CASH-STRAPPED motorists are having their cars seized in unprecedented numbers because they are refusing to tax or insure them or apply for the NCT.
A total of 26,044 cars were seized by gardai at the roadside last year -- more than twice the amount in previous years.
Increasing numbers of motorists struggling to make ends meet are taking the chance that they will not be caught for tax, insurance or NCT offences.
But an Irish Independent investigation reveals their chances of being caught and having their cars confiscated are greater than ever, mainly due to stronger garda enforcement.
The number of motorists prosecuted for driving a car without a valid NCT has rocketed in just 14 months.
In February 2010, 198 drivers were convicted for using a vehicle without a test certificate. As of April 31, the figure had risen to 2,810. In the first three months of this year, 8,180 vehicles were taken off their owners at roadside checkpoints.
The dramatic increase is mainly due to far greater garda enforcement linked to the expansion of the dedicated Garda Traffic Corps.
And although the recession is now a significant factor in the rising level of confiscations, the current clampdown means offences under the Road Traffic Act will not be tolerated.
Chief Supt Gabriel McIntyre also confirmed the downturn in the economy was now a factor in the number of motorists delaying payment of motor tax or putting their cars through the NCT.
Road Safety Authority chief executive Noel Brett said the disclosure of so many extra cars being seized raised serious road safety issues.
"We are delighted with the high level of garda enforcement but it is very disappointing to see that 26,000 cars were seized last year. These are 26,000 cars that have no tax or no insurance and many of them would be unroadworthy."
Uninsured drivers are costing honest drivers around €40 each every year as insurance companies pass the cost of paying out in crashes to law-abiding motorists.
Seized cars are kept by gardai for six weeks, during which time their owners can reclaim them providing they present evidence of having paid their tax, insurance or passed their NCT.
But owners have to pay a hefty price to get their cars back: €125 for the first 24 hours their car is in the pound, plus €35 a day after that. After six weeks, if the cars are not reclaimed, they are crushed and recycled.
Around a third of all vehicles are returned to their owners.