The VW Passat car in which seven men lost their lives in Co Donegal in July. An eighth man in a second car also died

ROAD safety chief Gay Byrne wrote to gardaí expressing concern about a fall in traffic policing in rural locations just six weeks before a catastrophic crash in Co Donegal claimed eight lives.

Byrne, the chairman of the Road Safety Authority, said that media reports and anecdotal evidence had suggested a significant decrease in policing activity.

The letter was acknowledged by gardaí but correspondence from the Road Safety Authority does not say what action was taken.

Byrne wrote the letter following a presentation by gardaí and a subsequent discussion last May, a letter obtained by the Sunday Tribune shows.

He wrote: "Recent media reports and anecdotal evidence suggest there has been a reduction in the volume of traffic policing particularly in rural locations.

"I would be very grateful if you could clarify whether there has been a reduction in the resources available to the Traffic Corps across the country."

Byrne said he was also seeking clarification on "whether this is impacting on the enforcement effort which an Garda Síochána are in a position to deploy".

The letter was sent by Byrne to the head of the Garda National Traffic Bureau on 26 May, according to documents released after a Freedom of Information request.

Gardaí responded a week later on 4 June, simply saying they would "revert in early course" to the enquiries of the Road Safety Authority.

Over a month later, eight men died after a two-car collision in Co Donegal, one of the worst single accidents in living memory.

Criticism of the gardaí following the crash centred on a lack of enforcement in the area and the low rate of penalty points there.

The number of people getting caught for motoring offences – mainly speeding – has fallen by over 20% in the past year.

The fall has become so pronounced that the number of drivers with points on their licence has begun to drop for the first time since the system was introduced.

From a high of 260,315 notices issued between September 2006 and August 2007, latest 12-month figures show a drop of 22%. The number of drivers with penalty points in places like Co Donegal, and other counties with dismal safety records, are among the lowest in the country.

A breakdown of penalty points shows that drivers in Co Donegal actually rank best for driver behaviour in the country, raising concerns that enforcement is sorely lacking.