This Bill is called the Road Traffic Bill. It might be more accurately described as being a Public Safety Bill, and, as such, it is likely to be the only Public Safety Bill introduced by this Government that Deputies on this side will welcome. In fact it is a Public Safety Bill, much more urgently needed than any of the others for which the Government has been responsible. We hear a lot about the effects of civil disturbance, and so on, but I do not think we ever had a war or civil war in this country which has produced the same number of casualties per year that the ill-regulation of traffic has been responsible for. As I pointed out last night, we have had for the last few years in the Twenty-six Counties an average of four killed and 70 injured per week in motor accidents. These figures indicate the extreme necessity for the bringing in of a Road Traffic Bill in order to bring traffic under control in some way so as to reduce the danger to life and limb on the road.
It is, in fact, the size of these figures which leaves the Minister open to such criticism for having delayed so long and so unduly the introduction of this measure. I said last night that as the Bill is designed to make the roads safer for users than heretofore and to reduce the number of accidents, it has one outstanding defect, and that is that it ignores the pedestrian. That fact becomes of particular significance when we study statistics relating to accidents which are available to us. These statistics show that in the great majority of cases accidents arise out of the negligence of pedestrians and not out of the negligence of motorists. The figures for 1929 show that in respect of fatal accidents ten occurred as a result of collisions of one kind or another; four occurred through persons falling from vehicles; sixteen through pedestrians crossing the road not at road-crossings; three occurred through people boarding or alighting from vehicles in motion; three from persons walking on the roadway; eleven from persons suddenly rushing off the footpath on to the roadway, and two from persons playing games on the street.
Our experience as to the cause of accidents is similar to that in England and I think in most other countries. In England very valuable data were compiled for the British Commission on Road Traffic by the National Safety First Association from information voluntarily supplied by a number of coroners. From that information it was shown that 43 per cent. of the fatal accidents were attributable to the negligence of pedestrians and only 39 per cent. to causes presumably under the control of motorists; 7 per cent. were due to defective vehicles, and 11 per cent. were due to the state of the road, weather conditions, fire, or similar causes.
If our main purpose is not merely to facilitate the enforcement of the licensing regulations and matters of that kind but to make the roads safer for the people to use whether as pedestrians or motorists, then this Bill falls very far short of our requirements. It is, of course, possible that the Ministry are contemplating action of a supplementary nature designed to diminish accidents. But we should be quite clear in our minds in any case that this Bill is not sufficient.
I think that one of the most fruitful causes of accidents and particularly accidents to young people is the absence of adequate playing grounds in our cities. I am satisfied that no matter what Traffic Bills are introduced here, so long as the children of the poor have to play on the streets, accidents will continue to occur. We would do much more to reduce the danger to these young children by providing them with proper playing grounds than by introducing one hundred Bills of this nature. Similarly the provision of footpaths on the country roads would also reduce the number of accidents considerably.
I think that in this Bill steps should be taken to suppress what the Americans call jay-walking. I think that we have in Dublin a higher percentage of jay-walkers per head of the population than most cities in Europe. If we make it a criminal offence for a motorist to drive his car negligently to his own danger, we should also take action to prevent pedestrians walking on the roadway to their own danger.
There is a need for a Public Safety First Campaign for the purpose of instructing pedestrians as to the dangers arising out of the careless use of the roadway. There should be imposed upon everybody who is using the roads the obligation of providing for his own safety and we should see that he has means of doing so.
The provisions of the Bill itself have been dealt with in considerable detail by Deputy O'Kelly. He has indicated that although we approve of the general purport of the measure, we will try to amend it in a number of important points. The part of the Bill which deals with driving licences provides the police with increased facilities for enforcing licensing regulations. That is all to the good. An innovation in this regard is the declaration of fitness which persons applying for a licence will have to make, or the necessity to secure a medical certificate in order to obtain a licence. It is my view that that particular regulation will be of very little value. It has been said that at present a blind man can get a licence to drive a car. While that is undoubtedly true it is also true that very few blind men do get a licence. I am personally satisfied that there are many more accidents caused by persons driving cars who are mentally unfit to do so than by persons driving cars who are physically unfit.
The remedy for that would appear to be an actual driving test. There are, however, as the Minister and other speakers indicated, very strong objections to that. We should not, however, give ourselves the impression that the new regulation which this Bill is going to make will be of very considerable benefit. Although it is not likely to do any harm and will only create a little more trouble to persons desiring to obtain a licence, the benefits are likely to be small.
