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Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport debate -
Wednesday, 20 Jun 2018

Disqualified Drivers: Discussion

I must remind members to switch off their mobile phones completely. I apologise to our witnesses for the delay. Our earlier hearing went on for longer than anticipated. I welcome the witnesses and appreciate that they waited to make their presentation on this important issue.

We will consider the current situation pertaining to the licences of those who have been disqualified from driving. In this regard, I welcome Ms Moyagh Murdock, chief executive officer of the Road Safety Authority who is accompanied by Mr. Michael Rowland and Mr. Declan Naughton. I welcome Assistant Commissioner David Sheahan and Superintendent Con O'Donohue from the roads policing and major events management division of An Garda Síochána

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Ms Murdock to make her opening presentation.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I thank the Chairman for the kind invitation to address the joint committee on the matter of driving licences and disqualified drivers.

The disqualification of drivers is an important road safety measure. It helps safety on our roads in two ways, first, by keeping dangerous drivers off our roads and, second, it has a deterrent effect of possible disqualification which reduces the risk of drivers engaging in bad behaviour. In that regard the proper administration and enforcement of driver disqualification is critical to safety on our roads. The disqualification of drivers and the enforcement of the various provisions is a shared responsibility of the Road Safety Authority, RSA, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Courts Service and An Garda Síochána.

For the information of members it might be helpful initially to describe the process that leads to a driver being disqualified. Essentially, there are two routes to disqualification, one is by accumulating seven penalty points in the case of a learner or novice or 12 penalty points within a three-year period in the case of a person who holds a full driving licence. The second is by way of a court disqualification on being convicted of an offence for which the penalty involves disqualification from driving. There is also a lesser known process known as a special disqualification order where a court order is sought to disqualify a driver, usually on the basis of not being medically fit to drive. This occurs infrequently, with only a handful of such cases being taken each year.

Once the disqualification is confirmed, the information is updated on the national vehicle driver file, NVDF, which contains the driver record and is operated by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. The updating of the driver record is initiated in the following circumstances: following notification from the Courts Service to the RSA via the national driver licence service, NDLS, where the disqualification results from the court disqualification; following notification by An Garda Síochána to the Department's driver and vehicle computer services division, DVCSD, in Shannon, of the payment of a fixed charge notice for certain drink driving offences or where the accumulation of penalty points reaches the threshold for disqualification; following notification by the Courts Service of a conviction for a penalty points offence to the DVCSD where the accumulation of penalty points reaches the threshold for disqualification. In each instance, the driver is written to by either the Courts Service or the RSA and informed that the licence must be surrendered to the NDLS within 14 days of the disqualification taking effect. When the licence is surrendered the NDLS updates the driver record to reflect the licence has been received. If it is not received, no amendment is made.

Recent media reports suggest that the number of licences surrendered is at a low level and this is borne out by the available statistics. The table provided sets out the statistics and these indicate a very poor level of compliance. We can see for the year 2017 that just one in six of those disqualified surrendered their licence. It is a legal requirement for drivers who are disqualified, whether by the courts or by exceeding the penalty point limits, to return their licences to the licensing authority, the Road Safety Authority. It is an offence not to return a licence following disqualification. The penalty for non-return of a licence on disqualification is a fine up to a maximum of €1,000 for a first offence, and up to €2,000 for a second or subsequent offence.

As members can see from the table, only a relatively small minority comply with this requirement. In 2017, some 9,449 drivers were disqualified by the courts, but only 1,289 surrendered their licences. There are no doubt a myriad of reasons for this, including the fact that in some cases the driver does not hold a licence in the first place. However, the level of compliance is entirely unacceptable and demonstrates a disregard and disrespect by those individuals for road traffic legislation. Clearly, there has not been a strong culture of surrendering a licence in this country.

I contrast this with the position in Northern Ireland. I know from engaging with the Driver and Vehicle Agency, also known as the DVA, that it is the norm to surrender a licence in Northern Ireland. No doubt this is attributable to the strong security presence during the Troubles when vehicles were frequently stopped and documents demanded which created a culture of compliance. Compliance with this element of road traffic legislation in our nearby jurisdiction is also mirrored in the other areas of road safety as we know such as zero tolerance of a learner driver in Northern Ireland driving unaccompanied.

While the legislation in both jurisdictions is relatively similar, attitudes and behaviour are very different. It should be noted that the mechanism for surrendering a licence appears to be less cumbersome in that it is surrendered to the court prior to the court hearing and certainly on conviction. It is then transmitted to the licensing authority.

In this jurisdiction, the licence is not retained in court. Rather, the driver is asked to post it to the licensing authority. The rationale for this approach is that there is a period allowed for the driver to appeal a conviction. In the North, they hold on to the licence while the appeal takes place. There is no legal provision in this jurisdiction to provide for the courts to retain the licence.

At the same time, it is important to bear in mind that the matter of greater concern is whether people are driving while disqualified. Non-return of licences cannot be taken as a proxy measurement for those driving while disqualified. A person who has retained his or her licence may not be driving, while a person who has returned the licence, even to keep his or her head below the parapet, may continue to drive. The penalty for driving while disqualified is a fine up to a maximum of €5,000 or a prison term of up to six months or both. The low surrender rates naturally beg the question as to whether those who are disqualified continue to drive while disqualified. We know for sure that some do because we have data that show 84 convictions for driving while disqualified in 2017. Naturally, as CEO of the Road Safety Authority, this is a very serious concern for me and is another challenge in keeping our roads safe.

This brings us to the question of enforcement of the licence surrender process and the general disqualification rules. This is primarily a matter for An Garda Síochána, but requires a significant input from the RSA and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. The Garda Síochána has access to the driver record and is able to see whether a driver is disqualified and whether the licence has been surrendered in a particular case. However, this information is not easily accessible at the roadside during enforcement activities. As the Garda does not currently have the technology such as mobile devices to access the database files in real time, this inhibits effective detection of offenders.

To prosecute a driver successfully for failure to surrender a licence having been disqualified, the RSA would most likely have to have a representative in court alongside the Garda to give evidence on behalf of the RSA on the failure to surrender the licence. The RSA would need significant resources to do that. The Garda would also need significant resources to prosecute the thousands of cases of failure to surrender licences.

I understand the Garda has many priorities but one of my main responsibilities is to make the case for the appropriate resources, be they personnel or technology, to be allocated to road safety matters in An Garda Síochána. I have been on record in recent times to express the dissatisfaction of the RSA that the Garda roads policing unit has not been staffed or prioritised to the levels committed to. I continue to raise this directly with the Garda at the highest level and I have also expressed my concern to the Policing Authority about this matter. Clearly, if the roads policing unit is not at core strength, the ability of the unit to enforce the law is diminished and drivers who should not be on our roads may come to believe there is little chance of their being detected. The visible presence of gardaí with smartphone look-up capability on our roads is the measure that will do most to reduce death and injury on our roads. It would also be the best use of the limited resources available to ensure targeted effective and smarter enforcement.

