Dáil Éireann - Volume 555 - 16 October, 2002

Priority Questions. - Road Safety.

  70. Ms Burton asked the Minister for Transport when he expects to have the new five year road safety strategy ready for publication; if he will publish specific targets on reduction of road deaths as part of this strategy in order that the progress of the strategy can be measured year on year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18478/02]

  Mr. Brennan: The programme for Government includes a commitment that a three year road safety strategy will be developed. The areas that will be specifically targeted in the new strategy will be speeding, drink driving, seatbelt wearing and pedestrian safety.

  The immediate background to the development of the new road safety strategy will be a realisation of the achievements in meeting the targets set out in the current road safety strategy, a comprehensive review of that strategy, which is currently being pursued, and the evolving developments in relation to the proposed EU third road safety action plan. We are now approaching the end of the term of the road safety strategy 1998 to 2002. This represented the first occasion where a Government sponsored national integrated policy in relation to road safety was promulgated. Significant advances in road safety have been delivered during the period of the strategy, with a 13% reduction in road deaths between 1997 and 2001 and a 24% reduction in serious injuries in 2000.

  The most essential prerequisite to the development of the next strategy is that a detailed inde[821] pendent review of the results of the current strategy should be carried out. Accordingly, an international expert in the field of road safety has been engaged to carry out such a review of the current strategy based on specific terms of reference. A report is expected in that regard within a month.

  Ms Burton: In statements during the summer the Minister announced that he was not willing to set targets. In view of the carnage on the roads every weekend and the fact that in the year to date more than 310 people have died on our roads, is not his decision to abandon the setting of targets for road safety, road deaths and injuries reckless and irresponsible?

  There has been a series of reports dealing with accident blackspots and the number of drunk drivers. The Minister has produced half baked proposals for a manually recorded penalty points system. He has made about ten different statements, all in conflict with each other, about the introduction of a dedicated road traffic police corps. Most important, he has abandoned the notion of targeted reductions in road deaths and injuries even though such targets are the cornerstone of successful policies in Scandinavian countries and the UK.

  Does the Minister regret abandoning, in his various interviews on RTE, the notion of a targeted reduction in the number of road deaths and injuries? He did not address this issue in his reply. He did not give the figures and targets for 2002. The figures are way above the targets set by the Government five years ago. This is the Government's sixth year in office and its failure on road safety is truly appalling.

  Mr. Brennan: I share the Deputy's concern about the number of road deaths and injuries. I will do everything possible in this area with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, who will deal with the road safety brief on a daily basis. The number of road deaths is down by 13%, which is to be welcomed, and injuries—

  Ms Burton: Not this year.

  Mr. Brennan: October is a particular case.

  Ms Burton: Not this year. The number of road deaths this year has increased hugely.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should allow the Minister to reply.

  Mr. Brennan: Deputy McDaid and I were just discussing that. October is a particular month when conditions change quickly from summer to autumn and traditionally—

  Ms Burton: That changeover from summer to autumn happens every year.

  Mr. Brennan: Yes.

  Ms Burton: It is not just this year.

[822]   Mr. Brennan: I do not have a problem with that. The point I am making is that it happens each October. Are we agreed on that?

  Ms Burton: No. The number of road deaths is up.

  Mr. Brennan: I have not and will not abandon targets. However, in drafting a new three year road strategy, I have asked my officials to set targets that make sense. There is something sinister about having an acceptable level of deaths on the roads. If the Deputy listened carefully to my interview, she would have heard me make the point that there is something eerie about saying the death of X number of people is acceptable. The only acceptable target is zero, that is, nobody killed or injured.

  I have asked that the new strategy look at targets that might make more sense. The EU, for example, has the primary goal of halving the number of road deaths in the EU between 2002 and 2010. There are other possible targets, such as reaching the bottom of the European league to ensure that Ireland is the best country in Europe for road safety. As I said on the radio and television, it does not sit easily with me to pick figures like 10%, 14% or 15% and say we are okay if we only kill 300 people next year instead of 600. That is the reason I raised this issue and I do not apologise for doing so. It was a valid issue to raise. We should set targets that are sensible, human and with which we are comfortable, as opposed to the cold statistical targets we have used until now.

  With regard to penalty points, I do not agree with the Deputy's assertion that they are half baked. When I came to office I was told that the penalty points system was 18 months away. I am happy to inform the House that we will start the penalty points on 31 October with speeding. Giving out penalty points for speeding from 31 October is not unimportant; it is critical. The largest single cause of deaths on our roads is speeding and the penalty points will have a direct impact in that regard. Implementation of the penalty points will be full-blooded from the first day. There will be nothing half baked about it.

  I would be interested to hear the Deputy's opinions on the traffic corps. I intend to move on that quickly. The issue is whether the gardaí operate it alone, whether it should be a mixture of gardaí and civilians or whether it should be solely civilian. They are issues upon which I would welcome the Deputy's opinion.