Another section of the Bill deals with speed limits. It is proposed to retain maximum speed limits for all classes of cars except light motor cars, in which case the speed limit is abolished, although there is a provision designed to set 30 miles per hour as the standard speed. A strong case has been made in this and other countries against speed limits of all kinds on the ground that they obtrude a criterion of illegality which is not the best one. It has been, I think, established that excessive speed in itself is seldom the cause of accidents. The other argument has been that it is very difficult to make maximum speed limits effective without very costly police supervision. In the case of the ordinary light motor car it is my personal experience that under ordinary circumstances 30 miles per hour cannot possibly be described as dangerous driving. On the majority of the new trunk roads in the country, on which traffic is not excessive and on which there are few pedestrians, a speed of 35 or 40 miles, or even 45 miles per hour, is seldom dangerous. There are circumstances, as Deputy Kelly said, when a speed of 20 or 25 miles per hour might be highly dangerous, and I think that we should direct those responsible for the enforcing of traffic regulations to devote their attention not to the speed as such at which a car is travelling, but to the speed in all the circumstances. It is therefore advisable in my opinion that this provision concerning the 30 miles per hour for light motor cars should be deleted from the Bill. I do not think it will be any advantage. It will merely mean that a motorist who is travelling, say 35 miles per hour under circumstances which appear to make it quite safe for him to do so, should he become involved in an accident, may be charged with and convicted for negligent driving even though he was not driving negligently.
There remains, however, the case for speed limits in respect of other classes of vehicles. At first sight, it does seem strange that we should abolish the speed limit for the ordinary private car and retain it for the commercial vehicle, which is generally driven by a person much more experienced and skilful than the private car driver. However, in respect of omnibuses and heavy commercial cars, there are other considerations which make a speed limit desirable, but they are considerations which do not properly apply under this Bill. The first is the fact that one of these heavy omnibuses or lorries travelling at a fast rate over a modern road very quickly pounds it into pot-holes and waves, and makes it dangerous and uncomfortable for other traffic. There is also the fact that the majority of our roads are not very wide, and that 22 or 26 seater omnibuses travelling along one of these roads at 40 miles per hour become a very potent source of fear to anybody else trying to use the roads. They create a vibration which affects houses bordering on the roads, and generally speaking, there is a case for restricting their speed, apart altogether from whatever additional safety may be secured by doing so. On that account, we do not propose to suggest that any of these speed limits should be abolished, but it seems to me on a personal view, that the maximum speed of 25 miles per hour for omnibuses is somewhat too low, and that it might be slightly increased without in any way making the roads more dangerous than the Minister intends.
A further section in the Bill deals with the question of compulsory insurance. It can be said almost straight away that that particular part of the Bill has nothing to do with safety on the roads. Its passage in fact might have the opposite effect by making persons less concerned with the consequences of an accident to themselves. I think that the percentage of motorists who are not insured is probably very small. I would be glad if the Minister could give us an estimate of that position. Of course, the fact that there is any motorist driving an uninsured car upon the roads which may become involved in an accident, makes this section of the Bill desirable, because it is generally the person who cannot afford to pay the insurance premium who, when he becomes involved in an accident, is unable to compensate the person he injures.
Deputy O'Kelly has made a suggestion, which I very strongly support, that if the State intends to make insurance compulsory it should itself provide facilities for insurance. I think a State scheme of motor insurance could without difficulty be operated in conjunction with the licensing regulations and might prove profitable for the Road Fund. There is a problem to be dealt with there in any case. At the present time insurance companies have what is called a "knock for knock" system. If two motorists become involved in a collision both of whom are insured the insurance companies do not waste money fighting out in court who is responsible for the collision but each company settles the claim of its own client. Because of that system the actual responsibility of a motorist for an accident in which he may have been involved is not examined and it has happened that a perfectly innocent victim of a series of accidents has been denied insurance. What is to be the position of that individual under this Bill? The decision as to whether or not he is going to get an insurance policy is going to rest with privately-owned insurance companies and apparently the effect of this Bill will be to set up these insurance companies as censors of the road.
I suggest that it is not in accordance with public policy that the insurance companies should be given the power of deciding who shall or who shall not be permitted to drive a motor car. If the insurance companies feel themselves compelled to take on everybody who applies for insurance under this Bill, whether he is a good risk or a bad risk, there is a possibility that there will be a rise of rates all round. In any case, we think it undesirable that compulsory insurance should be made law without some control over the rates charged for insurance. If this Bill goes through as it is framed, it is possible, whether it is likely or not, that insurance companies might combine to raise the rates which would have to be paid by anybody who desired to drive a car.
A suggestion was made in some quarters that if the State was not prepared to go the length of initiating a State insurance scheme covering motors, that they should, at least, provide for such persons as are not likely to be taken by the ordinary companies. The big argument against that is that if that were done every bad risk would be left for the State and almost impossible premiums would have to be charged in order to cover these risks. It is proposed that drivers of public service vehicles must procure certificates of competency from the Civic Guard authorities. My personal view is that that regulation is unnecessary. I am completely unable to visualise the kind of test that the Civic Guard authorities are likely to apply. Either that test will be too severe, to the extent that it will be unjust, or too general to the extent that it will be useless. There is the danger to which Deputy O'Kelly referred, that a uniform test may not apply all over the country. The authorities in one area may apply a more drastic test than in another with consequent unfairness. I think justice demands, however, that persons who are at present engaged and who have been for a period of, say, six months, driving public service vehicles for hire, and who have not become involved in an accident, should be exempted from the obligation to procure this certificate of competency. I think there are very few people who attempt to drive buses who are not fitted to do so, and I do not think the Minister can give us an account of any accidents which have occurred because of incompetency as distinct from carelessness or recklessness on the part of omnibus drivers.
