I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time." Reference to the schedule enumerating the enactments proposed to be repealed by this Bill will show that half a dozen statutes are repealed and parts of a large number of others, so that this Bill codifies the useful part of the road traffic legislation that we have at the present time. It also introduces suitable provisions to meet modern traffic necessities. It contains practically no legislation by reference and it may be regarded as a complete statute for persons, whether motorists or not, making traffic use of the roads. The Bill is based on the report of the Inter-Departmental Committee consisting of representatives of the Departments of Local Government and Public Health, Industry and Commerce, and Justice set up in 1927. Copies of the report were circulated in October, 1928.
The Committee's duty was to enquire and report as to whether, and if so, how far, the existing law relating to the control and regulation of road traffic in all its aspects required modification, more especially in view of the growth in the use of the various kinds of motor vehicles. The Committee took evidence, both documentary and oral, and their report is based mainly on such evidence.
I think a word of praise is deserved by those who prepared the report dealing with a statement of the existing law, a statement of the evidence received and a statement of the recommendations made. The report is a model of conciseness and comprehensiveness. A large number of witnesses, both as individuals and representing a large number of different societies, gave most valuable help in the tendering of evidence, and went to very great trouble in connection with it. If the Bill, which has been before the House and the public for some time now, has had the rather kind reception it has had, the fact is entirely due to the co-operation that there has been on the part of a large number of associations and individual witnesses in going to the trouble they did go in preparing and giving evidence before the Inter-Departmental Committee.
The setting up of the Committee voiced a general demand for an examination into the existing traffic laws, due to the steady annual increase in the number of motor vehicles and to the fact that the existing legislation was scattered over several enactments passed from 25 to 75 years previously. It sub-divides mechanically-propelled vehicles into definite classes, and describes each class in language which is at once suggestive of the type of vehicle concerned.
The law as to driving licences has been re-cast and enlarged. Minimum ages have been fixed in respect of licences to drive motor cycles, light motor vehicles, goods vehicles, and public passenger-carrying vehicles, respectively, and no person can obtain a licence who makes a declaration that he is suffering from a disease or a physical or mental disability which would be likely to make his driving a danger to the public. A licence may, however, be issued to such a person on the production of a medical report as to his fitness to drive, and on his undergoing a competency test to be set up by the Gárda Síochána. Under certain conditions, a licence may be granted limited to the driving of an invalid carriage or a vehicle specially adapted. The Bill contains special provisions to deal with the person who drives a motor vehicle while he is drunk or otherwise unfit. It imposes substantial penalties, by way of fine, imprisonment and disqualification, for this offence, and makes a distinction when the offence is committed in relation to a public passenger-carrying vehicle and a vehicle of any other type. More extensive powers are given to the courts to disqualify persons from holding driving licences. In the matter of endorsements and disqualification the Bill provides for the circulation of the information to all licensing authorities (councils of counties and county boroughs), so that the possibility of issuing licences to disqualified persons should be considerably lessened. Heavy penalties are proposed in the case of persons driving or obtaining licences to drive while disqualified.
The Bill prescribes the maximum speeds governing the driving of certain types of vehicles. In the case of motor cycles and light motor vehicles no speed limit is prescribed, but in a prosecution for dangerous driving, 30 miles an hour will be prima facie evidence of dangerous driving. Power is given to fix special speed limits for particular areas, and the law in this respect is being enlarged by enabling the Commissioner of the Gárda to apply to the Minister for an order fixing a special speed limit. The existing authorities entitled to seek such orders are the county councils and the municipal corporations with populations of over 10,000. It is proposed that urban councils and town commissioners will also be entitled to ask for such limit orders, as such bodies are immediately concerned with the amenities of the town.
The Bill makes a distinction between the driving of a vehicle carelessly and dangerously, as a vehicle can be driven in such a way that, while not actually dangerous, it is the cause of undue anxiety to other road users, and may be a potential danger. It includes specifically the necessity for giving reasonable consideration for many other persons and vehicles using the road, as for instance the case of a bus being driven in such a way that other vehicles are pushed almost on the footpath. The penalty for careless driving is a fine not exceeding £10. Under existing law there is no offence of careless as distinct from dangerous driving, and the penalty for the latter is, for the first offence, a fine not exceeding £20, and for subsequent offences a fine not exceeding £50 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding three months. These penalties are considered inadequate, and it is proposed that persons convicted of dangerous driving be liable in the case of a first offence to a penalty up to £50 and/or 3 months' imprisonment, and for subsequent offences penalties up to £100 and/or six months' imprisonment, with power in both cases to the court to disqualify the convicted person for holding a licence.
