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Monday 16 September 2019

Only 10pc of Irish motorists banned from driving surrender their licences

Gardai breathalyse drivers at a Custom House checkpoint
Gardai breathalyse drivers at a Custom House checkpoint

Ralph Riegel

JUST one in ten Irish drivers with court disqualifications surrendered their licenses to the Road Safety Authority (RSA).

Road safety group PARC revealed that, according to latest Department of Transport figures, 8,826 drivers had court disqualifications in 2018 - but 7,863 subsequently failed to surrender their licenses to the RSA as required.

Only 963 drivers complied with court requirements to surrender their licenses after a disqualification - a compliance rate of just 11pc.

This represents a drop of 3pc on the 2017 license surrender compliance rate of 14pc.

Further, only eight drivers were summoned to court for the offence of license non-compliance and all eight escaped convictions.

PARC revealed that Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan confirmed to Independent TD Tommy Broughan that of the eight drivers summonsed last year, not one received a relevant conviction.

Of the eight summonses, one was withdrawn, one was struck out, two were struck out on the basis of non-service of summonses, three were marked 'taken into consideration' and one was adjourned.

"The Courts Service has indicated that eight people were summoned to court for failing to surrender their driving licences and in relation to these summonses, no convictions are recorded," Mr Flanagan confirmed.

Mr Broughan admitted he was taken aback by the revelation.

PARC founder, Susan Gray, warned that it further underlined the need for a radical overhaul of road traffic statistics, reports as well as how such penalties and fines are followed up.

She pointed out that it was "alarming" there was a discrepancy of almost 3,000 cases between 2016 and 2018 over figures on disqualified driver convictions recorded by the Courts Service and those logged on the Department of Transport's National Vehicle & Driver File (NVDF).

"PARC has been campaigning since 2015 for 'real time' reporting of convictions between the Courts Service, the Road Safety Authority  and the NVDF so Gardaí can access accurate, up-to-the-minute information," she said.

The group want  'real time' reporting of road traffic convictions by the Courts Service to a single Road Safety Authority (RSA)/Department of Transport database which is then instantly accessible to Gardaí.

PARC said such a single, accurate database with 'real time' updates is essential given that 2,000 handheld devices are being issued to frontline Gardaí in the Roads Policing Units (RPU) later this year so they can instantly detect disqualified drivers on the roadside.

The RSA insisted that they are confident in the current reporting system and the NVDF database.

The authority insisted it was fit for purpose.

However, PARC warned that, as well as the case discrepancies, there is also an unacceptable lag time between a conviction in court and when a garda can access information about such a conviction via a handheld device.

"The Courts Service manually send disqualification records in bulk to the RSA," Ms Gray explained.

"These records are generally received one month after the court disqualification. Once the disqualification is confirmed, the information is updated manually onto the Department of Transport’s NVDF, initiated by the RSA. This takes a further two to four weeks."

"This causes a delay of at least two months after the court disqualification before the information is transferred to the NVDF for Gardai to access. If we had a real-time reporting system between the Courts Service and the RSA this problem would be easily overcome with modern technology, as it is in Northern Ireland."

PARC warned the discrepancies between Court Service data on convictions and information held by the RSA and the NVDF is very serious.

A review exercise was carried out in January 2019 in relation to the court disqualifications for July 2018, to match records on disqualified drivers from the Courts Service to those held on the RSA/Transport’s databases. This showed that 826 entries did not match and needed further investigation over name differences etc.

The look-back review found discrepancies in 2016, 2017 and 2018 figures.

The Department of Transport figures show that for the year 2016 there were 8,296 disqualified drivers, while the Department of Justice figure was 7,539 - a difference of 757.

Figures for 2017 show that there were 9,449 disqualified drivers, while the Department of Justice figure is 9,131 - a difference of 318.

Transport figures for 2018 (Jan to Sept) show that there were 8,406 disqualified drivers, while the Department of Justice figure is 6,499 - a difference of 1907.

In total, there was a difference of 2,982 names between the NVDF file and the Courts Service list.

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