Motorists who dodge penalty points by failing to produce their driving licences in court are to be targeted for the first time as part of a new gardaí operation, the Irish Independent has learned.
New data reveals the problem is widespread, with 72pc of motorists convicted of penalty point offences over a 15-month period managing to avoid having the points registered on their licences by either the courts or gardaí.
The issue has become so acute that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has ordered gardaí to launch a major clampdown.
More than 20,000 convicted motorists failed to produce their licences in court between January 2014 and March of this year, despite it being an offence punishable by fines of up to €2,000 or three months in prison.
Gardaí have not actively prosecuted the offence until now, but an operation is set to be launched in the coming days targeting penalty point dodgers.
It will see officers intercepting offenders in court houses and initiating prosecutions.
Garda headquarters is directing officers to pay particular attention to repeat offenders and to liaise with court clerks as part of the operation.
Seven court houses will be targeted initially before the operation is rolled out nationwide.
The counties where the problem is proportionately most widespread are Limerick and Leitrim, where over 90pc of convicted motorists failed to produce their licence.
Some 89pc of convicted motorists failed to produce their licences in Kerry, Kilkenny and Sligo.
The licence numbers that were recorded by the Courts Service were subsequently notified to the National Vehicle and Driver File so the points could be applied to licences.
The Courts Service said that in cases where licence numbers were not provided, the Road Safety Authority undertakes "a matching exercise to match the conviction with a specific driving licence".
However, the Department of Transport admitted: "It is not always possible to achieve a match and in these cases penalty points are not assigned to individual driving licence records."
The extent to which matches were not found was not disclosed.
Data on the number of convicted motorists failing to supply their licences was revealed in response to a series of parliamentary questions tabled by independent TD Tommy Broughan.
It showed that while 28,387 motorists were convicted of penalty point offences in district courts over the 15-month period, just 8,059 had their licence number recorded so the points could be applied to that licence.
Mr Broughan said the figures painted "an appalling picture" and highlighted a lack of cohesion between the Department of Justice, the Department of Transport and the Courts Service.
"Despite various high level meetings involving these departments and judges and court officials, you still have a situation where the great majority of penalty point convictions are not being adhered to licences by the courts," he said.
Ms Fitzgerald has expressed concern to Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan.
Ms Fitzgerald told the Irish Independent: "It is essential that our road traffic laws are both respected and enforced. Enforcement and prosecution of offences in this area is critical to public safety and to reducing deaths on our roads.
"There must be no way out for anybody seeking to avoid getting penalty points and I welcome the initiative by An Garda Síochána to commence prosecutions for failure to present driving licences in court."
In a statement, the Courts Service said it had put in place several measures to inform drivers of the need to produce their licences.
These include the displaying of notices in court rooms.
It also said arrangements were being developed with gardaí to facilitate prosecutions of those who failed or refused to comply with this.
"Prosecutions for not producing a licence in court will commence shortly and will be listed in court before the end of the year," the statement said.
PARC road safety group came into being as a result of my husband Steve's death in a road traffic collision in 2004, and my subsequent anger at the manner in which the investigation was carried out by the gardaí at the time.