N-plate driver offenders to escape points 'for months'
Newly qualified motorists caught driving without an 'N' plate will escape penalty points for several months due to a delay in installing the offence on the garda Pulse system.
The 'novice' plate was introduced last week as part of a raft of new road safety measures. But it is unlikely to carry points until much later this year, the Irish Independent has learned.
Learner drivers failing to display 'L' plates, or driving while unaccompanied by an experienced motorist, will also avoid points due to the same delay.
In the meantime, both offences will carry fines of up to €1,000, but no penalty points will be awarded.
Work to include the offences on the garda computer system is not expected to take place until November. The delay has been criticised by road safety campaigners, who say that without points there is little to deter newly qualified motorists from breaking the law.
Under the new laws, newly qualified drivers must display 'N' plates for two years after passing their test. The legislation allows for two penalty points to be applied for failing to do so, and four points and a fine if the motorist is convicted in court.
Learner and inexperienced drivers will lose their licences if they accrue seven points.
However, the Department of Transport confirmed it had delayed the roll-out of the penalty points because the garda computer system needs to be updated. Garda sources said updating the system was a significant task, and the next scheduled series of updates are not planned for another four months.
The delay comes against the backdrop of significant criticism of the penalty points system in the past year, with garda whistleblowers and the Garda Inspectorate exposing major shortcomings.
The PARC road safety group has criticised the delay in updating the garda system, and questioned why the new package of measures was being introduced in a piecemeal fashion.
Its founder, Susan Gray, whose husband Stephen died after being knocked down by a learner driver in 2004, said the threat of fines alone was "no deterrent".
She pointed to Department of Justice figures, which showed that while 2,900 learner drivers received a summons for driving without being accompanied in 2013, only 661 were convicted and fined.
The average fine imposed was just €123 and no one received the maximum fine of €1,000.
A senior garda source said that due to the complexity of the Pulse system, upgrades tended to be made on a scheduled basis.
The system may have to come down for a period and this can only be done at a time when there would be the minimum of disruption to normal policing, the source said.
"These updates are not done on a whim or on a daily basis and once installed have to be tested to make sure they work in a live environment," added the source.
A spokesman for the Department of Transport said it had increased penalty points for offences such as speeding and holding a mobile phone while driving from last Friday.
These offences now attract three penalty points instead of two.