At long, long last 'disqualified' from the road does really mean disqualified
* Our Road Safety Authority expert says new powers for gardai on rogue drivers will save lives
When I look back over the last decade there are stand-out moments when road safety received a real boost.
Such as the introduction of the penalty points system, mandatory alcohol testing, lowering of our drink drive limits and the safety camera strategy.
All led to an immediate drop in road casualties. The introduction of new Garda powers to deal with disqualified drivers could have a similar positive effect on road safety.
It is hard to believe that people who are disqualified from driving, whether because they were convicted of a serious road traffic offence or had clocked up 12 penalty points, were getting back into a car and driving with impunity. Why? Because they knew they could get away with it.
It was a source of huge frustration for the gardai, dismay for those in road safety and, in some cases, added insult to injury for victims' families.
On average, 13,000 drivers are disqualified each year in Ireland. While it is difficult to say for sure exactly how many drivers may be driving while disqualified figures show that, in recent years, approximately 10pc of those banned in any given year were later subject to prosecution for driving while disqualified.
This is typically what used to happen. Gardai would take drivers to court because they had committed a serious road traffic offence. These drivers were being disqualified by the court, but despite this, gardai would see them driving again, in some cases a couple of days after the court appearance.
The only option open to the gardai was to issue a summons for driving while disqualified, and the driver would be back in court seven months later - to get another disqualification.
The situation made a mockery of our road safety laws. The gardai were also encountering drivers on the road who had been disqualified, because they had accumulated 12 penalty points, and were off the road for six months.
Let's not forget that these people shouldn't have been driving in the first place. They were put off the road for a reason. They had been either convicted of a serious traffic offence or picked up penalty points, but either way they were the most high-risk drivers on the road. Drivers who are sharing the road with your family. They shouldn't be on the road.
Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe introduced new powers for the gardai recently to tackle the problem once and for all.
Anyone now caught driving while disqualified will be arrested on the spot. They will be brought straight to a Garda station and charged with the offence of driving while disqualified. The driver will then be brought before a judge at the earliest opportunity.
The penalties, if convicted, are a fine of up to €5,000 and/or six months imprisonment.
The gardai have wasted no time in using the new powers. There have definitely been arrests already. We know because the gardai have publicised them on their social media.
It sends a clear signal to those who have had their licence revoked that, if they choose to drive when disqualified, they are going to be caught and hit with severe penalties.
Oh! and as disqualified drivers, they are probably driving without insurance, so they may face additional charges for that too. Can you imagine the nightmare scenario if you were in a crash with one of these drivers? Trying to sort out the mess if the other driver responsible for the crash had no insurance?
Well, now the gardai have the power to remove these drivers immediately from the road.
Those new powers will hopefully mark a defining moment in making roads safe from the most dangerous drivers, the ones who shouldn't be on them at all.