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Almost 90% of motorists disqualified this year have not surrendered their licences

The figure is the lowest rate in the past five years.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

FEWER THAN ONE in eight motorists disqualified from driving so far in 2019 have surrendered their driving licence as required by law – the lowest rate in the past five years.

New figures show that just 13% of drivers put off the road this year have handed back their licence to the Road Safety Authority.

Figures provided by Transport Minister Shane Ross, show that 1,257 motorists out of 9,656 disqualified by either the courts or exceeding the maximum permitted level of penalty points up to 15 November have surrendered their licence.

Over 4,000 of those disqualified – 42% of all motorists banned from driving so far this year – have failed to respond to notices seeking the return of their licence.

Almost 4,400 other disqualified drivers had no valid Irish driving licence to surrender as they either had no licence, an expired licence or a foreign licence.

Road safety campaigners have expressed concern that the proportion of motorists banned from driving who surrender their licence has been falling in recent years, despite repeated calls on the authorities to address the issue.

The levels have fallen from a peak of 19% in 2015 to 14% in 2018 and 13% in the year to date.

PARC road safety group chairperson, Susan Gray, said the latest figures, provided in response to a parliamentary question from independent TD Tommy Broughan, showed that the system for ensuring disqualified drivers stayed off the roads was broken.

“The problem is getting worse and the RSA and other authorities don’t seem to be doing anything about it. They do not seem to be taking this problem seriously,” said Gray.

She added: “More and more people are taking the chance of not handing back their licence. You can be guaranteed that a lot of them are not doing so because they want to be able to continue to drive.

“If there was a proper system in place, there would not be a problem.”

Breakdown between authorities

PARC claims there is a breakdown between the various authorities with responsibility for overseeing the disqualification of drivers and the surrender of licences – the RSA, the Department of Transport, the Courts Service and gardaí – in ensuring details of all banned motorists are recorded and enforced.

“Everyone seems to blame another agency for what is happening,” said Gray.

All disqualified motorists are contacted by either the Courts Service or the RSA and instructed their licence must be surrendered to the RSA’s National Driver Licence Service in Cork within 14 days of the disqualification.

Failure to surrender a driving licence following disqualification is an offence, which carries a maximum fine of €1,000 on first conviction and up to €2,000 on a second or further conviction.

The penalty for driving while disqualified is a fine of up to €5,000 and/or a prison term of six months.

RSA chief executive, Moyagh Murdock, has described the level of compliance as “entirely unacceptable” and claimed there was a cultural problem with the issue.

‘Abuse of process’

Earlier this year, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, described the issue of disqualified drivers continuing to drive as “a blatant abuse of the criminal justice process” and the figures on surrender rates as “stark and totally unacceptable”.

PARC also criticised the lack of enforcement as well as prosecutions and convictions of motorists caught driving during periods of disqualification.

The number of gardaí attached to Roads Policing Units has fallen from 744 at the start of the year to 679 by the end of October – a 9% decrease – despite increased staffing levels overall in the force.

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A RSA spokesperson said the responsibility for the recording of a disqualification in the courts was a matter for the Courts Service under the Road Traffic Act 2002.

“Probably the most important aspect of this issue is whether someone who is disqualified continues to drive, regardless of whether or not they have surrendered their licence,” the spokesperson said.

He said the RSA believed the rollout of new hand-held devices which would allow gardaí to check the real-time licensing status of motorists would be “a significant step forward in addressing this issue.”

About the author:

Seán McCárthaigh

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