Road traffic legislation is administered and enforced by An Garda Siochana under the Road Traffic Acts. There exists a vast quantity of road traffic legislation regulating vehicles and driver conduct.
The Gardai have wide powers of enforcement. There are numerous specific powers of arrest under road traffic legislation where An Garda Siochana member has reasonable grounds to believe an offence has been committed. An Garda Siochana have more thoroughgoing powers in relation to public service vehicles.
Where members of an Garda Siochana make a requirement request or demand under a power in the Road Traffic Act they must be in uniform or produce evidence of identification if requested.
An Garda Siochana can operate checks and checkpoints. They have powers to make random checks.
Vehicle insurers are obliged to give notice to the Revenue Commissioners of particulars of policies issued with vehicle particulars for the purpose of verification and crosschecking under the registration system.
Generally ,the Road Traffic Acts require proof that an offence took place at a public place. There has been a good deal of case law on the subject. The legislation defines a public place as any public road or any street, road or other place, to which the public have access with a vehicle whether as of right or by permission or whether or not subject or free of charge.
A road may be a public road where it may be entered by implied permission of the owner particularly where there is no physical obstruction to access. A public road may include a small private road serving a small number of houses.
The car park of a public house may or may not be a public place depending on circumstances. It is a matter of degree or fact. A road may be a public place during certain hours, and thereafter, for example, when a physical barrier or gate is closed, may cease to be a public place. The car park of a factory has been held to be a public place.
The Gardai have statutory and common law powers to stop vehicles at random in public places where this is for the purpose of prevention and detection of offences.
Vehicles may be inspected for compliance with road traffic legislation. Defective cars may be examined and may be the subject of requirements. The person may be required to have it examined by a suitable person within a certain distance.
Where there are reasonable grounds for believing the car is defective and is a danger to the public An Garda Siochana may require that the car not be driven and require the person to submit it for further examination.
Power to Stop
A driver of a motor vehicle in a public place must stop the vehicle on being so requested by An Garda Siochana. Failure to comply is an offence.
The driver shall keep it stationary for such period as may be reasonably required to enable the member to discharge his duties.
Gardai who exercise powers under the Road Traffic Act must be in uniform, or if not, must provide official identification.
The Gardai have a common law duty to detect and prevent crime. They may therefore require motorists to stop vehicles in order to adequately detect and prevent crime.
They have specific power and authority to detect and prevent drunk driving. This includes putting up the checkpoints in the vicinity of a licensed premises.
An Garda Siochana’s powers must be used in a bona fide manner. They must not act in an arbitrary capricious or improper manner. A member of the public may question why he is being stopped.
Although the common law powers were probably sufficient to allow stopping drivers without a specific suspicion, the 2006 Act was passed to make the position clear. It might otherwise have been argued that random and systematic Garda checkpoints for the purpose of detecting breach of the intoxicating liquors laws might not always be lawful.
A member of an Garda Síochána not below them rank of Inspector may authorise the establishment of a checkpoint or checkpoints in public places. The authorisation may specify dates, places and hours at which it may be operated.
A member of a Garda Síochána at the checkpoint may stop vehicles and without limiting any other powers by law, may require the person in charge of the vehicle to give a specimen of breath or accompany him to Garda station to give a sample. He may be authorised to require him to leave the vehicle or move it to a place until the person has complied with the requirement.
A person who refuses or fails to comply with the requirement immediately y in the manner indicated or without reasonable cause, refuses to comply with the obligations, is guilty of an offense subject to on summary conviction to a fine of up to €5,000 or six months imprisonment. A Garda may arrest a person who is committing an offence without warrant. In prosecutions, it is presumed until the contrary is shown, that the apparatus is what it purports to be.
The Gardai have statutory powers to request information from drivers and others in charge of vehicles. Breach of the general information requirement is an offence subject on summary conviction to a fine up to €2,000.
Where a member of an Garda Siochana alleges to a person using a vehicle that the member suspects that the person has committed cetain specified offence under the Road Traffic Act, he may demand of that person his name, address and date of birth. Failure to give it without reasonable grounds or giving false or misleading information entitles the member to arrest the person without warrant.
Where An Garda Siochana has reasonable grounds to believe an offence has been committed and the vehicle does not have registration plate/identification marks An Garda Siochana may arrest the person concerned.
Where a member of Garda Siochana has reasonable grounds believing that an offence has been committed involving the use of a vehicle, the owner shall if required, state whether he was actually driving the vehicle at the time. Failure to respond is itself an offence.
A member of An Garda Siochana can require a person to confirm whether or not he was using a vehicle at a particular time. Where the owner states he was not using the vehicle at the requisite time, he shall give information required to identify the person actually using it. Failure to do so or giving false or misleading information is an offence.
Other persons if required by members of An Garda Siochana must give information which they can which may lead to identification of the person using the vehicle. Refusal to give any of the requisite information is an offence. The requirement may be made personally or by registered post.
A member of an Garda Siochana may request a person driving a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place to sign his name in a book to be provided by the member for the purpose of comparison of signatures. Refusal or failure to do so is an offence
An Garda Siochana may require the person in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle to provide a preliminary breath sample and to provide a sample specimen of blood or urine following arrest. The person most accompany a member of An Garda Siochana to a Gardai station is to provide blood and urine specimens.
