Tairgim go léifí an Bille an Dara Uair.
Acht forleathan do b'eadh an t-Acht um Thrácht ar Bhóithre, 1961. Dhein sé athnuachaint ar na dlithe go léir a bhain le trácht ar bhóithre agus dhein sé iad a thabhairt le céile chomh maith. Ina theannta san, bhí go leor forálacha nua ann.
Nuair a bhí an Bille fé bhráid an Choiste sa Teach seo bhí sé soiléir go raibh a lán de na Teachtaí i bhfábar tiúchan alcóil sa bhfuil a ghlacadh mar fianaise ar chumas duine gluaisteán a thiomáint agus é faoi bhrí alcóil. Dúirt an tAire ag an am sin nach bhféadfadh sé moladh dá leithéid sin a ghlacadh ag an am san, ach go gcuirfaidh sé Coimisiúin ar bun chun an cheist a scrúdú go h-iomlán.
Do bunaíodh an Coimisiún i Méan Fhómhair, 1961 agus cuireadh an tuarascáil fé bhráid an Aire Rialtais Áitiúil sa bhliain 1963. Do b'é tuairim an Choimisiúin nach raibh na forálacha a bhí sa dlí a reachtáladh i 1961 sásúil—déanfaidh mé tagairt níos deanaí dos na cúiseanna a thug siad. Dá bhrí sin, do mholadar go mba chóir an t-Acht a leasú ionnas go nglacfaí, ar an gcéad amharch, le fianaise go raibh tiúchan alcóil i bhfuil duine thar leibhéal áirithe i gcúis dlí maidir le tiomáint feithicil faoi bhrí alcóil. Nuair a foillsíodh tuarascáil an Choimisiúin, do fógraíodh gur aontaigh an Rialtas le bunús na moltaí ach gur maith leo a thuille staidéir a dhéanamh ar phoinntí fé leith, ach go h-áirithe, éifeacht fianaise maidir leis an dtiúchan alcóil sa bhfuil, sé sin le rá, a'mba cheart glacadh leis ar an gcéad amharc mar fianaise go raibh duine ciontach nó a'mba cheart é glacadh mar fianaise dearfa. Do hiarradh ar an bpobal a dtuairimí a nochtadh agus, taréis staidéir a dhéanamh ar na tuairimí a fuarthas, beartaíodh an dara cúrsa a leanúint.
Chomh maith le leasú a dhéanamh ar na forálacha a bhaineann le tiomáint feithiclí faoi bhrí alcóil, tá forálacha sa Bhille maidir le meáchain uasta feithiclí, rialú díol feithiclí agus a dtrealamh, socraithe níos fearr chun trácht agus locadh do rialáil, cionta tiomána, agus leasaithe ilghnéitheacha sa dlí atá anois ann.
Road Traffic legislation was last considered by the Oireachtas in 1961. The Bill which became law in that year as the Road Traffic Act, 1961, was a comprehensive measure. It brought up to date and consolidated all existing legislation dealing with road traffic but it also introduced many new provisions, such as those for speed limits and driving tests. Deputies may well ask, therefore, why it is necessary for a Minister for Local Government to come before the House again some 5½ years later with a new Road Traffic Bill which is designed to make extensive amendments in the 1961 Act. I should say at the outset that I am fully aware that legislation alone will not solve our road traffic problems, but without up-to-date legislation the work of all those concerned with road traffic may well be frustrated or even negatived.
The necessity for the amendment of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, arises mainly out of the Report of the Commission on Driving While under the Influence of Drink or a Drug which was presented to my predecessor in 1963. The establishment of this Commission was decided upon following the debates in this House on the provisions of the 1961 Act relating to drink and driving. Deputies may recall that in the course of those debates an amendment was moved which sought to make provision for blood tests and to fix a specific limit for the alcohol content of the blood. I think I can say that the reaction of Deputies to that proposal was in general favourable though some did not, of course, agree with the details. The then Minister indicated that, while he appreciated the arguments advanced in favour of the proposal, he could not accept it without having its full implications exhaustively examined and he therefore undertook to set up a Commission to examine the various technical, constitutional, social and administrative problems involved.
