Each year in Ireland, thousands of people are issued with licences to drive motor vehicles. These vehicles include motorcycles, cars, vans, trucks, agricultural machinery, etc. In order to ensure high standards of road safety, it's important that everyone is aware of the laws in place regarding motoring in Ireland and the penalties in place if you break the law.
The Road Traffic Acts set out the main provisions for motoring in Ireland. This legislation deals with issues such as vehicle licensing, vehicle standards, your obligations and responsibilities, etc. Motoring offences can include drink driving, speeding, driving without evidence of insurance or motor tax, driving without due care and attention and driving without a seatbelt. A new offence of driving while holding a mobile telephone was introduced in 2006.
You can be disqualified from driving a vehicle if a judge convicts you of a motoring offence or of driving a defective vehicle. Driving a defective vehicle can include driving a vehicle that is not road-worthy. A system of parking restrictions and fines is also in place throughout Ireland.
Summonses issued to citizens for motoring offences are heard in the District Court and the presiding judge has the power to impose disqualifications for driving and endorsements of driving licenses. Motoring offences that result in a charge of dangerous driving causing death are heard in the Circuit Court before a judge and jury unless the defendant pleads guilty prior to the hearing.
The Gardaí have the power to arrest the driver of a vehicle for certain motoring offences. These offences include drink driving an dangerous driving.
Penalties on conviction for motoring offences depend on the severity of the offences and on whether or not they are repeated offences. Penalties can include monetary fines, endorsement of driving license, disqualification from driving for life, and in the most serious cases, imprisonment. In addition a penalty points system is in place for certain motoring offences. View a list of motoring offences that attract penalty points (pdf).
The Road Traffic Act, 2006 increased the maximum monetary penalties (fines) which a court can impose in relation to most common motoring offences.
Penalties on conviction for dangerous driving causing death are the same as penalties for manslaughter and also carry a mandatory disqualification from driving for a minimum of 4 years. Since October 2011 all convictions in the District Court for drink driving offences carry a mandatory disqualification for a minimum of 6 months. Gardaí also have the power to impound vehicles which are not insured or in certain circumstances vehicles which are not taxed or vehicles which do not have a certificate of roadworthiness.
Disqualification from driving
Disqualification orders are usually made by a court preventing a person from validly holding a drivers licence or from applying for one for a defined or stated period of time. A disqualification can, however, also arise from the penalty points system.
There are five different types of disqualifications from driving:
- Consequential Disqualification: Where a court is obliged to make an order disqualifying a person who is convicted of certain offences. The Road Traffic Act 2006 increased the minimum periods established for consequential disqualification orders. Consequential disqualifications are the most common type of disqualification handed down by the courts.
- Ancillary Disqualification: These disqualification orders are an optional addition to any other legal penalty imposed by a court. So, a judge may impose an ancillary disqualification depending on the circumstances of the case. Examples of this would be where a vehicle was used in a bank raid and the judge imposed an ancillary disqualification on all the occupants of the car and not just the driver.
- Special Disqualification: Unlike the first two types of
disqualification orders (which require someone to have been convicted of an
offence before they can be imposed), special disqualification orders do not
require someone to be convicted in order to impose the disqualification. If
the Gardaí or the National Driver Licence
Service (NDLS) have reasonable grounds for believing that a licence
holder is either:
- unfit to drive by reason of a physical disease or
- unfit to drive because of a physical or mental disability or
- incompetent to drive any vehicle or any class of vehicle
they can apply to the District Court for a special disqualification order.
- EU Disqualification: Transfers an order made in one EU
state to another where the disqualified person resides. Although the 1998
EU Convention on Driving Disqualifications (98/C 216/01) which allows
for such transfer of disqualification orders is not yet in force, it is
hoped that this will become law. The
Convention relates to disqualification for offences that involve:
- reckless or dangerous driving of a motor vehicle
- hit-and-run driving
- driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or other substances affecting or diminishing the driver's mental and physical abilities
- driving a vehicle faster than the permitted speed
In advance of the Convention coming into force, the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between Ireland and the UK (including Norther Ireland) came into operation from 28 January 2010. (Does not include disqualifications resulting from the accumulation of penalty points.)
- Penalty Points Disqualification: This disqualification order is not issued by the courts but by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. When a person accumulates a total of 12 points or more on their licence, then the Department will notify them that from a certain date they will be disqualified from driving for a period of six months. The person will then be required to send their driving licence to the NDLS. (The disqualification threshold is reduced to 7 penalty points for those who obtain their first learner permit on or after 1 August 2014 and subsequently during the first 2 years while they drive under their first driving licence.)
Any disqualification order issued by the courts can be appealed within 14 days from the date of conviction. If the judge orders you to be disqualified from driving and you do not appeal the conviction, you will receive a Notice from the Fines Office of the District Court where you appeared, stating that you must hand in your driving licence immediately.
The Fines Office of the District Court will require you to submit any driving licence/learner permit you hold to the NDLS, together with the details of the Court Order. The NDLS will hold your driving licence/learner permit until the period of disqualification is over.
Penalty points endorsement
The penalty points system of endorsement is by entry in the licence record. The record is endorsed on the National Vehicle and Driver File operated by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport on notification from the Courts or An Garda Síochána as appropriate.
Penalty point endorsements remain on your licence record for 3 years and must be notified to your insurance company when applying for motor insurance, providing you hold a current driving licence. Endorsements on your licence record will often lead to an increase in your motor insurance premium.
