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Almost one in four disqualified motorists escape being put off the roads

The disqualification of over 12,200 motorists hasn’t been enforced because their identities cannot be matched with records of the National Vehicle and Driver File

Social Democrats co-leader, Catherine Murphy said the scale of the problem of disqualified drivers who elude driving bans was concerning

Seán McCá

Almost one in four disqualified motorists are consistently escaping being put off the roads despite being the subject of a court-imposed driving ban.

Figures published by the Department of Transport show the authorities have been unable to enforce the disqualification of over 12,200 motorists since 2017 because their identities cannot be matched with records of the National Vehicle and Driver File (NVDF) operated by the department.

The figures show the annual proportion of cases where court disqualifications cannot be given effect has consistently ranged between 22pc and 25pc over the past six years.

From January 2017 to mid-November this year, a total of 12,208 disqualified motorists have not had the driving ban endorsed on their driving licences out of 50,841 drivers who were put off the roads by the courts – a non-enforcement rate of 24pc.

The Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Hildegarde Naughton, pointed out that it is a legal requirement for motorists being prosecuted for road traffic offences to bring their driving licence to court.

In response to a parliamentary question from Social Democrats co-leader, Catherine Murphy, Ms Naughton said over 75pc of court driving disqualification orders can be matched automatically, or as a result of a manual matching process carried out by the National Driving Licence Service (NDLS) which is overseen by the Road Safety Authority.

Ms Naughton said the 25pc of remaining records are assigned to “shell” driver records where details cannot be matched to any driving licence or learner permit holder on the NVDF.

“This could be a result of the driver never having an Irish licence or the driver holding a foreign licence,” said Ms Naughton.

She noted that the figures would represent some motorists who have had multiple disqualifications.

The Minister confirmed that the manual postal process of sending details of driving disqualification court orders to the NDLS had recently been changed to the information being transmitted automatically.

So far this year, Ms Naughton said 1,680 shell records had been created as a result of 7,105 driving disqualifications.

She told Ms Murphy that there were no plans for a further stage of the project to automate records of disqualified drivers where names of offending motorists could not be matched to the NVDF.

However, the Social Democrats co-leader said the scale of the problem of disqualified drivers who elude driving bans was concerning.

Noting that it was World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims today, Ms Murphy said it was also worrying that the Department of Transport did not seem to have any further plans to address the issue.

“The whole point in imposing sanctions is to improve driver behaviour to actually keep our roads safer. If those sanctions can’t be applied you have a system that is not working,” said Ms Murphy.

While the Kildare North TD acknowledged that the holders of foreign driving licences accounted for some of the figures, Ms Murphy said she did not believe they explained the full picture.

“People are only permitted to drive for a certain length of time (one year) in Ireland on a non-Irish permit before they have to exchange it for an Irish one,” she noted.

Ms Murphy also called for increased prosecutions of people who fail to bring a driving licence to court as required by law.

“There may be the odd genuine case where people forget their licence but the figures show that it is clear there are motorists who know how to get around the system,” she added.

Ms Murphy said the Government should examine how the issue was dealt with in other jurisdictions as the consistent figure of around 25pc of motorists escaping driving bans should not be tolerated.

Road safety campaigners have expressed concern repeatedly that the inability of the authorities to endorse the driving licences of all disqualified motorists is detrimental to the enforcement of road safety measures.

Such a lack of information means gardaí at roadside checkpoints do not have accurate data in many cases on the licence status of motorists suspected of committing road traffic offences.

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