Wednesday 26 April 2017

Loophole still not closed as 3,000 dangerous drivers avoid points

Paul Melia and Aine Kerr

UP to 3,000 of the country's most dangerous drivers have escaped penalty points in the six months since a legal loophole letting them off the hook was first revealed.

Court clerks are still not recording the guilty drivers' licence numbers and sending them to the Road Safety Authority (RSA), the body which applies the points.

More than 250,000 drivers have escaped punishment across a range of offences since 2002 because of this loophole.

And the Department of Transport cannot confirm when the loophole will be closed, saying last night it would be "shortly".

It comes despite a clampdown by gardai in recent months on a range of motoring offences, including a six-fold increase in prosecutions against drivers using unroadworthy cars, which has only resulted in a tiny fraction of motorists getting penalty points.

Last February, the Irish Independent revealed that motorists convicted in court of the most serious road traffic offences are still not having the points applied to their licences.

New figures show that nothing has changed in the interim period -- to date, 21,298 drivers have been convicted of any one of 10 offences that require a mandatory court appearance, but just 850 had points applied.

Since last February, just 123 motorists have had points applied out of the 2,915 serious road traffic offences that were prosecuted in the courts.

The legal loophole will be closed when the new Road Traffic Act, signed into law last month, comes into force.

Until now, court clerks were not legally obliged to record driver details. But the new act requires the person accused of an offence to produce their licence and a legible copy and deliver both to court clerk, with the copy being retained to record the licence details.

The department said last night the provision would be commenced "shortly", but no date had been set.

It means that, until the loophole is closed, motorists will continue to evade the points.

Legal sources last night raised concerns that the loophole might not be closed for a number of months. One suggestion being considered is to link motor tax with the application of penalty points, where the points would be applied to the driving licence when a person taxed their car.

"A courtroom is not the place to be taking details of people's licences," one said. "It would interrupt the workings of the court.

"Suggestions have been made that there should be a tie-in with the driver licence. The driver and licence file should be the same. When you go to tax the car, the details (of the penalty points) could come up then. It would put the responsibility back on to the driver."

Dialogue

The Court Service said it was working with the department to implement the new system.

"The Courts Service is aware of proposed changes and is in dialogue with the department in relation to the practical application of same," a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of drivers are also escaping points because they hold out-of-state licences or drive a foreign-registered car.

This separate loophole has yet to be closed off, despite being examined by the EU.

New figures from the RSA show that 808,713 motorists have incurred penalty points since the system was introduced in 2002, but some 250,477 have escaped punishment.

Most are "immune" from penalty points because their car is registered outside the State.

The department and the RSA are both concerned that some Northern Ireland-registered cars are being driven by Republic of Ireland drivers in a bid to avoid gardai slapping penalty points on them.

The Revenue Commissioners last night confirmed it has seized 1,242 foreign-registered vehicles this year in its "blitz" on VRT offences. The focus of its recent campaigns has been on Irish residents illegally driving foreign registered cars.

Efforts to have points imposed and recognised across the North, the UK and the Republic have been ongoing since 2002. But "mutual recognition" of the points system is unlikely to come into force in the short term.

Irish Independent

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