James Bond-style revolving or retractable licence plates are being used by boy racers to avoid paying tolls and speeding fines, gardaí are warning.
Officers say that devices which can be purchased online for as little as €70 are being installed onto cars, which allows drivers to shield their licence plates from detection at the press of a button.
Transport Minister Shane Ross has been called on to “ban them immediately”.
The use of rotating licence plates — immortalised in film by the fictional British secret agent — has become a real-life menace for officers in recent months in rural areas, where antisocial behaviour involving modified cars is on the increase.
The Laois-Offaly Garda Division posted examples of this modification on its Facebook page. The images, which showed a modified Audi car with a retractable front licence plate, were taken down a short time later but copies were obtained by the Irish Examiner.
Garda officers have raised concern that the proliferation of such devices has become “a real problem” in some areas where boy racers are known to speed excessively or drive dangerously by carrying out “doughnut” manoeuvres.
A number of online shopping websites were last night offering such “Stealth car number reg plate hide shutters” for sale, costing between €70 and €200. Such devices are available via Britain.
The sites offer the service as a means of protecting the licence plate from potential criminals who may seek to steal the plate for illegal purposes as opposed to promoting willful avoidance of police enforcement.
Billed as a “very convenient and compact curtain for license plate,” one site offers the gadget as an ideal solution for “those who want to hide your license plate from prying eyes”.
Labour’s transport spokesman, Willie Penrose, told the Irish Examiner that such devices should be banned and that he is appalled at this development: “Clearly, this is completely inappropriate at a time when we are trying to focus upon road safety and is a variance with all we are trying to do and totally should be banned. I am absolutely furious with the situation.”
“Secondly, there should be Government restrictions on cars for younger drivers and I would call on the Road Safety Authority (RSA) to examine such restrictions,” he added.
The Road Safety Authority said it intends raising this development with An Garda Síochána: “This is not something we have come across before and we will certainly raise the issue with An Garda Síochána.”
A spokesperson for the Revenue Commissioners said: “It is an offence to be in possession of a vehicle on which an identification mark referred to, in accordance with the Finance Act 1992, is not displayed or is not displayed in the prescribed manner.
“Such vehicles are liable to seizure. Vehicle registration plates must be affixed to the front and back of the vehicle and clearly visible at all times. The plates must be affixed with an adhesive substance to the rear of the plate and be so affixed that it cannot be readily detached therefrom.”
A comment from Mr Ross was sought but was not forthcoming.
There was a 4% drop in road deaths on Irish roads in 2018 — the lowest number in 60 years.
Last year 149 people lost their lives in 142 crashes, compared to 156 in 141 crashes in 2017. This is the lowest number of fatalities recorded since records began in 1959.