Arising from this undertaking, a Commission under the chairmanship of the then President of the High Court, Mr. Justice Cahir Davitt, was established in September, 1961, with the following terms of reference:—
To investigate and to report on the feasibility of fixing a standard, by reference to the alcohol-content of the blood or by any other test, as constituting drunkenness for the purpose of the offence of drunk-driving and the legislative measures which might be taken to deal with the offence of driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of a vehicle in a public place while under the influence of drink or a drug, including the following matters:—
(a) objective tests of drunkenness,
(b) graded offences, according to the degree of drunkenness,
(c) penalties, and
(d) method of trial and court procedure generally.
The Commission reported in May, 1963, and the report was published in October of that year. The main recommendations are summarised in the appendix to the explanatory memorandum which has been circulated with this Bill. When the report was published, it was announced that the Government, while accepting in general the import of the Commission's recommendations, wished to consider further specific aspects of these recommendations, in particular, whether a blood-alcohol level of 125 milligrammes should be taken as absolute proof of the commission of an offence related to drink and driving and not merely prima facie evidence as recommended by the Commission.
It was also announced at that time that the Minister would be prepared to consider any views which interested persons might wish to put forward and, in response to this invitation, some 18 submissions were received and examined. The Government have given full consideration to the recommendations of the Commission and the views submitted by interested parties and Part V of this Bill is intended to give effect to these recommendations, subject to certain modifications which I shall mention later.
At this stage I feel sure that the House would wish me to pay tribute to the members of the Commission. Their report is, I think, a model one and, in itself, is evidence, if such were needed, of the careful and diligent fashion in which the Commission carried out its duties.
In view of the importance of the subject and because of the public interest it has aroused, I propose to depart from the usual practice by first discussing the provisions of Part V of the Bill, the greater part of which is concerned with the problem of drink and driving.
A prohibition on the driving of vehicles while under the influence of drink has been provided for by law for almost a century. None of the statutes dealing with mechanically propelled vehicles enacted prior to 1933 contained any specific provision on the subject of drunken driving. Cases of that kind were dealt with under the Licensing Act, 1872, which provided, inter alia, that any person who is drunk while in charge on any highway or other public place of any carriage or steam engine was liable to a penalty not exceeding 40/- or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment with or without hard labour for up to one month. The Road Traffic Act, 1933, contained stronger measures to protect the public against the drunken driver. It introduced a new offence of driving or attempting to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place while incapable of exercising effective control over the vehicle through having consumed intoxicating liquor or taken drugs. Being drunk in charge of a vehicle or driving or attempting to drive an animal-drawn vehicle or pedal cycle continued to be dealt with as previously under the Licensing Act, 1872.
The provisions of both the 1872 Act and the 1933 Act relating to drink and driving were replaced by sections 49 and 50 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961. Under these sections, it is an offence to drive or attempt to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle or to be in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place while unfit to drive through drink or drugs. In addition, penalties were substantially increased. The wording of these sections was intended to make it perfectly clear that in order to commit an offence a person need not be drunk in the socially accepted sense. These changes in the law, however, have not been as effective as was intended and, as the Commission in its report states, it is on the whole probable that under the present system many persons who would deservedly be convicted if there were a fixed standard of incapacity are now acquitted.
Prior to 1961 the Statistics of Road Accidents in Ireland issued annually by the Garda Síochána contained figures for the number of accidents in which alcohol was considered to be the primary contributory factor. For the years 1958 to 1960, these figures show that between 4 per cent and 5 per cent of fatal accidents and just over 2 per cent of all accidents were primarily attributed to this cause. However, it is clear that these statistics substantially understated the extent to which drink is a factor in road accidents mainly because, in the absence of any fixed standard of incapacity to drive, only those accidents in which one or more of the persons involved was considered to be clearly intoxicated were attributed to alcohol. In addition, it was extremely difficult to obtain information as to the condition of the driver in cases where he was either killed or removed to hospital. For these reasons, these statistics were not compiled after 1960. Irish statistics are not by any means unique in tending to underestimate seriously the real position; it appears to be generally accepted that official statistics in many countries have a built-in tendency to do so. Figures prepared for the Commission by the Garda Síochána showed that, in 1960, 88 of the persons involved in the 294 fatal accidents had some drink taken. This alone would seem to indicate that drink plays a more prominent part in causing road accidents than the statistics published prior to 1960 would suggest.
