Almost 90% of banned drivers refusing to surrender licence
Only 11% of 83,000 disqualified drivers have surrendered their licences
Commissioner Drew Harris told the Public Accounts Committee disqualified drivers ‘by and large, are retaining their licencesat the conference’. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw
The systems to ensure disqualified drivers were put off the roads were not working as the vast majority of suspended drivers were declining to surrender their licences, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said.
It has emerged that of the 83,000 drivers disqualified, for a range of offences, over the past eight years only 11 per cent have surrendered their licences.
And while the number of drivers surrendering their licences to the Road Safety Authority (RSA) while they serve their bans had increased slightly last year, almost nine out of 10 drivers were still retaining their licences.
The situation was exacerbated because Garda members did not have technology available to them at the roadside that would allow them to check if a driver they encountered was driving while banned.
Figures released to Peter Burke TD (FG) show that in 2012 only seven per cent of motorists banned from driving had surrendered their licences. The rate than increased to 13 per cent last year.
Mr Burke said the rate at which drivers were refusing to surrender their licences represented a “crisis point” for the justice system.
“When one considers that seven per cent of fatal accidents have been caused by disqualified drivers, there is a number of fatalities that have been driven by this,” he said.
Mr Burke made his remarks during an exchange with Commissioner Harris at Public Accounts Committee on Thursday. Commissioner Harris said it was clear the current situation was not acceptable.
“It is not working as we would wish and it is not working as one would wish in that disqualified drivers, by and large, are retaining their licences,” he said of the current system under which drivers are left to self-surrender their licences.
“That is not good, it is a road safety issue and people are in effect evading the justice that is handed out to them.”
But he added electronic devices that would allow gardaí conduct roadside checks of databases to establish if a driver was banned or not were now being introduced. Some 2,000 would be in circulation by the end of the year.
For its part, the RSA said that surrendering a drivers’ licence was no guarantee that drivers would stay off the roads. It added about 50 per cent of banned drivers either never had a valid licence or their licence had expired.
It believed the smart tablet devices being distributed to gardaí would enable them instantly identify those drivers who should not be behind the wheel.
Also at the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday, Deputy Commissioner John Twomey said more than 2,200 of the 14,700 drivers wrongly convicted of motoring crimes had been contacted by the Garda and the appeals of their convictions had been concluded.
The cases came to light in 2016 and Mr Twomey said a further 2,000 appeals were currently before the courts.
However, of the 12,000 letters issued to people wrongly convicted, some 5,000 had been returned as the intended recipient was not residing at the address linked to them at the time of their convictions.
Because of problems with the fixed charge notice, or penalty points, system the 14,700 drivers were wrongly convicted over a period of years leading up to 2016.
They should have been given the opportunity to resolve their cases before being summoned to court. But shortcomings in the processing system meant their cases jumped straight to the court process. And because of that their convictions were unsound and must all be appealed.
Despite concerns that the Garda would face legal action and demands for compensation, especially from drivers who had lost their jobs because of their wrongful convictions, this has not proven to be the case, Mr Twomey to the Public Accounts Committee.