Fixed charge offences
A system of fixed charge driving offences operates in Ireland which allows the driver of a vehicle who has been detected of committing certain offences under the Road Traffic Acts to pay a fixed charge or fine as an alternative to going to court to answer the driving offence. View a list of fixed charge only offences (pdf).
The Minister has the power to declare any summary (or minor) offence under the Road Traffic Acts 1961-2011 to be fixed charge offences. A person has 28 days from the date of the issue of the fixed charge notice to pay the fine. If it is not paid within 28 days, the charge is increased by 50% and if it is still unpaid after a further 28 days then court proceedings are initiated. The court summons is served with a fixed charge notice. If this fixed charge, of double the original amount, is paid no later than 7 days before the court date, then court proceedings are discontinued.
If you receive a fixed charge notice for a driving offence and you were not the driver of the vehicle you must return the notice to the Garda Fixed Charge Processing Office (see 'Where to apply' below) and include the details of the person who was driving (including his/her driving licence number) in the form attached to the fixed charge notice for that purpose. The Gardaí will then issue a fixed charge notice to the driver of the vehicle. The registered owner of the vehicle is the person to whom the fixed charge notice will be sent if the driver of the vehicle was not identified at the time the offence was detected, (e.g. detected by a speed camera or if a car was parked illegally). If the registered owner was not the driver he/she is still obliged by law to notify the Gardaí of who the driver of the vehicle was at the time of the offence.
If you misplace, lose or damage your fixed charge notice, you should contact the Garda Fixed Charge Processing Office at:
- Locall 1890 30 40 60
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
A re-print of the notice will be sent to you by post. However, the time period allowed for payment is not extended by your request for a re-print.
If the fixed charge notice is paid within the legal time limits and court proceedings are not commenced you will not have a criminal record in respect of the offence.
Motor tax and insurance
Motorists in Ireland are obliged to display evidence that they have paid their motor tax and have current motor insurance on the windscreen of their vehicles. If a vehicle is found by the Gardaí not to have a current motor insurance policy they have the power to impound the vehicle until such time as an insurance certificate is produced by the owner which insures the use of the vehicle. The owner of the vehicle will be liable to all charges or costs incurred by the Gardaí in the removal and storage of the vehicle. The Road Traffic Act 2006 extended this power to include the power to impound vehicles registered outside of Ireland.
Similarly, the Gardaí are empowered to impound any vehicle which has not been taxed for a period of two months or more. In reality this means that if you are stopped by the Gardaí while driving a vehicle and the road tax for that vehicle is out of date by two months or more, the Gardaí can seize that vehicle and impound it until such time as the owner can show proof that the motor tax has been paid for that vehicle to include the date on which it was impounded (i.e. paying the arrears due on the vehicle). Again, the owner of the vehicle will be liable for all charges and costs incurred by the Gardaí in the removal and storage of the vehicle.
Driving offences committed in other jurisdictions
Penalty points and endorsements on driving licences acquired in other countries (including EU/EEA member states) are not recognised between states. Although a European Convention on driving disqualifications was signed by the member states in June of 1998 which allowed making certain disqualification effective throughout the EU, the Convention has not yet come into force.
In practice therefore, this means if you acquired penalty points or have endorsements on your driving licence before coming to Ireland, these penalty points or endorsements will not transfer over to an Irish driving licence. If, however, you have been disqualified from driving in another country and this was in addition to a prison sentence for driving offences it may not be possible for you to exchange your full foreign driving licence for a full driving licence here in Ireland.
There is mutual recognition between Ireland and the UK (including Northern Ireland) of driving disqualifications for specified offences. This is provided for by Section 40 of the Road Traffic Act 2016, which came into operation from 1 August 2017. The disqualification is transferred from the State where the road traffic offence is committed to the State where the offender is normally resident or holds a licence.
Driving on a foreign licence in Ireland
If you are driving on a foreign driving licence in Ireland and acquire penalty points here, a record will be created and the points added to the record. If you accumulate 12 penalty points on the record in a 3-year period you will be disqualified from driving in Ireland.
Appeals to the Circuit Court to reverse a conviction leading to disqualification from driving are free of charge.
Appeals to the District Court for the early restoration of your driving license if you are disqualified cost €55.
All fines and fees collected by the Gardaí or authorised persons are paid to the state unless otherwise stated in the law.
A copy of your driving licence record from the NDLS costs €15.
How to apply
Appealing a disqualification
If you have been convicted of motoring offences and disqualified from driving in a District Court, you can appeal the disqualification to the Circuit Court. You must lodge an appeal within 14 days of your conviction. If you wish to represent yourself, the court clerk in your local District Court will help you complete the necessary forms. Alternatively, your solicitor can assist you.
Removal of a disqualification
If you have been disqualified from driving and wish to apply to the courts for an early restoration of your licence, you may do so in person or through a solicitor following payment of the appropriate fee.You may apply for the early restoration when half your disqualification period is over. However, you cannot apply for an early restoration:
- If the disqualification is for 2 years or less
- If the disqualification is not your first disqualification order within the previous 10 years
The court can reduce the period of disqualification to two-thirds of the original period of disqualification or to 2 years, whichever is the greater.
The court clerk of your District and Circuit Court will tell you about the court venues and dates.
The National Driver Licence Service (NDLS) holds your driving licence while you are disqualified. To get your driving licence back when your period of disqualification expires contact customer service in the NDLS (see below). You will need your PPS number or your driver number.
Driving licence record
You can apply to the NDLS for a copy of your driving licence record.
Where to apply
Contact information for your local District Court and contact information for your local Circuit Court is located at the front of all public telephone directories and on the Courts Service website.