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Home > Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2011 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed). [part 2]

[Oireachtas] Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2011 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed). [part 2]. (06 Oct 2011)

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Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2011 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)
Vol. 742 No. 4
Thursday, 6 October 2011

Continued from 4 October 2011

 And from 5 October 2011  

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Kevin Humphreys was in possession. He has two minutes remaining.

Deputy Kevin Humphreys: As I said last night, I support the Bill. There is a real change in mood on the part of young drivers in terms of their compliance with legislation. Will the Minister provide some figures indicating the age breakdown of persons found to be in charge of a motorised vehicle after consuming alcohol?
Deputy Mitchell referred to cyclists on the roads. Next week is Road Safety Week 2011. I am a cyclist and a strong supporter of cycling in the city. I assisted the current Lord Mayor, Mr. Andrew Montague, with the introduction of the Dublin bike scheme. The removal of heavy goods vehicles, HGVs, from the city has been a great success, resulting in an explosion in the use of bicycles in the city. This is also due to the last Government’s cycle to work scheme. These have been positive elements in encouraging more people to use bicycles.
Unfortunately, a proportion of cyclists act irresponsibly and they have not been taken to task. A system of fixed charge penalties or on-the-spot fines is necessary. There are obvious problems with this because there is no necessity to carry identification. However, under current legislation, there are sufficient powers for the Garda to impose fixed charges on cyclists who cycle on footpaths, break red lights and so forth. This behaviour adds to the dangers on the roads and I ask the Minister to examine the matter. The majority of cyclists are responsible. but the next road traffic Bill will have to include a measure to provide for the enforcement of the rules on cyclists. If he has time, will the Minister find out the number of cyclists who have been prosecuted for cycling on footpaths? It is said this is a no-impact crime, but one should talk to people who were knocked down as they emerged from their front gate. It has led to hip replacements and periods in hospital. This is a serious matter.
Yes, we should fully support cyclists and encourage the use of bicycles, but with this comes responsibility. I urge the Minister to examine the issue.
Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: I support what Deputy Humphreys said. I represent Dublin Central and receive a number of calls about this issue, particularly from elderly people who are at the mercy of cyclists, a certain percentage of whom simply do not abide by the rules. This is also a problem at bus stops. A person asked me if Dublin Bus would be able to do something about the signage at bus stops. People standing at a bus stop watching out for the bus must also watch out for cyclists who do things they should not do.
On the other hand, we have the fantastic bike scheme introduced by Dublin City Council. There was some debate at the time of its introduction, when it was said it would not work in Dublin, that the bikes would end up in the River Liffey or be vandalised and so forth. Recent figures show, however, that only two bicycles have been vandalised since the scheme started. It has been a real success.
Once again, I thank the Library and Research Service for the digest it put together on the Bill. I refer to the quote from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, at the back that the combination of lower blood alcohol limits and mandatory testing represents a considerable tightening of the drink driving regime. This new aspect certainly toughens it up. Any initiative which sets out to reduce the number of fatalities on the roads is very welcome because so many families have paid a heavy price as a result of terrible accidents on the roads, many of which have been caused by people driving with considerable amounts of alcohol in their blood. There is no doubt the campaign has done extremely well. There is a culture in much of the country that one does not drink and drive, but, unfortunately, there are parts where that is not evident. I am always intrigued by the numbers of cars outside public houses. They cannot all belong to designated drivers. Some are still taking a risk and driving under the influence of alcohol.
The Minister has stated the Bill is a necessary step to maintain the good work done so far onn road safety and to ensure Ireland continues to make progress. I am not sure we are making the progress we should be making. One of the reasons is that we are not really tackling wha many others and I believe is the main cause of fatalities, namely, excessive speed on the roads. We know that a particular age group and sex are mainly involved in road fatalities where alcohol or drugs have been consumed, but there is also an element of excessive speed. Young men in their early 20s are involved. I have taken lifts from young men in their 20s and it is part of their psychological make up that they cannot stick to the speed limit. It is part of the boy racer image to turn the steering wheel with one hand. They do not know what the speed limits are and they are totally convinced of their immortality, that nothing can ever happen to them. Studies have been done of the psychological aspects, of what will work with this age group and what will get them to slow down. However, slowing down and being young do not go together. We are losing the battle when it comes to speeding on the roads because in many cases young men are not adhering to speed limits. That is not to take from others who do and who would not dream of getting into a car and doing these things. There is a huge issue with young men whizzing around.
