Sunday 15 September 2019

'It is absolutely terrifying': 90pc of disqualified drivers failed to surrender their licences

  • Startling 90pc of drivers disqualified in court and required to surrender their licenses failed to do so this year
  • Alarming new statistics underlined warnings from road safety groups and relatives of road victims
  • 'We need a comprehensive database' - say relatives of road victims
Hit-and-run victim Karl Robertson’s parents, Cathy and Anthony, and his cousin Aisling Reid
Hit-and-run victim Karl Robertson’s parents, Cathy and Anthony, and his cousin Aisling Reid

Ralph Riegel

A STARTLING 90pc of drivers disqualified in court and required to surrender their licenses have failed to do so this year.

The alarming new statistics underlined warnings since 2016 from road safety groups and the relatives of those killed on Irish roads that the current system is not fit for purpose with Gardaí requiring a dedicated database to successfully detect motorists who drive while disqualified.

New statistics, released to Independent TD Tommy Broughan, revealed that in the first nine months of 2018, 8,406 motorists received a court disqualification from driving - but only 854 licenses were surrendered as a result.

That accounts for just one in ten licenses - effectively indicating that 90pc of motorists may well continue driving with suspended licenses.

Under current regulations, those who are disqualified from driving must submit their licenses by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) to a post office box in Cork for processing.

Mr Broughan, a staunch support of the PARC road safety lobby group, admitted the statistics are "deeply alarming."

Karl Robertson
Karl Robertson

There was a surge in license disqualifications from 8,296 in 2016 to 9,449 in 2017 - with this year expected to exceed that total.

One family who lost a young man to a hit and run involving a motorist with three separate driving bans warned hand-held devices to allow Gardaí instantly check possible disqualifications will be useless without a proper, legally-enforced database.

The family of Karl Robertson have now endorsed a PARC demand for Transport Minister Shane Ross to introduce legislation making it a legal requirement for motorists summonsed to court on a drink driving or dangerous driving offence to bring their licence to court for database registration purposes.

Karl's mother, Cathy, and his cousin, Aisling, who are members of PARC, warned they don't want any other family to endure their loss.

The 28-year-old young man died when he was struck by a vehicle in Artane, Dublin in March 2017.

The driver then left the collision scene.

It transpired the motorist involved had three separate driving bans at the time, each of ten years duration.

Karl's mother Cathy pointed out the driver also had almost 50 previous convictions for various offences.

"It is absolutely terrifying to think just how many disqualified motorists are on Irish roads every day," she said.

Following calls from Karl’s family during the inquest into his death the inquest jury recommended that all gardai be issued with handheld drivers to identify disqualified drivers.

Karl's cousin, Aisling, said the current system is "not fit for purpose."

"A few years ago, just one in six licenses were being surrendered because of disqualifications," she said.

"Now, that is up to one in ten. It tells its own story."

"We need a comprehensive database where Gardaí can instantly check the details of motorists at the roadside for disqualifications etc," she said.

Road Safety Authority (RSA) boss, Moyagh Murdock, has insisted new hand-held devices will prove a critical aid to Gardaí.

The RSA official suggested details held by the National Vehicle and Driver File (NVDF) could be used to provide critical data for the new Garda hand-held devices.

She acknowledged that disqualified and unqualified drivers being able to drive undetected on Irish roads is a serious issue.

However, Karl's family endorsed the PARC warning that such hand-held devices will only be as effective as the database from which they operate.

PARC founder, Susan Gray, warned the new hand-held devices due to be issued to Gardaí in the coming weeks will only be able to detect uninsured drivers from a special

App downloaded from insurance companies which provides the information.

She also challenged whether the NVDF has adequate and most up to date data to allow effective use of the devices in the future, warning it does not contain data on all disqualified drivers.

As a result, the new devices will not be able to instantly detect many disqualified drivers at checkpoints.

"The current system is not fit for purpose," Ms Gray warned.

"In January 2016 we outlined to the Government the system failures including disqualified drivers being unidentifiable with our State bodies having outdated IT systems with an inability to collect, record and share information effectively," she said.

"We called for the new Government to introduce one main database similar to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in the UK, to provide instant access by all relevant authorities to data pertaining to drivers and vehicles."

Ms Gray warned that a critical first step is legislation to require motorists who are charged with a drink driving or dangerous driving offence to bring their licence to court to enable the licence details of those disqualified to be recorded and transferred to the Department of Transport’s NVDF database from which the Gardaí get information.

"This is the only way that we can help support Gardaí in doing their jobs and ensure these hand-held devices work to maximum effect," she added.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris acknowledged in a meeting with PARC on November 2 that such hand-held devices are only as effective as the information they rely on.

Assistant Commissioner Dave Sheehan acknowledged that all Gardaí fear stopping a motorist at a checkpoint, being handed a driving license and then being unable to determine instantly whether the motorist is disqualified or uninsured.

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