I thank the Chairman and the committee for the opportunity to address them on matters relating to the operation of the GoSafe safety cameras. Before getting into specifics I believe it might be useful to give a broad overview of the GoSafe safety cameras to help to contextualise the relevant issues. The safety camera project was established to reduce speed-related collisions and, as a consequence, save lives in designated areas, known as speed enforcement zones. Although 2013 resulted in an increase in road deaths from the previous year the total of fatalities that year was the third lowest number ever recorded. To put it into perspective, in 2005 there were 396 road deaths and in 2013 there were 190. Therefore, the reduction between 2005 and 2013 was more than 50%. For the five years prior to the commencement of GoSafe operations approximately 30% of fatal collisions annually were occurring in particular zones of the road network. In 2013 there was a reduction of 40% of fatal collisions in these speed enforcement zones, a reduction of 23 road fatalities. Separately, the speed surveys from January 2011 showed average compliance rates for all speed limits in these areas of 81%. Speed surveys from 2014 showed average compliance rates across all speed limits of 95%, an increase of 14% in these areas.
Excessive and inappropriate speed is the number one road safety problem. Speeding is a primary factor in approximately one third of fatal collisions and an aggravating factor in all collisions. These data are from an European Transport Safety Council performance index, PIN, report in 2010. We believe it is fair to say that these statistics demonstrate the important role safety cameras have played in improving road safety in this country.
The outsourcing of the operation of safety cameras commenced in November 2010 and reached full operational capacity in March 2011. The contract was for five years from commencement in November 2010 with an option to extend for one further year. The system is operated by the service provider GoSafe under the direction of An Garda Síochána. An Garda Síochána has responsibility for the scheduling of monitoring and survey sessions. The superintendent of the Garda national traffic bureau, GNTB, has responsibility for ensuring oversight of the day-to-day running of the project. This work takes place in the office for safety camera management, OSCAM. GoSafe has responsibility for ensuring that monitoring and survey sessions are conducted in accordance with the schedules and for the provision of survey and monitoring data to An Garda Síochána. GoSafe provides the necessary vehicles, monitoring and survey equipment and operators. An Garda Síochána is the prosecutor and the data are transferred to An Garda Síochána for prosecution.
From the outset of the project An Garda Síochána established OSCAM under the responsibility of the superintendent of the GNTB and currently four full-time personnel are allocated there. OSCAM has inter alia access to all GoSafe session data, equipment, vehicle and personnel logs and the office is responsible for monitoring the operations of GoSafe on a day-to-day basis. We have supplied appendix A, a document setting out some of the performance indicators and areas where we focus.
The designation of specific sections of road as speed enforcement zones is based on an analysis of collision data. Following the selection of a speed enforcement zone the outsourced safety camera operator, GoSafe, liaises with local members of An Garda Síochána to identify suitable sites to operate from. Each site must be clearly visible and risk-assessed to ensure the health and safety of the public and the operators of the safety camera vans. Once a suitable site is confirmed ongoing surveys are conducted to monitor the compliance rate with speed limits. Signage is erected at the start of each zone to inform road users and information on the location of all zones is available on the Garda website.
Speed enforcement zones are continually reviewed to ensure enforcement activity is targeted and prioritised at the locations where collisions are occurring, with some zones being removed and additional zones being included. Currently there are 727 speed enforcement zones nationally. The locations and collision history are available on the Garda website. Monitoring of speed enforcement zones is carried out at set times and on set days based on when collisions occur. Analysis of compliance and detection rates has also led to the introduction of a weighting system within the roster which allocates a higher weighting, and, consequently, more monitoring hours, to those locations where compliance rates are lowest.
GoSafe is contracted to provide 7,475 hours of monitoring and surveying per month. This is currently divided up into a minimum of 7,375 hours per month throughout the country from vans marked with high-visibility reflective material, which display safety camera symbols. These safety cameras are mobile. GoSafe also provides a minimum of 100 survey hours per month from unmarked vans to observe and record the speeds at which vehicles are currently travelling. This is for survey purposes only. These survey hours may be reduced to increase monitoring hours. As I noted earlier, no prosecutions come from survey hours.
The audit process in place includes weekly and monthly reviews and invoice reconciliation and consists of a two-tier audit process involving OSCAM and GoSafe. GoSafe has fulfilled its contractual obligations at all times. As part of the monitoring of the contract, each Wednesday the roster for the following roster week is approved by OSCAM. This is checked to ensure that GoSafe adheres to certain guidelines, including that sites are not overused or that sessions do not overlap with other nearby sessions. On a daily basis the actual data for each session is received by OSCAM as well as a non-completion log, which outlines any sessions not completed as expected.