A person must produce his driving licence and certificate on demand for inspection by An Garda Siochana.
A member of an Garda Siochana may demand if a person in charge of a pedal cycle whom he suspects of having committed a crime or offence or having been concerned in a collision or other event in a public place causing injury to persons to property, the name and address of the person. If he fails to give the name, address and date of birth and gives false or misleading information he is guilty of an offence.
Powers to Require
The Road Traffic Act at various points contains broad powers for the Gardai, in relation to motorists and road traffic.There is a range of legislation which grants power to members of the Gardai to stop and search persons and vehicles. Generally it is a requirement that the Garda suspects with reasonable cause that a particular offence has been committed.
There are specific stand-alone powers by which members Garda Siochana can require production for example of a licence or in the context of intoxication driving require samples and other actions
There are statutory power to request particulars of the name and address of the cyclist where a member of a Garda Siochana suspects him of having committed a crime or an offence or having been concerned in a collision or other event causing injury. If he gives information which the member on reasonable grounds believes to be false and misleading the bicycle may be taken and retained until the person’s identity has been established
Failure to stop and keep the vehicle stationary when required under the general power may also be subject be the subject of a fixed penalty notice with penalty points on the driver’s licence.
The Section 107 powers in the Principal Act applies to pedal cyclists as well as motorists. It empowers Gardaí to require name, address and date of birth from motorists in specified circumstances and to arrest a person who refuses or who gives what the Garda believes to be false or misleading information.
The 2016 Act provides Garda powers related to cyclists which are more limited and do not involve a power of arrest. As Gardaí may now issue fixed charge notices to cyclists, it is necessary to enhance Garda powers in dealing with cyclists. It is extended to cover cyclists as well as motorists, while section 108 remains in force.
Where the registered owner is a company and does not furnish the requisite information under the above legislation the individual who signed the application for licence or registration or trade licence may be deemed to be driving or otherwise using a vehicle at the time of the offence.
Where offences are committed by companies under the legislation or anyone acting on their behalf and it is proved that it was done with the consent or connivance or neglect of any director, manager, secretary or officer such person may be punished for the same offence as if he or she was guilty.
Criminal Law Protections
The above powers are exercised in the context of the general principle that a person should not be obliged to incriminate himself. Various cases under this and other legislation have generally upheld these powers to require information on pain of a penalty.
For example where a member of an Garda Siochana, suspects that a vehicle is defective or a danger to the public he may stop it for inspection and if necessary test it. The member may direct that the vehicle be bought for inspection to a place within 5 miles. A direction can be made requiring the defect to be remedied. It is an offence to drive until the defect identified has been remedied. . Breach of the requirements is an offence subject on summary conviction to a fine up to €1500 and three months imprisonment or both.
The “Judges Rules” require members of the Gardai, who have made their mind up to charge a person to give a warning that what they say may be used in evidence against them. The court has a discretion to exclude evidence thereby obtained. In most cases Garda enquiries may be made at a time before it will be evident that the Garda has made his or her mind up to charge the person concerned.
The courts have upheld these types of provision notwithstanding the privilege against self-incrimination. A statement made pursuant to the power may not however be voluntary and may be ruled inadmissible as evidence in certain circumstances. It does not follow that the process is unlawful
Traffic wardens are appointed by the Department of Justice and have some of the powers of a member of an Garda Siochana. Traffic wardens may be retained under contract with the Department on such terms as may be specified.
Traffic wardens may issue on the spot fines under certain circumstances. Traffic wardens are appointed by local authorities under local authority legislation. On the spot fines maybe physically affixed to the vehicle by traffic wardens.
Traffic wardens have access to registers of vehicle ownerships and records. They may require information as to the identity of the registered owner or anybody in his employment.
The vast majority of road traffic offences are prosecuted summarily in the District Court. See the other chapters in our guide in relation to summary prosecution in the District Court. The general rules of evidence apply. In particular cases there are modifications to facilitate administration.
Prosecutions may be conducted by An Garda Siochana by themselves or with Chief State Solicitor or County Solicitor assistance.
Generally road traffic offences are held at a particular time or sitting of the District Court. It is not unusual for dozens if not hundreds of offences to be listed for a single hearing. Generally the cases last a relatively short length of time. In a great many cases a solicitor is retained and appears to make a plea of guilty to the offence concerned.
In some cases evidence may be tested and the Court will hear whether the offence was proved in the usual way.
The General Penalty
The general penalty for breach of the Road Traffic Act applies to offences for which a specific punishment or sanction is not specified. The general penalties are as follows.
- on a first offence to €1,000
- on a second offence or third subsequent offence other than an offence next mentioned to fine up to €2,000
- in the case of a third or a subsequent offence, a fine of up to €2,000 and imprisonment for up to three months or both.
The Minister for Justice may by regulation provide for fixed charge offences. They may apply to the Road Traffic Acts or the Road Transport Acts. It may entail breaches of European Communities regulations regarding road transport and carriage of vehicle.