Inspectors call for further collaboration on road safety, enforcement and legislation
The Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland has called for statutory organisations with a responsibility for enforcing road traffic laws to work more closely together to improve road safety.
Speaking today (Thursday 29 September 2016 ) following the publication of the Driving Change inspection report, Chief Inspector Brendan McGuigan said the road network in Northern Ireland is vital to everyday life with most people using it every day as a driver, passenger, pedestrian, rider or cyclist.
"Roads provide access to work, leisure, goods and services and are hugely important to the community and local business interests. Yet the number of people killed or seriously injured on local roads, and rural roads in particular, is still unacceptably high for a small jurisdiction.
"Officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and enforcement officers from the Department of Infrastructure's (DfI) Driver and Vehicle Agency need to work closely together to develop new ways to address persistent offending and change driver behaviour.
"And in the face of diminishing resources their efforts should be assisted by the use of and development of appropriate supporting legislation.
"Inspectors have therefore recommended the Departments of Justice (DoJ) and Infrastructure (DfI) should alongside the Road Safety Partnership and North/South Ministerial Council, advocate the mutual recognition of disqualified drivers should the disqualification be applied in either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, by the end of this year or as soon as possible thereafter," said Mr McGuigan.
This he said should be supported by the development of an action plan to deliver the mutual recognition of penalty points for motorists on both sides of the border.
"Inspectors advocated the mutual recognition of disqualification, penalty points and the lowering of drink/drive limits between the two jurisdictions eight years ago. It is disappointing these developments - which would help police and other enforcement officers to make the road network safer and effectively challenge motorists flaunting road traffic laws on both sides of the border - have not been progressed," he continued.
Mr McGuigan also said the inspection report highlighted opportunities to streamline how the prosecution of lower level road traffic offences was carried out in Northern Ireland.
"In England," he said "Inspectors found bureaucracy and associated costs had been reduced by adopting a centralised Traffic Court system. This allowed for uncontested or guilty plea cases to be prosecuted for certain offences, without the need for prosecutors or defendants to be present.
"Decisions and evidence presented in this way as 'police-led prosecutions' were found to reduce delays, reduce the number of road traffic cases going before a Magistrate's Court, increase the number of convictions and deliver financial savings," said the Chief Inspector.
If adopted in Northern Ireland, Mr McGuigan said Inspectors believed this approach could reduce pressure on the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) and free up court lists, enabling Magistrates' Courts to focus attention on cases where motoring offences were contested along with other more serious motoring and criminal matters.
"We have recommended in this report that the PSNI, PPS, Departments of Justice and Infrastructure along with the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service should scope the delivery of a similar road traffic prosecution team approach to operate within a centralised Traffic Court in this jurisdiction."
Mr McGuigan said the inspection revealed there was also scope to maximise the use of new and available technology to support enforcement action, such as extending the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition to include the full range of road traffic laws.
He also advocated the establishment of a database to enable roadside enforcement staff to access a wider range of real time information, alongside all road traffic regulations and laws.
In conclusion Mr McGuigan said: "The use of the road network is fundamental to modern living and commercial business. It is therefore imperative our roads are as safe as possible whilst also allowing free flow of traffic. Where road closures and diversions occur either for investigative reasons or to maintain public safety, every effort should be made to strike a balance between these requirements and the needs of all road users."