Dáil Éireann - Volume 625 - 18 October, 2006
Private Members’ Business. - Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed).
 Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Mr. O’Connor Mr. O’Connor
Mr. O’Connor: I propose to share time with Deputies Callanan, Curran and Moloney.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. O’Connor Mr. O’Connor
Mr. O’Connor: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this discussion. It is traditional on these occasions to compliment the Deputy who moves the Private Members’ Bill and I do so tonight more sincerely than usual because Deputy Olivia Mitchell shares a constituency boundary with me and previously represented part of my constituency. I acknowledge her work on this Bill and the ongoing support she has shown in regard to legislation on road safety and our collective need to provide the necessary leadership in this area.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, who recently attended a seminar at the Red Cow Hotel at which Deputy Curran and I were present. Neither Deputy Curran nor I are ever sure on which side of our common constituency boundary that hotel is located. The excellent seminar, which was organised by the South Dublin Chamber of Commerce, dealt with issues relating to road safety and other issues. The Minister of State made a fine contribution and it was good to have him there. I hope he will come to both of our constituencies soon again.
One of the greatest challenges we face is that road collisions are inevitable, that somehow road deaths and injuries are a deeply regrettable part of daily life. However, this need not be the case. Nine out of ten road deaths in Ireland are as a result of bad driver behaviour. Speeding, drink driving and the non-wearing of seat belts are high on the list of the main killers. To bring about positive change in road safety requires a combination of initiatives by a number of people and organisations. The Government, road users, the Garda Síochána, the National Roads Authority, local authorities and the Road Safety Authority have an important role in this regard.
Something that has clearly contributed to this change is the penalty points system, which is working. The public responded when they were introduced in 2002 by slowing down and obeying the rules. Since the introduction of an additional 31 offences last April, specifically focusing on matters of driver behaviour, we have seen further improvement. It is clear that penalty points have made a positive contribution and this will continue through ongoing Garda enforcement.
 I am informed that the total number of drivers with penalty points as of 30 September stands at more than 274,000, with 83% on two penalty points. Drivers who receive penalty points are clearly taking notice. Many road users do not realise the value of their driving licence until faced with the prospect of losing it. Penalty points will not impact on drivers who obey the rules of the road. Those who break the rules, however, thereby putting lives at risk, will face the loss of their licence and will feel the pinch in their pocket with increased insurance costs.
The Government established the Garda traffic corps, a dedicated unit headed by an assistant commissioner, which is focused solely on road traffic matters. By the end of 2008, 1,200 gardaí will be deployed to the traffic corps. The growing presence on our roads of a dedicated, highly visible corps of officers will promote a greater level of general deterrence against the type of behaviour that leads to road collisions. The Government has also invested massive resources in roads. Better roads have a major road safety dividend. Every community is benefiting from improved, safer roads.
To achieve greater integration across Departments, the Taoiseach has established a new high level road safety committee under the chairmanship of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, comprising also the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Finance, Health and Children, the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Education and Science, with the Attorney General and the Garda Commissioner. The Road Traffic Act 2006, which passed through the Oireachtas before the summer recess, provides for mandatory alcohol testing as well as other drink driving initiatives. Many in this House are aware of the excellent work being done on a regular basis by the Garda in implementing this legislation.
The other key measures contained in the Act include the provision of more speed cameras through the privatisation of speed camera operation, the ban on driving while using a hand-held mobile telephone — I think we all warmly welcome that, a court alternative fixed fine and six-month driving disqualification for first-time drink driving offenders, increased fines and driving disqualification periods, increased powers to allow gardaí impound unlicensed, untaxed and insured vehicles, including foreign registered cars and reforms of the driving licence regime. The latter will be implemented only once the current driving test backlog is reduced. There has been much criticism in that regard. It is an issue that is often brought to my attention by constituents even though there is a driver testing centre in Tallaght.
It is important in discussing this legislation that we say to the Minister of State and his senior colleague that the issues highlighted in the Minister’s speech last night and in the contribution of  Deputy Olivia Mitchell are issues that are raised by constituents on a daily basis. I tell people in my constituency to use the Luas in Tallaght so that there is no need to worry about the roads. However, that is another day’s work.
The Road Traffic Act 2006 leaves nobody in any doubt about the Government’s seriousness on road safety. The severity of the punishments for those found guilty of serious driving offences underlines that commitment. Combined with increased Garda enforcement, these new measures will help stamp out irresponsible and dangerous driving and, in doing so, will save lives.
I have often said that, like some colleagues, I bring my life experiences to politics. I have generally been lucky on the road but I was in a crash more than 30 years ago, amazingly, in the village where the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen was born. He had nothing to do with it, but I remember my little crash every time I see the Minister. Luckily enough, my family and I were fine, but one can never forget such an incident, just as one will never forget a burglary, for example. Many of us have seen the terrible effect on individuals and families of horrific road accidents. We have all encountered people who are disabled as a result of the injuries they sustained in road accidents. A couple of people came to my clinics in recent times who enjoyed normal mobility before being involved in horrendous road crashes and becoming wheelchair bound. It is when we meet people like these that we realise the seriousness of the business before us.
We all have an obligation to continue to promote road safety. Even though political points must sometimes be made in regard to some of these issues, most of us agree that what is being done is progressive. To improve road safety, we must win over the hearts and minds of ordinary people and change their attitudes by emphasising the importance of driver behaviour. It is important that we continue to support what the Minister and his Department are trying to achieve.
Mr. Callanan Mr. Callanan
Mr. Callanan: At meetings of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business where we discuss the possibility of further reductions in the cost of insurance premiums, which have already fallen by 35%, the subject of road safety is always raised, whether by insurance companies or, as today, by representatives of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board among others. We have plenty of laws, but they must be implemented. In 2005, when the penalty points system was introduced, there was a substantial reduction in road deaths. In August 2006, when random breath testing came in, the number of road deaths also fell. The message is one of enforcement. I am delighted that a dedicated traffic corps is now in place, with 800 officers employed by the end of this year, rising to 1,200  in 2008. That shows the Government’s commitment to road safety.
I ask that the targeting of drink drivers be concentrated on those roads where most accidents occur. At present, it appears to be mainly on non-national routes in rural areas. Yesterday’s publication of red zones that gardaí are targeting for speed should be replicated for drink driving. County councils should also consider the condition of such roads, some of which require upgrading. There are dangerous bridges, and hedges that need to be cut, a simple thing that does not seem to happen that often nowadays. All those things contribute to road safety.
There should be a public private partnership to provide funds for buses in rural areas, bringing people to and from public houses. Alternatively, local publicans could be given incentives to purchase minibuses and hire drivers. Perhaps we might consider tying it into the rural transport initiative, which is mainly for elderly people who feel isolated; so too do many young people. Random drug-testing must be rolled out in line with drink-driving initiatives to reflect the changing trends among the young. By this stage, it has become absolutely necessary.
