updated 10/31/2007 10:24:50 AM ET 2007-10-31T14:24:50

When police caught driver David Clarke flying down a road at 180 kilometers per hour this month, he looked likely to lose his license.

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But a country judge reduced the charge and let the 31-year-old information technology worker stay on the road after concluding the speed did not look as bad when converted into miles, or 112 mph.

“I am not excusing his driving. He should not have been traveling at that speed,” District Court Judge Denis McLoughlin said in his verdict, delivered Tuesday in County Donegal, northwest Ireland.

McLoughlin suggested it was relatively safe to have shattered the legal road limit at the time, citing good weather, light traffic and the road’s unusual straightness.

McLoughlin was quoted as saying the speed seemed “very excessive,” but did not look “as bad” when converted into miles. He lowered the charge from to driving carelessly, and fined him 1,000 euros ($1,450); if convicted of the tougher charge of driving dangerously, Clarke would have lost his license.

Slow metric conversion?
The episode underscored Ireland’s slow mental conversion to metric. Ireland switched its speed limits from miles to kilometers in January 2005, but most cars still display speeds principally in miles.

Clarke, a Dubliner, had been traveling to a Donegal wedding Oct. 13 when he was clocked by a police checkpoint going 180 kph (112 mph) in a 100 kph (62 mph) zone.

Law enforcement on Ireland’s roads is notoriously lax, and judges frequently acquit offending drivers because of loopholes and vagaries in the law.

Over the past week, the government has been forced into an embarrassing U-turn over its plan to close the biggest loophole of all — a law that allows people to fail a first driving test but still receive a license and drive unsupervised.

The government had made Tuesday a deadline for police to begin citing some 150,000 people for driving alone despite failing the test, but pushed the deadline back to mid-2008 after test-flunkers complained they would lose their jobs if barred from the roads.

One in six Irish drivers has never passed an on-the-road test, according to Transport Department statistics.

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