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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017: Second Stage.

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017: Second Stage. (14 Nov 2017)

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Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Shane Ross): I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


This Bill is about saving lives. I am introducing to the House a short but very important Bill. It is designed to address a specific failing in our current legislation on drink-driving. We all know that alcohol and driving do not mix. Drink driving is one of the most serious causes of collisions, injuries and fatalities on our roads. No one disputes that. There is also general agreement that the law must be firm on drink-driving. It must take drink-driving seriously and it must be seen to take it seriously. It is now seven years since the law on drink-driving was comprehensively revised and updated. The legislation involved - the Road Traffic Act 2010 - has generally served us well. It provides a framework of graded offences. At the most serious are cases where people are, as the law states, under the influence of an intoxicant to such an extent as to be incapable of controlling the vehicle. These are cases where a person has drink or drugs taken and can be proven to be impaired and unable to control the vehicle. Also serious, but a lesser offence, is being over a specified limit of alcohol. In this case, the offence is driving or being in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle while over the alcohol limit. There is no requirement to prove impairment. One of the big controversies in 2010 was that the alcohol limit was being lowered. We were told this was excessive and that it would destroy social life in the country. It was not and it has not. On the contrary, lower alcohol limits have contributed to saving lives and have helped to impress on people the dangers of drinking and driving. Even a small amount of alcohol can impact on driver’s reaction time and hazard perception. While drivers in this situation may not have obvious impairment, the impact of alcohol on their reactions could be the difference between life and death.


The law on drink-driving which we introduced in 2010 contains a significant flaw. There was a general principle which was supposed to apply to drink-driving and to all serious road traffic offences. Committing a serious offence was destined to lead to a period of disqualification from driving. In spite of this principle, it was decided in 2010 - to appease publican lobby groups - to allow some drinkers found over the legal limit to escape disqualification. This is a tragic mistake. Such appeasement of a powerful lobby, such as the publicans, cannot be right. Either any drink-driving over the legal limit is a serious matter or it is not. If it is, how can we not have a disqualification? We disqualify people who drive dangerously or carelessly. We disqualify people for driving dangerously defective vehicles. We disqualify people for dangerous parking during lighting up hours. Ireland has had a mixed record in recent years. We even disqualify people for driving without insurance. What possible rationale can there be for saying to some people who drive while over the legal alcohol limit that we are not going to disqualify them? Do we really mean to say that a person driving on a road while over the alcohol limit is less of an immediate danger to public safety than someone who is parking dangerously? Are they posing less of a danger to public safety than someone who has no insurance? The fact that it is only some people in this position who get the exemption from disqualification serves to underline the fact that driving when over the limit merits disqualification. The law already recognises that this offence should normally attract disqualification. There is no logic to the proposition that in some cases some people should get a waiver on the disqualification and be allowed to pay a €200 fine, get three penalty points and drive on as if nothing had happened.


I will put this issue in a broader context. It is almost a cliché in the area of road safety that there are many factors involved and many different measures needed in order to promote road safety. It is a cliché because it is true. Ireland’s current road safety strategy, as its predecessors, sets out actions across a whole range of areas which must be addressed if we are to achieve what we all want, which is to make our roads safer and to reduce deaths and injuries on our roads. Deputies will know that Ireland has a mixed record in the last few years on road safety. For a good many years road deaths were dropping from the peak of 472 in 1997 to the historic low of 162 in 2012. Since then, we have seen fluctuations. There was a significant increase in 2013, a smaller increase in 2014, a drop to 162 in 2015 and an increase again in 2016. Current indicators are of a very welcome drop in the number of deaths for 2017 with today’s figure standing at 133, which is 31 fewer fatalities than the same period in 2016. That is still 133 too many.


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