Abroad, surveys have been conducted on what I might term a grand scale to determine the part that drink plays in road accidents. The most recent and most comprehensive of the studies made abroad was that made under the direction of Professor Borkenstein of Indiana University in the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. The results of this survey show that the average risk of being involved in an accident for drivers as a whole increases as the concentration of alcohol in the blood increases beyond about 40 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood and that above a concentration of about 80 milligrammes the risk increases rapidly. The survey also confirmed that accidents in which alcohol plays a part are more likely to be more serious.
Studies on this scale have not been conducted here, but it is reasonable to assume, as our Commission did, that drinking and its effects on human behaviour in this country are a phenomenon which can hardly differ significantly from similar phenomena in other countries. Such investigations as have been made here confirm that drink does play a significant part in road accidents.
The results of the Grand Rapids Survey were not available to the Commission on Driving While Under the Influence of Drink or a Drug but they considered the results of a great many other important investigations on the subject of drink and driving. The conclusions which had been reached following these investigations, which are entirely consistent with the results of the Grand Rapids Survey, were summarised by the Commission as follows:—
(1) Alcohol is a significant factor in a considerable proportion of road accidents and particularly in fatal accidents. Drivers who had recently consumed alcohol are significantly over-represented in the accident group.
(2) Of drivers involved in accidents after taking drink, a relatively high proportion have high blood-alcohol levels.
(3) The risk of being involved in an accident increases greatly as the blood-alcohol level rises. Both drivers and other road users become less skilful and more accident prone at the same blood-alcohol level.
Numerous experiments have been conducted by experts in various countries to assess the effects of alcohol on driving performance. The overwhelming conclusion reached in these experiments is that relatively moderate concentrations of alcohol affect driving performance critically, irrespective of individual tolerance to alcohol. For example, a special committee of the British Medical Association reported in 1960 that it was "impressed by the evidence of the rapidity with which driving ability deteriorates, even in the most hardened drinkers and the most experienced drivers, at concentrations of alcohol in the blood in excess of 100 mg".
In 1965 they felt that, in the light of more recent research, this figure should be revised downwards to 80 mg. The Committee could not conceive "of any circumstances in which it could be considered safe for a person to drive a vehicle on the public roads with a level greater than 150 mg." Even in regard to relatively low concentrations of alcohol in the blood, the consensus of opinion is that some impairment sets in at an early stage and that there is no threshold for sudden deterioration —impairment develops progressively as the dose of alcohol increases.
Before I go on to discuss the effectiveness of the present statutory provisions on drunk driving, it may be helpful to say a few words about what happens when alcohol is taken. Alcohol is not digested but is absorbed directly into the blood stream from the stomach and small intestine. The blood then distributes the alcohol throughout the body from which it is subsequently eliminated. Initially, the absorption rate is much faster than the rate of elimination and so the concentration of alcohol in the blood usually rises rapidly to reach a peak within from 30 to 90 minutes after the cessation of drinking, depending on a number of factors. After the alcohol has been absorbed into the blood, it is taken up by the body tissues and fluids, roughly in proportion to their water content. Alcohol produces its well-known effects by depressing the central nervous system. These effects progress with increasing concentration of alcohol—at an early stage, attention and judgment are impaired, as are self-discipline and those skills involving refined co-ordination. Visual acuity suffers also at an early stage and sensory mechanisms are affected. Later, behaviour becomes irregular, speech becomes hesitant or thick, memory becomes confused, and errors in co-ordination and some impairment of balance become noticeable. Generally, however, it is at a later stage still that staggering, slurred speech, flushed face, glassy eyes, etc. appear and it is only at this stage that subjective examination of a person can lead to a definite conclusion that he is under the influence of drink.