I am pushing for the future use of driver simulators as a means of introducing young people to driving in a safe and controlled environment. I hope we will soon see their roll-out throughout the country. I favour their compulsory use after the driving theory test has been sat and before the commencement of practical lessons. To underline advertising campaigns, there must be great emphasis on marketing aimed at young people, most of whom will only watch programmes that contain music and sport, avoiding advertising through use of the remote control with satellite television.
While I commend advertising campaigns on television and billboards for shocking the nation into action on road safety, we must also seek to ensure we reach young people through sport, video games and point-of-impact advertising. I welcome the campaign run by the Road Safety Authority with Rally Ireland for the November 2007 stage of the World Rally Championship called “Keep the race in its place”. Advertising disseminating information on road safety in places where young people take an interest in cars, particularly fast ones, is a sensible means of showing them that speeding should be reserved for controlled environments where safety procedures exist.
The current seat-belt sheriff scheme run in schools is most welcome, and a similar scheme should be initiated for secondary schools. Parent and toddler groups should be targeted in campaigns. We must educate young people about the dangers of driving. It should be part of the educational curriculum, and we must ensure it is introduced into all schools immediately. I congratulate Galway County Council which has  sponsored a programme in schools in its area. The message for all drivers, including us, is that we must slow down and save lives.
Mr. Curran Mr. Curran
Mr. Curran: I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the Private Members’ Bill.
Irrespective of what legislation we have and what rules and regulations are in place, it is an unfortunate fact of life that there are road deaths. To the families of victims and those listening to or reading this debate, I stress that no matter what we do, it is inevitable that there will be fatalities. More regrettable, however, are the numbers seen in recent years.
In 2002, when I had been in this House for approximately six months, I remember being in Dublin Airport as I was about to head abroad with colleagues on committee business. At that point, the press releases and media attention were not on the committee going abroad — it was not a transport committee — but on the reduction in road deaths directly attributable to the introduction of penalty points. In the early days, penalty points caused a significant change in driver behaviour and attitudes. The Committee of Public Accounts, of which I am a member, concluded that in the scheme’s first 12 or 14 months, 100 or more deaths and numerous serious injuries were avoided.
It is regrettable that the change in driver behaviour and attitudes that we saw in 2002 was not sustained in the following years. However, the introduction of penalty points clearly indicated that with the appropriate legislation and procedures in place, driver behaviour could be, and was, directly influenced and changed. The finding of the Committee of Public Accounts was that in the first 12 or 14 months following the introduction of penalty points, irrespective of all the flaws people might have found regarding computerisation and so forth, it contributed to saving over 100 lives on the roads, a very significant number.
It is most important when we speak about road safety that we are absolutely clear in our minds that the legislation we pass and its implementation have a real impact on what happens on the roads. Often when we speak in this House, we wonder if what we say has any effect, but in this case we have historical evidence to show what we passed and did had a direct impact. That is not political point-scoring but reality.
Since the introduction of penalty points, the number of road deaths has regrettably increased again. However, I wish to place that in context, since I do not want people thinking they have risen specifically because nothing is being done. There are several factors, and the underlying one should not be missed, namely, that we have more cars and drivers on the roads than ever before. In pure statistical terms, if there are 50% more cars on the road, one would expect 50% more accidents and fatalities. People ask how that might be  and what are the numbers. In 1997, there were approximately 470 road deaths. Since then, the number of cars and motorists has risen significantly, but road deaths have fallen, primarily since the introduction of penalty points. We have seen them rise again, so the behavioural change forced on drivers has not been sustained. However, in the last few months, with the introduction of random breath-testing, we have seen a reinforcement and a return to the 2002 scenario. People are realising that there has been a permanent change in enforcement. They are paying attention and road deaths have fallen. August and September had the lowest number of road deaths in some years, despite the significant increase in activity.
When discussing road safety, we must keep those issues in mind. Our actions in recent months have brought about real and measurable change. In August, September and this month we have seen a reduction in deaths. We saw that in 2002, so it is very important to have not only the isolated introduction of random breath-testing but the extension of the penalty points system. To sustain the downturn of recent months, we must have a combination of initiatives, including education and enforcement.
I mentioned the legislation and the changes we have introduced, but there is no point making these changes if they are not enforced. I acknowledge that the numbers in the Garda traffic corps have increased significantly and welcome the fact that the corps and gardaí throughout the country are working to implement the law in line with the wishes of the House.
Mr. Moloney Mr. Moloney
Mr. Moloney: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I recognise the fact that it is one of the few Private Members’ issues that is not on the agenda for political points scoring. I congratulate Deputy Olivia Mitchell in that regard.
The proposals in this Bill are not extreme when compared to the Minister’s proposals in the Road Safety Bill 2006. Unlike most Bills coming before the House, the issues raised affect every Member. During the course of their daily lives, Members are confronted on a regular basis by the effects of dangerous and careless driving. We often gather at funerals and removals where people talk about unnecessary deaths and wanton destruction on our roads and ask us what we intend to do about it. In that regard, I am glad to see targets being set and serious deterrents being put in place, for example, random breath testing and the use of speed cameras. While it is good to take these strict measures, it will take time for them to have the desired effect.
We must also consider introducing other measures. I have often heard people say the time has come to recognise that we have an education deficit. We should encourage putting driver edu cation on the school curriculum for schoolgoers, in particular for post-leaving certificate pupils. The rules of the road and training in road safety skills should be part of courses so that students are made aware of the effects of speeding and dangerous driving.
Despite the fact that the figures do not yet show random breath testing has brought about the desired effect, I come from a public house background and know the culture has changed. We no longer have the hail fellow well met drink abuser who was well known to spend hours in the pub and then take a chance and drive home. The public is beginning to come to terms with the fact that this is no longer accepted and drink drivers are now frowned on. It has taken years to get to this stage.
Although advertising campaigns have some effect, unfortunately, they do not always have the desired effect. When we see the significant impact of advertising campaigns, featuring people who are wheelchair bound for the rest of their lives, and some road safety signs, we sometimes wonder how far one should go in this regard. Each Sunday the Sunday Independent gives an account of the road traffic deaths for the week. When we consider all these campaigns, we wonder what we need to do to impress upon the public the need to slow down and take things easier.
I welcome the provisions of the Road Safety Bill 2006, particularly random breath testing. We discussed this issue for years and believed it should be introduced and wondered whether it would have the desired effect. I believe it will and that the public will realise that the chance of getting away with drink driving is reduced and we have a greater Garda presence on our roads. I welcome this fact.
