Wednesday 14 November 2018

Penalty points system in chaos as gardai call TDs for advice

JOHN DRENNAN THE increasingly complex penalty points system is descending into farce with gardai resorting to ringing their local TDs for advice on how to use it, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

So bad is the shambles that some drivers who have reached 12 points are simply ignoring the law and continuing to drive because a loophole means it is not the job of gardai to take away licences.

With less than five weeks to go before the Government creates 31 more penalty point offences, TDs have told the Sunday Independent the existing system is in such a mess gardai are phoning and e-mailing "in droves" to ask how the law operates.

Olivia Mitchell, Fine Gael's transport spokeswoman, said last night she and other TDs had received "a spate of calls" from gardai.

The TD said that many drivers who have accumulated 12 penalty points have simply ignored the law and continued to drive. Gardai are unable to access penalty points totals which are held separately on local authority computer files.

Deputy Mitchell added: "Some gardai are so bewildered by the legislation governing penalty points they do not know how to go about removing a licence from a driver who should be disqualified whilst others believe they do not have a role in removing a licence."

The chaotic state of record-keeping and multiplicity of agencies involved in the scheme means some drivers are not even aware they have accumulated 12 penalty points while others have failed to hand over the licence when requested by their local authority.

Even a new hand-held computerised system is proving so unworkable that some officers are "reverting to pencil and paper to take down the details of offending motorists", said deputy Mitchell.

The two main problems which gardai face are:

* Gardai on the road have no way to check if a motorist has accumulated any penalty points since licences are not endorsed and penalty point information is actually kept on the local authority National Driver File.

* Under the present legislation, if a driver reaches 12 points it is up to the driver to surrender his licence.

* If they fail to do so there is provision for the gardai to be notified but many gardai are in the dark as to what to do next.

The Fine Gael deputy said: "In the absence of any statutory penalty to prosecute a motorist, if they refuse to hand over a licence it means gardai could be mired in similar legal challenges which have bedevilled breath-testing if they try to enforcethe law."

Deputy Mitchell added: "It is a staggering ambiguity that if the gardai who are supposed to implement the law are confused, then it is bad law."

She also warned that if a system which only operates four penalty points is in such a mess, the government's extra 31 penalty points may collapse the entire system.

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