Public service vehicles under this Bill are to be licensed by the Civic Guard Commissioner with an appeal against refusal of a licence to the District Court. There is not in the Bill, and the Minister has not given us any indication of the principles upon which the Commissioner will act. Will he refuse a licence on any other ground than unsuitability of the vehicle or the applicant? Is it intended to use the powers of the Commissioner under the Bill for the purpose of reducing the number of vehicles on the road, or reducing the number of companies operating vehicles? The system adopted in the British Act is, in my opinion, preferable. They establish three Commissioners in each traffic area, the chairman being nominated directly by the Minister, one member from a panel prepared by the county councils, and another from a panel prepared by the borough councils. These Commissioners hear applications in public, and the representatives of the public are entitled to attend the sittings for the purpose of giving evidence concerning the services available on a particular route, and the necessity of or otherwise of increasing these services. It seems to me that it would be preferable that a similar system should be established here, and that we should have a licensing authority meeting in public and operating a general policy in this regard.
With regard to the remaining parts of the Bill, 8, 9 and 10, I have not much to say at this stage. Points will, however, arise in Committee. I would like to draw attention to the protest which has been made by Cork Borough Council concerning the excessive powers which are being given to the Civic Guard of making bye-laws for the regulation of traffic in the city. The power to make these bye-laws formerly rested in these councils, but they are being taken from them and given to the Commissioner of the Civic Guard. The councils are not, apparently, even to be consulted in the matter, and certainly have no power to make their wishes effective against the decision of the Civic Guard authorities. It seems to me that throughout this Bill there is an excessive tendency to leave matters to be fixed by regulation. Some of these matters could have been dealt with in the Bill itself, and submitted to the House for approval. I realise the necessity for keeping this Bill in a form which will permit of its adaptation to changing circumstances, but in my view the tendency to leave things to be done by regulation has been carried to too great an extent.
One curious omission from the Bill is that there is no provision relating to pillion riding. I think it is generally recognised that pillion riding on motor bicycles is a very fruitful source of accidents. The British Act made it illegal to carry more than one person as a passenger on a motor bicycle, and provided that that passenger should ride astride. Recently, I was motoring back from Donegal and I was not travelling at 30 miles an hour when I was passed on the road by a motor bicycle carrying three people. The roads were wet and the night stormy. I followed that bicycle for a considerable number of miles and I may say that every few minutes I expected to see all three people spilled on the road. How they avoided an accident at the rate they were going with such a load on that machine I do not know. Consequently, I think it should be made illegal to use a motor-bicycle in that way, or to carry more than one passenger, apart from the driver.
I would like also to endorse the suggestion made by Deputy O'Kelly in respect to the system of fines adopted here. A feeling is growing generally throughout the world that maximum fines are undesirable as class legislation. There is no doubt whatever that a fine of £10 might be a mere trifle to one man and a very serious thing for another. Under this Bill persons guilty of the same offence may be fined the same amount irrespective of what it means to them individually. Whereas on the face of it they receive the same punishment, in actual fact one person may be much more severely punished than another. In certain of the Scandinavian countries they have in operation a system of what they call "Day Fines." A person guilty of an offence is not charged the fixed amount, but so many days income, that income being calculated in accordance with fixed administrative rules. I think we might usefully consider the adoption of such a system here. It is quite obvious that a man with £3 a week who is fined £50 is much more severely punished than a man with £1,000 who is also fined £50. Some attempt should be made to adjust the scale of fines so as not to make it easier for the wealthy man who commits an offence than the one who is not so well off.
The Minister has taken power to make general regulations concerning the use of the road by motors. I think there is an obvious need for a very definite code for the guidance of motor users so that standardised instructions will take the place of the loosely defined and disregarded conventions that are now practised. The Minister has also power by regulation to prescribe the equipment that will be carried on cars, particularly on public service vehicles. There is one point on which I am very keen in this connection; it is that buses operating in the city should be equipped first of all with a stop light at the rere or some other sign which will indicate to any one travelling behind when they are going to stop. These buses are supposed to pull in to the footpath when they are about to slow down, but very frequently they pull up in the middle of the street, with the result that quite a number of accidents occur. It is impossible for the driver of the bus to indicate when he is going to stop. Similarly, with regard to large buses. The method at present in use of a driver putting out three or four fingers to indicate that he is going to turn around a corner is altogether unsuitable.
In Berlin, and in other continental cities, buses and, in fact, all cars are required to be equipped with mechanically signalling arms of sufficient size, particularly on the left side, that make it possible for anyone coming behind to know at once when it is the intention of the driver of the bus or of the car to turn. I think it would be desirable if a regulation of that kind were enforced here. These, of course, are all matters that can be far better discussed in Committee than on this stage of the Bill. I have expressed the general pleasure felt by members of all Parties at the form of the Bill and the manner in which it is worded and framed. If we succeed in getting it amended in respect to the matters that I have referred to, its passing, I believe, will be a very great benefit to the country and to those who use the roads in any way. The members who acted upon the Committee, those who gave evidence before it as well as those who assisted in the preparation of the Bill, are to be congratulated on their work. The only regret I have is that the evidence of their work was not brought before the House earlier.