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It was one of the first, and remains one of the most effective, road safety interventions introduced in Ireland.

The penalty points system was introduced on November 1, 2002. At first it only included the offence of speeding. Seatbelts, no insurance and mobile phone offences were added shortly after. Now 63 offences attract penalty points.

The system is designed to prevent drivers from endangering themselves and others. It’s a voluntary system. Penalty points are not being forced on people. If someone doesn’t want to get points on their licence or a fine of €60 to €80 then all they have to do is choose not to speed, use a mobile phone or drive without a seatbelt. Someone choosing not to engage in risky behaviour has nothing to worry about.

If you accumulate 12 penalty points within a three-year period you face disqualification from driving for six months. A lower threshold of seven penalty points, leading to disqualification, applies to learner permit holders who took out their first permit on or after August 1, 2014; and novice drivers.

The points’ headline offences remain speeding, mobile phone use non-seatbelt wearing. The top five that attract penalties are:

1. Speeding: 413,135 notices have been issued in the last three years. Speeding is the most significant contributory factor to road trauma.

2. Mobile phone offences: 82,079 notices issued. Research shows you are four times more likely to crash if using a hand-held mobile. This increases substantially if texting.

3. Seat belts: 26,582 notices; 21,536 of these have been issued for failing to wear their own seatbelt. A seatbelt can significantly increase your chances of surviving a crash. The remaining 5,046 notices were issued for failing to properly restrain children. Because children cannot be responsible for their own safety in a car, failing to restrain them properly is selfish and irresponsible.

4. No NCT: 19,870 notices issued for failing to have a valid NCT certificate. Research shows that defective tyres are a factor in almost 14 deaths annually.

5. Driving without reasonable consideration: 15,479 notices issued. This is where a driver’s actions, while not leading to a crash, adversely affect another driver.

Others include no insurance (13,345 notices), learner drivers driving unaccompanied (13,044) and breaking a red light (11,676).

The vast majority of drivers, 402,780 out of 519,658, have three or fewer points. So, for the majority it really is a case of ‘once bitten, twice shy’. That is how the system is designed to work – as a deterrent.

But there is always a group of drivers who don’t get the point and end up with lots of points. Some are now dangerously close to losing their licence and facing a major increase in their insurance costs. There are 1,460 drivers with 10 points and 1,077 on 11. They are only one or two offences away from losing their licence. With the top three of speeding, mobile phone use and non-seatbelt wearing, now carrying three penalty points, they’ll need to tread carefully.

A total of 910 drivers have hit the jackpot and are on 12 points. For their irresponsible behaviour they can now look forward to a six-month disqualification.

While persistent offenders face increases in their insurance costs, the opposite is the case for those who have only a few or no penalty points on their licence record.

The fact that insurance companies will give discounts if a policy holder stays penalty-point free has bolstered the deterrent effect of the system, by financially rewarding drivers who drive safely.

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