Donohoe admits often not possible to enforce road safety laws
89% of disqualified drivers’ licences not recorded from January 2013 to March 2015
Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe: letter from the Department of Transport’s road safety division to the Courts Service. Photograph: Alan Betson
Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe has admitted in private correspondence it is “frequently impossible” to enforce road safety laws as offenders are not being compelled to produce their licences in court.
Figures from the Courts Service show 89 per cent of disqualified drivers’ licence details were not recorded in court between January 2013 and March 2015. In addition, 96 per cent did not surrender their licence.
It is an offence for individuals convicted of road traffic offences not to produce their licence in court for the application of penalty points or the enforcement of disqualifications. A small number of prosecutions for this offence – the first in the State – came before the courts in September and were adjourned.
The Garda has said all offending motorists’ names and addresses are recorded on the Courts Service’s “criminal case tracking system” and that even when gardaí do not have licence details for banned drivers, they are still able to identify them through their names and addresses.
However, in a letter from the Department of Transport’s road safety division to the Courts Service, sent “on behalf of Paschal Donohoe”, an official said this was “frequently impossible”.
“The recording of the licence details ... is essential to the judicial process,” said the letter, a copy of which has been seen by The Irish Times. “Where the law requires that penalty points are to be imposed in consequence of conviction, the licence details must be recorded for transmission to this department, or it will not be possible to endorse the points on the person’s licence record on the National Vehicle and Driver File (NVDF).
“Where a person is disqualified as a result of a court procedure, it is likewise essential that the details are recorded. Without the taking of the record at the time, it is frequently impossible to ensure that penalty points are endorsed, or that disqualifications are enforceable.”
In response, Circuit and District Court head of operations John Coyle said it was “regrettable that large numbers would appear to avoid the application of penalty points by failing to produce their licence/permits to the court”.
Mr Coyle also outlined measures the Courts Service is undertaking to combat the non-production of licences in court and described a proposal to commence work on a data-sharing project to link driver records with the NVDF as “the most effective method of ensuring the application of penalty points”.
“As regards improved electronic systems, you will be aware of the pilot project being established to allow registrars in the Chancery Street courts in Dublin access to the NVDF to check driver licence details, if so requested by the court,” he said. “These two courts process the majority of road traffic summonses in the greater Dublin area and are a good testing area. It should be remembered that this initiative will not resolve the many more pressing deficiencies.”
Parc road safety group chairwoman Susan Gray said the problems surrounding recording of licences were “an absolute disgrace”.
“We believe that if a driver does not present their licence in court there is one solution and that is to adjourn the case to allow the driver to produce his/her licence before the end of the court session.”