This recitation of the sequence of events which occurs when drink is taken may at first glance seem a bit unnecessary but it must be emphasised that the arguments in favour of a more scientific system of assessing incapacity require a proper understanding of this sequence. The fact is that what all of us generally take to be almost the first signs or symptoms of alcoholic influence appear, in fact, only at an advanced stage of impairment and that, long before these symptoms make their appearance, the individual concerned may be quite incapable of driving safely. The law in this country has, of course, recognised for many years that it is not only the person who is drunk in the social sense who is a danger on the roads—this is why the present provision on the subject prohibits driving or attempting to drive while under the influence of intoxicating liquor to such an extent as to be incapable of exercising proper control over a vehicle. However, it is one thing to provide that a person whose driving ability is impaired by the consumption of alcohol, even though he is not drunk or completely intoxicated, should not drive, but it is quite a different matter to enforce this kind of provision.
Most people are familiar with the procedure which operates at present when a person who has been arrested on suspicion of driving or attempting to drive, or being in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of drink, is brought to a Garda station. Unless the suspect is obviously very drunk, it is the practice of the Garda to call in a doctor to examine him officially on their behalf. The suspect is not obliged to submit to this examination and he may call in a doctor of his own choice to examine him at his own expense. If the suspect does not consent to be examined, the Garda doctor confines himself to observing his appearance and behaviour and he may give the result of his observations in court.
The examination of a suspect by a doctor, usually referred to as a clinical examination, is not a standard or prescribed one—the doctor relies on his own judgment and experience as to what is necessary to enable him to assess the suspect's condition and give an opinion as to his capacity to drive. The clinical test usually consists of noting the suspect's ability to walk or stand, the condition of his speech, the odour of his breath, the colour of his face, the condition of his eyes, etc. In cases where it is not possible to secure the attendance of a Garda doctor at the Garda station, the gardaí themselves and other non-professional witnesses may give evidence in court of what they observed in relation to the defendant, including evidence of opinion as to the capacity of the defendant to drive.
In prosecutions relating to drink and driving, the prosecution relies to a great extent on the opinion of the doctor and on the evidence of the gardaí and, to a lesser extent, on the evidence of independent witnesses as to what they observed in relation to the accused. Before a conviction can result the prosecution must, of course, establish that the accused was, at the material time, under the influence of drink to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle, but for witnesses, whether medical or lay, to feel any degree of certainly in expressing an opinion that the accused person was incapable to that extent, the symptoms observed must as a rule be of the advanced kind. However, as I have explained already, what one might term the outward signs of intoxication appear only at quite an advanced stage of impairment. It is quite possible, therefore, that a clinical examination of a suspect may not disclose any evidence of incapacity even though the individual concerned might be shown by some objective tests, for example, a test of his breath, blood or urine, to be completely incapable of driving properly and safely.
There is the other side of the coin. As I shall mention later, the case for an accused person, and this I regard as extremely important, may be prejudiced because of the unreliability of clinical examination. Its unreliability is confirmed by scientific studies and indeed by evidence given to the Commission here. The reasons are as follows:—
(i) A clinical examination is not sensitive enough to detect the impairment of driving ability which occurs at a stage before the ordinary symptoms of intoxication appear.
(ii) Some drivers may, on clinical examination, display symptoms similar to those due to the consumption of alcohol, but which are in fact, due to a completely different condition. Many illnesses, injuries, and conditions have an effect on a person's behaviour similar to and difficult to distinguish from that of alcohol. Apart from the odour of breath there is no single symptom or sign caused by the consumption of alcohol which may not also be found in some pathological state. These factors may prejudice the case for an accused person.
(iii) Clinical examination does not produce consistent results—results depend on the interpretation of the examiner, his experience and skill, as well as how successfully the subject has "braced" himself during the examination. The ability of some individuals to fight off the effects of alcohol for limited periods can account for a serious conflict of evidence about his condition—he may be able to "pass" a clinical examination even though he showed unmistakable signs of the effects of alcohol before or after the examination. In this way, an experienced drinker may escape conviction while a less experienced drinker, whose driving capacity may be impaired only to the same extent, may be convicted.