As regards the specific issue of how we improve the compliance levels so that more disqualified drivers surrender their licences, I think all the stakeholders should look at a number of measures which I will now set out. The principal purpose of licence surrender is to prevent drivers from continuing to drive while disqualified. Members will be aware that the RSA has explored the possibility of publishing lists of disqualified drivers. The purpose of this initiative would be to bring public pressure to bear on disqualified drivers to ensure they would not drive and be a danger on our roads as well as deterring them from committing the offences in the first instance that leads to disqualification. While there are legal and data protection impediments to proceeding with publishing such a list, we believe that the spirit of the proposal continues to have significant merit and we have more work to do to satisfy data protection requirements and to meet general data protection regulation, GDPR, requirements.

As part of this, we are exploring the possibility of creating an information portal where employers who have employees driving for work would, with appropriate privacy protections, be able to access their employees’ driver records. This would be a progressive step, especially in keeping professional drivers of buses and trucks who are disqualified off our roads. We are aware that they have been guilty of this offence.

It is clear that the greatest impact can be made by enhancing enforcement capabilities of the Garda to detect disqualified drivers who drive while disqualified more so than pursuing and prosecuting those who do not surrender their licences. The RSA is aware the Garda has been developing an initiative that will see a specific focus on disqualified drivers including the need to surrender the licence. I understand that the Garda is about to roll out this initiative which will allow it to extract the specific information on driver disqualification from the driver record and distribute it directly to Garda divisions so that the information is known to local gardaí without having to access the driver record. This should help target offenders and give more focused information on the ground and enable enforcement to take place in a proactive fashion.

I am satisfied that the legislation is adequate for both the offences being discussed here today, that is, the non-surrender of licences when disqualified from driving and driving while disqualified, along with the penalties prescribed therein, and that the necessary powers have been given to the Garda to deal with the issue effectively. The necessary funding and resourcing must also be in place, however, to enforce and change attitudes and behaviour.

The RSA acknowledges and fully supports the Garda modernisation and renewal programme commitment to maximise the potential of technology. In practice, this means that a garda will have access to all systems needed to undertake his or her duties on his or her person. It also commits to the expansion of systems such as the automated number plate recognition, ANPR, system and the creation of watch lists. There is no reason such lists should not include the vehicles owned by disqualified drivers. In our regular interactions with the senior Garda roads policing management, the RSA has affirmed a commitment to support in whatever way it can An Garda Síochána in the development and roll-out of smart mobile technologies.

I acknowledge that there is an issue as regards the surrender of licences, the statistics do not lie. If all stakeholders work together, however, we can make progress in resolving the issue.

I will touch briefly on broader road safety matters. Last year was the safest year on record and we are making progress. I am afraid the position today is that we have an increased level of fatalities as against the same period in 2017. Seventy-six people have died on our roads, an increase of five on the same period last year. I appeal to all road users, as we enter the holiday period, to be extra vigilant. There are greater levels of traffic on our roads at this time of year, with people driving on roads in areas with which they are not familiar. Each one of us can take simple steps that will make our roads safer. Almost all collisions are preventable. It is up to each individual to change behaviour. We will reverse the current spike and trend in the past month and will reduce the number of fatalities on our roads.

I thank Ms Murdock for her submission. I acknowledge the tremendous work that both the Road Safety Authority and the Garda Síochána are doing in making our roads safer for everybody.

It is unacceptable that so many drivers who are disqualified are on the roads. Sadly, more people have died on our roads this year compared with last year. That is also unacceptable. I fully support the initiatives the Garda Síochána and the Road Safety Authority are taking to make our roads safer.

The Oireachtas needs to provide legislation that will make the roads safer because one death is one too many.

Ms Moyagh Murdock


I have a question, but I do not expect to receive an answer to it now. When I carried out some research in preparation for this meeting, I discovered that the RSA had research that showed that between 11 and 14 people died every year as a result of disqualified drivers driving on the roads. That is an appalling statistic. Will the delegates give us more data on that aspect?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We looked at that research as part of our preparation for this meeting. It is a sad fact that a small number of disqualified drivers have been involved in fatal crashes.

The percentage quoted was 7%.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Yes. In 2017 there were two disqualified drivers involved in two fatal crashes. In the past three years ten disqualified drivers were involved in fatal crashes in which they either killed themselves or other innocent people. Twelve people were killed by them.

The percentage I quoted was probably related to an earlier period. Were 7% of accidents caused by people who had been disqualified from driving?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Yes. That figure pertained to the in-depth pre-crash research we conducted for a five-year period. The Chairman is correct to say 7% of the people involved in fatal crashes had been disqualified from driving.

Is that a huge proportion?

Ms Moyagh Murdock


Of all of the drivers on the roads the number of disqualified drivers is small, yet they cause a lot of damage.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Yes, they have a devastating effect.

I call on the assistant commissioner, Mr. David Sheahan, to make his opening statement.

Mr. David Sheahan

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.

Mr. Sheahan is showing a bad example; he should have the new one.

Mr. David Sheahan

Hold on one second.

The ten years must not yet be up.

Mr. David Sheahan

Yes. With the introduction of penalty points, the practice of physically endorsing the physical licence ceased and the penalty points were placed on the driver's record rather than the actual licence. The submission of the licence was an administrative function which assisted in the identification of the correct record on which the penalty points were to be recorded.

For the benefit of my friend, I point out that, in more recent times, the small ID card driving licence was introduced and this obviously has no capacity to have either a disqualification or penalty points recorded on the actual licence. It is simply used to identify the driver, the class of vehicle the driver is licensed to drive and the correct record on which to record the penalty.

What is crucially important is that the imposition of a disqualification or the recording of penalty points is not reliant on the person submitting the licence. Regardless of whether the licence is submitted, the penalty is recorded, which is the important piece of the process. The real vulnerability and concern in this system is that the licenceholder can present his or her licence to a garda or any other person, perhaps an employer, who, if not educated in the matter, may think that the licence presented is both a clean and valid licence. The option of chasing after people and demanding that they forfeit their driving licence and the pursuit of a prosecution may be a futile exercise. The serious offence is not the non-surrender of the licence but, instead, the driving while disqualified or the fraudulent declaration regarding the status of the licence. The solution to this lies, first, with an understanding that the licence is a means of identifying the driver and the driver record and, second, that a garda has access to the record behind the licence. In the case of a garda, this access has to be immediate.

As can be seen in the submission, this is a complex issue and compliance levels, with drivers producing their driving licence on demand or surrendering their licence following endorsement, fall far short of expected levels of compliance. As a short-term measure, the Garda IT section is developing a report that will allow Garda personnel on the ground to search for disqualified drivers in a particular geographical area. This will assist local Garda personnel in monitoring disqualified drivers to ensure they are not driving while disqualified.

Much of the narrative around the surrender of driving licences by disqualified drivers appears to indicate a common perception that by surrendering a driving licence following disqualification, the disqualified person will not drive. Unfortunately, what happens in practice is somewhat different. The surrender of a driving licence is not a reliable indicator that a disqualified driver will not drive, nor is the failure to surrender a driving licence a reliable indicator that a disqualified driver will drive. From a road safety perspective, a greater deterrent is required. There is a provision in the First Schedule to the Road Traffic Act 2002, at reference No. 6, which is an enabling provision for the Minister of Transport, Tourism and Sport for declaring the non-production of a driving licence on demand as a penalty point offence. My belief is that this would bring about a change in culture in terms of peoples’ attitude to possession of a driving licence and the significance and importance of having a driving licence.

