Almost 100 drivers a month are avoiding penalty points in court by making a contribution to the poor box despite a High Court ruling last year stating the practice was “incorrect”.
The disclosure comes amid rising concern that loopholes in the State’s road safety laws are resulting in thousands of drivers escaping penalty points and drink-driving convictions.
The poor box is a non-statutory system used by the District Courts to impose a fine to be given to charity instead of a criminal conviction.
But the High Court ruled in February 2014 that use of the poor box for penalty point offences was barred under the Road Traffic Act 2010.
This legislation made the imposition of penalty points and a fine mandatory on conviction.
Despite this judgment being sent to all District Court judges, Department of Justice figures provided to Independent TD Tommy Broughan show 692 drivers escaped penalty points in the first seven months of this year, an increase of more than 30 per cent on the same period last year. A convicted driver typically faces four or five points.
An analysis of how the 66 District Courts dealt with penalty points shows major disparities in use of the poor box.
The highest numbers were in the Dublin Metropolitan courts, with 122 avoiding points after making a donation.
Next was Mallow, Co Cork (103), Sligo Town (66), Fermoy in Cork (60), Dungarvan in Waterford (46), and Macroom in Cork (44).
In Donegal the poor box was not used at all in Letterkenny, but was used in Ballyshannon and Donegal town.
There was no record of the poor box being used in Limerick, Mayo, Meath or Wicklow.
Susan Gray, founder of road safety group Parc, said widespread use of the poor box was “offensive” to family and friends who were living with the fallout of injuries and bereavements caused through road traffic collisions.
Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe, who opposes the poor box as an option, is likely to raise the issue at a special ministerial committee on road safety next month.