Reckless drivers let off the hook on points
Legal loophole allows 17,656 to escape sanction
THOUSANDS of the country's most reckless drivers are escaping penalty points because of a legal loophole.
Motorists convicted in court of some of the most serious road traffic offences are not having points applied to their licences, the Irish Independent has learned.
This is because court clerks are not recording the guilty drivers' licence numbers and sending them to the Road Safety Authority (RSA), which is the body charged with applying the points.
The reason why the clerks are not recording the numbers is because there is no legal requirement for them to do so. However, a small number do pass on the information to the RSA.
Figures obtained from the RSA show that, since 2003, 18,383 drivers have been convicted of any one of 10 offences that involve a mandatory court appearance. But the Irish Independent has learned that just 727 of these had the points applied, meaning 17,656 escaped punishment.
If applied, the points would have a major bearing on the insurance premiums of the drivers in question.
The problem covers 10 of the most serious driving offences, including driving without insurance, careless driving, not having a valid NCT and driving a dangerously defective vehicle.
Drivers found guilty of any one of the 10 offences should have three or five points applied to their licence, depending on the severity of the offence.
The figures show:
• 13,220 drivers were convicted of driving with no insurance. In 12,691 cases, no driver number was recorded and no penalty points were issued.
• Some 194 drivers have been convicted of not having a valid NCT since the law was introduced last May. Just 16 received penalty points.
• There have been 3,953 convictions for dangerous driving. In 3,805 cases, no driver number was recorded.
The Government has repeatedly stressed the role penalty points play in changing driver behaviour and in reducing fatalities on the roads.
Since the scheme was first introduced, more than 660,000 drivers have been issued with penalty points and 164 have been disqualified after receiving 12 points over a three-year period.
However, the lack of enforcement of points for the most serious offences will come as a major embarrassment to Transport Minister Noel Dempsey.
Mr Dempsey has now moved to close the loophole by introducing a new section in the Road Traffic Bill 2009 which will make it the responsibility of court clerks to pass on the driving licence information to the RSA.
The reason so few points have been issued is because court clerks often fail to record the guilty driver's licence number -- which means the points cannot be applied.
The problem arose because the Government relied on existing legislation which required motorists to produce their licence in court if charged with breaking road traffic laws. But there was no legal requirement for the details, including the driver number, to be recorded.
As a result, some court clerks were not bothering to do so.
"There is no issue with enforcing the law," one source said. "The gardai are stopping people, the summonses are being sent out and people are being convicted. The problem is they're not getting the points.
"It all relates to going to court and being found guilty and penalty points being applied. The Courts Service take your driver number and details and all that detail is sent to the RSA which inputs it into the national driver file.
"The Courts Service won't handle the information. Once the conviction happens, there's no legal requirement to hand the licence up and the Courts Service is not required to do it," the source added.
But the Courts Service said it was doing what it was required to do. A spokesman said that when someone was convicted of an offence the information was passed on to the RSA, but admitted that when no driving licence was produced it could not provide a driver number.
"We can, and do, put the information in and send it forward (to the RSA)," the spokesman said. "Where an issue may arise is if someone doesn't produce their licence.
"This means we are not in a position to pass on the information about the points. If they can't produce the licence, we can't provide the information to the RSA. Where it isn't happening, we don't have any role in following that up."