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Road Traffic Offences

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 11 November 2015

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Ceisteanna (4)

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

4. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on reports that just 40% of drink-driving cases result in a conviction; his plans to revise and reform laws on drink driving penalties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39535/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (10 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

The Minister will be aware that some figures released by the Road Safety Authority, RSA, and interpreted by various entities over recent weeks would suggest only 40% of drunk driving cases ultimately end in conviction. There are some misunderstandings and this might not actually be the case but it may have been a poor analysis of the numbers involved. Will the Minister provide clarity on this because there is a real concern that people caught drunk driving are getting away scot free?

I thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to comment on the interpretation of the figures in question. It is of fundamental importance to how people view the implementation of our law, particularly for dangerous driving. Recent reports referred to by the Deputy suggested that only 40% of people charged with drink-driving offences are being convicted. This figure is based on an interpretation of data provided by my colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality in a response to a parliamentary question. My colleague was asked for, and provided, figures for the number of summonses for drink-driving cases and the number of convictions. These figures were portrayed by treating convictions as a percentage of summonses leading to the false conclusion that 60% of cases taken to court led to acquittal. The reality, as the Courts Service pointed out, is that 86% of drink driving cases which go to court result in convictions.

The fundamental error in the portrayal and reporting of those figures is that the number of summonses in fact represents all summonses requested. It includes those not yet processed, not yet issued, not yet served or not yet come to court.  It also includes cases which are being dealt with by a court but have not concluded.

On the reform of drink-driving penalties, legislation on intoxicated driving was last reviewed and consolidated in the Road Traffic Act 2010. This is quite robust in dealing with driving under the influence of alcohol. The Road Traffic Bill 2015 will seek to strengthen the law on driving under the influence of drugs. The drafting of the Bill is being finalised. It is my intention to commence the passage of this Bill through the House before the end of the year.

I thank the Minister for his response. Is there any work under way in carrying out a comprehensive analysis of all the data as it relates to drink driving? There is a concern in some quarters that summonses are not issued or fail to get through the courts because of relatively basic mistakes. An end-to-end analysis of all cases, particularly regarding drunk driving, needs to be done by the RSA or by the Department. This will ensure a detailed chart of results is compiled with every case tracked and the outcome recorded for statistical purposes to get an overall picture. Will the Minister, the Department and the RSA start this work and chart it right the way through? It is only then we will get to understand where the problems lie.

It is not enough to give the general point that a percentage fall through the cracks in the courts system and that is the way it works. We need to codify that and understand where the problems are. Then we can, as we have before, come up with a legislative response in a bipartisan way which will eliminate, to the greatest extent possible, any opportunity for anybody to evade or avoid justice on this particular matter.

There are matters of concern to me in the implementation of the legislation on the matter in question. That is why we are examining matters such as the new database that would integrate information between a driver licence and the details of a car. That is also why we want to make available the third payment option for next year.

On the point about statistics, the Courts Service did make information available to me after these matters of concern were raised with me. For example, in the two years and seven months to 31 July 2015, 11,237 drink-driving cases were concluded with 9,714 convictions. The conviction rate was 86.41% with an acquittal rate of 13.56%. Just over 9,100 people were disqualified from driving while over 8,300 were fined and over 300 were sent to prison.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to carry out a detailed analysis of all cases, whether it is by way of the creation of a new integrated database into which different State agencies will be allowed to input. For once and for all, however, we need to see where cases are falling down in court and group them under certain headings. Then we can develop an action plan to resolve that. It is a concern that there are all sorts of allegations that summonses were tampered with in advance or prepared in a manner which would ultimately lead to a non-conviction. These are serious charges and to some extent they might be wives’ tales. Accordingly, we need a proper method of charting, challenging and cataloguing these events to allow us to be in a position to bring forward a legislative response, if required.

This information is available to me. I have spoken about the issue of the number of individuals charged with road traffic offences but who do not produce their driver licence when they are in the court. The statistics on that have enabled us to prioritise it as a matter of concern and that is why we are following it up with the various steps I already outlined on the third payment option and an integrated database to pull together all available information.

I will write to the Deputy with all of the information that is available to me for 2013, 2014 and 2015 concerning what has happened in the courts in each of those years in terms of convictions, disqualification orders and fines that have been imposed.

I thank the Minister. We must move on.

If I could just conclude, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I wish to put this information on the public record because the Deputy did make an important point - that if a perception arises regarding the ability of people to deal with road traffic offences in court, that is a big matter of concern to me and to the Government.

I thank the Minister.

The message is very clear that our courts are independent, but the overwhelming majority of people who appear in court for drink driving offences are successfully prosecuted.

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