The most effective deterrent to driving while disqualified is that Garda personnel can, by means of a user-friendly mobile device at the side of the road, check if a person is disqualified or not. Modern mobile digital data devices, when applied to policing, afford a wide range of opportunities to a police service to improve the service they deliver to the public and increased visibility. With a mobile device, a member can connect to Garda systems to read and capture policing data and, effectively, become a mobile police station.

An Garda Síochána is currently conducting a pilot in Limerick to uncover the most appropriate means of informing and guiding future investment in the latest mobile technology solutions for An Garda Síochána. In the six months of the pilot, the users of the new Garda traffic app have noticed that detection of offences, such as non-payment of motor tax, driver penalty point disqualifications and stolen property, have improved as a direct result of having access to the app with instant details from PULSE. The member can now check on the side of the road without contacting or returning to the station and can increase visibility by remaining on the roadside. There is also a tangible change in the attitude of the public when they see that the member now has a smart mobile data device, ranging from more respect to quicker admission of guilt than may have been expected previously.

By providing the member with access to real-time information at the scene, use of the current driving licence insurance production, DLIP, process could be greatly reduced. Making available current driving licence, road tax, NCT and insurance information would make roadside checks and issuing of fixed charge notices more efficient. This would enable a member to make informed decisions and detect deliberate attempts to evade prosecution by providing false or misleading information. It was for this reason that a forward-focused solution was sought, rather than getting tangled in the historical problem that existed. Of course, this will require investment but it is an investment in our core strategy of saving lives on our roads. If members of the committee wish to see the app, I have it with me and I can show them how it works.

Can Assistant Commissioner Sheahan demonstrate it now?

Mr. David Sheahan

I can.

Thank you. How expensive is it per unit?

Mr. David Sheahan

We have not gone through the costings and that is what we are currently working on. To demonstrate, as committee members can see, if I turn on the app and look for a person's driving licence, what comes up in front of me is the penalty point disqualification. Therefore, the minute I stop the person and put in his driving licence number, the app tells me whether he is disqualified - for example, a red bar will come up on the screen if there is a penalty point disqualification. In another example, the app will tell me there is a penalty point disqualification and a non-surrendered licence, and can give me those two pieces of data instantly at the side of the road. In such a case, I do not have to look beyond that and I can arrest the person for the offence.

The next example shows information from a recent check in Limerick. When we stopped a person, the app showed the holder of the driving licence was deceased and we discovered the driver was using a licence held by an already deceased person. In the next example, it was found the person was ineligible to have the licence and we were able to tell that immediately. Finally, a man produced a driving licence to us and when we put it into the system, it came back listed as "unknown". We were able to tell instantly that it was a forgery that had been handed to us.

Can the app be used on any Garda mobile phone?

Mr. David Sheahan

Yes. The phone is the same as any other mobile phone but there is a Garda site on it which is encrypted, so the information we get is encrypted. It has the same level of governance as we would have on the PULSE system, for example, if I was using the PULSE system in my home station. What it does for us is bring the information straight to the garda on the side of the road in order that he or she can deal with the issue there and then, without needing to go back to the station.

My fear in this respect is that I could be operating a checkpoint on the road today, and somebody could hand me a licence and I would say everything is perfect and wish the person goodbye. However, if I can check it on the side of the road there and then, I will know exactly whether the person is disqualified or not, irrespective of whether they have surrendered their licence or not.

The cost would be for the phone itself.

Mr. David Sheahan

The cost would be the phone and its running costs.

I presume it would be a Garda issue phone and there would have to be a special need for it.

Mr. David Sheahan

These phones are personal issue phones that are given to members, who sign for them. There is a whole series of governance issues around that to prevent abuse of the phone when it is used in public.

It could be used for other Garda activities.

Mr. David Sheahan

To be honest, this is only the first part of the process. Where I would see this going in the near future is in regard to how we can issue fixed charge notices directly from the phone to the system. Instead of going back to the station and writing up my summonses or fixed charge notices, I could do that at the side of the road so that, literally when I press "send", they are on the system.

What is the turnaround period for the driver who hands over the licence? Is it five minutes or ten minutes?

Mr. David Sheahan

It is instantaneous. I would have it done in a second.

When the garda puts in the data, it will search the database.

Mr. David Sheahan

If the Chairman has his driving licence with him, I can show him how it works when we are finished. If he is willing to do it, I can put in the number and I assure him the information will be back to him within seconds.

If I have to ring the station, however, I would have to engage with a call taker on the far side. Depending on the priorities in the station, it could take five or ten minutes before it comes back.

This presentation has been extremely helpful. I want to understand one thing. The people who are court disqualified are people with either drink-driving or dangerous driving convictions, which are very serious offences. Penalty points are cumulative but it is also very serious where one goes over the seven. I have just checked the data in the Courts Service report for 2016 and the courts issued 7,600 orders in respect of drink-driving. The vast majority of those people are drink-drivers or are dangerous drivers which is why it is important that when they are put off the road, they stay off the road. Anything we can do to help An Garda Síochána in that regard, we will.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

The 7% of disqualified drivers involved in fatal crashes all had alcohol on board and no insurance. They are the most serious offenders and they generally have other offences at the same time.

People often say we need to legislate for something. If this session proves anything, however, it is that legislation on its own is not sufficient. What is key is how that legislation is implemented and enforced afterwards. A Bill going through the Dáil at the moment is being filibustered heavily. It is absolutely warranted and I support it, albeit the legislation will make a difference to a small number of people. However, we have just been told that 11 to 14 people per annum are projected to lose their lives over a three-year period. This is in the same ballpark in terms of its impact. I was shocked when I heard this on Sunday on the "This Week" programme.

The Road Safety Authority has provided the committee with statistics from 2014 to 2017, inclusive, and, to date, in 2018. It provided us with a number for court disqualifications. I presume those disqualifications relate to an individual disqualification in each case. It is not that the figure for 2015 includes active disqualifications from the year before. I take it they are each individual disqualifications.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

They are individual. At any point in time, there could be up to 22,000 active disqualifications. As the Deputy points out, these are new disqualifications in each year and there could be an overlap there.

I have just counted up the figures from 2014 to 2018, inclusive, and got a total of 39,000. I presume there is some degree of repeat offending but it is unlikely to be a dominant group. Over four and a half years, 39,000 is-----

Ms Moyagh Murdock

There are quite a number of repeat offenders in there.

Does the RSA collect that information?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Yes. We have looked at it albeit it is a moving figure and I do not have it to hand to provide it to the committee right now.

I do not understand how one can do the road safety job if one cannot ensure that enforcement happens.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Clearly, the least of the worries of those people with repeat disqualifications is the physical act of surrendering a licence. They have gone out and driven again. Perhaps those people surrendered their licences and simply continued to break the law. That is a very valid point. The Garda needs the resources to enforce the current legislation, which is there to be adhered to.

