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New penalties for texting while driving come into force

From this Thursday motorists convicted of sending a text message or email while driving will face tough new penalties and a compulsory court appearance.

Sending a text message while driving is one of the most dangerous things that any motorist can do. Drivers who send messages while driving spend up to 400% more time with their eyes off the road. It’s lethal behaviour, even when stopped in traffic, and it’s in all our interests to put the phone away while driving.

The new penalties come into effect this Thursday, May 1st. Any motorist convicted under the regulations must attend court and face a financial penalty to be determined by the judge. There is no option to take the lesser penalty of penalty points on this offence.

The new penalties come on top of existing penalties for holding a mobile phone while driving and apply specifically to sending SMS or MMS messages and emails. They also close a loophole which may have permitted motorists to send a text message if a phone was held in a cradle within the car.

The Department will address other phone applications and the use of other electronic devices while driving when we have an all-encompassing means of identifying them within a legal framework. However, motorists are advised never to use their phones or electronic devices for any purpose while driving.

What do the new regulations do?

These regulations apply to mobile phones which are not held ie hands-free devices. ‘Text message’ in these regulations includes an SMS or MMS message, or an email. ‘MMS’ means a Multimedia Messaging Service which sends messages that include multimedia content between mobile or fixed numbers assigned in accordance with national numbering plans. ‘SMS’ means a Short Message Service text message, composed principally of alphabetical or numerical characters, capable of being sent between mobile or fixed numbers assigned in accordance with national numbering plans.

How is this new?

Legislation already in place makes it an offence to HOLD a mobile phone while driving.  Before now, the legislation regarding text messages has not applied specifically to mobile phones NOT being held.

What do they not do?

They do not make it an offence to speak via a hands-free device.  Nor do they make it an offence to touch a button on a hand-free device in order to answer a phone call.

What is the Penalty?

From coming into effect of the regulations, they will be subject to the general penalty under section 102 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, as amended. This means that cases will come to court and, if convicted, the penalty will be:
€1,000 maximum fine for a first offence
€2,000 maximum fine for a second or subsequent offence
€2,000 maximum fine and/or up to three months in prison for a third or subsequent offence within a twelve month period.

What are the implications for taxi drivers who use the HailO App?

HailO is a smartphone app which is used to notify drivers that a fare is waiting.  It allows drivers to accept a fare by pushing a button, at which point the app displays details of the location for pick-up, and also offers a map of how to get there.

The new regulations therefore do not impact on the use of HailO.  The Department would have concerns for anybody using a mobile phone for any purpose while driving.