I was surprised to read recently that 60% to 70% of our accidents occur on rural roads as I thought most accidents occurred on our major roads. We need to have balance in our Garda patrols. The level of Garda presence on our rural roads can act as a deterrent but it creates the view that these are easier people to catch. Nevertheless, we cannot have it both ways. I welcome the fact that at long last random breath testing is part of our lives and will bring about the desired effect. I congratulate the Minister on bringing the legislation into effect. The freeing up of the court system is also a significant advantage.
We read of the effect of similar legislation in other jurisdictions, for example, New South Wales. We have learned that 38% of road deaths are as a result of speeding and must now recognise that it is time to deal with this issue. I welcome that speed cameras will be placed in designated spots on the advice of the National Roads Authority which has found these spots to have the greatest number of accidents resulting in deaths.
 I also welcome the reform with regard to the use of mobile phones. One wonders how people could concentrate while on their phones.
Road safety improvements are not confined to legislation brought forward by the Government or to proposals made by voluntary groups. The issue is more important. I welcome the setting up of the Road Safety Authority. I support the point made by Gay Byrne that it is not sufficient that we just accept the Government makes the regulations and people follow them; road users also have a major responsibility. This may be a cliché, but if we do not look after our own safety, it will be difficult to look after that of others. I welcome the setting up of the authority. I support the involvement of well-known athletes, sports people and high achievers in the Road Safety Authority. It is important people see role models they admire.
I welcome the measures. I believe that what the Minister has proposed is adequate and that if resources are put in place we can encourage the public to realise the potential to save lives as a result of the legislation.
Dr. Cowley Dr. Cowley
Dr. Cowley: I wish to share time with Deputies Gregory, Connolly, McHugh, James Breen, Eamon Ryan and Morgan.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Dr. Cowley Dr. Cowley
Dr. Cowley: Currently, the law in Ireland leaves it to the discretion of investigating gardaí at the scene of an accident as to whether anyone involved should be breathalysed, in contrast to Northern Ireland and most EU countries where testing for alcohol is required procedure in road traffic accidents. The European Council safety council report, which was published on 9 May 2006, strongly criticised the fact that Ireland has the second lowest level of alcohol checks in the European Union and that only one fifth of gardaí are trained to use breathalysers.
I brought forward an amendment to the Road Traffic Act earlier this year, but unfortunately it was not accepted by the Minister. There has been mention of general mandatory testing after an accident, but a letter from Mrs. Nuala O’Loan recommends that the testing should be done in cases where there is injury. The PSNI does not breathalyse all drivers involved in the slightest road traffic accident with no exceptions because it would not have the resources. She says that the use of the breathalyser in situations where there is an injury, however, is entirely consistent with the law and with human rights law. I strongly support this, but wonder whether testing should be confined to people injured in an accident.
We need a special road traffic investigative unit. Independent Deputies have called for this previously, but our call fell on deaf ears. We need this unit in cases where accidents are a result of road conditions, which are grossly underestimated at 2.8%. Accidents must be properly inves tigated or they will continue to happen, particularly in areas where they are the result of a local authority not doing its job. I also sought an annual audit of all serious and fatal road traffic accidents, and a special road traffic investigative unit to be established with full statutory authority to co-ordinate a full investigation of all serious and fatal road traffic accidents and to make recommendations to ensure the prevention of such accidents in the future.
Mr. Gregory Mr. Gregory
Mr. Gregory: I support the Bill. In the context of its contents I had an interesting experience this morning in that I was involved in a minor road traffic accident. The car that hit me was travelling around a bend on the wrong side of the continuous white line. This was clearly evident in that the car came to a halt on the wrong side of the road and the driver, who was very nice about it, accepted full responsibility. When the gardaí arrived, all of this was pointed out to them and they informed me that it was no concern of theirs and that if I wished to pursue the matter — which I did not — I would have to take out a prosecution myself as they had not witnessed the crash.
Their only concern appeared to be to get the car involved over to the side of the road out of the way of oncoming traffic. They had no interest at all in the significance of the position of the car on the wrong side of the road. I was assured then by several gardaí that the only purpose a garda has at the scene of an accident is to check that both drivers have current driving licences and insurance. In my innocence, I thought all this quite strange but like most people I was not interested in pursuing private prosecutions. That was not the point at all. I just thought the Garda would be interested. I thought it was the job of the Garda to interest itself in that type of issue.
Perhaps if the measure contained in the Bill regarding mandatory breath testing of drivers involved in road traffic accidents were introduced it would result in other aspects of traffic accidents being more carefully examined by the Garda. That was not necessary in this morning’s case. If the evidence at the scene of the accident, not to mention the admission of the driver, suggests that careless or dangerous driving was involved, then the Garda should have a role in pursuing that because they are clearly breaches of the law.
I had to wait nearly an hour and a half for the Garda to arrive this morning simply because the nearest Garda car, which was a couple of minutes away, was not from the relevant Garda district and was not allowed to come to the scene and take the details. I would love to speak longer on my experience this morning.
Mr. Connolly Mr. Connolly
Mr. Connolly: I welcome this Bill which is designed to close a number of gaps in the existing road traffic legislation, particularly in the area of drink and drug driving offences. I fully support  breath testing which has had a measurable effect on road traffic accidents. However, one must keep the public on side to maintain support and I believe it is going a step too far to breath test drivers on their way to work in the morning, including the breath testing of members of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. This is not the right message to send out. People want to see the scarce resources targeted at the drivers at the times when deaths occur on the roads, for example between 11 p.m. and midnight and around 4 a.m. on weekend mornings.
I do not see any drug testing taking place in the mornings when I go to work. I fear this will cause drivers to change their behaviour so they may resort to drug use instead of drinking alcohol due to breath testing for alcohol the following morning. Taking a taxi home from the pub is no guarantee that one will be safe from being caught for drink driving. “White nights” which have been referred to in the context of cocaine use may become more common.
Section 4 is concerned with making arrangements for the testing of drivers for substances other than alcohol, which is a drug in itself. Last summer the head of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, MBRS, warned that the extent of drug driving in Ireland was significantly underestimated. I have no doubt that is the case as there is no test in place for drug use so people can take drugs and drive with impunity.
I understand the MRBS has been in discussion with the Garda road traffic section about training gardaí to recognise symptoms of drug intoxication in drivers. Random tests should be in place for drug driving because, similarly to drink driving, it is difficult for gardaí to recognise intoxication caused by whatever source. Many drivers are unaware of the effect drugs can have on them. Medical drugs can also produce unforeseen side effects. People tend to ignore warnings on drug packaging. Drugs in the psychiatric service is another issue. There are many drugs that can affect one’s judgment while driving.