I am all in favour of hand-held devices and using technology where appropriate. That is a very good idea although it would not capture everyone. When someone appears in court and has been excluded, would it be better to change the legislation to ensure the licence is surrendered there and then? If someone appears in court charged with a drink-driving offence and has been excluded because he or she was over the limit and there was an automatic consequence, is he or she not asked if he or she has a licence there and then, given that another offence is created if he or she is not licensed to be on the road in the first place? When the witnesses say people who appear in court may not have licences, who are we talking about?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

It could be someone who has never done a driving test and got a licence. There are a number of people in that group. It also includes people from outside the State who do not have valid Irish licences. The legislation was changed recently and amendments and regulations have been introduced. It is an offence to fail to produce one's licence in court. Sadly, that is not working at the level we want. People simply say they cannot find their licences. It is an offence to drive without possession of one's licence for checking. There is more than adequate legislation in place and the law has been changed to insist that people come to court with their licences. Some test cases were taken on that legislation whereby we were having difficulty applying penalty points to licences because people were appearing before judges without their licences. The courts are required to ask for the licence.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Not in all cases. That is a fact.

Is there a penalty for that over and above the penalty for the initial conviction?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I am not sure what the penalty is.

Mr. Con O'Donohue

If the requirement is not made, there is no penalty against the judge for not asking. The legislation is framed to provide that if one is convicted of a penalty point offence in court, the judge will make a requirement of one. If the judge does not make the requirement of one, it just does not happen. That is the reality of it. If the judge makes that requirement and one does not produce the licence, there is provision in the legislation that the court will record the fact that the requirement was made and one did not comply. The current legislation we have is that for every penalty point offence, a person should present his or her licence. We need the support of the courts to get that implemented as extensively as possible. There is a slight lacuna in the legislation. If one is charged with a drink-driving or dangerous driving offence, there is no requirement on one to bring one's licence to court. It is only for penalty point offences.

There is a gap in the law on that.

If one is convicted, there is a mandatory disqualification.

Mr. Con O'Donohue

There is a mandatory disqualification but the person is not required to bring his or her licence to court. A person is required to bring his or her licence to court in respect of a penalty point offence.

The law is an ass, in other words.

There is a gap in the law in that regard. Are we talking about the District Court in the main?

Mr. Con O'Donohue

Primarily, yes.

I presume the Road Safety Authority engages with the Judiciary on changes in legislation and things that are not happening.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We engage with our parent Department and with the Courts Service on improving efficiency. We are working with the Courts Service and the driver and vehicle computer services division, DVCSD, of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to automate the feed from the courts to provide the RSA with instant overnight feeds on outcomes and convictions from court cases. We want to get that on a real-time basis, as happens in the North of Ireland. At the moment, it is done by way of a monthly file to allow for the appeals process.

We cannot be notified until that appeal window closes.

Mr. Con O’Donohue

There is one other issue with presenting the licence to the court. A person is not required to bring the licence to court for a non-penalty point offence. While a summons is a requirement to go to court, a person does not have to be in the court for the case to be dealt with. The court can deal with a case in absentia. A person who has been caught on camera, for example, for a speeding offence and who does not pay the fixed charge will receive a summons. If he or she does not turn up in court, the judge can still decide to deal with the case in the absence of the person. In those instances, there is no opportunity to get the driving licence.

Legislation is slowly proceeding through the Houses but we are discussing here the amendment known as the "Clancy" amendment, which deals with learner drivers. In addition to that specific case are figures being collected for accidents involving learner drivers that have resulted in serious injuries or fatalities?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Yes. Of the fatal crashes where alcohol was a factor during the period from 2008 until 2012, as I recall, 15% were learner drivers. Alcohol was a factor, they had no insurance and they were learner drivers.

What did the Road Safety Authority, RSA, do to highlight that issue prior to the appalling tragedy suffered by the Clancy family?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Obviously we fully support the Clancy amendment and we are fully behind the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, in trying to bring the legislation forward. The law is clear in respect of what is permitted. There is a culture of non-compliance. In exactly the same way as some people do not surrender their driver's licence, there seems to be a laissez-faire approach, especially by parents allowing their children to drive unaccompanied. The RSA is involved in education and awareness, and we are trying to educate through the means for which we are recognised.

Yes. According to a parliamentary question tabled by Deputy Thomas Broughan, 844 learner drivers were disqualified having reached the seven penalty points threshold. Only 263 of them surrendered their licences. I presume those drivers do not fall into a different category.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

No, they do not. They are also subject to the law requiring them to surrender their driver's licence but the greater offence was in driving unaccompanied or speeding and accumulating seven penalty points. We brought down the level of penalty points to ensure that at least there is less of a window during which these people could engage in risky behaviour. We also introduced penalty points for the non-display of L plates for learner drivers and N plates for novice drivers. We have seen a big improvement in the display of these plates, but it is still an area where there is a lax attitude. The visible enforcement of this measure, where a garda can check the status of the driver's licence if he or she is a learner driver or a qualified driver, would be very useful.

The figures provided by the RSA on the number of fatalities involving people who were driving while disqualified are for 2008-12. Is that correct?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

The 7% figure relates to the 2008 to 2012 period. The figures I mentioned earlier were more recent and refer to ten disqualified drivers who were involved in collisions that killed 12 people. The 12 fatalities may include the disqualified drivers.

For which years are those figures?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

They are from 2015, 2016 and 2017.

The same number of deaths is being addressed in the legislation.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

While we are confident of those figures, they remain provisional until the investigations are fully completed.

They are the minimum.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Yes, they are probably underestimated.

With regard to the use of handheld devices at checkpoints, all gardaí will be involved in road blocks and checks rather than only members of the traffic corps. Gardaí are not equally distributed around the State and some parts of the country have a very low ratio of gardaí to population. This impacts on the type of policing that occurs. County Meath probably has the lowest ratio of gardaí to population and Kildare has the second lowest ratio. These counties have considerably worse ratios than the national average, with one garda for every 650 people whereas the average is one garda for approximately 450 people. Even when handheld devices are used, it is a reactive type of policing because there are insufficient personnel to provide cover. Implementing this measure will become an issue in areas where there is inequality in the distribution of gardaí, in addition to resource issues. It may well be applied in some parts of the State where road checks can be down. Perhaps it will only be done by the traffic corps. How will this work?

Mr. David Sheahan

What we are trying to achieve, no more than the GoSafe vans, is have an equal distribution of members in areas where we know fatalities have occurred. We are doing some analytical work with a view to determining the numbers required in each county based on the locations of fatal road accidents and an aggregate number across the State. The roads policing unit contributes some 80% of all detections for road traffic offences. The aim of the next part of the pilot is to provide the road policing units with the devices in the next couple of months. There will be approximately 1,000 devices in operation. These units work full time on roads policing and the device will capture about 80% of all the data, which is a significant amount.

I have a question. Having discussed this issue with Deputies, including Deputy Declan Breathnach in my constituency, there are significant differences in Border areas. Will the witnesses comment on whether people from outside the jurisdiction believe they can operate with impunity when they are south of the Border? I do not know if this is the case but we believe this is part of the culture.

Mr. David Sheahan

There is that element of it, which we will have to tackle. Greater co-operation between An Garda Síochána and agencies in the North, while it has not decreased the problem, has certainly brought it to bay for the moment.

Are additional measures required?

Mr. David Sheahan

It would be ideal if the same system operated North and South, with offences detected in the South counted in the North, and vice versa. That would have a significant impact. In the meantime, we are also trying to achieve a balance by ensuring the number of roads policing units along the Border is sufficient to cover the area.

