Home > Seanad Eireann debate. Road Traffic Bill 2016: Order for Second Stage.

[Oireachtas] Seanad Eireann debate. Road Traffic Bill 2016: Order for Second Stage. (19 Jan 2016)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/seanad...

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): I thank the House for the opportunity to introduce the Road Traffic Bill 2016. Road safety is an area which concerns all of us, both as citizens and as public representatives.  Happily, it is not a partisan issue. We might occasionally disagree about the best measures to improve road safety, but there is no disagreement on the overall goal or, for the most part, on how we wish to achieve it.


There has been a remarkable transformation of the situation on our roads since the start of the millennium. In 2000, 415 people died on our roads. Last year, 2015, saw 166 fatalities. This represents a decline of almost 60%. It is not a uniform decline, however. The number of fatalities dropped for the first few years of the millennium, only for the number to rise again in 2004 and 2005. From that point, there were several years in which the number of fatalities fell, reaching a record low of 162 in 2012. However, in 2013 and 2014 the numbers increased again. Last year, 2015, there was a significant improvement, with a 15% decline in the number of fatalities recorded, but the year ended on a very tragic note. Before December, 2015 appeared to be an even better year than 2012, which had the lowest number on record. Then there was a series of fatal collisions which made that month the worst December for road fatalities since 2007. That should be a reminder and a spur to all of us to ensure that the pressure to reduce the number of road fatalities is maintained by all means at our disposal. Too many people are still losing their lives on our roads.


Road safety depends on a wide range of factors. These include the quality of our roads and the quality of the vehicles driven on them; sensible traffic planning and management; keeping to the right speed; the health of the driver; factors which can cause driver impairment - above all, intoxicants and driver distraction; driver skills and training; and the enforcement of the law. The improvements of the past decade and a half have been the product of effort in all of these areas. Investment has improved the quality of our roads. The national car test, NCT, and improvements in commercial vehicle roadworthiness testing have contributed to improving and maintaining higher standards for vehicles on our roads. Legislative reform has led to a more robust driver learning process and tougher measures to combat driving while intoxicated, while driver informer programmes have been conducted to improve public awareness of the most important risk factors involved in driving.


This has been the work of many stakeholders. My Department has led the way with legislation but many other organisations have made, and continue to make, a vital contribution. The Road Safety Authority, RSA, was established in 2006. It has made an immeasurable improvement to road safety as the body responsible for the NCT, for regulating driving instructors, overseeing the driving test and, more recently, as the body responsible for national driver licensing services. The RSA is also responsible for public information and education on road safety through schools, through public information campaigns and through engagement with other stakeholders such as cycling groups. It has provided a wealth of expert advice and assistance to my Department and other stakeholders.


In the area of law enforcement, I acknowledge the essential and tremendous work of the Garda Síochána. The establishment of a dedicated traffic corps was a major step forward. New tools have been provided which have proven a great help in enforcing the law, including the introduction of the fixed charge and penalty points system, random breath testing for alcohol and lower permissible limits, and the introduction of safety cameras. Last summer, I also extended the fixed charge system to cover road traffic offences by cyclists. I must also mention the essential work done by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety. The bureau has responsibility for testing specimens for intoxicants and for the supply of testing equipment used by the Garda. In addition to its often heavy workload, the scientific expertise of the bureau has been an essential support to my Department and, in particular, has been crucial in developing proposals for intoxicated driving which are at the heart of the legislation before the House today.   I acknowledge the dedication and hard work of all the road safety advocacy groups and campaigners who work tirelessly to raise awareness of road safety issues. However, none of this should distract us from one very important fact: that each person who gets behind the wheel of a car or any other mechanically propelled vehicle has a personal responsibility to drive safely. We can pass all the laws we want but only one person is behind the wheel of each vehicle. Drivers must think and act responsibly. This is the message we have to get across to the public. The main causes of road collisions are well known. They are: speeding; driver intoxication; fatigue; and distraction. In all these areas, there have been important initiatives over recent years. Work to reduce speed and raise awareness of intoxication, fatigue and distraction is ongoing.


The Bill I am introducing today will provide a number of important measures to make more progress on safety on our roads. Its main focus is on intoxicated driving. The Road Traffic Act 2010 provided a very sound new basis for the law on driving under the influence of alcohol. The Act of 2010 and the number of amendments made thereto in the interim have greatly assisted An Garda Síochána in addressing drink driving. However, the law now needs to be strengthened in the more complex area of driving under the influence of drugs. The Bill before the House will mark a major advance in that regard............

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