Second Stage opening address on the Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2014 in Seanad Éireann

16th December, 2014

A Chathaoirleach,


I want to thank the House for facilitating the introduction of this Bill at such short notice. The Bill involves technical amendments to existing legislation to close off some issues related to the endorsement of penalty points on driver licence records and contains a provision to address the implications. In essence, this Bill is about road safety and preserving the integrity of the fixed charge notice and penalty points system.




Senators will recall that, in the Road Traffic Act 2014 which was passed by the Seanad earlier this year, provision was made for the adjustment of penalty points for certain offences, for the endorsement of penalty points on the record of foreign driver licence holders and for the reduction of the disqualification threshold for learner and novice drivers from 12 penalty points to 7. As is normal with road traffic legislation, sections of the Act were commenced at different times.


Among the penalty points adjustments in the 2014 Act were provisions for bringing the offences of using a vehicle without a valid NCT certificate and parking a vehicle in a dangerous position into the fixed charge notice system, with the consequent endorsement of three penalty points on the person’s licence record. I commenced the relevant section of the 2014 Act for these and other adjusted penalty point offences with effect from 8th December 2014. Prior to commencement, these were straight to court offences attracting five penalty points on conviction. In other words, people who committed these offences could not avoid a court appearance by paying a fixed charge.




When preparing the 8th December Commencement Order, an oversight in the legislation was detected in my Department. The 2002 Road Traffic Act, which first established the fixed charge notice and penalty points system, provided for the endorsement of the relevant number of penalty points on the records of those who made payment on foot of fixed charge notices for offences listed in the Schedule to the Act. It excluded from this provision those offences which were straight to court offences including using a vehicle without a valid NCT certificate and parking a vehicle in a dangerous position.


When the 2014 Act was being drafted, these two offences should have been removed from the exclusions contained in the 2002 Act. Due to an oversight, this did not happen and I am proposing to rectify the position in this Bill. There are no implications from this oversight so long as it is closed by the provisions of this Bill.


The other issue that the Bill addresses also relates to the endorsement of penalty points. Section 2 of the 2002 Road Traffic Act provides the basis on which penalty points can be endorsed on a person’s record following the payment of a fixed charge under section 103 of the 1961 Road Traffic Act. Section 8 of the 2014 Act amends section 2 of the 2002 Act by substituting a reference to Section 37 or 44 of the 2010 Road Traffic Act for Section 103 of the 1961 Act.


In other words, with the enactment of the 2014 Act, penalty points would be endorsed on payment of the fixed charge under those Sections of the 2010 Act. Section 8 of the 2014 Act was commenced with effect from 1st August 2014. Unfortunately, because sections 37 and 44 of the 2010 Act have not yet been commenced, the commencement of Section 8 of the 2014 Act removes the power to endorse points on the licence record.


Section 2 of this Bill seeks to address both of the issues to which I referred. The section also provides clarity in relation to a situation where an offence has been committed but the appropriate penalty points associated with the offence has been increased before the fixed charge is paid. The section reflects the current practice of endorsing the number of penalty points that were applicable on the date the alleged offence took place.



The concern that arose when this error was detected was that there might be a question mark over the penalty points endorsed since 1st August following the payment of a fixed charge. I contacted the Office of the Attorney General on this point and have received comprehensive advice. The advice points out that the legal vacuum caused by the commencement of section 8 of the 2014 Act cannot be said to reflect the intention of the Oireachtas, which can be taken to have been that there would, at all times, be some mechanism for endorsing penalty points on the driving licences of persons choosing to make a fixed charge payment in lieu of potential prosecution.


On the basis of the advice, I am satisfied that it is appropriate to provide that those penalty points that have been endorsed following the payment of fixed charges should be retained on licence records. The effect of Section 3 of the Bill is that penalty points endorsed since 1st August following payment of a fixed charge are deemed to have been lawfully endorsed. I think this is appropriate.


The drivers involved will have received a fixed charge notice for the alleged offences and will have made payment on foot of it. The fixed charge notice will also have advised the person of the number of penalty points that would be endorsed on their licence following payment. By paying the charge involved, therefore, the person accepted that penalty points would be endorsed on their licence. I should point out that this concern applied only to drivers who had paid the fixed charge. The penalty points applied to drivers who were convicted by the courts were not affected as endorsement in these circumstances is provided for in a separate section of the 2002 Act.


For the information of the Senators I propose to introduce an amendment at Committee Stage in section 3 on page 4 between lines 23 and 24.  I will elaborate on this then but the purpose of this amendment is to clarify that the section is not intended to infringe the constitutional rights of individuals.




When the fault in legislation was detected on the week before last, I instructed my Department immediately to cease issuing notifications to drivers who had paid the fixed charge that their licences would be endorsed. With the enactment of this Bill, endorsement of licences will re-commence. However, in order to remove any doubt that the penalty points that were not endorsed in the two and a half week intervening period may now be applied, the Bill provides in section 3 (b) for the endorsement of these points.


The fixed charge notice and penalty points system has played an important role in enhancing road safety and has been very effective, since its introduction in 2002, as part of a suite of measures, in addressing safety concerns on our roads. The main objective of the penalty points system is not to penalise but to raise awareness of unsafe practices, to improve driver behaviour and, as a result, reduce the number of deaths and injuries on our roads. The system is widely accepted by the public, as evidenced by the fact that over 70% of those served with a fixed charge notice pay the stipulated amount without recourse to the courts.




The Bill I am presenting today provides a means of addressing inadvertent errors that took place in recent months. I am satisfied that enactment of the Bill will correct these errors and will provide, as is the previously stated will of the Oireachtas, that going forward there is a clear legal basis for the endorsement of penalty points when a fixed charge payment has been made following a road traffic offence. The provisions of the Bill will also ensure that penalty points endorsed following the payment of a fixed charge since 1st August will remain on the licence record.


I wish to thank the Seanad again for facilitating this Bill but I am sure Senators will appreciate the urgency of proceeding and addressing the issues as quickly as possible.

I commend the Bill to the House.