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[Oireachtas] Penalty points system: Discussion (continued). (19 Sep 2012)

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Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Debate
[Mr. Noel Brett:]It is just a matter of identifying the context in which offences are taking place and then trying to deal with that.
All European jurisdictions have different signage. I would love to see the introduction of a European project to establish core signage. I refer here to key safety signs, such as stop signs, junction signs, etc. It would be great to establish the same signage across Europe, particularly in view of the fact that the populations of the various countries are highly mobile. Irish people visit other member states and citizens from the latter travel here. I am of the view, therefore, that there is much more to be done in the context of this matter…...
It is open to the Oireachtas to examine the most appropriate sanctions to be imposed. Perhaps using a vehicle to commit a crime could be the subject of a sanction. However, using standard road traffic legislation to deal with this matter would mean that we would be ducking our responsibility and failing to deal properly with this important issue.
Deputy O'Mahony referred to the 108 fatalities which occurred last year. In the coming weeks we will be publishing a breakdown in respect of each of these. I will ensure that the Deputy and the Chairman receive copies of the relevant information.
On speed enforcement, I welcome the use of websites and other mechanisms. We want people to change their behaviour rather than being caught. I return to the point I made in my submission with regard to the need to get people to comply. Safety cameras have been exceptionally successful and the Garda Síochána is to be congratulated in that regard. However, it is time that the zones were updated. A discussion needs to take place - perhaps at this committee - in respect of how much of the activity relating to speed enforcement should be covert in nature and how much should be overt. At some point we need to start moving the vans around such that the locations in which 80% of them are to be found will be publicised while information relating to the other 20% will not. This is a very sensitive matter, particularly in the context of how action is calibrated. There is a need to do as I have suggested, however, because it ties in with deterrence.
Ireland is unique within Europe in the context of the level of public support for penalty points and speed enforcement. This is because people understand what is involved and are in favour of existing activity being expanded even further. Localised campaigns, such as Operation Focus, run by the Garda are welcome but these are no substitute for day-to-day routine enforcement, particularly in rural areas. It is important that the enforcement effort should reflect what is happening on the roads in the context of the number of vehicles that are in operation and the number of collisions that occur. We must ensure that enforcement does not just take place in urban areas. It must happen across the entire country.
Deputy Ann Phelan referred to driver manners, driver arrogance and basic behaviour on the roads. This matter is addressed in the context of graduated driver licensing in respect of our motorways, etc. At present, the RSA has a number of campaigns running on television and the Internet and in cinemas on the subject of merging into traffic and overtaking on motorways. The Irish population did not grow up with motorways and its members are really struggling to understand them. Roundabouts are another huge issue. The number of people who drive the wrong way around a roundabout is unbelievable. Those to whom I refer are all holders of Irish driving licences. We are trying to push hard in respect of these matters and it is for this reason we need the penalty points regime to reinforce that education and awareness.

 The Deputy is absolutely correct in respect of satellite navigation and warning systems. Anything that helps one to moderate one's driving, behave safely and not be detected is a good outcome for Ireland and for drivers in general. In addition, such systems are cost-effective and I am happy with that aspect.


All of the data relating to gender and age can be found on our website. Nine out of ten fatalities are male. This is predominantly a male issue and members can see a breakdown in respect of it on the website. I will certainly forward the collision data to the Deputy.

Senator Barrett asked a number of questions about Sweden. The latter currently does not have a demerit system. Sweden is 30 years ahead of us. It has a particular culture with regard to vehicles, roads, etc. What we are trying to do is accomplish in ten years what it took the Swedish 30 years to achieve. We are doing this by learning from them. The Senator will be interested to note that Sweden lost its first place in Europe last year, when it was overtaken by the UK. Ireland is in fifth place while Sweden is now in second. There are major issues in Sweden, one of which relates to traffic policing. The job is never done and once one takes one's foot off the gas - I hope members will pardon the pun - bad behaviour returns very quickly. It is much more difficult to change people's behaviour the second time. There has been a major change in this country in recent years in the context of drink driving. People here no longer offer others alcohol if they call to their homes and are driving. It is fine to say "I am driving".
If we do not continue to enforce the law, people will come to realise that this is the case. When, a number of years from now, we return to this matter and try to spend the amount of money required in order to change their behaviour again, they will not accept the message as easily. One only gets one chance in respect of this matter. It is critical, therefore, that we maintain the level of enforcement. The issue of learner drivers using motorways is one which is ripe for enforcement and the imposition of penalty points. Such drivers should not be on our motorways. Some 45 holders of learner permits were killed in collisions last year and a further 75 suffered serious injuries. These are not the only people at risk on the roads but a particular type of intervention is required in respect of them.
Senator Barrett raised a number of issues in the context of vehicle technology, including "alcolocks", vehicle inhibitors, speed limiters and so on. Representatives from the RSA and other agencies are currently involved in examining the position with regard to these devices. In the context of the forthcoming budget, I wish to point out that there is an unusual situation in Ireland in that proven safety features attract the highest rate of VAT and they also attract VRT. In a way, we are almost disincentivising people from using the devices to which I refer. If a person is buying a fleet of vans and if he or she chooses to opt in for some proven safety features such as "lane assist", alcolocks, etc., not only will the base price increase but he or she will also be charged VAT and VRT. We are, therefore, disincentivising fleet buyers and private motorists from choosing the safest vehicle.
Another example in this regard relates to motorcyclists. We want motorcyclists to wear the best possible quality of safety helmets. In Ireland, however, such helmets attract the highest rate of VAT. I need motorcyclists to wear proper leathers, back protectors, spine protectors, gauntlets and boots but all of this equipment attracts the highest rate of VAT. In the UK, it is zero-rated. As a result, people in Ireland purchase cheaper gear or they buy it on the Internet. They do not know the quality of the latter and whether it will fit them. We do not have a home-grown industry in the context of selling that material. There is a strong opportunity to achieve a huge road safety dividend by encouraging people to purchase the safest vehicles and use the type of technology to which the Senator refers. The same applies in respect of motorcyclists and pedal cyclists. The latter should be able to obtain the type of protective equipment to which I refer, particular as it can save lives or prevent injury.
A great deal needs to happen in respect of drug driving. Three issues arise in the context of the use of illegal drugs, over-the-counter medicines and prescription medicines. We must not try to use road traffic legislation to deal with illegal drug use. However, we must deal with impairment. As I understand it, the forthcoming Bill will contain a number of provisions in this regard.
My take on smoking in vehicles is that it is a public health issue. If there are children in the vehicle, then it is also a child protection issue. The notion that one would fill a small space with a toxic substance in which children are to be found is unbelievable. I am of the view that if this matter is to be tackled in a robust manner, then it must be dealt with in the realms of child protection and public health. Obliging gardaí to stop people who are smoking in their cars and give them two penalty points will not change their behaviour, rather it will make them frustrated. There is a need for some very robust legislation in this area. Mr. Faughnan referred to people driving with due care and attention.
Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Debate
Wednesday, 19 September 2012

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