Dáil Éireann - Volume 639 - 18 October, 2007

Priority Questions. - Road Safety.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Transport if, in view of the transfer of responsibility for regional roads to his Department, he will delegate responsibility for the safety auditing of roads to the Road Safety Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24670/07]

  Deputy Noel Dempsey: I am not considering the extension of the Road Safety Authority’s remit to include road safety audits of the public road network. Safety is a fundamental consideration in the provision and maintenance of the national and non-national road networks. As such, safety issues are built in to the processes of planning, design, operation and maintenance of the roads systems. As part of my responsibility for road safety policy, I have a keen interest in ensuring road transport infrastructure and services are provided, managed and used in a manner that protects people from death and injury.

The National Roads Authority funds an extensive programme of engineering works with the aim of improving road safety and dealing with accident black spots on national roads. My Department provides funding for local authorities for the same purposes in respect of non-national roads. Ongoing responsibility for the monitoring, review and enhancement of the safety of specific road infrastructure rests with the National Roads Authority and the relevant local authorities.

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: The whole idea behind transferring responsibility from the Department of Transport to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was that the condition of the roads would receive greater attention. The key to this is the necessity for an overseeing body to ensure equal standards apply throughout the country. I apologise for the error, as this question should have been put by Deputy McEntee, although my name appears on it. He has made a strong play on this issue, particularly in County Meath. We are seeking a six point road safety plan. Does the Minister agree that, in keeping with international best practice, there should be a safety audit of roads? An independent authority such as the Road Safety Authority should undertake such an audit [1975] which cannot be left in the hands of those who do the work to be audited. An independent audit is required.

  Deputy Noel Dempsey: I agree with the Deputy that it is extremely important that safety standards and specifications should, at all times, be a priority in the design, construction and maintenance of roads. A disagreement arises — if one wishes to call it that — in asking the Road Safety Authority to fulfil that role. I am satisfied with the role played by the authority, as well as by local authorities and council engineering staff. I do not want to comment on a specific case, but the Health and Safety Authority has been involved, even though it is probably acting ultra vires. An amount of work is being done on road safety, including road design. Arising from the HSA’s interventions, new guidelines are being put in place. Other issues will arise from the road safety strategy, including that of soft engineering. The Garda Síochána now has a forensic unit and every accident location is treated as a crime scene. The information is fed into the system since it is important to have access to information on a combination of all these aspects. At this point, I would not like to distract the Road Safety Authority from its important job, otherwise it may have to acquire a range of skills it may not have, but I will keep the matter under review.

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: The way forward would be for the RSA to appoint independent companies to do contract work on its behalf, including road work analysis and auditing. I would not expect the authority to take on more staff. However, the key point is that 33% of deaths on the roads are due to poor road surfaces and bad signage.

The issue concerning the Health and Safety Authority is an important one. The authority is involved because of the work done by people employed there. The budgets of many counties do not permit all necessary works to be undertaken in line with new standards. More investment is required to provide for better roadworks, better management and, in particular, an independent auditing system.

  Deputy Noel Dempsey: The Deputy and I are at one in that general aim. Accident black spots, including blind spots, are being dealt with. I will certainly keep the matter under review and no doubt the Deputy will raise it again.