Mr. McHugh Mr. McHugh
Mr. McHugh: I welcome this Private Members’ Bill tabled by Deputy Olivia Mitchell on behalf of the Fine Gael Party. However, while every item of legislation is welcome to one degree or another, I believe we are weighed down with road safety legislation. We are wary of press conferences, weighty announcements and photo calls in regard to announcements on road safety. In spite of that, we do not have effective enforcement.
The public is aware of the legislation in place. People displayed that fact by their initial response to the introduction of penalty points. For example, initially there was a noticeable reduction in the speed at which people travelled, but as soon as it became apparent that the penalty points legislation was not being implemented,  we reverted back to our old ways. Legislation is worthless unless it is enforced. The Garda presence on the ground was inadequate.
I am a member of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business which is currently carrying out an examination of the high cost of motor insurance. The focus the committee has put on this issue has undoubtedly led to major reductions in the cost of insurance.
As part of our investigation we met with representatives of the Allianz insurance company last week. We had a most useful exchange of views. That insurance company in particular was most helpful to the committee. The central point of its presentation to us was that improved enforcement is essential to improve road safety. I will quote from the submission it made: “With many reform initiatives under way, we have continued potential to achieve success but effective enforcement is the key.” The message from tonight’s debate has to be that the Ministers for Transport and Justice, Equality and Law Reform have much practical work to do.
Mr. J. Breen Mr. J. Breen
Mr. J. Breen: The continuing death toll on our roads is one of the greatest shames of this country. Year after year we hear of new and vigorous attempts to tackle this dreadful situation. I support any measure which would save lives or reduce the number of people injured on our county roads. It is all very well trying to introduce tough, no nonsense penalties for dangerous driving offences, but if there is not a corresponding increase in the penalties for careless driving, and driving without reasonable consideration, it merely results in legal challenges to the Act. It also increases the incidence of skilled legal defenders applying to judges to reduce the charge to a lesser one in an attempt to achieve a lower penalty for their clients.
Last week, 411 people were arrested for drink driving. For the first six months of the year the weekly average was 305 arrests. In the clampdown for last year’s Christmas season, the weekly average was 320 arrests. It is clear that the message regarding drink driving is not hitting home. Drink is a major contributor to road accidents and road deaths but we cannot realistically expect to see a dramatic reduction in drink driving incidents in rural Ireland until such time as a decent public transport system is in place. Last year in County Clare, 13 people were killed in road traffic accidents. This year, to date, eight people have lost their lives on the roads in the county. Something must be done to reduce these figures.
One aspect of the Bill which requires immediate action is the introduction of measures for the testing of substances other than alcohol to a certified level that is acceptable to the courts. With this should come the proper resourcing of State laboratories to ensure that the test results are returned quickly. Currently, many drug driving  cases are adjourned in the lower courts while awaiting drug analysis reports.
The measures regarding the application by disqualified persons for the restoration of their driving licence is probably unrealistic. The Bill proposes that the courts should notify or cause to be notified, any person party to the original disqualification or affected by that disqualification. I do not believe the maintenance of such a register would prove practical in working terms. Instead a clause should be inserted to increase the amount of notice applicants have to give to the Garda as the Garda file for the original prosecutions would detail all those who need to be notified. Another feature I would like to see included is an increase in the court stamp fee for an application. The fee for an application to have a disqualification removed is €18, but a trebling of this amount would be more appropriate if the application is important.
This debate has achieved something important, that is, it keeps the issue of road safety and the damning statistics of road accidents and road deaths in the public eye, and for that reason, I compliment Deputy Olivia Mitchell.
Mr. Eamon Ryan Mr. Eamon Ryan
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I commend my constituency colleague for the clarity, brevity and necessity of the Bill, which my party will support.
Like Deputy Gregory, I remember an example of a road accident in which a young woman I knew was killed. Late one night in Dublin, she was knocked 50 yards by a car and died three or four days later. The example is not important, but a part of the case struck home. I went to the court hearing on the circumstances of her death. In a previous case, several thousand euro were awarded in compensation for what seems to have been a minor issue. I believe that the charge in the case of the young woman who died due to a road collision was for driving without due care rather than dangerous driving, but the fine was €100 or €200. As a young person at the time, I asked myself what we valued and what the case said about our society and traffic safety regime. I commend the introduction of the provision that requires the mandatory loss of a licence for a dangerous driving conviction.
In the not too distant past, it was culturally acceptable and commonplace to drink and drive and it will be difficult to change that culture. We have built our society around the acceptance of the use of drink in a social way. As the Garda said, it has a difficult task in policing something that is socially acceptable. Perhaps the Garda is reacting to its new powers by trying to prove a point. A number of Deputies spoke about how gardaí breathalyse people early in the morning who may still be over the legal limit after drinking the previous night. I have seen gardaí engaged in this activity on Nassau Street on Saturday mornings. While it is appropriate and prudent, the Garda should be careful, balanced and measured  in its application of new legislation if it is to retain public support.
We could have a material effect in improving Garda performance in this regard through a second major provision in the Bill, that is, the mandatory breath testing of people involved in accidents. Rather than public disapproval, this measure would receive widespread public support and may be more of a deterrent than breathalysing people at other times.
The third measure I wish to commend relates to fines and their indexation. As a campaigner on the issue of transport for many years, I heard the “road lobby” group quoting endless statistics about how much motorists contribute to our society in terms of taxation. While this is the case, it is clear that our system, under which 400 people per year are killed and thousands maimed, has a cost in terms of lives, hospitalisation, insurance, repairs and road maintenance that far exceeds the revenue raised. Proper, strict and indexed fines that increase with inflation are appropriate if we are to give a clear message to motorists that they will be fined for breaking the law.
I commend the provision in the Bill to end the practice of returning someone’s licence upon making an application. We need consistency. When we delivered a clear message in the form of the penalty points system, there was an improvement in behaviour and lives were saved. We must get the message out that if motorists breach legislation, the applicable penalties will not be reversed because of a legal stroke or someone turning a blind eye. When precious human life is lost and maimed to the extent it is in Ireland, we need strong measures. I commend the Fine Gael Bill.
Mr. Morgan Mr. Morgan
Mr. Morgan: As the carnage on our roads increases, there has been much media hype surrounding recent legislation and other proposals to improve road safety. However, such legislation has been partial and lacked a comprehensive approach to road safety.
The Twenty-six Counties’ national road safety strategy aims to reduce deaths on our roads to 300 in 2006, but unfortunately that figure may be eclipsed because 292 people have already lost their lives this year, a shocking figure. Behind these statistics are families and friends who have lost loved ones, but it is a sad fact that many of the deaths were preventable.