As in the case of other countries, the Bill includes provisions whereby all persons who bring mechanically-propelled vehicles on to the public roads will be in a position to compensate other persons who suffer damage by the improper use of these vehicles. The arguments in favour of such provisions will be obvious, and are discussed in Part XIII of the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Control and Regulation of Road Traffic. The Bill obliges the driver of a motor vehicle to cover, by an approved policy of insurance, an approved guarantee or an approved combined policy and guarantee, his legal liabilities for injuries caused through negligent driving of the vehicle, whether such injuries are committed against persons or property. The Bill provides for a sum without limit of compensation both in the case of damage to persons and damage to property. A considerable amount of discussion has taken place already on this Bill. A large number of suggestions have been made. Discussions have taken place between the Department and a number of bodies concerned in the motor industry. In discussing the matter of compensation in respect to property the case has been made by the insurance companies that they think it is not reasonable that there should be compulsory insurance in respect to damage to property without limit. They suggest that a car with petrol might drive into a shop window in O'Connell Street, and that as a result a fire might be started that would do considerable damage. That is not the real intention of our providing for compulsory insurance in respect to damage to property. A lot of property such as houses would normally be covered against such risks by ordinary insurance. In view of the fact that property may be damaged belonging to persons who are not normally in the habit of insuring their property, such as poor persons, and people who may have their means of livelihood taken from them as a result of an accident of one kind or another, the idea is that their property would be insured to a reasonable extent for them. This is a matter that probably will come up for discussion on the Bill. I would be prepared to put a limit to the amount to which property ought to be compulsorily insured.
The Bill provides for fines and imprisonment if convicted of driving an uninsured vehicle, and enables the court in certain cases to inflict a fine in lieu of damages, the fine to be paid over to the injured person. Provisions to safeguard the insured person in the matter of deposits by the insurers or guarantors are also included. The form of insurance or guarantee is to be approved by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, and the liability of the insurer or guarantor is not to be avoided on account of any fraud, misrepresentation or false statement committed by the insured. The cover must extend to the personal representative of the insured. Provision is made for the punishment of fraud in obtaining a policy or guarantee, and for the carrying by insured of certificates of insurance or guarantee, and the production of such certificates on demand by a member of the Gárda Síochána.
The most varied opinions have been expressed as to the necessity for testing the skill of the drivers of all types of motor vehicles, of whom in the year 1930 there were 66,838; but after the fullest consideration of the pros and cons it was felt unnecessary to institute such a test for all drivers. It was considered, however, that where vehicles are used for public hire and the drivers are complete strangers to their passengers, different considerations arose. It is proposed that no person will be permitted to drive an omnibus, charabanc, or small hackney vehicle unless he holds from the Superintendent of the Gárda Síochána a certificate that he has the skill and competency to drive such a vehicle. For this purpose, of course, the Superintendent will have the assistance of motor experts within the force itself. Persons who are unwilling to make a declaration as to their physical fitness or who are unable through some deformity or defect to drive a motor vehicle of the ordinary pattern, must also obtain from the Superintendent a certificate of fitness before they can be granted driving licences. In such cases the Superintendent must have before him a medical report furnished by the applicant as to the latter's fitness to drive a particular type of motor vehicle. It will then be the duty of the Superintendent to have the competency of the applicant examined, and if satisfied to issue the necessary certificate. The certificate in this case would be of a limited nature. This brings us to the control of public service vehicles. It is felt that the whole machinery for the examination of public passenger carrying vehicles, the issue of licences and certificates in respect thereof, the licensing of drivers and conductors, including the revocation and suspension of such licences, should be in the hands of the Gárda Síochána, and the Bill makes provision accordingly. It contains, of course, provisions as to appeals either to the courts or to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health.
The broad distinction between the jurisdiction of the court and the jurisdiction of the Minister for Local Government in these matters will be, that the court will be appealed to in the case of character of the owner, driver or conductor, and the Minister for Local Government and Public Health will be appealed to in connection with any question arising as to the suitability of the vehicle.
