Over 500 banned drivers involved in serious or fatal collisions

Gardai in Dublin preparing for a Bank Holiday weekend
Gardai in Dublin preparing for a Bank Holiday weekend

More than 500 disqualified drivers who should have been off the road went on to be involved in crashes where there was serious injury or death.

The shock disclosure was made by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) and comes amid concerns that the country's road safety laws and enforcement structures are not fit for purpose due to legal loopholes.

A total of 521 drivers were disqualified at the time they received their conviction for dangerous driving causing death or serious injury between January 2013 and March of this year.

The revelation was made by the RSA in a letter to the road safety group Parc.

The Government has only recently closed off a loophole which meant banned motorists could not be immediately arrested and brought to court if they were caught driving.

Previously such motorists could only be served with a summons, which meant matters could take months to get to court.

The banned motorists who went on to re-offend, causing death or serious injury, accounted for 3pc of the 17,481 drivers disqualified for road traffic offences between January 2013 and March of this year.

Parc chairperson Susan Gray described the figures as "shocking and appalling".

"The families who have lost loved ones, they are going to be speechless at this," she said.

"Those 521 people should have been off the road. They were allowed to go driving until they killed or seriously injured someone. These figures only cover 27 months. The question I would have is how often has this happened in the past?"

Mrs Gray, who lost her own husband to a road traffic collision, said further statistics requested by the group on the issue had yet to be provided.

A total of 1,104 motorists were prosecuted last year for driving while disqualified.

Some 114 of these drivers ended up in jail, while 130 got suspended sentences, 127 were fined and 23 got the Probation Act. In 314 cases the matter was taken into consideration with other offences.

However, in over half of the prosecutions there was no penalty for the motorist. Some 28 cases were dismissed, 272 were struck out for unspecified reasons, 285 were struck out because no summons was served, and 42 cases were withdrawn.

The loophole in the law was closed off on June 22 with the enacting of sections 6 (b) and (c) of the Road Traffic Act 2014.

Until that point, gardaí who identified people driving while disqualified were required to issue a summons.

Often this meant the driver involved did not appear before a judge for several months.

However, under the new measures, gardaí are able to bring them to court as early as the next day, or even on the day of the arrest if a court is sitting.

The precise number of drivers who may be driving while disqualified is unknown.

However, the Department of Transport said approximately 10pc of drivers disqualified in any given year were later subject to prosecution for driving while disqualified.

The penalty for driving while disqualified is a fine of as much as €5,000 and/or a maximum of six months in prison.