amounts will increase by 50%.
The fixed charge system is also being extended to apply to a range of non- penalty point offences with effect from next week. The fixed charge system, which currently applies to 3 offences is being extended to almost 60 offences and will replace the on-the-spot-fine system. The amounts of the fixed charges represent a significant increase on the levels of on the spot fines.
I will shortly bring forward legislation which will provide for random breath testing, privately operated network of speed cameras and the banning of handheld mobile phones. Furthermore, a dedicated Traffic Corps has been established by Government and will comprise 1,200 traffic corps officers by 2008. This is over twice the number of Gardai involved in traffic duties prior to the establishment of the Traffic Corps, and will result in a significantly increased deterrent effect which results from increased levels of enforcement.
As I announced earlier this week, Gay Byrne has agreed to chair the Board of the Road Safety Authority. Gay Byrne's career has been characterised by courageousness and professionalism, skills that are needed as we seek to bring about a sea change in driver behaviour. The team we are putting together in the RSA, with Gay as Chairman and Noel Brett as CEO, is dynamic, focussed and determined. It underlines the seriousness that this Government is giving to road safety and to bringing an end to carnage on our roads. Both Gay and I are now anxious to move forward with appointing the new RSA Board within the week. Gay has informed me that he is keen to get down to business with his new Board to advance and initiate a range of policy proposals. I am confident that the new Authority will also bring about a significant advancement in the overall implementation of our national road safety strategies.
The implementation of all of these measures, coupled with support from road users and a positive change in driver behaviour can have a significant impact on the level of road deaths and injuries.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the National Safety Council for developing this campaign and I would like to thank the Gardai for their continued enforcement of road traffic law. I urge all road users to take a moment to think about the consequences of careless and irresponsible driving each time they make a journey and to drive in a safe manner. In other words, don't drink and drive, don't speed and always wear your seatbelt.