The Irish Times view on disqualified drivers’ licences: a systemic failure of enforcement

The lack of action is undermining the credibility of the Government’s high-profile road safety strategy

A Garda checkpoint: failure to enforce rules on the licences of disqualified drivers is a systemic problem (Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos)

Some 16,873 drivers were disqualified in 2022 and 2023 of which only 818 surrendered their licences as required by law. Of the remaining 16,055, just 26 were prosecuted and just one convicted.

A significant number of the drivers – possibly as many as 40 per cent – never had a licence to begin with. It is still reasonable to conclude that 10,000 people who should have been prosecuted for an offence were not held to account.

To say that this undermines the credibility of the Government’s high-profile road safety strategy is something of an understatement.

The Road Safety Authority along with the Department of Transport and the Garda appear to be at a loss as to how to explain this systemic failure, but one flaw stands out: the Garda Síochána is not automatically informed when a licence is not surrendered and thus an offence has been committed. Resolving this anomaly is a relatively straight forward technical task. What is more difficult is tackling the lack of enthusiasm for enforcing the law that seems to permeate the relevant State bodies.

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The Department of Transport is equivocal on the matter, saying the priority is ensuring disqualified drivers stay off the road rather than taking their licences off them. This line of reasoning does not really hold water as the two offences are sides of the same coin.

The department points out that responsibility for enforcement rests with the Garda who take the view that “in the first instance” it is a matter for the courts.

It is less than satisfactory to see this sort of buck passing between different arms of the government, particularly when it relates to a matter with potentially fatal consequences. It is however of a piece with other examples of road safety laws being enforced in a half-hearted fashion, notably the prosecution of provisional licence-holders who drive unaccompanied.

It harks back to a time when society took a more tolerant view of such offences, including drink driving. That time is long past.