HALF of all learner drivers due before the courts last year for two basic driving offences escaped without a conviction.
The new figures come after gardai mounted an October bank holiday road safety campaign targeted especially at learner drivers -- statistically among the riskiest road users.
According to the figures from the Courts Service, around 6,700 charges were brought against learner drivers last year for driving without L-plates and driving unaccompanied.
Just 50pc of the 2,118 learner drivers summonsed for driving without L-plates were convicted, and just 51pc of the 2,344 learner drivers summonsed for driving unaccompanied were convicted.
Those brought before the courts represent only a fraction of the 275,000 learner drivers in the country.
The biggest single reason for learner drivers escaping a conviction last year was that -- in around 2,000 cases -- the drivers could not be tracked down by gardai. This resulted in the courts recording these cases "strike out, not served".
Garda Assistant Commissioner John Twomey of the Garda National Traffic Bureau said he could not comment specifically on these figures. But he cast doubt on claims that learner drivers were escaping the courts by giving wrong names and address to gardai when they were stopped.
"The gardai verify their names and addresses at the side of the road and they can take steps to ascertain that and satisfy themselves to the accuracy of the names being given," he said.
Another reason suggested by court sources is that young learner drivers often move to different addresses, which may make it difficult to locate them.
However, in the absence of detailed information on each case, it is not possible to fully explain why so many drivers are not located after being summonsed to court.
In its analysis of the Courts Service figures, the Irish Independent excluded 2,300 of the 6,700 charges against learner drivers last year for not having L-plates or any accompanied driver. They were recorded as being "struck out" -- and court sources say this is generally because the learner drivers had paid their €1,000 minimum fines before their case went to court.
The Public Against Road Carnage group (PARC) said it wanted to find out how many learner drivers had been given the minimum €1,000 fine.
"Nobody seems to know anybody who got this fine. If young people saw that, they'd say '€1,000 -- oh my God' and it would be a deterrent," PARC spokeswoman Susan Gray said.
According to the Courts Service, there were fines imposed on learner drivers in 945 cases last year for driving without L-plates or driving unaccompanied. But the size of the fines is not known. In another 894 cases, the learner driver offences were "taken into consideration" by the judge while sentencing them for other offences.
There were 162 cases withdrawn, 153 cases dismissed on probation (meaning the driver pleaded guilty but did not get a criminal conviction) and 73 cases dismissed. There were also 11 cases of learner drivers being disqualified.
Over the weekend, gardai have focused on young drivers as statistics show half of all road deaths so far this year were in the 16 to 30 age group with three-quarters of those fatalities male. They have also been carrying out checks to ensure that learner drivers are accompanied by fully qualified drivers.