I read recently about something which might be introduced in cars to indicate one’s alcohol level when one gets into it. It is more important to attach something to cars to ensure they cannot go above a certain speed limit, in particular for under 25 year old males. That would be a major step forward and I would like to see something like this happen.
We must tackle those who drive under the influence of drugs. We are not paying enough attention to this aspect as we seem to be hooked on the alcohol aspect. If one knows about addiction issues, one will know that the use of prescription drugs is on the increase. Many are driving under the influence of prescription drugs and not heeding the warnings on the effects of these drugs.
Another aspect of road safety is motorway construction. While it is great to be able to drive from Dublin to Cork in two and a half or two and three quarter hours, the fact is permission was given to build that motorway without providing for lay-bys at particular points; it is an accident waiting to happen. I have been driving for 40 years and the only time I was involved in an accident was on that motorway as a result of driver fatigue and having to wait to turn off the motorway to drive a few miles into a town. I know a particular franchise has received money to build something, but it should have come first and I am not the only person who says this.
I welcome the introduction of the offence of knowingly driving a dangerously defective vehicle, which is long overdue. I also welcome the placing of an obligation on a driver to provide a blood or urine specimen while in hospital where that person has been involved in a road traffic collision. This has been a loophole in certain cases.
While I represent Dublin Central, I have many contacts and spend time in rural Ireland. I mention the impact of the lowering of the blood alcohol level, in particular for elderly people whose one social outlet during the week is going to mart or to collect their pension and having two or three drinks afterwards. They will now be over the limit if they do so. I do not advocate that people drink and drive, but there is a category, the members of which are not causing accidents on the roads. There have been calls for a better transport scheme which in some places have been taken on board, as we do not want to contribute to further isolation, particularly for elderly persons living on their own in rural areas.
An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy who is sharing time with Deputies Paul Connaughton, Alan Farrell and Michelle Mulherin.
Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy: I welcome publication of the Bill and commend the Minister for his commitment to improving road safety and tackling the problem of the consumption of alcohol and driving because it is an inescapable fact that Irish drivers drive after consuming alcohol. The issue has been well researched by the Road Safety Authority and it has been shown that alcohol consumption is a major factor in road deaths. Many drivers found to be over the limit are involved in accidents with other vehicles, passengers and in single car collisions. It is fair to say any amount of alcohol in the system of a driver poses a risk not only for him or her but also for his or her passengers and other road users.
We have been successful in reducing the number of road deaths through efforts such as graphic television advertising campaigns to reduce speeding and the level of drink driving, the introduction of penalty points, random Garda breath testing check points and a vastly improved road infrastructure. In the past eight years the number of road deaths has been reduced from almost 400 to approximately 200, but one road fatality is one too many. We must, therefore, continue with our efforts to ensure pedestrians, cyclists and drivers of motorised vehicles can travel in safety and be protected from other road user who, as a result of being impaired by alcohol, pose a threat to them.
The practical measures contained in the Bill specifically targeting alcohol impaired driving are welcome. The further reduction of the blood alcohol limit for drivers and learner drivers and mandatory testing by gardaí of all drivers involved in collisions which result in injuries will enhance efforts to reduce the number of road deaths.
Having said that and acknowledging that drink driving has become increasingly socially unacceptable, I am concerned about how people living in rural areas, in particular older men, can access their local public house. Most are moderate drinkers for whom playing cards and having a couple of drinks represent the only outing they might have in a week. We must have a further debate on how people living in rural areas are to be accommodated as availing of public transport or a taxi rank is not an option for them. Perhaps there is scope to consult the rural transport programme or other voluntary organisations or statutory agencies to address this problem.
There are other matters which deserve consideration which I previously raised at the Joint Committee on the Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht. The presence of drugs in the systems of drivers is known to impair their driving and lead to road fatalities. Some means of detecting both legal and illegal drug use should be investigated and provision made to provide for mandatory testing for these substances in exactly the same way as for alcohol.
Another issue which many constituents have raised with me is that of the decibel level which in some cars is excessive as they have been modified to increase engine sound. It is most notable at night and can be very anti-social and distressing, particularly for the elderly and parents of young children. This is a matter which needs to be addressed urgently.