(iv) With clinical examination, there can be no uniform standard as to what constitutes proper control of a vehicle—doctors use their own individual methods and have no standard formula to guide them. This results in contrary conclusions as between doctors, and as between doctors and other witnesses, on the degree of incapacity of an individual; different verdicts can, therefore, be reached on similar facts and this, of course, may appear to involve unfair discrimination and injustice.
In case of reasonable doubt the courts must acquit. As stated earlier, is a probable that under the present system the net result is that many persons who would deservedly be convicted if there were a fixed standard of incapacity are now acquitted.
As a result of their investigations, the Commission concluded that "the methods used hitherto in this country appear to have been comparatively ineffective in dealing with the problem of drink and driving". In particular, they felt that "a clinical examination is not a reliable method of estimating the extent to which a person's capacity to drive has been worsened by the consumption of intoxicating liquor". These views are entirely consistent with the conclusions reached in numerous studies carried out throughout the world and have been confirmed since the Commission's report by studies made by OECD and the European Conference of Ministers of Transport. Indeed, subsequently also, the authorities in Great Britain, faced with a similar problem to ours, opted for the kind of solution which is now proposed in the Bill. I do not see how any reasonable person could oppose such a solution.
Faced with the situation I have described, there is no alternative to taking such steps as are necessary to ensure that the general body of road users will be protected from the minority who continue to drive when their capacity is impaired. Fortunately, years of research and experiment have now provided scientific methods of dealing with the problem. Medical science has established that it is not the amount of alcohol consumed by a person which affects driving ability, but the amount absorbed into the blood and thus circulated through the body, affecting the brain and other nerve centres and correspondingly the mental and/or physical faculties. The extent of the effects of alcohol on an individual is closely related to the concentration of alcohol in the brain tissues. It is not, of course, possible to measure directly the concentration of alcohol in the living brain, but, since it is the blood, which circulates rapidly through the body, which carries alcohol to all tissues, including the brain, the concentration of alcohol in the blood is accepted as the best bio-chemical index of alcoholic influence. There is a constant ratio between the concentration of alcohol in the brain and the concentration in the blood and in assessing the effects of alcohol on driving performance it is, therefore, most satisfactory to make the assessment by reference to the concentration in the blood rather than by reference to the quantity of alcohol consumed.
The Commission concluded, and the Government have accepted this view, that the blood-alcohol level seems the obvious measure of impairment. Apart from the fact that it is the practice in a great number of countries to use the blood-alcohol level for this purpose, a number of impressive arguments can be made in support of this course. Firstly, and probably most important, the blood-alcohol level can indicate when there is a serious worsening of driving ability which would not be evident on clinical examination. Secondly, and also very important, is the fact that, once relatively low blood-alcohol levels are exceeded, the driving ability of all persons is worsened to some extent and, once relatively moderate blood alcohol levels are exceeded, the driving ability of all concerned is critically impaired, irrespective of individual tolerance to alcohol. It must also be taken into account that the risk of accident involvement is correlated to blood-alcohol levels, and that scientific evidence indicates that driving performance deteriorates as the blood-alcohol level increases.
It has been decided, therefore, to make use of the blood-alcohol level in dealing with offences related to drink and driving. However, this decision does not, of itself, solve our problems because the blood-alcohol level could be used in three ways—(1) merely to corroborate or rebut evidence based on clinical examination, or (2) as prima facie evidence of incapacity to drive, or (3) as conclusive proof of an offence. The Commission took the view, and it is also my view, that the first of these courses—that is, to use the blood-alcohol level merely to rebut or to corroborate evidence based on clinical examination or observation— would not give satisfactory results.
What I have said earlier about the unreliability of evidence based on clinical examination should make it obvious that acceptance of the blood-alcohol level as the principal evidence is clearly desirable because, as the Commission reported, "the element of opinion would then be displaced from its paramount position and it would be possible to fix a uniform standard of incapacity." If the law were to provide merely for the taking and analysis of samples of breath, blood or urine and the use of the results as evidence of incapacity to drive, it is extremely unlikely that there would be any greater uniformity in court decisions than exists at present or any appreciable improvement in law enforcement. If the taking and analysis of specimens is to be worthwhile, it seems clear that a fixed blood-alcohol level should be prescribed by law. Experience in Britain fully supports this.
