Gardaí are arresting “alarming” numbers of banned motorists driving cars, with three a day being caught red-handed.
In the six weeks since new powers of arrest came in on June 22, gardaí have arrested and charged 117 disqualified drivers. That compares to 235 in the six months before the introduction of the power, when gardaí could not arrest disqualified drivers on the spot.
Some 87 of the 117 motorists were charged solely for driving while disqualified, while a further 30 were charged with multiple offences.
Of the 117 cases:
Garda Derek Cloughley of the Garda National Traffic Bureau (GNTB) said banned drivers can face up to six months in jail and fines of up to €5,000 under the new law.
He said many offenders are also active criminals. He said one of the four imprisoned drivers was a motorist with 260 previous convictions, including the sale of drugs, dangerous driving, unauthorised taking of a vehicle, assault, possession of knives, and hit and run.
Garda Cloughley said this particular incident reflected the benefit of the new law in that the offender was arrested and before the courts within a day. He said that in the region of 100 cars have been impounded to date under the new provision.
Gardaí impound 2,500 cars per month for having no tax, no insurance or no driving licence — with over 20,000 vehicles seized last year.
Chief Superintendent Mark Curran of the GNTB said the speed of the new system was a boon compared to the old situation, where gardaí had to summons an offender to appear before court on a future date: “To some extent the previous regime was frustrating for gardaí who were out there. Now, it’s done by arrest, which is much quicker and much more effective.”
He said it was “unacceptable” that drivers who were disqualified from driving — either through the penalty points system or through the courts — continued to drive.
“This is a very serious offence and the numbers are alarming enough,” he said. “We’re seeing three per day. Up to June 22, 235 people were arrested, since then, in the last 45 days, it’s 117.”
Chief Supt Curran said around 25,000 people are disqualified from driving.
He said the message to these motorists was “do not drive”, warning them they would be arrested and charged if caught.
He said the law was also having an added dividend in that it was “disrupting” the activities of travelling criminals and gangs.
“It must also be noted that many of these disqualified drivers have many serious previous convictions, therefore by intercepting and arresting them, we are denying criminals the use of the road.
“An Garda Síochána will continue to seek out these disqualified high-risk drivers and, in many cases active criminals, as they cannot be allowed to endanger other road users or engage in any criminal activity.
“The prison sentences imposed to date sends out a very clear message that should be heeded by any disqualified driver. Do not drive if you are disqualified.”
Chief Supt Curran said the issue of drivers avoiding getting penalty points applied to their licence by not bringing their driver’s licence to court had been rectified by a regulation introduced on July 27.
He said there was a problem for gardaí if they caught someone whose penalty point disqualification did not appear on court records. But he said that since July 27 that had now been addressed.
Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said under the previous laws it could take “many months” to bring a disqualified driver to court.
Garda Ray O’Brien of the Anglesea Street Traffic Corps in Cork City says gardaí now had a “great power” to take disqualified drivers “off the road straight away”.
He said he used the power — which allows gardaí to arrest people on the spot for driving while disqualified — two days after it came into effect on June 22.
He said he and a colleague were on duty in Gurranabraher when he saw a vehicle being driven erratically with “plumes of smoke” coming out of it.
He said that when he stopped it, the driver was “very intoxicated”. He arrested him and brought him to Bridewell Station, where the driver gave a sample, which he failed.
Meanwhile, Garda O’Brien checked the Pulse system, which confirmed the driver was disqualified from driving.
“I then continued to charge the prisoner: he was charged with driving while intoxicated, driving while disqualified and having no driver licence or insurance.”
He said it emerged that the man also had a number of outstanding warrants from the Kerry division.
He was taken to court and held in custody for a number of days.
“He was then released from custody and returned to Kerry but failed to return for his next court date.
“He was then rearrested on warrant, brought up to Cork city and at the first sitting after the warrant was executed, the man in question pleaded guilty to all charges.
“He was imposed with a disqualification order and also given a four month prison sentence in relation to this case.”
Garda O’Brien said traffic gardaí were “way more busy now” and added: “It’s a great power gardaí have. It’s great to have an opportunity to put them off the road straight away; making roads safer.”
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