Government gets tough on drivers

PAY FIRST, complain later, is the attitude taken in the new Highway Code proposed by the government. After more than a year of discussion, amendments to the current Code have now been submitted to parliament to become law, although the legislation will not come into force until 2005.

A prior scheme for fines, drawn up by the previous Minister for Home Affairs, has now been dropped and it is clear that the new legislation will be much tougher. It proposes that, if a driver cannot pay a fine on the spot, his vehicle documents, driver’s licence, or both, will be confiscated for 15 days.

At the end of this time, if the fine continues to be outstanding, his car or motorbike can be impounded for up to 90 days. At the end of this period, if the fine is still unpaid, the vehicle becomes the property of the state in order for the debt to be cleared. The law will, however, allow for fines of more than 200 euros to be paid in monthly instalments, at a minimum of 50 euros per payment.

In another crackdown, driving offences will now remain on file for two years instead of one. The Direcção-Geral de Viação (DGV) will be responsible for the issue of all licences, including those for mopeds, three-wheelers and quad bikes. They will also hold the road offence records and control the registration of number plates.

The punishments given out for road offences will be controlled by regional co-ordinators and some offences which were previously considered ‘serious’ will now be classified as ‘very serious’. This will be the case for crossing a solid white line marking, failing to respect a stop sign and driving through a red light.

Other important changes include a toughening up of the penalties for reckless driving. In the case of crossing a central barrier, a driver would be subjected to medical tests to assess their psychological aptitude to drive. If caught driving while over the legal alcohol limit of 0.8g/l, or under the influence of drugs, a motorist will be deemed unfit to drive for three years. Drivers committing a very serious offence will face an increased fine and have their licence taken away. In a further bid to improve road safety, the period of being classed as a ‘learner driver’ will increase from two to three years, and during this time the driver must display the regulation symbol on the vehicle.