Other matters to be considered include the introduction of penalty points for the illegal dumping of vehicles, many of which are to be found decaying in many of our scenic areas. Another measure is the education of young people in road safety, perhaps during transition year. Young men in particular, as the research showns, are, sadly, the most likely to be involved in car accidents at weekends, late at night or in the early hours of the morning.
While the political system takes action to reduce the number of road deaths through the introduction of legislation, we must not forget our own responsibilities to ensure safe travel through not driving while tired and wearing a high visibility vest while walking on rural roads.
Deputy Paul J. Connaughton: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. We must do all we can to reduce the number of deaths on our roads. It has become too real to hear about someone who was killed or seriously injured in a car accident. The damage caused to families and community is immense and leaves lasting scars.
We have been dealing with the issue of drink driving for many years but I am glad to see a cultural shift away from the practice. Young drivers get a hard rap but drink driving is not socially acceptable among my generation. I welcome the reduction in blood-alcohol limits from 80 mg per 100 ml to 50 mg, and 20 mg in the case of learner drivers. These limits should be set at zero. When a person drives, there should be no alcohol whatsoever in his or her system.
The issue of rural isolation has been raised by speakers on both sides of the House. I come from a constituency in which many people live outside of towns. We cannot accept that the solution to this issue is alcohol or pubs. I acknowledge that the pub offers an opportunity for social interaction for rural dwellers, some of whom are very elderly, but surely we can come up with a better way of serving these people. During yesterday’s debate, one Deputy announced that he was against drink driving but claimed there was no issue with two or three pints. That attitude is culturally unacceptable if we want to solve this problem. People say they can take two or three drinks without going over the limit but this turns into guesswork. The problem is that by the time they realise they have made a mistake it is too late because they have already caused an accident in which someone is killed or seriously injured. If we want to see a massive cultural shift, we have to be tougher. If we want to help people in rural communities, we will have to come up with innovative ways of connecting them and getting them to their local towns. The local pub is not the answer for everyone. In many instances publicans are looking for ways to facilitate these people, and I ask the Minister to support these efforts.
Coming from a rural constituency, the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, will be aware that the state of the roads regularly arises as an issue. Roads can deteriorate quickly over the space of several weeks or months, but under the current system, one road could have been selected for repairs three years ago while others are left to deteriorate. People driving down these roads must swerve to avoid potholes. I urge the Department to work with local authorities on devising a better system that would be more reactive to local events. I have been inundated with calls from people whose roads have been destroyed, even though their neighbours’ roads were repaired. It is a dangerous situation for drivers, walkers and cyclists and if we start thinking outside the box, we might be able to come up with better solutions.
I welcome the introduction of speed cameras. They have already had a massive impact on driver behaviour. I hear from people around my constituency that they know where they are located on any particular day. They are being deployed to make our roads safer. I have also been contacted by people who were caught out by them, but if there is a speed limit we have to adhere to it.
Alongside solving the problem of drink driving, we must also educate young people about driving skills and driver behaviour. Does the Department plan to implement programmes in our schools and colleges to educate young drivers about what to expect when they start to drive? We cannot have a situation whereby someone who reaches the driving age simply gets a licence and is allowed on the road. Driving is a privilege rather than a right. When one is on the road, one must care for oneself as well as other road users. Sometimes young people do not understand this responsibility and it would do no harm to develop an education policy in our schools to change that attitude. I welcome the Bill, although I believe there is more to be done in regard to educating young drivers.
Deputy Alan Farrell: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I intend to speak about road safety, driver education and dangerously defective vehicles.
I support the calls made by a number of speakers for standardised speed limits. A significant number of substandard rural roads have speed limits of 80 km/h or 100 km/h. Joined-up thinking is needed in regard to the implementation of speed limits. Perhaps the Minister can consider this issue in the context of the next road safety Bill. The manner in which speed limits are applied by local authorities should also be reconsidered. In my own constituency, a dual carriageway near the airport has a speed limit of 50 km/h. Drivers are accustomed to speed limits of 100 km/h on dual carriageways and the road in question is perfectly capable of handling such speeds. We also have rural roads with speed limits of 80 km/h or 100 km/h despite sharp bends and blind corners.