My party believes that the most effective way to improve road safety is an all-Ireland response. That there are two systems for drivers hampers road safety. Sinn Féin is calling for the harmonisation of speed limits, road signs, driving standards, penalty points and the licensing system. The artificial Border should not impinge on driver safety. Those in Border areas are disproportionately affected by road traffic accidents. The only viable option to address this pressing issue is an immediate summit involving all the  major stakeholders, North and South, with a view to establishing a fully resourced and financed island-wide organisation.
Providing for a mandatory disqualification from driving for at least six months seems fair in the case of people convicted of dangerous driving. There has been outrage concerning such drivers receiving little or no punishment for their involvement in high-speed racing and reckless driving. We support the minimum disqualification provision where the Judiciary can use discretion to impose lengthier bans proportionate to the seriousness of the offences. Drivers so charged should undergo a driver education course as part of a rehabilitation programme to ensure that they respect road safety in future.
The mandatory breath testing of drivers involved in accidents seems a logical step in conjunction with random breath testing. It is surprising that the matter has not been addressed by legislation.
Drug driving is another phenomenon endangering lives on our roads. Scandinavian evidence suggests that of every 100 drink drivers detected, half have consumed other drugs. The problem of drivers coked up, as it is called, and driving recklessly needs attention. Gardaí must be sufficiently trained and have the proper resources to test suspected drugged drivers. In this regard, there must be a balance between protecting the public and ensuring that human and civil rights are not impinged upon.
Driver education is a pillar in improving road safety and reducing the number of road fatalities. While everyone seems to be supportive of the concept, there has been little progress. Ireland has consistently failed to reduce its number of road deaths in the past five years, but France has reduced its numbers by 35%. That it introduced a driving scheme for 16 years olds in the early 1990s and has made noteworthy achievements in improving road safety is no coincidence.
The explosion in car usage and the reliance on private cars has contributed to our poor road safety record. For decades, successive Governments have failed to invest in adequate public transport. Consequently, commuters face congestion, frustration, road rage and more accidents on a daily basis. The absence of an integrated all-Ireland public transport system has ensured a significant proportion of people are compelled to rely on private cars. Chauffeur-driven Ministers presiding over our current ailing public transport system need to provide the travelling public with viable public transport alternatives. Instead of merely filling gaps in legislation, we need an all-Ireland response to the question of road safety, with education, awareness and suitable training at the core of that policy.
Ms Enright Ms Enright
Ms Enright: I wish to share time with Deputy Naughten.
 I welcome the Bill and congratulate my colleague, Deputy Olivia Mitchell, on bringing it forward. I am disappointed, not for the first time, that the Government could not even accept the broad thrust of what is contained in the Bill because, effectively, it includes provisions which should have been introduced over the past nine and a half years and it really should not take a proposal from this side of the House to get the issues outlined adequately dealt with.
Road safety must come down initially to an issue of personal responsibility. It is difficult to disseminate that message and perhaps we all need to reflect on that a little. It is individual driver behaviour that we are talking about but, because personal responsibility in this area is not taken seriously enough, it comes down to a matter of enforcement and of having adequate legislation.
I understand the points Deputy McHugh was trying to make, that it is about enforcement, but I disagree with his view that we do not need more legislation. Any loopholes in existing legislation need to be closed because we cannot send the Garda out to do a job unless it has a proper legislative framework within which to do it. That legislative framework simply does not exist currently and Deputy Olivia Mitchell highlighted five key areas in which it does not exist. If the Garda is to do its job effectively, we need to make those changes. If the Government will not accept this Bill, I would like to see it bring forward its own legislation to close all of these loopholes and deal with these issues without delay.
The incident in Mullingar which was before the court last month is a lesson to everyone and brings us back to the issue of personal responsibility. There is a tendency to blame drink driving for practically everything. I am not accusing the Government of this but, in general, it is a public perception. I am not attempting in any way to lessen that because it is a severe cause of road accidents, but the behaviour that night clearly showed irresponsibility on the part of individuals and that type of irresponsible driving needs to be punished far more severely than it was in that case. The wrong lesson has gone out there, that maybe that is the type of behaviour that is acceptable or that people can in some way hope to get away with. That is certainly not acceptable and there should be severe punishment for it.
Likewise, the issue of drug testing is one with which we must seriously grapple. Last week in this House we debated the issue of drugs, drug treatment, the way society views drugs nowadays and that drugs are pervasive in society. The position is serious where there is no method for testing for drugs and gardaí do not test for drugs after accidents.
Drugs are in common use. I have no reason to believe people who are taking drugs are in any way less likely to drive than people who have consumed alcohol. Certainly, if they know they will get away with it if they do, which is very  much the message they are getting, there is little deterrent for them. That is another loophole that needs to be closed urgently, not only from a road safety perspective but also so we state clearly the State’s view that taking drugs is unacceptable.
When I read Deputy Mitchell’s proposals on the indexation of fines I was amazed that it is a matter we must raise. It is such a basic point that it is hard to believe it has not been dealt with at this stage. It should be a simple matter and it should be done.
I very much support the idea of notification of victims of crime. We should not think that the tragedy befalling families as a result of road accidents is any different than that following any other tragedy, and the victims are entitled to be consulted and made aware of appeals of convictions or of the length of a ban from driving.
I wish to raise three other issues, the first of which relates to speed limits. I cited an example in this House in November of last year, when road works were being done on the N7. The road was quite lethal at the time, especially at night, because the traffic cones were extremely dirty and one could not see the division in the road. While the road has improved significantly, when one leaves the motorway where the speed limit is 120 km/h to go into the 100 km/h zone in the vicinity of Naas there is only a regular small sign informing one of the changing speed limit. Others have told me and I have found that one is often in the 100 km/h zone before one realises and then one must look around on the road to see a speed limit sign at that point. Shortly afterwards, the speed limit reduces to 80 km/h but I do not have a difficulty with that. I am sure there are valid reasons for there being three limits within that area, but there is a need for greater notification coming off motorways so people are aware of the speed limit changes, especially when they are remaining on the same road and not going off on a slipway.
I also want to mention the issue of speed limits outside schools. When we passed the road safety legislation last year we missed an opportunity. I understand that the power has been given to local authorities but we all know that local authorities can be extremely slow in passing this and that they are going through it school by school. The Government should have taken the opportunity to reduce speed limits outside all schools in one go and I ask it to give serious consideration to this point, even on an initial basis if it is done at opening and closing hours only. That could be implemented nationally, with people being made aware that the limits would be reduced in the vicinity of schools between 8.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. and again at closing time. That would be effective and all it would take is gardaí sitting in a few areas for a short while for the message to disseminate clearly that speeding past schools is not acceptable.
