Loophole on penalty points was known two years ago
THE Government has known for up to two years about the legal loophole that allows reckless drivers to escape penalty points -- yet it still cannot provide a date for when it will be closed.
Court clerks are not recording the licence numbers of guilty drivers who fail to produce their licences. The result is that the Road Safety Authority (RSA) cannot apply the points.
The Department of Transport said the loophole had been spotted during the "very extensive discussions" that preceded the drafting of the new Road Traffic Bill.
These discussions with the RSA, the gardai and others were under way as far back as June 2008. Yet the bill was only published last October, with the inclusion of the measure to lower the drink-driving limit being blamed for the delay.
The Labour Party's transport spokesman, Tommy Broughan, said the failure to introduce the bill was indicative of incompetence at the highest level in the department.
He added: "Yet again, Transport Minister Noel Dempsey has lot the plot, rendering our road-safety laws virtually useless in many instances."
Yesterday, however, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he expected that the current legal loophole would be closed off by the forthcoming road traffic bill.
Last night, a Government spokesman was unable to provide a specific date when the bill would be pushed through the Dail in order to close the loophole but said it was expected that this would be before the summer.
This means that in the meantime, reckless drivers will continue to avoid penalty points if they fail to bring their licences to court.
Yesterday, the Irish Independent revealed that since 2003 18,383 drivers had been convicted of any one of 10 offences that involve a mandatory court appearance. But just 727 of these had actually had the points applied. The remaining 17,656 escaped punishment.
A spokeswoman for the department said there was already an obligation on drivers to bring their licences to court and that the new bill would also oblige them to bring photocopies..
The Courts Service yesterday pledged to co-operate with the forthcoming legislation. However, it said that as things stood it did not have a policing role and it was therefore up to the gardai to pursue drivers who failed to produce their licences.
Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Ireland described yesterday's revelation in this newspaper as "entirely undermining the logic of the penalty points system and jeopardising lives and safety on Irish roads".
Its president, Paul Mallee, said the anomaly was the worst type of example of the absence of joined-up thinking between various arms of the State.
He added: "Almost nine years after the introduction of penalty points, it is entirely self-defeating that so many drivers are getting away scot-free for offences that, ultimately, put lives at risk on our roads."