The Commission recommended the adoption, initially at any rate, of the second course, that is, making a specified blood-alcohol level prima facie evidence of impairment of driving capacity. Because of the importance of the matter, I think I should quote the following extract from the Commission's report in which the considerations on which they based their recommendation are set out:—
If any legislative changes are to be really successful and effective they must, in our view, have the support of the bulk of public opinion. In countries where a certain blood-alcohol level has been prescribed as conclusive evidence of critical impairment public opinion has, we believe, been conditioned, perhaps gradually, to accept the position. Here the whole procedure of taking and analysing blood samples and giving evidence of blood-alcohol levels in prosecutions would constitute an innovation in criminal procedure with which everyone concerned might take some considerable time to become familiar, as well as interference with personal rights which public opinion might be still slower to accept as necessary or desirable. It may be that, as a result of experience, public opinion would, in the course of time, be conditioned to accept and approve of a prescribed level which would be conclusive evidence of impairment. We doubt very much if the education of opinion on the matter has yet reached that stage.
I fully appreciate that the support of the bulk of public opinion is extremely desirable for legislation of the kind now proposed. There have, however, been developments since the Commission's report. World opinion has moved sharply against the drinking driver and the further studies undertaken since the report have confirmed very forcefully the importance of an objective test. The increase in serious road accidents here has undoubtedly strengthened public opinion, and indeed I wonder if the Commission under-estimated the extent to which the public even in 1963 were prepared to support legislation designed to deal with this problem. For my part, I have no hesitation in recommending to the House the proposal put forward in the Bill, that a specific blood-alcohol level should be made conclusive evidence of a new offence. I should emphasise that the Commission did not rule out the introduction of such a system at some future date—they merely considered that it was unlikely to be acceptable at the time they reported.
The primary purpose of any legislation on the subject should, I think, be to prevent persons from driving when their blood-alcohol concentration exceeds a level at which it is dangerous to the public to do so. The Commission's own view that, at a blood-alcohol level of 125 milligrammes per 100 millilitres, the driving ability of the great majority of persons will be seriously impaired would seem to justify a provision making that level proof of guilt rather than prima facie evidence as they recommended. All the scientific evidence available shows that at this blood-alcohol level capacity to drive safely will be seriously worsened in the case of the great majority of persons, if not all. I feel, therefore, that the community should be entitled to say that any person whose blood contains that concentration of alcohol should refrain from driving, whether or not he considers he is completely capable of doing so. This argument is reinforced by the fact that there is no doubt that, even at lower blood-alcohol levels, driving performance is affected to some extent in all individuals irrespective of individual tolerance to alcohol.
I have serious doubts as to whether the implementation of the Commission's recommendation would materially improve the position in relation to the detection and prosecution of offences involving drink and driving. One of the main criticisms of the present system is that the lack of any prescribed standard of incapacity leads to lack of uniformity in court decisions and enables persons whose driving ability is significantly impaired, to escape punishment in the courts. It is very doubtful whether, if a particular concentration of alcohol were to be taken as prima facie evidence of incapacity to drive, there would be any greater uniformity in court decisions— different courts would be likely to accept different evidence as discharging the onus on the accused. Moreover, experience of the operation of similar provisions would justify the view that the courts would probably tend to be easily satisfied that the onus on the accused had been discharged, particularly where the penalty on conviction is a heavy one.
A further argument is that, in order to discharge the onus which would be placed on him, a defendant would have to rely on evidence—including evidence of opinion—based on clinical examination or observation. It would be very undesirable and unsatisfactory if the courts were to accept such evidence— which has been shown to be extremely unreliable—as discharging the onus on the defendant or, in effect, rebutting the evidence as to blood-alcohol level. There are, therefore, grounds for believing that the establishment of an elaborate system of breath, blood or urine testing would not lead to any appreciable improvement in the position unless evidence as to the blood-alcohol level were made conclusive proof of an offence. This the Bill proposes to do.