I am particularly annoyed by the issue of heavy goods vehicles occupying the overtaking lane of motorways. The spine of Dublin North is the M1, which allows me to drive the length of the constituency in approximately 20 minutes. During rush hour periods heavy goods vehicles tend to drive in the overtaking lane at their speed limit of 100 km/h. While that is safe and acceptable in terms of the speed at which the vehicles can travel it presents difficulties when driving conditions are not ideal because trucks can fly out in front of cars to get ahead of slower vehicles. A ban on heavy goods vehicles from overtaking lanes on motorways would be welcomed by the majority of car drivers.
The Bill provides for mandatory testing and allows gardaí to use their judgment and experience in deciding whether to demand a blood or alcohol sample. This toughening of the legislation is welcome. The blood-alcohol limit in 2011 should be lower than that which applied heretofore because we know about the dangers drink driving present in terms of the carnage that occurred on our roads over many years. Every year between 400 and 500 people have died on our roads. While I commend the Road Safety Authority and the Department on the steps it has taken in this area, one road death is too many.
Drug driving is an issue we should consider further when we come to draft future legislation. Drugs are, unfortunately, all too available. It is a regular occurrence for younger drivers to avail of such substances and it is almost impossible to test for them.
The previous speaker, Deputy Connaughton, referred to education. I support the approach of starting to convey to schoolchildren at a young age the requirement on them to learn the rules of the road early, perhaps even in primary school and throughout secondary school so that when they reach the age of 16 or 17 and they apply for their licence and learn to drive they are aware of the incredible dangers that exist. I imagine virtually every family in this country has lost an extended family member. I did in Castleknock almost 30 years ago. It is a heart-wrenching experience. Today, as always, a member of the Garda Síochána is present in the House. I cannot imagine that when they leave Templemore they relish the unfortunate duty of having to call to the home of someone who has died to inform a mother, father or brother that their loved one was involved in a road traffic accident especially when alcohol or speeding are involved.
I had the pleasure of attending a couple of road safety road shows in Fingal in 2008 when I was mayor of Fingal County Council. They were held in the auditorium of the Helix theatre in DCU. Such road shows are a worthwhile endeavour. An insurance company, AXA, is involved and the Road Safety Authority spearheads the programme. They bring in schools, predominantly fourth year classes, and show them footage of accidents and the knock-on effects. We should continue that approach as a tactic in the battle against the carnage on our roads.
I wish to address the issue of dangerously defective vehicles. I live close to the M1 motorway. As a recent father I am up a lot in the middle of the night and I hear cars flying up and down the motorway. I refer to modified vehicles in particular, predominantly exhaust additions to make them louder, as mentioned by previous speakers. In the Laois-Offaly Garda area, gardaí had some success prosecuting or cajoling young drivers into removing these after-factory modifications to their vehicles under legislation which, I think, dated from the 1960s. This was a couple of years ago. I would like to see a robust attitude towards the modification of vehicles purely for the purpose of increasing the noise they make. I have seen many young drivers driving around in imported Micras with huge expanders on them that make them look ridiculous. They are noisy and most distracting especially in residential areas.
I commend the NCT regime. I accept it has received a bit of stick in recent times but if we have a robust car testing system in place which is trusted by the public and that can alleviate any fears road users have about the safety of vehicles on the roads then we will take a step closer towards ensuring that we do not have further deaths on our roads. Fundamentally, the Bill is about saving lives in one way or another which must be welcomed.
Deputy Michelle Mulherin: I welcome the Bill. As Deputy Farrell indicated, the underlying effort is to stop people being killed and maimed on our roads. What is particularly helpful and welcome is the provision in the Bill requiring mandatory testing of drivers in hospitals. Drunk driving and the prosecution of it by the Garda is a technical area and gardaí need all the help they can get from legislation. I regret the limit in the past on the ability to test a driver who had been hospitalised following a road traffic accident. Alcohol can be involved in more serious road traffic accidents and it has happened that people have escaped prosecution for causing an accident due to being drunk because they required hospitalisation. Therefore, I welcome the amendment to the legislation.