I hope that will reduce fatalities. I tabled a parliamentary question yesterday on an ancillary issue. The figures provided in the reply show the average fine for a person found guilty of driving without a motor insurance policy in 2015, 2016 and 2017 was €395, €388 and €377, respectively. Based on these fines imposed on those who are caught, it actually pays to drive without an insurance policy. Persons caught committing a road traffic offence are supposed to have their licences endorsed. If they do not present their licence for endorsement, they will often subsequently present it to their insurance company, even though it has been endorsed but the endorsement does not feature on the licence document. That is a major issue. Is there a profile of the type of person who is killing people by drinking and driving or engaging in dangerous driving? Can a profile be run on the typical offender in these cases?

Chairman, can I ask my last few questions as I have to go-----

We all have to go. I do not want to hold the Deputy up, but I have gone to the bother of inviting all these people today. If the Deputy wants to ask her questions, I have no problem with that.

I will ask two quick questions. If one discovers, through the hand-held device, that somebody is disqualified, has a drink driving conviction and should not have a licence, what is the sanction? Can the car be taken from that person on the side of the road? I want to ask the Road Safety Authority whether or not one can restrict learner permits. The action plan refers to reducing the long-term reliance on multiple learner permits. Is that being implemented? Somebody cannot continue to get repeat learner permits.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I will take Deputy Murphy's question first. We fully recognise it is not acceptable for people to apply for a driver test in order to renew their licence. We recently got sanction to employ an additional 67 driver testers on foot of the expectation that the Clancy legislation will come into effect shortly, hopefully tonight if that is possible. It is holding everything up. We have been involved in a big recruitment programme and we will be able to target these people effectively. We were - to be upfront about it - at risk of bringing it into disrepute if we were making people come for tests and could not give them a test in an appropriate level of time. We welcome that sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and we will be moving ahead in ensuring that everybody who has reached the level of competency necessary to pass the test will be given that test in a prompt manner. We will also work to ensure that people who have been driving for a period of years without taking a test engage with a driver instructor, because they will fail the test if they come forward at this stage, having driven for such a long period of time.

The other question was for the gardaí.

Mr. David Sheahan

Section 41 allows for the seizure of the car, and that has been extended to cover a disqualified driver. Section 6 of the Road Traffic Act 2014 allows us to arrest the person whom we find driving while disqualified.

I thank the witnesses.

When the car is seized, is the car kept or can the person apply to get the car back?

Mr. David Sheahan

We seize the car, it is taken to a compound, and the person pays a poundage fee to get the car back.

What is that fee? Is it a standard amount?

Mr. David Sheahan

It is approximately €125 for the first day and €35 for each day thereafter.

I wish to ask a question about the profiled driver. Who are these people? What do they-----

Ms Moyagh Murdock

To return to the question about the driver test, we know with great certainty the people who will not show up for their test. They are generally over the age of 35 and have had three or four learner permits. We know those people and we are targeting them at the moment. As to who is the riskiest driver, our research shows that well over 80% of drink drivers are male and 75% of those involved in fatal and serious crashes were under the age of 35. We have gone further and done behaviour and attitude surveys which look at compliance with legislation on mobile phones, speeding, seat belt wearing and drink driving. The one common denominator among them all is that somebody who is detected for using a mobile phone is generally likely to have a litany of those other offences there. It is something that we have been working on with the Garda Síochána in terms of getting that message out. If a person is picked up for using a mobile phone, one will generally find some other offences in respect of that person.

I have a question on naming and shaming. Years ago local papers were printed and everybody bought them, which no longer happens. One would see a list of people who would be convicted for road traffic offences, for drink driving or whatever. The witness is saying that one of the issues is data protection if one publishes the names of people who are convicted. How does that relate to people publishing names in newspapers? What is the difference?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Court reporters are exempt from data protection regulations.

Yes, that is very useful.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

However, we are in the process of finishing a very robust privacy impact assessment, which everybody is required to do under the GDPR regulations of May 2018. We started that early on. We conducted academic research on the effectiveness and legitimacy of doing this and because it has not been done anywhere else or in any other jurisdiction of which we know, there is no unequivocal evidence to say that it would not be beneficial to society. We have met the Data Protection Commissioner, and in her words, it may seem like a good idea but that does not mean that one can just go ahead and do it. We need to follow the protocols and do what the Data Protection Commissioner sets out. We have almost everything complete. We have the technical interfaces ready to go. I will be honest and say that the holding up of the legislation in the Dáil has meant that this is not going to be prioritised this year because the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, OPC, the legislators and the Department staff are fully tied up trying to get this legislation through. It will be 2019 before we can see that come to fruition. We are fully committed to doing that and want to make sure that the legitimacy of what we are proposing cannot be challenged and we want to do it properly.

Does anyone else wish to-----

We have been waiting all evening.

I know and appreciate that fully.

I thank the witnesses for coming in today and apologise for keeping them waiting for so long but, unfortunately, we had two items on the agenda today. I wish to return to the point Ms Murdock finished up on in respect of the legislation that is going through the Dáil. I believe part of it is disproportionate, but I have had my say. I am totally opposed to the filibustering that is going on at the moment. In the opinion of the witness, what message is it sending to the people who have lost a loved one as result of a motor traffic accident? I would ask those engaged in this to refrain from doing it and to allow the Dáil, the democratically elected people, have their say on this legislation.

From what has been said here, the key aspect of any legislation is enforcement. What is the current strength of our traffic corps today?

Mr. David Sheahan

The strength of the traffic corps today is around 760 people.

It is 760 people. Since when?

Mr. David Sheahan

Since when?

Yes, because the most recent figure I received, by way of a reply to a parliamentary question, was 671.

Mr. David Sheahan

We put in an additional 87 people into the roads policing unit on 1 May. At the beginning of the third quarter of this year we intend to put in another 70, bringing the figure to 150 for this year alone. We will be running a competition before the year end to allow for another 100 people to be put into the roads policing unit for 2019.

The current strength is 760 and it is due to increase to 830.

Mr. David Sheahan

It will not quite go to 830 before the end of the year. What is happening at the moment is that there are other competitions in the Garda Síochána regarding promotions from garda sergeant and we are likely to lose a number of personnel due to that. In addition, there are people who are at retirement age and may retire between now and then. There will be a natural attrition in numbers in the next couple of months. What I am trying to do between now and the end of the year is to determine what that attrition rate is going to be and I will build that into the figures for 2019. Whatever I lose this year, I will put extra in from the competition for 2019.

We are at 760. What is the target for the end of this year?

Mr. David Sheahan

I cannot give the Deputy a target for the end of this year because I have a target for 2020, which is to bring the figure up to between 1,000 and 1,100. We have already agreed. I do not have the exact figure with me but that is roughly our target for 2020, and I intend to reach that target.

I hope so.

There was a target agreed, according to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, last year that was not reached. I accept that the witness can only deal with the officers allocated to him. We were due to have an increase last year and we did not have it. That is a fact.

Mr. David Sheahan

In respect of the increase last year, that was held up because of an industrial relations issue relating to a competition we ran. There was supposed to be 75 last year and 75 this year. What I have done is that I have now front loaded all of those increases into 2018 and those 150 people will be in the traffic corps before the year end. The only difficulty that I have is the attrition rate due to promotions, retirements and people who have moved laterally in the organisation.

I refer to the number of people who are disqualified or surrender their licence. There are ways one can lose one's licence. One can go before the courts for a driving offence, including drink driving, erratic behaviour, speeding, etc., or there is the accumulation of points under the penalty points system. The number of people who surrender their licences under the penalty points system is much higher than those who surrender them having appeared before the courts. Over the past four years, on average, only 12% of people who have lost their licences in court have surrendered them.

How many people were prosecuted in 2016 and 2017? I am not talking about the figures where the prosecutions commenced. What were the penalties?

Mr. David Sheahan

The difficulty I have with that is because of the way the legislation is framed, I am unable to disaggregate those prosecuted while having a driver licence against those who were driving while disqualified. The DPP's advices and instructions were that that if I bring a person to court for driving while disqualified, it is automatically implying to the judge that this person has a previous conviction. The rules of due process and fair procedures do not allow for that in this jurisdiction. Therefore, we had to row back. We can only prosecute a person for not holding a driver licence. Once a person is convicted of that offence, we can advise the judge as to his or her previous convictions. That is the process in the courts at the moment.

How many were prosecuted for not holding a driver licence last year?

Mr. David Sheahan

In 2017, 23,309 people were prosecuted. That figure seems to be high but it would include, and I would have to go back and look at the figures individually for the Deputy, people who were too lazy to produce their driver licence and would produce it in the court and say they forgot to produce it. Bringing those prosecutions wastes a lot of court time and Garda time. That is why I made the point earlier on that it would be much better if these people had their driver licences at the side of the road, so that we can check them there and then without the necessity of having to wait for ten days for them to produce them.

What were the penalties for those 23,309 people prosecuted?

Mr. David Sheahan

I have no idea. I would have to check that out.

If one is speeding, it is three penalty points and an €80 fine. Is there no set penalty for someone who is driving without a licence?

Mr. Con O'Donohue

Even for speeding, if it goes to court, it is five penalty points on conviction, but it is up to the court to decide what the monetary fine is. Similarly, with the offence the Deputy is referring to, it is up to the court to decide what the fine is, and it can vary from a very small to a very large fine. There is a fixed charge amount but once a prosecution takes place, there is a band in terms of the offence.

Of the 88% of people, on average, over the past four years who failed to hand up their driver licences, have we any idea how many were prosecuted? These people knowingly and willingly broke the law and continued to drive a motor car when they were put off the road for perhaps drink driving or speeding. They were put off the road because they were deemed a danger on the road and were penalised. Have we any idea of the number of those who were prosecuted?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I can throw some light on that. Sadly, the only way we have of finding those sorts of figures is post factum. Our research on fatal crashes, where people were killed and where we looked at the coroner's file, indicated that 7% of them were driving while disqualified and did not have a valid licence but drove and killed someone. We would assume that 7% still applies.

With due respect, I do not think assumption is good enough. We are talking about designing policy and legislation based on hard facts. We need to know. I am just asking the question and maybe the facts and the figures are here and maybe I am stupid and not able to abstract them from this. A reporter on "Morning Ireland" this morning was able to say that in the past year, only two people were prosecuted out of 8,000 for driving a car when they had been put off the road. Of those, one got a €500 fine and one got no fine.

Mr. David Sheahan

There are two different elements the Deputy is mixing up here. The first element is that two of 8,000 spoken about this morning failed to surrender their licence after being disqualified. It is not a case of those people who were disqualified were then found driving. There are two different things happening at the same time here. There are those who fail to surrender their licences having been disqualified. That is the figure 8,000. Those physically caught driving while disqualified is a different figure altogether.

That is the figure Deputy Troy is looking for, is it not?

One does not know. If they fail to submit their driver licences, we do not know how many people have been put off the road but continue to drive their car until such time as they are caught. Given the existing system, we are unable to definitely say that they are going to be caught.

We do not know whether they have licences or not. I presume a very significant number do not.

Chairman, maybe let the-----

Mr. David Sheahan

If one looks at the figures I have provided, in 2011, 1,660 people were found driving while disqualified; in 2012, there were 1,793; and in 2013, there were 1,879. I suspect that the figure for 2014 is a misprint because it is the same as in 2013, but I would say it is in or around the same figure. In 2015, there were 1,561 in this category. At that stage, on the advice of the DPP, we were unable to continue prosecuting a person for driving while disqualified and, as I explained earlier, we had to deal with it as a person without a driver licence and give the previous convictions thereafter. That is why there were only three in 2016. As a result of that change, unfortunately, I am unable to give the committee the figure for 2017.

The simple fact of the matter is that there is sizeable proportion of people who are disqualified and who are not surrendering their licences. Is that a fair comment?

Mr. David Sheahan

That is a different issue. The figures I have here are for people we detected driving while disqualified. The Deputy is talking about a person who is disqualified and fails to surrender his or her licence.

Just because a person fails to surrender his licence, it does not mean he will drive or, indeed, will not. Those are the detections we made of people who were disqualified from driving and were caught doing so.

We are summarising, but if someone does not hand in his or her licence automatically, one has to ask why. These people will continue to try to drive. If someone was willing to take the disqualification and go off the road, he or she would have no problem handing over his or her licence. People hold onto their licences because they want to continue to try to drive. Does the assistant commissioner agree?

Mr. David Sheahan

In the pilot project being carried out in Limerick at the moment, we have found a number of people who came to a check point and produced a driver's licence as I explained earlier. We were then able to determine by looking up the licence there and then that those people were driving while disqualified. In addition, we went back to the insurers to ask them whether, for example, Mr. David Sheahan, had notified his insurer that he was disqualified from driving. We then had a second offence of failing to notify the insurance company and of making a false declaration in respect of that. By having the information at the side of the road, we are in a better position to do those two things. First, does the person have the licence while disqualified and, second, can we advise the insurer that the person was detected while off the road?

To be fair, that is not the question I asked. I accept that the new system in Limerick where people produce the licence and that is checked there and then is far more efficient and the response time is quicker. However, the reason people hold onto their licences is so that they can drive their cars. The current process is not fit for purpose. If it was, we would not have the statistics the assistant commissioner has outlined. The Garda has identified a new process, albeit the assistant commissioner was unable to tell my colleague about the projected cost and timeframe in rolling it out nationally. When can we expect to see that measure in place in every region?

The assistant commissioner referred to the confiscation of cars as a penalty. My understanding is that contracts are not in place in every region and that gardaí cannot confiscate cars even if they want to.

Mr. David Sheahan

That is erroneous. We seize cars under section 41 of the Act irrespective of whether a contract is in place. That is not a bar to seizing cars where offences are disclosed.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

The Deputy said someone might not surrender his or her licence to continue to drive. There are no facts available to us to indicate that. What we see is that a higher level of people are surrendering their licences who have been convicted on foot of accumulating penalty points. They are more compliant as they have accepted their penalty points in the first place. The profile is of persons more accepting of road traffic legislation.

