THOUSANDS of motorists are dodging penalty points by failing or refusing to produce their licences in court, the Herald can reveal.
New data reveals the problem is widespread, with 72pc of motorists convicted of penalty point offences over a 15-month period managing to avoid having the points registered on their licences by either the courts or gardai.
In Dublin alone, some 7,884 drivers had penalty points handed down during this period (Janaury 2014 and last March), according to figures obtained by the Herald.
But a staggering 63pc of licences did not have points recorded. The issue has become so acute that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has ordered gardai to launch a major clampdown in the coming weeks.
Just over 20,000 convicted motorists failed to produce their licences in court between the 15-month period, despite it being an offence punishable by fines of up to €2,000 or three months in prison.
Gardai have not actively prosecuted the offence of failing to produce a licence until now, but an operation is set to be launched targeting penalty point dodgers.
It will see officers intercepting offenders in court houses and initiating prosecutions.
Garda headquarters is directing officers to pay particular attention to repeat offenders and to liaise with court clerks as part of the operation.
Seven court houses will be targeted initially before the operation is rolled out nationwide, the Herald understands.
The counties where the problem is proportionately most widespread are Limerick and Leitrim, where over 90pc of convicted motorists failed to produce their licence.
Some 89pc of convicted motorists failed to produce their licence in Kerry, Kilkenny and Sligo.
The licence numbers that were recorded by the Courts Service were subsequently notified to the National Vehicle and Driver File so the points could be applied to licences.
The Courts Service said that in cases where licence numbers were not provided, the Road Safety Authority undertakes "an exercise to match the conviction with a specific driving licence".
The Department of Transport admitted: "It is not always possible to achieve a match and in these cases penalty points are not assigned to individual driving licence records."
The extent to which matches were not found was not disclosed.
Data on the number of convicted motorists failing to supply their licences was revealed by the Department of Justice in response to a series of parliamentary questions tabled by independent TD Tommy Broughan.
It showed that while 28,387 motorists were convicted of penalty point offences in district courts over the 15-month period, just 8,059 had their licence number recorded so the points could be applied to that licence.
The revelations come just weeks after a report by the PARC road safety campaign group alleged the judiciary and court staff were failing to ensure that licences were produced in court.