 While I am not one who always states that everything needs to be done by schools and teachers must take on board every problem we find ourselves dealing with in society, post-primary school is the last chance of getting the majority of young people together and while we still have them within the education system we should take the opportunity of giving them far more education on driver behaviour and driving. This need not necessarily be done by teachers but it is a matter at which we need to look, perhaps in transition year. It need not necessarily be done in transition year because many transition year students are a few years younger than those learning to drive, but certainly it is a matter that needs to be examined because these students are of an age when one begins to think about driving and the notion of getting on the road becomes attractive. If we teach them good behaviour at that young age, they will not have bad habits when they are on the road a few years later.
Mr. Naughten Mr. Naughten
Mr. Naughten: I welcome this positive Bill which deals with many the current issues and commend it to the House.
Everyone in this House is aware of the devastating impact of road fatalities on the families who are left behind and on those who are seriously injured in road traffic accidents. We all need to be conscious of that and ensure we can take steps to improve safety on our roads on that basis.
Recently I came across an interesting statistic, that a 15% reduction in fatalities on Irish roads would free up 20,000 extra bed nights in our hospitals. We hear about overcrowding in hospitals and about the number of operations postponed and cancelled. That one change not only would save the Exchequer money on emergency services, the Garda Síochána etc., but would release an extra 20,000 beds. Even from that perspective alone and even from the economic perspective, it is critically important that there is a renewed focus on road traffic accidents.
One issue that has been raised with me recently, now that it is getting dark earlier, is the number of pedestrians who are killed on our roads every year. Many of them are killed as a result of being hit by vehicles on roads that are unlit. In quite a considerable amount of cases the pedestrians have no reflective armbands or reflectors. We need to focus on this, especially as the winter approaches. When driving we all meet people walking on country roads who do not wear reflectors and dress in dark clothes. It is only by the grace of God that we are not involved in road fatalities. If on-the-spot fines are necessary to get the message across to those individuals, they should be seriously considered. A change in attitude is needed in this regard. Pedestrians cannot be careless because they have a responsibility to be visible to other road users.
 Deputy Enright raised the issue of speed limits outside schools. It is a farce that 100 km/h speed limits are imposed on narrow roads with 80 km/h speed limits on byroads and culs-de-sac. The Government was prepared to fund local authorities to erect 80 km/h speed limit signs on grass roads, yet it is not prepared to give them 1 cent to erect speed limit signs outside schools. It took the Department almost 12 months to come up with a specification for new signs but, two years after the changeover to metrification, not 1 cent has been provided for the erection of new electronic signs outside schools. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs proposes to finance flashing warning lights outside schools in CLÁR areas, but they do not meet the specifications set down by the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Transport for electronic signs. I cannot fathom why a Department is paying for electronic signs with flashing warning lights that do not meet the specifications laid down by the Department of Transport. The latter Department has not issued 1 cent in funding to local authorities to ensure they can erect new signs outside schools. They are costly speed limits. That needs to be prioritised for the sake of our schoolgoing children.
Last February, a study revealed 6,000 children under the age of 15 were killed or injured on our roads between 1996 and 2000. A large proportion of these accidents occurred while children were walking to and from school, especially between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. The Minister for Education and Science expressed outrage recently because children are not walking to school and their parents are causing huge traffic congestion, as they drop them off and pick them up. However, the Government is not prepared to ensure it is safe for our children to enter and exit schools. One child is killed or seriously injured every day schools are open and that is a damning statistic, which must be addressed. Since the changeover to metrification, the Government has increased the speed limits outside schools on national primary and secondary roads by 2 km/h and those in built up areas by 1 km/h. Instead of reducing speed limits, the Government is encouraging drivers to speed up outside schools. I ask the Minister of State to put in place funding to ensure local authorities can erect new electronic signs. For God’s sake, can the Minister of State and officials in the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs sit down and agree that where the funds are provided, one specification for the signs should be used to comply with targets?
I attended the ploughing championships a few weeks ago where I met representatives of the ICA. They have initiated a campaign to abolish VAT on child safety seats in cars. Last month, legislation was amended and under EU law children up to the age of 12 must use an appropriate  car seat when they travel in a vehicle. I conducted a search on the Internet earlier and I discovered that the cost of booster seats averages €25, of which €5 is taken by the Government in tax. Baby seats average €50 each, of which €10 is taken in tax. If the Government is serious about promoting safety, optional extras such as air bags and side impact bars in vehicles, as well as baby seats, should be VAT exempt. It is a minor measure, which would not cost a great deal. I cannot understand why motorists who want to make their vehicles safer are being taxed.
Section 2 amends the 1961 Act to provide for mandatory disqualification for dangerous driving. Everyone will recall the Mullingar case in which two men driving recklessly got away with a fine because of the inadequacy of current legislation. Everybody in the media criticised Judge Neilan because he was not prepared to give a harsher sentence, including a larger fine or penalty points or put them off the road. However, the legislation is inadequate and I commend Deputy Olivia Mitchell on focusing on that issue.
Section 3 deals with mandatory breath testing. The analysis of blood alcohol levels of those who die in road accidents is at the discretion of the coroner but, even where a coroner takes a sample and analyses it, the information is not collated or published. A system must be in place to collate and publish such information. The Government has at last established a road accident investigation unit, on which it should be commended, although I had been raising this issue for the past six or seven years. However, it is critically important that this information is compiled and published because it will highlight amazing issues relating to road traffic accidents. There is not much point carrying out investigations unless the information is collated and published.
The Minister of State hails from Donegal and he is well aware of the poor weather we usually experience. I am hugely frustrated by heavy goods vehicles, HGVs, on our roads. Motorists play Russian roulette every time they attempt to overtake a HGV in wet weather because of the spray emanating from the back. The Government promised in 1998 that it would ensure all Irish registered HGVs would be equipped with spray suppression systems. Every time one tries to overtake a HGV in wet weather, one is blinded for between ten and 20 seconds and during that time many things can change on the road, especially if one is travelling at 100 km/h. I do not know why such systems have not been introduced. It is a pleasure to drive behind continental HGVs. I often meet vehicles leaving Kepak in Athleague, County Roscommon, which are travelling to France and Spain. I have absolutely no problem with them because they would not be permitted to travel one mile on a road in France if they were not equipped with this system. One has absolutely no difficulty overtaking such vehicles where appropriate. A total of 37% of road acci dents in Ireland occur in wet conditions. Spray suppression systems should be mandatory. They have been promised since 1998, yet regulations relating to these systems were introduced in the UK in 1984. In 1989, the European Commission issued comprehensive rules on spray suppression systems for heavy goods vehicles throughout the European Union, yet we still cannot get our act together in this regard.
