I thank the Chairman for the invitation to address the joint committee on the matter of driving licences and disqualified drivers. An Garda Síochána is committed to improving road safety and reducing the number of deaths on the roads in line with the Government's road safety strategy for the period 2013 to 2020. It works hard with all stakeholders to achieve this target. Last year was the safest on record on the roads. A total of 157 people lost their lives on the roads compared with 186 in 2016. However, that is 157 deaths too many.
The 2017 road safety performance index of the European Transport Safety Council, ETSC, shows that Ireland has improved its position and moved from fifth to fourth in the EU member state rankings for road safety. It had the fourth largest decline in the number of road deaths among the EU 28 between 2016 and 2017. However, the figures this year so far have been disappointing, with an increased number of fatalities compared to the same period last year. I presume Ms Murdock submitted her document yesterday. I can confirm that, as of today, as many as 76 people have died on the roads, an increase of four on the figure on the same day last year.
An Garda Síochána views the enforcement of road traffic legislation and the subsequent disqualification of drivers as important aspects in improving road safety. Section 38 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, as amended by section 12 of the Road Traffic Act 2006, created the offence of driving without a driving licence and, on summary conviction, imposed a fine not exceeding €1,000 and, in any other case, a fine not exceeding €2,000. Section 38(5) of the Road Traffic Act 1961, as amended by section 12 of the Road Traffic Act 2006, provided for an increased penalty for a person summarily convicted of the offence of driving without a driving licence and who, at the time he or she committed the offence, was disqualified from holding a driving licence. He or she is liable to pay a fine not exceeding €5,000 or be imprisoned for a term not exceeding six months or both.
Additional powers were provided for An Garda Síochána, allowing the arrest of persons who drove while disqualified, under sections 6(b) and 6(c) of the Road Traffic Act 2014 which took effect on 22 June 2015. In terms of the latter offence, advice was received from the Director of Public Prosecutions that there was no separate offence of driving while disqualified. Section 38 creates an offence of driving without a licence. Section 38(5) provides for a more severe penalty for driving without a licence during the period of disqualification. However, the offence remains one of simply driving without a licence.
Section 40(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1961, as amended by section 59 of the Road Traffic Act 2010, created an offence for the driver of a mechanically propelled vehicle who, following a demand from a member of An Garda Síochána, failed or refused to produce for inspection a driving licence. If the driving licence is not in the possession of the driver at the time of the initial demand, a further demand is made to produce his or her licence at a Garda station of his or her choosing within ten days. If this demand is made on foot of a fixed charge notice, a record of it is noted in the fixed charged processing system, FCPS, application which is managed by the Garda Information Services Centre, GISC. Procedures are in place to ensure all demands are followed up. When documents are not produced within the allotted period, appropriate offences are raised and summonses issued.
When a demand is made that is unrelated to a fixed charge notice, a record of it is only created on the police using leading systems effectively, PULSE, system when documents are produced. The member of An Garda Síochána will check the PULSE system for a record of production. Where no such record of production is found, the member issues proceedings against the person concerned.
In the years 2011 to 2017 An Garda Síochána initiated the following prosecutions of drivers who had driven without a licence. The numbers of prosecutions are as follows: 28,405 in 2011; 25,117 in 2012; 21,606 in 2013; 20,801 in 2014; 20,004 in 2015; 20,966 in 2016; and 23,309 in 2017. Each year close to 10,000 drivers are subject to disqualification, either as a result of a prosecution taken by An Garda Síochána or an accumulation of penalty points for offences detected. On average, there are 20,000 disqualified drivers at any one time.
Prior to receiving advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions, the numbers of prosecutions for driving while disqualified were as follows: 1,660 in 2011; 1,793 in 2012; 1,879 in 2013; 1,879 in 2014 - I suspect that figure is a misprint - and 1,561 in 2015. A change was made in 2016, which has resulted in only three prosecutions. Unfortunately, I cannot produce the figure for 2017 because the system was changed.
To pick up on what Ms Murdock said, the numbers of fatal collisions between 2014 and 2017 which involved a disqualified driver or a driver who had no licence were as follows. In 2014 there were 179 collisions, five of which involved a disqualified driver and 18 a person without a licence. In 2015 there were 155 collisions, of which three involved a disqualified driver and nine a person driving without a licence. In 2016 there were 175 collisions, of which six involved a disqualified driver and 11 a person without a licence. In 2017 there were 144 collisions, of which two involved a disqualified driver and six a person driving without a licence.
Under the provisions of road traffic legislation, there are a number of disqualification orders, of which the committee should be mindful. First, there is a consequential disqualification order which results from the provisions of section 26 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, as amended. A person is convicted of an offence specified in the legislation which mainly revolves around dangerous or drink driving. In this instance, the court shall make an order declaring the person to be disqualified from holding a driving licence. A consequential disqualification order operates to disqualify the person to whom the order relates from holding any driving licence whatsoever during a specified period. As a general rule, a consequential disqualification order comes into operation 15 days after it is made. I will go into more detail shortly.
Second, there is an ancillary disqualification order which comes into force when a person is convicted of an offence under the Road Traffic Act 1961 or otherwise while driving a mechanically propelled vehicle or any other vehicle, other than an offence in relation to which a consequential disqualification order applies. In other words, if somebody is involved in a crime and one wants to link it with the car.
In these cases an ancillary disqualification order shall disqualify the convicted person either from holding any driving licence whatsoever or a driving licence in respect of a class or classes of mechanically propelled vehicles during a specified period. An ancillary disqualification order generally comes into operation on the 15th day after it is made. I will come back to this point.
Special disqualification orders are catered for under section 28 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, as amended. If an officer of An Garda Síochána or an appropriate licensing authority has reasonable grounds for believing a person who is the holder of a driving licence is, by reason of a disease or a physical or mental disability, unable to drive any mechanically propelled vehicle or any class or classes of mechanically propelled vehicles covered by the licence, such officer or licensing authority may apply to a justice of the District Court for an order declaring such a person to be disqualified from holding a driving licence until he or she produces to the licensing authority a certificate of fitness. The same system applies to people we believe to be incompetent. I do not intend to read the section of our presentation dealing with this matter. In these cases special disqualification orders come into operation immediately. The court, in making such an order, may direct the suspension of its operation pending an appeal.
Consequential or ancillary disqualification orders come into operation on the 15th day after they are made, as provided for in section 30 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, as amended. However, a court may postpone the operation of such an order for a period of up to six months if it is satisfied that a special reason which it shall specify when postponing the operation of the order related to personal circumstances, including the nature of employment, has been proved by the convicted person in a particular case. If a consequential or ancillary disqualification order or, where the order is related to a conviction, that conviction is the subject of an appeal, notice of which is lodged within 14 days of the making of the order, and the convicted person has duly entered into a recognisance to prosecute the appeal, the operation shall stand suspended pending the appeal.
The effect of these provisions is that a licence holder, in respect of whom a consequential or ancillary disqualification order is made, may continue to drive any class or classes of mechanically propelled vehicles covered by such licence for 14 days after the order has been made and beyond where an appeal notice, as set out, has been lodged, or where the court has postponed the operation of such an order for a special reason related to the personal circumstances of the licence holder which has been proved. Special disqualification orders come into operation immediately when they are made. If an appeal is brought against a special disqualification order, the court making the order may direct the suspension of its operation pending the appeal and, as a consequence, the person may continue to drive any class or classes of mechanically propelled vehicles covered by such licence. A person who is the subject of a consequential, ancillary or special disqualification order shall, within five days of the coming into operation of the order, deliver his or her licence, if any, to the officer of the court which made the order and that officer shall send it to the licensing authority. This is covered by Part 9 of SI 537 of 2006 which is also known as the Road Traffic (Licensing of Drivers) Regulations 2006.
The final aspect of this matter with which I want to deal is disqualification by reason of penalty points. Penalty points are recorded against a driving licence by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport on notification of payment of a fixed charge notice. Approximately 73% of all fixed charge notices are paid. Penalty points are also recorded when a conviction is handed down in court in respect of a penalty points offence. If a fine is paid by the offender, the licence information is provided at the point of payment. The licence document must be produced and cross-checked against the offender's details. Notification of the payment and licence number is passed to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport which assigns the appropriate number of penalty points to the specified licence. If a fixed charge notice is not paid, the case proceeds to court. The summons document issued by the Courts Service contains an instruction to the offender to bring his or her driving licence to court. If the person is found guilty in court, the details of the conviction, including the driving licence details, are passed directly to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport by the Courts Service. If a member of the public fails to produce his or her licence in court and the Courts Service is unable to provide licence details for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, it is necessary for the court to provide An Garda Síochána with a certified copy of a court order in relation to the offence and notification certifying that the driving licence was not produced to the court in order for a prosecution for non-production to be taken. If penalty points are endorsed on the licensing record of a person and, in consequence, the total number of penalty points standing so endorsed equals or exceeds 12, or equals or exceeds seven in the case of a person who, at the time the points are endorsed, is a learner or novice driver, the person shall stand disqualified for a period of six months, beginning on the appropriate date for holding a licence. In such circumstances, the licence held by the person in question at the beginning of the period shall stand suspended accordingly. This disqualification by reason of penalty points is covered by section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 2002, as amended.
The notification by the RSA to the person concerned of the endorsement of penalty points and that person's subsequent disqualification also directs the person to surrender his or her driving licence to the RSA not later than 14 days from the appropriate date. This is governed by section 5 of the Road Traffic Act 2002, as amended. While it is a criminal offence not to surrender one's driving licence, if disqualified, the proof required to sustain a prosecution is not insignificant. Evidence to sustain a prosecution would inevitably include evidence that the person held a valid driving licence at the time, was disqualified, aware of the disqualification and the requirement to surrender the licence and had failed to surrender it. This would, undoubtedly, require the involvement of Garda personnel in each prosecution, as well as evidence from RSA personnel and, possibly, Courts Service personnel.
Each week An Garda Síochána receives a file containing driving licence information from the driver and vehicle computer services division of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport which is known as the DVCSD and based in Shannon. Garda personnel can use the Garda PULSE system to search by driving licence number, or by name and date of birth, to retrieve certain information from the DVCSD file, including an indication that a driver is disqualified. While this facility is very beneficial, the search of the PULSE system must be requested over the Garda radio network by a Garda member on the ground back to the communications room. Depending on the priorities of the communications room at the time, it can take some time to execute this request and provide a result for the Garda member. As a consequence, such searches are not carried out as often as would be desirable. In addition, the DVCSD, on behalf of the RSA, notifies An Garda Síochána via the Garda National Roads Policing Bureau if a driver who has been disqualified as a consequence of the accumulation of penalty points has failed to surrender his or her driving licence to the RSA. Copies of these notifications are transmitted to local divisions when Garda personnel are seeking to retrieve driving licences. In addition, appropriate information on the disqualification is recorded on the PULSE system.
The practice of submitting a driving licence file after a driver has been disqualified or given penalty points originates from the existence of the old paper-based licence. As the licence was paper-based, the practice was to have the licence physically endorsed with a stamp on it stating the person had been before the courts and some endorsement or disqualification had been imposed on the holder of the licence. This was good practice at the time because the system was entirely paper-based and gardaí had limited means of inquiry regarding the licence. For the purposes of the meeting, I am showing the committee my own licence to show members what we are talking about.