Failing to link penalties to driving licences

 

Sir, – Fiona Gartland’s article “Four in five drink-driver licences not recorded by courts” (April 18th) calls for an urgent policy response. As your reporter states, “it is essential that licences are recorded in court to ensure that penalty points are endorsed on them or in the case of disqualification to ensure that it is enforceable”.

The Oireachtas Library and Research Service drew the attention of members to the failure to link penalties to driving licences early in 2014. Senator Feargal Quinn and I sought to address the issue by amendments in Seanad debates on road safety in February 2014. The then minister for transport stated that “I accept that drivers should carry a licence at all times”. When he sought Garda advice, he found that “their view is that the current system is adequate and they do not wish to see it changed”. That view preserved a ten-day gap between the Garda request to produce the licence and its actual production.

The minister further stated that “people are required to bring their licence and a copy of their licence when they go to court. We are working hard with the Court Service to ensure that this is enforced and to ensure that people get the penalty points and do not manage to escape because they do not turn up in court or because they are not recorded by the Court Service for some reason.” Three years, and 600 road deaths later, “working hard with the Court Service” has failed. Fiona Gartland’s article cites “new legislation specifically requiring a presiding judge to ask a convicted driver to produce a licence to the court (which) would tighten up existing procedures”.

The Seanad debate also noted that only gardaí of the rank of inspector or above, that is 2 per cent of the membership, had power to set up alcohol testing stations for road traffic. An amendment to allow sergeants to establish these stations was rejected by the minister because the Garda had not requested it.

The minister added, however, that “if the Garda had requested an extension of these powers to other ranks of Garda, I would be happy to implement it”. Including sergeants would have extended to 14 per cent of the Garda the power to set up alcohol testing points. The promised “root and branch” review might examine the extension of road safety powers among the remaining 86 per cent of gardaí.

A road safety group cited by Fiona Gartland states that 98 per cent of disqualified drivers had not surrendered their licences. All parties in the Oireachtas should ensure that the new Road Traffic Act and the agencies charged with its enforcement are fit for purpose. – Yours, etc,

SEAN BARRETT,

Economics Department,

Trinity College,

Dublin 2.