We do not have a rules of the road book or a driver theory test book. There are 1,000 questions but no book is available. Why has it not been published? If we are serious about ensuring that young people are capable drivers, it should be published. It should be available on the Internet like every other Government publication so that it does not have to be bought. For some reason, this has become a money-making racket and the Government is not prepared to provide it free on the Internet. I do not know why this is the case.
I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Gallagher Mr. Gallagher
Mr. Gallagher: I thank Deputy Olivia Mitchell for introducing the Bill and ensuring the continued interest and genuine concern of all sides of the House to reduce the level of deaths and injuries. In the short time available to me, I will try to address as many of the issues as possible.
With regard to the driver testing backlog, while the Road Safety Authority, which is now formally established, has responsibility for the delivery of the driving test, I agree that the waiting list for the driving test is at an unacceptably high level. The target is to bring this to a reasonable level of approximately an average of ten weeks by mid-2007. A range of measures have been put in place to achieve this result. There are 11 additional driver testers and seven extra staff from the Department of Agriculture and Food, a bonus scheme has been put in place for driver testers, which is expected to deliver 40,000 additional tests, and we are aware of the outsourcing of up to 45,000 tests, which is in place.
Waiting times for tests have begun to decline but the total number on the waiting list is still approximately 133,000. The outsourcing operation will bring five new test centres into operation this month and a further six centres will commence in December. Some 10,000 applicants have already been sent to the contractor and testing will begin next Monday, 23 October.
Many speakers made reference to dangerous driving and some expressed concern about the legislative provisions relating to dangerous driving, particularly in light of a recent well publicised case. They supported Deputy Mitchell’s proposal in this regard. Depending on the gravity of the offence and the discretion of the court, there are already a number of legislative provisions dealing with this issue. These range from powers to arrest without warrant, large fines or imprisonment, or  both, and disqualification from driving. Deputy Mitchell proposes a mandatory disqualification for driving for a period of not less than six months on conviction for dangerous driving offences. There is already a provision in the Road Traffic Act 2006, which was enacted in July last, that addresses this issue. Therefore, I am strongly of the view that it would be premature to consider other adjustments to the legislation relating to this area until the provisions in the 2006 Act have been commenced and implemented for a period.
Much reference was made to speed cameras during the debate. Members commented on various aspects of the speed cameras initiative, such as delays in privatisation, the location of cameras and the revenue that may be generated to the operator. The purpose of this initiative is to enhance overall road safety and help reduce the number of speed-related deaths and serious injuries on our roads. I assure the House that the central focus of this initiative is on saving lives, not earning income. There is no link between the two. There will be no direct link between the fee paid to the private operator and the number of detections. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has commenced the tendering process to select an operator and has indicated that the outsourcing is expected to take place in the first half of 2007. When the system is fully in place, the intention is that there will be 11.1 million speed checks on vehicles annually, as outlined in the national road safety strategy.
Reference was made to speed limits. Credit must go the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, who has provided substantial funding for lighting outside schools in all CLÁR areas, as well as funding through the local authorities for other roads. Drivers must take their responsibilities seriously. There are flashing lights at many schools. When drivers see these lights early in the morning or in the afternoon when children are going to and from school, they must immediately realise they are approaching a school. This issue is not only about legislation alone but about the responsibility of all road users.
Unfortunately, I do not have time to deal with all of the issues. However, I take the opportunity to remind the House and the wider public that the principal factors which result in accidents, deaths and injuries are drink-driving, speeding, non-use of seat belts and fatigue, which is also important. I respectfully suggest that all drivers should comply with the simple rules that are laid down, as these will be highly effective if drivers take responsibility in their own hands. We should remember that one’s destiny could be around the next corner.
This issue concerns not only drivers but also passengers, pedestrians and other road users. As Deputy Naughten noted with regard to rural areas, if one is not wearing armbands or a reflec tor, one is putting one’s life at risk as well as the lives of other road users.
Mr. McEntee Mr. McEntee
Mr. McEntee: In 2000, 415 people were killed on our roads; in 2001, the figure was 411; in 2002, 376; in 2003, 335; in 2004, 374; in 2005, 396; and to date this year, 292. However, interestingly, in August last year, 24 people were killed but the figure reduced to 17 this August; in September 2005, 31 were killed but the figure was down to 23 in September this year; in October last year, the figure was 44 but it reduced to 13 this month. Long may that progress last.
As the Minster, Deputy Cullen, stated, it was very difficult to read the newspapers on a Monday morning. As deputy spokesperson with responsibility for road safety, I felt the same. In the past three months, the situation has improved and I congratulate everybody responsible for implementing what has taken place. We could claim that some people should not have died but I hope the numbers killed before the end of the year will be small.
I am disappointed that the Government might not support the Bill. I am also disappointed that an aspect of this issue has not been tackled, although when the matter was raised previously, it was claimed the truth was not being told. We can reduce the number of deaths, which this year stands at 292, by a further 30%. Drink-driving, speeding and unqualified drivers are big issues but they are not the only issues. I drove yesterday in counties Tipperary, Laois, Kilkenny, Westmeath and Offaly. Our road conditions are not good, for many reasons, but partly because much heavy traffic has moved onto our byroads. This is particularly the case in the east, where conditions have worsened in the past week due to heavy rain. Such conditions will cause more accidents.
Investment must go further. There is no such thing as an acceptable level. We were at a low level — perhaps 17th or 18th in the EU — but I have no doubt we will move to perhaps fifth or sixth if the current figures continue. We have to aim to get to the top. As Fine Gael spokesperson on safety, I promise the House that when we are in Government next year, we will reduce the numbers killed by another 30% by not being afraid to go the whole way. We will put our money where our mouth is and invest in road surfacing. We will have an audit carried out on every road the length and breadth of Ireland to ensure they stand up to scrutiny. We will introduce speed limits appropriate to the roads. We will also erect road signs. I noticed that regardless of the roads I travelled yesterday, when I came to dangerous crossroads the road sign was at the crossroads, when it should have been some distance from the crossroads. We will invest money in our roads to ensure they are safe for our young people.
In regard to drink driving and accidents, we will ensure an investigation unit is set up to inves tigate the cause of every accident that occurs. Testing for drink driving must be compulsory, as must testing for drugs as many young and middle aged people take drugs and then drive. The drugs problem has escalated out of control. I did not realise the problem had escalated to such an extent until the past six months. Drugs are rampant in every part of the country and people drive having taken drugs. Some people who do not drink take drugs. It is essential that tests are carried out on all those involved in every accident that occurs.
It is important that we continue to support Government policy in this area. We could say that a fifth of the people who died on our roads should not have died, but those accidents happened and those people are dead. The road fatality numbers must continue to drop. Irrespective of who is in Government, the saving of lives must be the number one priority.
