Four in five disqualified drivers holding on to licences
Additional measures needed to ensure compliance, says Road Safety Authority
The number of road checkpoints has declined as resources have been pulled into other areas. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Almost four out of five drivers disqualified in court are failing to surrender their licence, figures from the Road Safety Authority (RSA) show.
These figures also show some disqualified drivers are continuing to drive and to commit motoring offences while they should be serving the six-month driving disqualification.
According to the RSA, 9,611 drivers were disqualified in court between October 29th, 2013 (when the RSA took over responsibility for driving licences) and a further 476 received disqualifications for accumulating 12 penalty points.
Of these, 8,137 – or 81 per cent – did not surrender their licences.
During that period 465 drivers who should have been serving a driving ban accumulated penalty points. A further 11 drivers were charged with drink driving.
While it is an offence to not surrender a licence to the RSA on disqualification, punishable by a fine of up to €5,000, and also an offence to drive while disqualified, the evidence shows both are being widely ignored.
According to the RSA, some 5,156 of the 9,611 drivers disqualified over the period did not have a valid licence.
This cohort includes those whose licence may have expired, the driver may have been from another country or they never held a licence.
Road safety group Parc said the figures showed some of the most dangerous drivers in the State were ignoring their driving bans and said the failure to enforce bans would contribute to the undermining of public confidence in road traffic laws.
An RSA spokesman said additional measures were needed to ensure compliance with licence surrender and adherence to driving bans.
Among the actions being pursued by the RSA is a requirement for a disqualification to be automatically registered with gardaí.
At the moment this is a manual, paper-based task performed by the Courts Service. The Irish Times understands there can be significant delays in this information being transferred from the courts to the Garda.
Another change will see disqualified drivers sent a letter to advise them they have been banned from driving.
A spokesman for the RSA said the Department of Transport, the Garda and Courts Services were examining further sanctions against drivers who refuse to surrender their licence.
“Ultimately, enforcement has a critical role to play in encouraging greater compliance”.
Parc founder Susan Gray said the key issue was the failure to use existing legislation to prosecute those who fail to surrender their licence.
“Our information is that just six (five in 2014 and one in 2015) drivers have to date been prosecuted for failing to surrender a driving licence even though it is an offence punishable with a fine of up to €5,000.”
Independent TD Tommy Broughan, who had submitted numerous parliamentary questions on the issue of driving disqualifications, said at its simplest the issue was due to lack of enforcement.
“Drivers just don’t think they will be caught without the licence. The number of Garda checkpoints has declined over the last four or five years as resources are pulled into other areas.”
He also suggested the penalties for failing to surrender a licence and for driving without a licence should be re-examined and made more severe as neither appeared to be offering an appropriate sanction.