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Road to hell

15 May 2024 / legislation Print

Road to hell

Road-traffic law is a wreck in Ireland – we have 25 acts and over 400 statutory instruments. The latest is the Road Traffic Act 2024. Robert Pierse pulls us over

It was about 5am on Sunday on 5 August 1888 that the formidable Berta Benz drove her husband Karl’s car to Pforzheim, a town in southwestern Germany. She was accompanied by her two sons on the 66-mile adventure.

This was the Mark III Benz Patent-Motorwagen, which launched a marketable ‘horseless carriage’. “Before me, no automobile existed,” Berta boldly proclaimed, which wasn’t quite true.

The advent of the motorwagen also led to many road-traffic laws, a situation that continues unabated today. At that time, no German national laws existed for the horseless carriage. What a change during the intervening 136 years!

In our republic, we have 25 acts and over 400 statutory instruments on road-traffic law. The latest is the Road Traffic Act 2024, coming hot on the heels of the Road Traffic and Roads Act 2023.

I drove all night

This article mainly concerns itself with the Road Traffic and Roads Act 2023. It is adding somewhat to the confusion that the 2024 act makes amendments to the series of Road Traffic Acts 1961-2023.

Remember the adage:
“I am the parliamentary draftsman,
I make the country’s laws,
And of half the litigation,
I am undoubtedly the cause.”

The 2023 act is divided into 16 parts – more complicated than Gaul, which Caeser managed to divide into just three parts! The most important are:

  • Part 2 concerns driving licences (where there are many changes).
  • Parts 4, 12 and 14 contain a multitude of amendments of the Road Traffic Act 1961 and some amendments to the other acts.
  • Part 4 comprises section 5 of the 2023 act, which makes over 40 amendments to 1961 act (these amendments include the insertions of new sections 22B, 23C, 23D, 23E, 56A, 56B, 78A, and 109A).
  • Part 12 has 12 sections amending the 1961 act. This is the part that introduces you to the fascinatingly named ‘powered personal transporter’ – unregistered and uninsured vehicles. This is defined. I’d leave you the pleasure of reading that section, but it has just been amended by the 2024 act! Section 5 also introduces the definition of ‘autonomous vehicles’ and ‘vehicle identification number’ (VIN).
  • Part 14 consists of 14 pages of amendments, mainly focused on speeding offences. It inserts new sections into the 2004 act: 9A, 10A, 10B, 10C, 10D, and 10E. Further changes have been made in the new 2024 act.
  • Part 16 includes a pathetic section entitled ‘Functions of the minister in relation to zero to low emissions’.

Speed king

The common charge of dangerous driving can be found in section 53 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. There are small changes to that section in the 2023 act. However, these changes are likely to have quite a big effect.

Section 5(K) of the 2023 Road Traffic and Roads Act makes two changes to subsection (1), specifically removing the words ‘public place’ and inserting ‘in which it is driven’ after conditions and use of the place. Apparently, this was to deal primarily with scrambler-bike events held on private property.

Secondly, section 5(P) inserts a two-anda-half-page section 109A into the 1961 act, headed ‘Powers of Garda Síochána in relation to dangerous driving’. These are very wide powers that are included in seizure, for example.

We are already hearing of garda raids and seizures under this section. One in Dublin on 19 December 2023 was carried out while the owners of the offending vehicles were at school!

There are provisions for applying to the District Court to get your vehicle back within two months of seizure.

Souped-up Ford

There are now the following definitions of ‘driving’ at the time of writing (April 2024):

1) Prior to the passage of the Road Traffic Act 2023, the definition of ‘driving’ in section 3 was, and still is: “Driving includes managing and controlling and in relation to a bicycle or tricycle riding” and “driver and other cognate words shall be construed accordingly”.