In welcoming the Bill I join with colleagues who have referred to drug driving. It is an area that requires to be tackled. Drug driving must be treated in the same way as we treat driving with alcohol. When one considers the age profile of those involved in road traffic fatalities one must consider the possibility of drug use. In many cases young men are involved in single-car collisions and the suspicion is that it is not alcohol that they have on board but drugs. Deputy O’Sullivan referred to the speed at which young men drive but when one adds drugs to the equation one would definitely feel invincible. Not only should drug testing be mandatory following an accident but it should be random and the full rigours of the law must be applied where people are suspected of driving under the influence of any intoxicant. The same should be said for prescription drugs which carry warning notices. Just because one is prescribed drugs does not mean one is fit to drive, especially when it puts one’s life and other road users at risk. I am interested in hearing a response to that.
A rural public house is an entirely different creature to a public house in the city. We are aware of the community aspect of such an establishment in a small village where it draws people together. That is where one gets one’s news. It is what people think of when they think of this country and friendliness. A stranger can go into a rural public house and be made to feel welcome. We can cry about people not being able to go to the public house but it is preferable to examine what is required to ensure they continue. Public houses are entitled to open from 10.30 a.m. until 11.30 p.m. The reality is that many public houses have closed and many others only open in the evening. Such premises only operate for a couple of hours per day such is the extent to which their business has been reduced. They do not provide food because it is not viable. It is important for communities that public houses continue to exist in the same way as the church or post office. They play a valuable role in the community.
The enactment of the Bill will probably make people even more fearful about going to public houses. We must tackle the issue. One way in which we could address it is to consider a reduction in VRT for publicans who wish to transport their customers and another option is to reduce rates. If there is an opportunity to open a business full-time but the reality is that it is not worth a person’s while to do it then we must examine the rates regime and reduce it to accommodate such public houses. Publicans are running a business and providing a service and they are not costing the State anything. In fact, they are making VAT returns and they may employ people in rural areas. We should act to preserve them. It is not inevitable that they would be a casualty. People become sentimental about retaining the local public house. If we want them to exist and Johnny down the road wants to go there for his pint that is fair enough but publicans are the ones who must keep the show on the road. They deserve special attention if we are serious about keeping rural public houses open and allowing them an opportunity to continue to run their business. Otherwise, we will not have rural public houses. It will not be a case of whether Johnny should have one, two or three pints; there will not be any public house for him to go for a drink. These public houses are in a minority. They do not have large populations and there will not be crowds marching on the street, but they must be considered. Those are a couple of my thoughts on the matter.
Deputy Finian McGrath: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak to this important legislation. Before I get into the nitty-gritty, this is my first opportunity to congratulate publicly the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, on his new Ministry. I wish him well in the future and the best of luck.
I welcome the Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2011 and I commend some of the comments on it. We should look at its detail and discuss it in an open and transparent fashion, and that has begun already in this important debate.
One of the purposes of the Bill is to allow for mandatory alcohol testing at lower limits in line with the Road Traffic Act 2010. The debate is about drink driving, speeding, and road safety. This is an important debate. I will ask fundamental questions on these issues. The vast majority of road traffic accidents are caused by speeding. A substantial minority, I accept, are caused by the abuse of alcohol, and recently, there has been the abuse of drugs by motorists. These are the issues we must consider.
We also have a responsibility. From driving up and down the country and all over the place, I am aware that on a brand new road it is tempting to drive quickly and that when one has a powerful car, it is difficult to remain in total control in such situations. I put it up to the car manufacturers that they also have a responsibility. If they could design a car that would reach a certainly limit only and could not go any faster, that would be a major contribution. It would save many lives and nip in the bud the male macho young-driver syndrome evident in wider society. From my direct experience, by the way, this type are not all young. These are issues at which we must look as well.
In speaking about the Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill, it is important to show leadership and bring the public with us. Road safety campaigns are important. When I was a primary school teacher, I saw the impact of such campaigns. Some were effective but some were boring for young people and we had to think outside the box to come up with ideas. A helpful contribution is the practical experience of bringing children to traffic schools and showing them DVDs and videos and all sorts of things about road safety. So, too, is the practical experience of young primary school children meeting the gardaí who work in the Traffic Corps. They come in, advise them and support them, and give them that sense of adventure and excitement while at the same time emphasising road safety. There is a broader aspect to the road traffic issue and to this issue.
Section 2 clarifies the situation where a person fails or refuses to produce a driving licence or learner permit when asked by a member of the Garda Síochána. Section 40 of the principal Act, inserted by section 59 of the Act of 2010, is being amended to clarify the provisions…...
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