Few motorists convicted for driving with no licence

Monaghan and Cavan have lowest conviction rates at 4 and 5% respectively

 File photograph. Photograph: Bryan O Brien

File photograph. Photograph: Bryan O Brien

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Four out of every five motorists taken to court for driving without a licence escape conviction, data spanning 2½ years shows.

Monaghan and Cavan have the lowest conviction rates at 4 and 5 per cent respectively, although the national average is 19 per cent.

Parc, the road safety campaign group that compiled the data, says it is particularly concerned that disqualified drivers are prosecuted for the same offence of driving without a licence, rendering it difficult to separate out how often they are caught on the roads.

It has called on the Garda to release specific data on disqualified drivers. It also wants greater clarity on why broader conviction rates appear so low.

“What the figures show us is that it really is a waste of Garda time and court time, not to mention the tax-payers’ money, bringing these people to court when the conviction rate is as low as 4 per cent,” said Parc campaigner Aisling Reid. “There is something wrong there and we don’t know what it is.”

The data looks at the number of drivers through 2018, 2019 and half of 2020 who were brought to court, how many were subsequently convicted as opposed to having their cases either struck out or dismissed, and how many received fines.

While most courts had conviction rates well below 50 per cent, many are under 10 per cent. Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan had just a 3 per cent conviction rate (eight of 319 drivers over the 2½ years); Cavan Town 4 per cent (18 of 506); Waterford city, 5 per cent (50 of 1,068); and Buncrana, Co Donegal and Virginia, Co Cavan, each at 6 per cent (7 of 117, and 22 of 344 respectively).

Searchable table: City/town figures

Interactive map: Hover over county for breakdown

Achill in Co Mayo recorded the highest rate (67 per cent) although there were just six drivers prosecuted there over the period. The next highest rate was found in Cork city at 37 per cent, representing 917 of 2,499 drivers. The Kerry courts of Kenmare and Killarney both had 36 per cent conviction rates.

Struck out

Mark O’Sullivan, of O’Sullivan Kenny Solicitors, who has been defending road traffic cases for over a decade, outlined three principal reasons for non-convictions. He said many people produce their licence in court having failed to do so at a Garda station within 10 days of being caught on the road. In other cases the charge is struck out on agreement that a defendant pleads guilty to other, more serious charges such as driving without insurance; or gardaí do not show up to court, leading to a strike out.

The offence of driving without a licence, much like failing to produce a licence, is often “taken into consideration” by the court alongside more serious offences. But in these instances, Mr O’Sullivan said, they are still recorded as a conviction. Even with all of these variables, he said the rates appear low.

“I am very surprised [by the data]. I would be curious to learn what information was given by the Courts Service when an offence is taken into consideration; are they included within the data?”

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy, who sourced the data from the Courts Service via the Minister for Justice, said she supports Parc’s push for segregated data on disqualified drivers.

“It is in the public interest that the information is separate and that people actually do see the rate of convictions where somebody is disqualified,” she said. “I think that the public expectation is that if somebody is disqualified, they are disqualified and they fit into a whole other category.”

Ms Murphy said she also believes there should be some insight into why conviction rates are so low in order to allow legislators understand how laws work in practice.

A Garda spokesman said it was evident from cases publicised through their Twitter account that hand-held devices used by gardaí on the roads were having “considerable success in detecting disqualified drivers”.

The issue of accessing data on disqualified drivers appears to lie with how it is stored. In individual cases, gardaí can access driver data whether through hand-held devices or the Pulse computer system, in the national driver file held by the Department of Transport.

However, the data “is not incorporated into Garda Pulse or linked with records maintained by An Garda Síochána in respect of any person”, the spokesman said.

An individual Pulse record is created to record Garda interactions with drivers as they happen in order to facilitate prosecution for driving without a licence. In cases where they are also disqualified, this will be noted and given as evidence in court, he said.