The Stormont roads minister was unaware her official car had driven into a Belfast bus lane to jump rush hour traffic, a spokesman insisted last night.
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has dispensed with the usual fossil-fuelled ministerial car in favour of an electric one.
However, yesterday morning its driver used a bus lane to get past a queue of traffic. The white Nissan Leaf, with Ms Mallon in the back, was captured on camera nipping into a lane in north Belfast.
The car was spotted joining the traffic on the outside lane on the Shore Road just after Donegall Park Avenue at around 8.30am.
It slowed as if to join the queue of traffic before moving into the bus lane without indicating. In all, the minister's car travelled almost 300 metres in the bus lane.
Officials said Ms Mallon was unaware of the indiscretion at the time as she was working on briefing papers.
A Department for Infrastructure spokesperson added: "When making a left turn the driver mistakenly entered the bus lane too early.
"This was human error. The driver has been reminded of the restrictions in relation to bus lanes and asked to ensure this does not happen again and the department apologises." Asked if the ministerial car would be issued with a fine, the department did not comment.
North Belfast MLA Ms Mallon arrived last week for her first Executive meeting in the car, which has distinctive 'e-car' branding on its side. Her department said she intended to use the electric car instead of the ministerial Skoda "as much as possible" on official duties, except when diary commitments meant it was not possible.
In her role she will be responsible for major roads upgrades such as the York Street interchange and the controversial bus lanes in Belfast.
The Department for Infrastructure says the bus lanes around the city are generally used to provide priority for and speed up public transport that would otherwise be held up by congestion. In Belfast the law allows permitted taxis, motorcycles and bicycles to use bus lanes.
"Unless otherwise indicated, you should not drive in a bus lane during its period of operation," the department states on its information pages.
As well as fixed cameras a mobile spotter car is used to monitor certain locations. Last year it was revealed that the 38 cameras across Belfast had amassed over £4m in penalties from June 2015 until February 2019. The Shore Road bus lane generated over £77,000 during that period.