6 July 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The Garda operation taking place over the coming weekend to combat speeding on the county’s roads is a laudable initiative, and one to which all responsible roadusers will assuredly give their support and co-operation to.
It is also, tragically, a timely one.
Recent weekends have seen a succession of serious and fatal traffic accidents on Irish roads – we seem to be experiencing an escalation in such occurrences after a time in which the statistics for them were revealing an encouraging downturn.
The factors for road fatalities are manifold, and the bad weather prevailing for much of these supposedly summer months, with sudden bursts of heavy rainfall and consequent sudden and drastic deteriorations in the prevailing driving conditions, may not be entirely divorced from their recent frequency.
But speed undoubtedly remains a frightening constant in road deaths.
It has become common to brand young drivers, who sometimes combine inexperience behind the wheel with a fascination for speed, as the chief offenders in this respect.
But there are many mature motorists who treat the driving limits in operation on our main and secondary roads with equally blatant disregard.
Their offending might be attributable to other factors – the prevailing pressures of modern life, perhaps, or deeply rooted bad driving habits – but the consequences of their actions are potentially no less devastating than if they derived from simple callow recklessness.
There are, simply, too many bad drivers on Irish roads and the consequences of their incompetence manifest themselves in every form of motoring offence, from the breach of parking bye-laws to the crime of dangerous driving causing serious injury or death.
The established system whereby people are trained and licensed to drive on Irish roads is clearly inadequate when tested against the reality of modern motoring conditions.
Rigor is undoubtedly applied to the theoretical and practical testing of drivers – but such is the volume of traffic on our roads at present, and the vastly changed driving conditions that prevail in urban centres as well as the particular demands of motorway travel, that many drivers who obtain a licence are inadequately versed in the challenges they are going to meet.
Learning to drive only really begins after a licence is obtained, and that can be a trial and error process in which a level of good and safe practice can be cultivated, but equally, bad and self-serving habits can grow ingrained if they avoid initial adverse consequence.
We have argued consistently in this newspaper for driving – one of the key life skills that we acquire – to be made an integral part of second level education.
Until a system is put in place where our young people progress through a phased learning process of becoming responsible motorists just as they progress through the stages of academic qualification and the acquisition of Junior and Leaving Certificate accreditation, then the standards of driving on our roads will remain hugely variable, and accidents will continue to proliferate.
In the absence of such a guarantor of an acceptable level of general competence, it falls to legislation and the courts to use punitive sanctions in an endeavour to deal with the prevalence of bad driving.
This is in practice a haphazard process.
Some deterrent effect has resulted from the more severe penalties now in operation for driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, for example – but the level of such offending still coming before our courts is worrying considering that the tacit public tolerance of it that once prevailed is now considerably reduced.
One punitive sanction that appeared possessed of powerful remedial effect when it was assigned to the courts was the power to direct that offenders who lose their driving licences for drunk driving or other serious motoring offences be ordered to re-sit their driving test before they could apply for the restoration of their licence.
Regrettably, this sanction appears to be infrequently and inconsistently applied in practice.
Have we not reached a stage of prevailing danger on our roads sufficient to justify that this discretionary sentencing option is made mandatory for those convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and of the other more serious driving offences?
In the light of the ongoing toll of fatal traffic accidents, this is a legislative change that Minister for Justice Alan Shatter should give serious consideration to.
Mandatory disqualification should also surely follow if a motorist is convicted at driving at a set level in excess of the prevailing speed limit.
Such sanctions would seem to be needed at the present time – they would make the job of the Gardai conducting this weekend’s very important road safety initiative in our county an easier one.
They would also concentrate the minds of the too many bad drivers on Irish roads on the inevitability that the consequences of their actions will be severe on themselves.
Otherwise their recklessness will continue to have the potential to visit horrendous consequences on innocent others.

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