Under the audit process at the end of each month the actual data for the month is compared to the approved roster. Each session is cross-referenced against other reports received during the month and a decision on payment is made at that stage. Any sessions conducted in excess of the contractual agreement are not considered for payment. However, data gained from these sessions are transferred to An Garda Síochána and are processed as normal. Since June 2011, GoSafe has consistently exceeded the contractual sessions and all hours before that date have been recouped by the State at no cost.
The ongoing oversight by An Garda Síochána and GoSafe has led to improved back-office processing methods as well as the upgrading of camera equipment to tackle such issues as image quality and images lost due to the presence of multiple vehicles within an image. GoSafe will shortly introduce dual radar units, which will enhance the identification of the offending vehicle when more than one vehicle is present within the detected image. These units will be utilised specifically at locations where validation of images is difficult due to multiple vehicles or image quality.
I wish to comment on specific issues raised by the committee. Failure to pay a fixed charge penalty notice after 56 days results in a summons being issued. Speeding summonses are received at the fixed-charge penalty notice office in Thurles. The certificates of ownership, copies of the speeding detection, a request to produce the driving licence or learner permit in court and details of all correspondence with that office are attached to the court pack for prosecution purposes. A cover sheet issues to the relevant superintendent in the district who conducts the prosecution.
OSCAM currently schedules GoSafe employees to attend court when required as a Garda witness in speeding offence prosecution. Where GoSafe notifies the fixed charge penalty office that an operator has left its employment the fact is recorded on a cover sheet provided in the court pack with the home address of the operator and outlines that a witness summons must be applied for to secure attendance in court.
Where GoSafe notifies the fixed charge penalty office, FCPO, that an operator has left its employment this fact is recorded on a cover sheet provided in the court pack with the home address of the operator outlining that a witness summons must be applied for to secure his or her attendance in court. When GoSafe commenced operations in 2010 the inspector in the fixed charge penalty office briefed all personnel involved in the preparation of the court files in the various Garda districts and outlined the actions required to prosecute these cases. A direct number and mobile phone number are provided to assist with any inquiries.
At times there can be a conflict of court sittings, resulting in a GoSafe operator being required in two courts at the same time, resulting in it being necessary to request an adjournment in one of the courts. It is accepted that there are, at times, ongoing difficulties in scheduling the operators for court as they operate across a number of District Court areas. Furthermore, the late notification of the court list, sometimes the evening before the court, allied with the late service of summons, makes it problematic for securing operator attendance and in applying for and serving witness summonses. This issue is receiving ongoing attention.
As well as receiving formal training from GoSafe in relation to court attendance, a number of briefing sessions were held for operators at the outset of the project. The superintendent in the Garda national traffic bureau and-or the inspector in the fixed charge penalty office addressed each of these briefing sessions dealing with the issues of court procedures and the giving of evidence.
An Garda Síochána is satisfied with the court process. However, where difficulties arise, each case is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Similar to all road traffic and other legislation, prosecutions of GoSafe offences for speeding are open to defence challenges on both legal and procedural matters. However, there have been no challenges to current legislation underpinning the safety camera project.
I am also aware of the request for An Garda Síochána to supply the committee with figures for the number of summonses that have been dismissed or struck out in court due to the inadmissibility of evidence given by GoSafe staff when prosecuting cases in court. These figures are unavailable as this level of detail is not recorded. We do not differentiate between a GoSafe summons and a summons issued directly by a member of An Garda Síochána. We are unable to provide that information.
Each case is heard before the courts on individual merit and on a case-by-case basis. However, as stated earlier, where issues arise that could have an impact on the relevant legislation or corporate policy, these cases are reviewed specifically and any issues of concern addressed. In this regard, a number of cases relative to the safety camera project have been remanded to May 2014 and the results of these cases will be closely monitored.
The Minister for Justice and Equality and the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána entered into a contract with GoSafe to operate safety cameras in Ireland on behalf of An Garda Síochána. The management of outsourced safety cameras formed part of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s annual report 2012 for the public services, chapter 8. In compiling that report a representative from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General reviewed how An Garda Síochána oversees and manages the contract with GoSafe. The report did not make any comment or recommendation in respect of current oversight as carried out by An Garda Síochána.