As Deputy Naughten said, this is the time of the year when a far bigger road safety campaign should be under way. A major road safety campaign must be put in place in the next week or ten days, as people are killed on our roads when the first skite of frost appears. I remember some ten or 15 years ago two girls who worked in a Chinese restaurant in Navan were involved in an accident on a bad stretch of road in the middle of October when the roads were frosty. Motorists should be made aware of such dangerous driving conditions. I ask the Government to engage in a campaign in the next ten days to alert motorists to check their tyres, and for councils to grit the roads in preparation for frosty weather. There should be no slippage in such preparation, as happened when the penalty points system was first introduced.
Providing a training centre for our young people is essential. People have come forward with plans in that regard. I am aware of a person in the Oldcastle area who wants to present a plan to whatever Government is in power for a testing area for the entire north east. The idea is that young people would be brought by their parents to learn how to drive because they cannot do that in built up areas like Navan, Dunshaughlin, Ashbourne, Limerick, Cork or elsewhere. They must be brought to an area where they can drive and get the feel of a car.
The Minister said the waiting time for the driving test is far too long and I know every effort has been made in some form to address that. I realise people do not want to respond in that regard. There is little point in interviewing people if they are then not taken on. The waiting time for the driving test must be reduced. People who apply to do the test today must be assured they can do it in 12 weeks’ time. Otherwise, young people who take driving lessons will become disillusioned. People pass their driving test because they drive correctly, and they will always remember that. It is like winning a match. One will  always know that one did it right and such motorists will try to drive correctly for the rest of their lives. Young people have no belief in the system but it is something on which everybody should work.
Road fatalities have fallen to 292 and I hope this figure will continue to fall. However, I ask the Government to ensure that over the next ten days, which as Deputy Naughten said is a crucial time in terms of dangerous road conditions, people are alerted by radio and other means to grit the roads and check their tyres.
Some of our small villages have been almost destroyed because of heavy transport vehicles. A bypass for Slane has been put on the back burner and it is gridlocked. Large lorries use Slane and Duleek because they do not want to pay tolls. Something must be done for those small villages and towns because small businesses are closing as people cannot park in these towns. The tolls on toll roads should not be charged for a period to determine the number of lorries that are not using the toll roads because of the cost. Lorries are destroying our back roads and byroads. I ask the Minister to consider not charging the toll for a month, for example, on the M1 as Slane is a complete mess, to ascertain how many lorries use that toll road. Drivers of these heavy vehicles drive through Bellewstown and across from Collon. They are destroying our small towns.
I am disappointed the Government does not back some of our proposals. We have done everything we can to put forward proposals to improve road safety. The number of road fatalities have fallen and they can reduce further. I hope at the end of this year the figure will be at an acceptable level, but I give a guarantee that when Fine Gael gets into Government it will reduce that figure by another 30%. We will spend money on roads because 30% of the accidents in which people are killed are caused by dangerous roads.
Ms O. Mitchell Ms O. Mitchell
Ms O. Mitchell: I thank the Minister, the Minister of State and all the Members who contributed to the debate on this Fine Gael road traffic Bill. The contributions made were cogent, thoughtful and reflected the seriousness of the sense of responsibility everybody has in respect of road traffic. I ask the Minister even at this late stage to consider allowing this Fine Gael Private Members’ Bill to go forward to Committee and Remaining Stages.
The Government parties think that all the good ideas and knowledge reside with them but the reality is that the impetus for many of the measures implemented, which I hope are beginning to show an improvement in our road safety figures and for many of which Ministers and backbenchers take credit, came from this side of the House. The Minister may remember when his predecessor was in office we were told a ban on the use of mobile phones while driving could not be imposed because a proper definition could not  be formulated for a mobile phone, which is difficult to believe. When I on behalf of Fine Gael introduced that Bill, suddenly there was no problem in the Government introducing a Bill and formulating a definition for a mobile phone.
Similarly, the Minister might remember his lack of enthusiasm for mandatory breath testing. The Government and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform had to be dragged kicking and screaming to accepting that was a good idea and worth pursuing. First we were told it could not be done and then we were told we did not need to do it. Now with all the zeal of converts the Ministers have adopted this idea as if it was their own in the first place and all the backbenchers and Ministers are claiming credit for it.
This side of the House does not care where the accolades go but we ask the Minister to accept that sometimes the Opposition has and is capable of generating good ideas, particularly in the area of road safety. I remember vividly being vilified by a Minister and backbenchers on radio because I asserted it was unacceptable to have a driving testing system that drivers never had to pass and that it was unacceptable that learner drivers would not be subjected to any restrictions in terms of road use. It is now accepted as a common sense suggestion that there should be restrictions on learner drivers and that is espoused by the Road Safety Authority and Government members. However, a few months ago it was regarded as a positively seditious idea and that we should not dream of introducing such restrictions because they would change the way of life.
I wish to refer to a number of issues raised during the debate but time constraints do not permit me to do so. However, I wish to make one point which might seem a little strange in the context of a road safety Bill. If the Road Safety Authority is successful in its work and if our legislative efforts to change driving behaviour are successful, particularly in ending drink driving, a cultural change will be needed not only in the way we drive but in the way we socialise. The local pub, which has long been the centre where friends and families meet to socialise and be together, will no longer be accessible in the way it was in the past. Access on foot to pubs for people who live in rural areas in particular and in the sprawling suburbs is not possible. Public transport, certainly late at night unless one is in the city centre, is almost unavailable. If the change in attitude that we are beginning to see is to be internalised by society, we must start thinking outside the box in terms of providing some kind of opportunity for a public transport service or some form of transport for people who want to socialise. We need to think outside the box by perhaps giving publicans access to bus licences. People are changing. We are conscious that we need to stop drinking and driving. I hear people say they will not take even one drink because it is not safe to do so. It is great  to see that change, but that does not mean we have to give up having fun and socialising. It is important, particularly in light of the fact that hundreds of pubs around the country are closing. While we want to change behaviour in this area, it does not mean we must change completely the way we socialise. Publicans have a responsibility to come up with ideas as to how they can help, for instance, in providing drivers for people, rather than buses or cars. The rural transport initiative is another possibility as a means which could facilitate social activity in the country,  particularly outside the cities. The aim here is not to end socialising but to try to make it safer for people to socialise.
The measures we propose in this Bill are necessarily tough on the transgressors of our traffic laws, those who drive dangerously, abuse drugs and endanger themselves as well as others. A softly, softly approach to abuse on our roads is no longer acceptable. I commend the Bill to the House.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 59; Níl, 71.
Dáil Éireann 625 Private Members’ Business. Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed).