Deputy Broughan makes a very important point. I am seriously concerned about this issue. It was discussed in detail by the Garda Commissioner with the Committee of Public Accounts last Thursday. I am in complete agreement with the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, that this behaviour is a blatant abuse of the criminal justice process.
Under the Road Traffic Acts, the penalty for driving while disqualified is a fine up to a maximum of €5,000 and-or a prison term of up to six months. It is a legal requirement for those disqualified to return their licences to the licensing authority, that is, the Road Safety Authority.
As the Deputy will be aware, the penalty for failing to do so 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. There can be no argument that the numbers of those failing to comply with the surrender of his or her licence are nothing short of shocking and I agree that we need to act to ensure this is dealt with speedily and comprehensively. However, while the figures are of concern, I am informed that they do not necessarily correlate to the number of persons driving while disqualified. Failure to surrender a licence does not necessarily mean that person continues to drive during the period of disqualification. Equally, a person may surrender a licence but choose to flout the law and continue to drive illegally. Therefore, it is important that gardaí have the ability to detect in a timely manner those who decide to drive without a valid licence.
As the Commissioner pointed out, the Garda ACTIVE Mobility project will greatly assist gardaí in ascertaining the current status of a licence at the roadside. The system will allow Garda members to take an image of a licence, or input the data manually, at which point front-line gardaí will be immediately notified as to whether the licence is valid or not. I am informed that the current aim is that 2,000 of the new handheld devices will be issued by the end of the year. Of course, it is crucial that the data which underpin these devices are up to date, and I understand that An Garda Síochána is continuing to work with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, which holds the driver licence data to this end.