Regulations will have been made by the Minister as to the construction and equipment necessary for public service vehicles, and the duty of the Gárda will be to examine the vehicles proposed to be used so that no vehicle which does not comply with the regulations can be put on the public roads as a public service vehicle. The Bill provides for the fullest inspection by the Gárda of vehicles used for public hire. There will be a periodical inspection and there will be occasional inspections, but occasional does not imply rare; it is intended that inspections will be frequent. While it is intended that all motor vehicles carrying passengers for hire must come under the provisions of the Bill, it has been necessary to deal with the special case of the conveyance of school children, and provision has accordingly been made for the issue of licences by the Minister for Education in certain circumstances.
Complaints have been frequently made as to the running of omnibuses on unsuitable roads. The Bill lays down that this shall no longer continue and that no omnibus service can be set up in respect of any road not approved by the Minister for Local Government and Public Health. Provision is also made to prevent overcrowding in public service vehicles and to deal with the necessities of rush-hour traffic. To give effect to the International Labour Convention concerning the application of weekly rest in industrial undertakings, the Bill provides that every driver and conductor of a large public service vehicle shall have one day's rest every week.
Special provisions will also be found as regards the small hackney vehicle and power is being sought to insist on such vehicles in areas to be specified, if hired in public places, to be fitted with a taximeter. Hitherto it has been the practice to describe small hackney vehicles as taxis, whether fitted with a taximeter or not. This has resulted in misunderstandings; it is obviously quite misleading; but it is intended that in future the term "taxi" cannot be lawfully applied to any vehicle not fitted with a taximeter. Generally, it will be found that comprehensive arrangements for the regulation of public hire vehicles are being proposed, and that little, if anything, is omitted in this respect.
The traffic on the streets is at present controlled by the Gárdaí, but their powers have not been as wide as they should be to meet modern traffic conditions. The law in this respect is accordingly being strengthened and enlarged. It is intended that in areas of dense traffic there should be recognised crossing places for pedestrians. The position with regard to parking places and the attendants at such places is specifically dealt with for the first time in our legislation. Obstruction of traffic, including the practice of cyclists holding on to other vehicles, is also specially dealt with. In the provisions for the protection of bridges from excessive burdens or the closing of particular roads which are unsuitable to vehicles, the existing law has been codified and enlarged. Under the Roads Acts, 1920, the closing of roads to vehicles was limited to motor vehicles.
Incidental to the regulation of traffic is the lighting of vehicles. All the existing provisions with regard to the lighting of vehicles, whether motor vehicles or otherwise, have been entirely recast and considerably enlarged. Although at least two lamps are almost invariably carried on the front of motor vehicles, the existing law does not require them. All it says is that one lamp on the off-side shall be carried. This requirement has been availed of in a very limited number of cases, but the fact that it has been availed of renders it necessary to alter the present law, as with one lamp only on a fast-moving vehicle there is risk to other road users. Accordingly it is proposed in future that two lamps, duly lit, shall be carried on the front of a motor vehicle, except, of course, in the case of a motor cycle used without a side-car. Provision is made for rear lights or reflectors on the ordinary push bicycle or animal-drawn vehicle. Special conditions are being laid down for the carrying of lights on vehicles towing other vehicles, as well as in the case of the vehicle which is being towed. Numerous other provisions respecting the regulation of lighting of different classes of vehicles used for special purposes or in special circumstances are also submitted, as well as a proposal for the carrying of lights while live stock are being driven in public places.
The Bill also deals with matters of a miscellaneous character — the punishment of the joy-rider, the person who without liberty takes another car and makes use of it, unlawful interference with the mechanism of motor vehicles, the fixing of damages by the judges instead of juries, the extension of liability for injuries to the real and personal estate. Under the present law if a person driving a motor-car negligently injures another in an accident in which he himself gets killed, even though he might have been insured for third-party insurance, the person who is injured does not get the benefit of the insurance. It is felt that that is unreasonable and that the insurance ought to cover cases like that. Certain duties are laid down for drivers on the occurrence of accidents. There is also provision for the reimbursement of hospitals of the costs incurred by them in affording treatment and maintenance to injured persons.
Generally speaking, the Bill places the responsibility for its administration on the Department of Local Government and Public Health and on the Commissioner of the Gárda Sióchána. This is nothing new in the matter of traffic regulation, but the existing statutory powers have been found quite inadequate to deal with many situations which modern traffic has brought to public attention.
From any comment there has been on the Bill, on the part of those who have had a part in shaping it whether before the Committee or otherwise, we can be satisfied that the Bill is on sound lines. A considerable amount of work may require to be done in Committee, but there is a very good framework for the Committee to deal with the matter and to see that the Bill when finally finished is a first-class Bill.