Lives are being lost because drivers don't fear our broken penalty points system
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.
PARC recently took an interest in checking if our laws were effective or not in bringing about safer roads. We acted on an article in the Irish Independent reporting that 96pc of drivers avoided penalty points by not presenting their licences in court. We attended courts and spoke with the then-Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar, who took immediate action and enacted legislation to close the loophole in 2011. However it took until May 2012, after many questions to the then-Minister for Justice Alan Shatter for the wording of summonses issued to be amended by the Courts Service to inform drivers that they must bring not only their licence but also a copy to facilitate the recording of the licence number.
We then undertook to visit various courts and produced a report. Alarmed at our findings that drivers were not being required in many courts to produce their licence to record the licence number - without this the penalty points awarded were meaningless - we set about asking questions.
Thomas Broughan TD has been a tenacious supporter of PARC over many years and it is with his assistance the facts regarding the non-recording of penalty points emerged. In June 2014, we met with the ministers for justice and transport with our report and delivered a copy to the Public Accounts Committee. The Courts Service was contacted to collect the driving licence number, to provide to the Department of Transport so that the points are applied appropriately to the licence holder, and we believed that things would change.
The Justice Minister said the Courts Service was working closely with the gardaí with the aim of starting prosecutions before the end of 2014 on those who failed to produce their licence in court, as required by law.
We met with the CEO of the Courts Service and were assured that court clerks had been reminded of the requirement to announce in court that driving licences must be produced.
We continued to attend courts and our second report came in March 2015. While the picture is very bleak, taking the country as a whole there are pockets where the courts are making some effort at recording licences.
It is a simple matter of joined-up thinking and action between the judiciary, the garda and the Courts Service. One would have thought that the lines of communication should be already in existence.
It is unacceptable that a huge number of the most dangerous drivers, many repeat offenders, are completely evading penalty points on conviction and remain driving despite having accrued maximum points.
More compliant drivers accept their penalty points for lesser offences and thereby, negating the need for a court appearance, have a greater likelihood of reaching the 12 points and losing their licence. A recent reply from Justice states the Courts Service currently has no plans to modify or enhance the computer system to record non-production of a licence but are modifying and enhancing its system to facilitate the implementation of the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014. Now what does that say about the courts? Does that mean that they are more interested in money than in saving lives?
From a road safety point of view, the system is not achieving what it set out to do, which is, to save lives and prevent injuries on Irish roads. Families of victims of road traffic collisions wonder if their loved one could be alive today if action had been taken in following up on these convicted drivers.
We believe that prosecutions for the non-production of a driving licence in court must begin without delay as it will act as a deterrent to many.
Our aim in PARC is not to put drivers off the road but to ensure that measures are in place to reduce fatalities and injuries through education and awareness.
Susan Gray is chairperson of www.parcroadsafety.ie