2) Section 5(a)(ii) of the 2023 act amends section 3(1) of the 1961 act to provide that “driving includes (a) managing and controlling, (b) in the case of autonomous vehicles, during periods of time when the vehicle is moving autonomously, monitoring, overseeing and supervising, and (c) in relation to bicycle, tricycle or ‘powered personal transporter’, ‘riding’ and ‘driver’ and other cognate words shall be construed accordingly”.

3) In part 12 of the Road Traffic Act 2023, which deals with ‘powered personal transporters’, section 16 reads: “Section 3 of the act of 1961 is amended (a) in the definition of ‘driving’ by substitution of ‘bicycle, tricycle or powered personal transportation’ for ‘bicycle or tricycle’.

It does not say “for this part of the act”, so we have a further definition – namely, that ‘driving’ includes managing and controlling, and in relation to a ‘bicycle, tricycle or powered personal transporter’, ‘riding’ and ‘driver’ and cognate words shall be construed accordingly.

I think item (2) will survive eventually – neither (2) nor (3) had been brought into force as of April 2024.

Waitin’ for the bus

Section 56 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 (compulsory insurance) now has two ‘children’ sections, specifically section 56A and section 56B dealing with information. There is a new section 78A dealing with information, databases, and the MIBI.

Parts of the 2003 act:

  • Part 5 makes many amendments to the 1968 act, particularly in relation to driving instructions and instructors.
  • Part 6 amends the powers of traffic wardens under the 1975 Local Authorities (Traffic Wardens) Act. Section 3 is replaced with new sections 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D, and sections 3E, 3F, 3G and 3H are inserted. Don’t forget to pay your parking charge!
  • Part 7 amends section 35 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, which deals with the control of traffic and pedestrians. It introduces a new section 35A as to the control of certain vehicles.
  • Part 8 amends the Road Traffic Act 2002, dealing mostly with penalty points. There is a further amendment to penalty points/disqualification in view of the recent public criticism of section 2(8) of the Road Traffic Act 2002, in the 2024 act.
  • Part 9 amends the 2010 act, which I always regard as the ‘Intoxicants Act’. There are two-and-a-half pages of amendments, with further amendments in the 2024 act (see below).

The 2023 act affects 17 amendments to section 95 of the 1961 act. The 2024 act amends three of the 2023 act amendments to section 95 – what a jungle!

At time of writing, much of the 2023 act had not been brought into operation, unfortunately. Three commencement orders have been made. I am told that many commencement orders are on the way in 2024. How exciting!

The 2024 act:

A new provision has been added as to the intoxication tests when there is a road collision (I don’t like the word ‘accident’, in most circumstances) by the 2024 act.

On 17 April 2024, the President signed the new Road Traffic Act 2024. It has 22 sections, each amending older acts, specifically the 1961, 2004 and 2010 acts and, indeed, the 2023 act. It amends the law as to penalty points, speed limits, intoxicated driving – namely sections 9, 10, 22 and 23 of the 2010 act.

Parts 10 and 11 set out minor amendments to the Road Traffic Acts 2014 and 2016.

Space truckin’

We have had our first high-tech car case. It involved a charge of dangerous driving heard in the District Court in Dublin. A motorist was seen driving in a motorway lane with no hands on the wheel – his arms were folded on his chest. He was prosecuted for dangerous driving.

The case was dismissed, as the defendant explained that the car was automated, could drive itself, and could react to cars crossing between lanes – so there was no danger (see The Irish Times, 26 October 2023).

The 81-page 2023 act and 11-page 2024 act add to the mass (or should that be ‘mess’?) of controls concerning road traffic.

This area cries out (as I have been stating for a number of years) for consolidation. Help!

I would be very happy to hear from anybody who would be interested in updating, with me, my fourth edition of 1961-2017 Road Traffic Legislation. I’m 86 you know! You are welcome to email me at pierserobert@gmail.com.

Robert Pierse BCL, LLB, is a retired Kerry-based solicitor.




Robert Pierse
Robert Pierse BCL, LLB, is a retired Kerry-based solicitor.