Dáil Éireann - Volume 683 - 26 May, 2009

Priority Questions. - Road Traffic Offences.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Transport his views on the operation of the penalty points system in the context of the latest penalty points figures which show that as many as 192,686 drivers did not have their licences endorsed for committing an offence and in view of the role played by excessive speeding in a significant percentage of road collisions and deaths; whether he has met with Mr. Gay Byrne, chairman of the Road Safety Authority, and Mr. Noel Brett, chief executive, on current serious road safety issues; if he will reform the national vehicle driver file to record and address all motoring misdemeanours committed by drivers on roads here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21243/09]

[415]   Deputy Noel Dempsey:Under the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 (Conferral of Functions) Order 2006 (SI No. 477 of 2006) the operation of the penalty points was applied. At the end of March 2009 there were 192,686 penalty points events recorded in respect of drivers who did not present an Irish driving licence. Of this total, a foreign licence was presented in 142,588 instances.

The NVDF only contains records of Irish driving licence holders and consequently it can only associate penalty points and other penalties for road traffic offences with the record of a driver with an Irish driving licence. The enforcement of penalties for road traffic offences on foreign-registered drivers is a complex legal and administrative matter and the Department is pursuing this question at European, British-Irish and North-South levels. I will also be proposing in the Road Traffic Bill currently being finalised a number of amendments which should improve some matters for driver records.

Unless motoring offences result in disqualification of the drivers concerned or in the application of penalty points, they cannot be recorded on the national vehicle and driver file. Operation of the penalty points system is a matter for the Road Safety Authority.

Until 21 April, the former Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, had specific responsibility for road safety and in that role he met the chief executive officer and chairman of the RSA on a number of occasions, both formally and informally. My officials meet the chief executive and the RSA’s senior management team formally twice a year, but there is also regular contact between the two organisations on the variety of issues of road safety.

The Deputy has made some suggestions on reforming the national vehicle driver file to record and address all motoring misdemeanours committed by drivers in this jurisdiction. The position is that where a person incurs penalty points and where details of Irish driving licences are not available, the data are stored on the file on the basis of individual instances.

No benefit would be derived from the recording of all motoring misdemeanours generally and in any event their recording would be likely to infringe the Data Protection Acts.

  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:I am seeking the protection of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle about questions. I have a substantial file of questions here that the Minister has refused to answer relating to agencies that fall within the remit of his Department. If the courts or the justice system were involved, the Minister also refused to answer.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:We cannot deal with them now but the Committee on Procedure and Privileges has discussed the answering of parliamentary questions so the Deputy might bring these matters to the attention of that body.

  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:This is a serious situation and I appreciate the help of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Does the Minister agree the appalling number of collisions and fatalities this year is a cause for dismay? There have been 107 fatal collisions so far this year, as against 109 last year. This is the first year for a number of years that we are slipping back on our road safety targets. The last three months, March, April and May 2009, have seen higher numbers of horrific fatalities than the comparable time last year.

Does the Minister agree with the chairman of the Road Safety Authority when he castigates him? Is it not remarkable that Mr. Gay Byrne finds it necessary to castigate the Minister of the Department he serves because of a cut back of €2.3 million in the advertising budget? The advertisements last year played a huge role in diminishing road casualties but this year we are cutting back on the advertising budget. Mr. Byrne has said the Minister suffers from the awful [416] sin of complacency. Is that not true? The Minister is complacent while casualties and fatalities are rising.

  Deputy Noel Dempsey:The Deputy is silent when the number of fatalities decreases.

  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:No, I am not. I commended the Minister last year. This is an all-party issue.

  Deputy Noel Dempsey:Let us keep it as an all-party issue then and not make political statements about it. As the Deputy knows, we have all had this experience at various times. There will be a decline in fatalities for a number of months then there will be a sudden increase in incidents.

The Deputy is right, the three months just past were worse than the same three months last year. Overall, fatalities are down by two up to this date. There is a slight improvement but I am disappointed by the figures we have seen in the last three months. I do not have any magic wand to rewind the clock but it has been serious. We started the year well, with a significant decrease, and we are still down two fatalities overall.

It is important, particularly coming up to a bank holiday, that we get the message across again. It is a matter of enforcement.

  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:The other key element of the question concerns penalty points. The Minister has stated 200,000 drivers out of 600,000 who were guilty of penalty points offences escaped. Some 31% were not fined or had points imposed on their licences. Is that not appalling? The public thinks it is ridiculous and it makes the penalty points system a farce. The Minister is talking about reforming the vehicle driver file and negotiating with Britain and the EU. Will he just do it?

  Deputy Noel Dempsey:As I explained to the Deputy, of the 192,000 cases for which penalty points could not be recorded, 142,588 were foreign drivers.