They have a licence as well. Many of these other people do not have licences, which is the problem.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

The people who do not surrender their licences are defiers. They defy road traffic legislation. The law is clear about surrender of one's licence and they have ignored it. The same attitude exists among learner drivers. We introduced legislation making it a penalty point offence to fail to display L-plates. The L-plate means a person will not drive unaccompanied, but it has no effect on people driving with L-plates. They are driving unaccompanied. One sees it everywhere. When one looks out the window and an L-plate driver goes past, that person is invariably unaccompanied. We have to be careful about coming up with some new process to ensure we get every licence back and believing that it will deter these people from driving while disqualified if they surrender their licences. It is not as simple as that. It is a great deal more complex. We need the mobility project to permit instant detection so that culture and attitudes change and defiers believe they will be caught. They will then change their behaviour.

Would it be worthwhile to get the view of insurance companies? If people are fraudulently saying they can drive because they have full licences, the insurance companies will have a lot of evidence. Perhaps they can provide statistics on those who have been caught improperly claiming to have insurance when they have no licence. Is there an issue in that regard? Would it make sense, data protection law permitting, if all convictions in court or penalty points applied were notified automatically to the insurer?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I will answer that in part and I am sure the Garda will want to answer the rest. The national vehicle and driver file, or NVDF, is available to all insurance companies and the regulations addressing access to it, including in relation to data privacy, have been dealt with. However, only some insurance companies access it. RTÉ "Prime Time" did a programme on the responses when people rang up for insurance and found the companies automatically gave it out. We are also faced with the issue whereby people may take out insurance for a month and then cancel the policy while still driving around with a disc.

Perhaps we should bring in the insurance company representatives.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I would welcome that fully.

Deputy O'Keeffe has waited patiently.

I welcome the witnesses from the RSA and An Garda Síochána. I thank them for their comprehensive and informative contributions. What we are being told today beggars belief. We are blaming current issues on legislation going through the Dáil and filibustering. However, according to what we have heard, perhaps the Minister is not doing his job. Ms Murdock said, his departmental officials have been so busy with a one-line amendment for the past year and a half that he cannot go about his job of bundling existing road traffic legislation, which is poor as we saw in a television documentary. We heard judges, gardaí and others speak on that programme about disqualified drivers being back in court and out driving without proper action being taken. Deputy Munster put down a parliamentary question not long ago asking what the Minister had done about the bundling. We have been led to believe he put out a tender to law firms to sort out the legislation. Is the Minister focused on his job? The current legislation is a knee-jerk reaction because there was a spike in road fatalities in 2016 which was not necessarily caused by careless or dangerous driving. I was recently at a conference on road safety abroad where it was acknowledged that there has been a phenomenal uptick in traffic on the roads in this country. Those roads were left without proper maintenance over the past five or six years due to the unavailability of capital funding for local authorities.

What we have heard today is astounding. Referring to other road safety legislation when a particular incident arose, Mr. Conor Faughnan noted that one of our reactions as legislators is to enact further legislation instead of enforcing the existing law. As we have seen today, the existing legislation is not being tidied up properly. The assistant commissioner referred to two types of disqualification under sections 1(a) and (b) and the confusion that causes where people are off the road. It is astounding that the issue of people failing to hand in their licences has not been corrected. This did not arise yesterday or today. The RSA and the Garda have statistics to indicate it has been a major problem for five years. Why has nothing been done to correct that blatant flaw in the legislation?

Reference was made to the fact that a person may have the right of appeal, but perhaps the judge allowed the prosecutor to hold on to the licence until the appeal is determined. If the person was stopped on the road without his or her licence, the gardaí can double check if it is held by the courts. I am amazed that after what we have heard today regarding that the focus is on the existing Road Traffic Act being properly bundled and tidied up, and the lame excuse that a one line amendment has held up the whole show for the past year and a half.

Perhaps some of my colleagues have been over enthusiastic in their deliberations in the Dáil, but they have had only a couple of hours with the document. We have had to read up on the dossier in high-speed time overall, but the Minister and his Department have been deliberating on it for a year and a half.

With regard to the fitness of the Garda, a previous Garda commissioner has said in a different forum that perhaps the reason there are so few prosecutions is because of the presence of gardaí. This is a phenomenon; people not being prosecuted when the law is broken. If one was to follow this argument then if the gardaí did not drive around a town during a festival occasion, when there tends to be more skirmishes, there would be no prosecutions. Not having a Garda presence can mean more fights. What is the difference there? Just because there are no prosecutions it does not mean the Garda are not doing their job. We have to acknowledge this.

There will probably be a parliamentary question tabled by the end of this year regarding the more than two million breathalyser kits that have been used and how many tested positive. The figures might be low. Deputies could ask if the kits were working properly at all because such a phenomenal number of breathalyser kits had been used. I commend the gardaí, however, and they are doing their job. They have been subject to criticism and at other times they get flak during spates of robberies in rural Ireland and so on.

I expect the RSA advertising campaigns to go on, but we have yet to see a campaign that tells people they cannot drive without a licence or when they have been put off the road. It is a case of do not drink and drive, but there has been no advertisements similar to those relating to the TV licence - if one does not have a TV licence then one cannot have a television. The focus on this issue has been lost through the Minister.

In fairness, the Minister is not here at the moment-----

He should be here-----

Whatever comments Deputy O'Keeffe has in respect of the Minister can be made when we invite him in.

He should be here-----

We will ask him in as soon as possible and the comments can be addressed to him.

I am trying to get across to the committee-----

The witnesses administer the law that we pass. They are not politicians or policymakers.

The witnesses are the people who will take it back to their various departments and-----

I am not-----

I am being forthright here. When it comes to road safety, the other major issue is young drivers. Prior to the last meeting, there was a major road tragedy in Donegal, which involved a 14 year old. I saw a report by a road safety official who said that the only way to stop road tragedies among young drivers in Donegal is to have a night-time curfew. They are trying to wash their hands of the problem. We know there are people who are mad about their cars in Donegal, and it can be a problem, but we do not see much mention of that. Reference was made to the spike in road deaths and the reasons for that. I am sorry about this and it should not be happening. There were 14 road deaths in one month, which is bad, but we have to ask why.

The current legislation has not been properly tidied up but we will only make everything more complicated with further amendments, instead of tidying up the existing legislation and enforcing it through the courts, including in respect of the fatalities to which we have referred. This has not just been an issue for the past 12 months, it has gone on for the past four or five years. I am astounded that we think changing the current legislation is going to sort out all these problems; it will not. These problems should all have been sorted out by now. It has been up to the Minister's Department and the Department of Justice and Equality to have sorted this out before now. Those Departments need to come together, be up-front and acknowledge that if existing laws were properly enforced and regulated, judges would not have to deliberate between prosecutors and solicitors over technicalities. Perhaps there would be fewer road deaths and we would not be going down the road of putting innocent drivers off the road by amending legislation.

I thank our witnesses-----

I have one more point to make around clarification-----

Ms Moyagh Murdock

If the Chairman would not mind I would like to respond. At the outset I said that I believe the current legislation is robust and adequate, and that the powers have been given to the Garda. Gardaí have adequate powers. The issue in this regard is in ensuring the gardaí are properly resourced and funded, and that they have the necessary equipment.

We concentrate on the killer behaviours. We expect people to know that they should carry their driver's licence, but our priority is on the killer behaviours. Drink-driving, seat belts, speeding and mobile phone use are the main areas on which we concentrate. There is also a message on the other areas of road safety.

The night-time curfew issue is not something to be dismissed out of hand. This type of legislation has been introduced in the North of Ireland and there is a night-time curfew for some drivers there, but with some exemptions. They have also restricted the numbers of young people allowed in the vehicle at any one time to one person or siblings. This legislation was introduced to tackle the issue of young drivers so it is not beyond possibility. We will monitor that measure. The authorities in Northern Ireland have recognised that younger drivers are a significant risk to themselves and to other road users. It is not beyond possibility that such a measure would pay dividends.

What I have to say is being-----

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We listen.

I have been given a document from the office of the Minister for Justice and Equality. It states the Minister has been able to obtain the figures for the numbers of drivers who were before the courts between 1 January and 31 December 2017 for the offence of driving while disqualified, the numbers who were convicted and the penalties imposed. The number of drivers was 362 and the number convicted was 82. This is approximately a 20% conviction rate, and I take the figures as accurate as they came from the Minister for Justice and Equality. The penalties imposed in these cases were: community service, 4; disqualified, 59 - but I would have thought the whole lot would have been disqualified and have a penalty on top of the disqualification; fines, 26; imprisonment part suspended, 27; imprisonment with all suspended, 31; and other, one.

I am curious as to how the witnesses cannot have the figures with them because the Director of Public Prosecutions said the two penalties cannot be separated, and yet the Minister was able to access the figures.

Mr. David Sheahan

I am at a loss to know where those figures came from. They may have come from the Courts Service of Ireland. I am not aware of those figures.

I accept that absolutely. The key point is that this has been an important engagement. I want to focus on what is to happen in the future. We all support the suggestion that the app be available to the Garda and that the funds are available throughout the State. As Deputy Troy said, we need to know how much this would cost and get it onto the Minister's agenda for the budget this year. I have no doubt that it would make a huge difference.

We are at a serious point now because, unfortunately, road deaths are going up instead of down. I am aware there is an increased volume of traffic on the roads with more people driving and more people working.

There is a lot more activity. The RSA's plan, which I support, is to have a maximum of 120 deaths by 2020. The roadmap toward that reduction between now and then will be very difficult to develop. I am not quite sure where the plan is in terms of the road to change or what we need to do now. I would like the committee to address that at the proper time. Could I just get the answer to that?

I thought the Chair was shutting down the meeting.

No, not at all.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

It is going to be more and more difficult to achieve that target. Instead of being overwhelmed with trying to reach that target we should refocus on the killer behaviours such as drink-driving. If we disaggregate the figures, 50 to 60 people a year are killed because of drink-driving. The Deputy asked my view on the current filibustering. It is completely unacceptable. It is actually unprecedented.

It is undemocratic. It is an abuse of parliamentary procedure.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

This country has been unique in having always had support for road safety legislation across the parties and from Independent Members as well. This is totally undemocratic. Our chairperson is on record as saying it is totally unacceptable and self-serving. I make no apology for reiterating that. If we could get this legislation through, there would be room to ask about the rest of the legislation. One could say "I told you so", but at the moment the filibustering is holding things up.

I have to come in here.

I am not stopping Deputy O'Keeffe.

I take offence. In Ms Murdock's opening statement she said the legislation is robust. It has been proven that it is not robust. It has been proven that the existing Road Traffic Act, as amended down through the years since 1961, is not functioning properly in its current form, even without amending it further. I take offence at the suggestion that Deputies in Dáil Éireann are jeopardising road safety. I take offence at that comment. Ms Murdock should come out of her comfort zone and come down to rural Ireland-----

Hold on a second.

No, fair is fair.

Hold on. As Chairman I have to say that our witnesses have been fair and reasonable. They have made-----

They have accused colleagues of ours in the Oireachtas-----

I agreed that the Oireachtas is being abused.

That is a matter of opinion.

It is. People are entitled to have that opinion. I believe that anybody looking at road deaths at the moment would have the same opinion. The Deputy is entitled to his opinion however.

Can I put a final question?

Of course.

I was not going to raise this today in this forum. Obviously when we go about producing legislation we need to have facts and figures in front of us. Do we not? The Minister, Deputy Ross, came into this committee as early as February 2017 and he had made comments even before that. In 2016, he gave us a written statement which stated he thought the current legislation on driving with a blood alcohol level between 50 mg and 80 mg was being abused and not functioning properly or playing its part. We went through committee and got no proper clarification. The Garda Síochána says it can produce figures and statistics. Deputy Troy has just proved it can be selective about when it can produce its statistics. An Garda Síochána has had 12 months since I asked my previous question. I tabled a question to the Department of Justice and Equality on 15 May asking for figures on repeat offenders, that is, how many people who were caught innocently over the limit with a blood alcohol level of between 50 mg and 80 mg were caught again. I asked this because the Minister, Deputy Ross, came in here more than 12 months ago and told us the law was being flouted and not being respected or recognised. He told us that there were people being repeatedly caught while innocently over the limit. We are told that these figures are not available. What facts is the Minister working off? We are talking about crashes involving people who have been drinking. From what I can see, if there was a crash out on the road and if there was a bag of empty bottles 4 yd. or 5 yd. away from the vehicle, it would be logged as a crash related to drink-driving. That is way the RSA compiles its figures.

I do not think anybody would agree with that. The integrity of the figures and the witnesses is absolute as far as I am concerned. We should adjourn shortly but I would like to go back to the point about what the next steps should be if we were to have another meeting, because that is hugely important. I note the excellent work the RSA and An Garda Síochána are doing, particularly those advertisements. It is very moving to see families talking about loved ones and little children. It is just not on. The figures must be reduced by at least 30 per annum and it is not happening right now.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We are aiming for a reduction to ten a month but we are at 16 so far this month. It is still too many.

It is so sad and tragic for all those families who suffer. I assure the witnesses of my full support, as a Member of the Oireachtas, for everything that is going on. I want to see more enforcement. I support what the RSA has to do. I do not second-guess its commitment or its absolute integrity in terms of its work. Would the witnesses like to say anything before the adjournment?

Mr. David Sheahan

We need to change behaviour, particularly around drink-driving. Ms Murdock has already said this. We saw a spike of 235 people being detected drink-driving last bank holiday weekend. The normal weekly turnover of drunk-drivers is approximately 182. That figure is way above what we would expect. If that level of behaviour is continuing, we have a difficulty. We need to call it out. There are people who are taking chances and they are putting lives at risk.

They are taking lives in some cases.

Mr. David Sheahan

They are putting lives at risk in many cases. One third of the people involved in those drink-driving offences in that period were people under 30 years of age, which agrees with the research the RSA has done. That is a bracket of people who I would have thought would have learned from the people who came before them, but they have not learned and they are still taking those chances. That needs to change. The other thing I would certainly like to see in the short term as an immediate measure would be provision to have driving licences produced on demand in order that we can do checks on the roadside and make inroads into the really critical behaviours that are changing. That is critical for us. We would need to run a campaign in that context to advise people that they must do it. We need to start enforcing that measure on driving licences in particular. If we get that piece right, the rest of it will flow.

The other thing that was agreed was that we would invite insurance company representatives to the committee to assist in drilling down into those data if we can. I thank the witnesses and the staff of the committee. We have had a very long day. It has been almost five hours of a meeting with a ten-minute break. That is not bad.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

It did not feel that long. We were okay. I thank the Chair.

The joint committee adjourned at 6.20 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 27 June 2018.