The legislation which makes a specified blood-alcohol level conclusive proof of an offence is almost invariably criticised on the grounds that it does not take account of the varying individual tolerances to alcohol. We often hear it said, and this, of course, is perfectly true, that some individuals can consume far more alcohol than others and still appear to be under the influence to a lesser degree than others who do not drink as much. Evidence of the quantity of drink taken by an individual cannot, by itself, be regarded as an accurate indication of the extent to which he was impaired.
This is not, however, the case with the blood-alcohol level which, as I have said already, is the obvious measure of impairment. The overwhelming conclusion reached in numerous studies made on the subject is that, when relatively moderate concentrations of alcohol are present in the blood, driving performance is adversely affected, irrespective of individual tolerance to alcohol. For example, the special committee of the British Medical Association reported in 1960 that it was "impressed by the rapidity with which driving ability deteriorates, even in the most hardened drinkers and the most experienced drivers at concentrations of alcohol in the blood in excess of 100 milligrammes". In 1965 they added that "there can be very few persons in whom impairment of the ability to drive properly and increased risk of being involved in accidents are not present to a significant extent at blood alcohol concentrations in excess of 80 mg./ml."
The amount of drink a person has taken is a primary factor in determining his blood-alcohol level but there are also many other factors involved, for example, the person's weight or build, the form in which alcohol is taken, the rate at which it is consumed, the type of drinker—heavy, moderate, regular, light—and the time which has elapsed since food was taken. For this reason, one cannot state that so much drink will, on average, produce a certain blood-alcohol level. Very considerable differences in blood-alcohol levels can, in fact, occur in different individuals who have taken the same quantity of alcohol.
However, scientific evidence shows that it is the blood-alcohol level which really matters and, as I have already pointed out, the risk of accident involvement is correlated to it and scientific studies indicate that driving performance deteriorates as the blood-alcohol level goes up. Although the degree of impairment and the risk of accident involvement varies slightly between different individuals at concentrations of alcohol of up to 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres, scientific evidence shows that the variable factors responsible for these differences are dominated by alcohol at concentrations in excess of this.
I know that a considerable amount of discussion is likely to arise on the question of whether the blood-alcohol level specified in the Bill is the right one. In discussing this question it is important to bear in mind that all the evidence available suggests that at relatively low blood-alcohol levels, say 30-50 milligrammes, some impairment of driving ability will occur in all individuals, irrespective of individual tolerance to alcohol, while at relatively moderate blood-alcohol levels, somewhere between 80 and 150 milligrammes per 100 millilitres, the great majority of persons will be seriously impaired. A number of countries in Eastern Europe completely ban driving after drinking. In a number of others, for example, Norway and Sweden, a blood-alcohol level of 50 milligrammes is taken as proof of an offence. This is really a preventive measure—something like a speed limit —and, in fact, comes fairly close to spelling out the old advice: "If you drink, don't drive." Some impairment does set in at a fairly low blood-alcohol level, but, as a general rule, it would be mild in degree. It is extremely unlikely that at this stage a proposal to make a blood-alcohol level of 50 milligrammes conclusive proof of a serious offence carrying heavy penalties would gain the support of public opinion in this country.
One could, of course, go to the other extreme and fix the level at 150 milligrammes or over. At this level the majority of persons would be obviously intoxicated; in other words, they would display symptoms which, on clinical examination, should give a positive result. There would, therefore, be no point in fixing a blood-alcohol level as high as 150 milligrammes. The difficulties and cost associated with the establishment and operation of an elaborate system of breath, blood or urine tests would hardly be commensurate with the results.
The answer, therefore, seems to lie somewhere between 50 milligrammes and 150 milligrammes, but selection of the precise figure is very difficult. If the figure selected is on the low side, too many drivers will be drawn into the net and the provision will be criticised on the grounds that it is too harsh; if the figure is too high, a considerable number of drivers who are seriously impaired may escape conviction. A suitable blood-alcohol level should represent a level at which a significant number of persons will be impaired though not necessarily showing obvious signs of intoxication. It should be one which a reasonablyminded public will, in its own interest, accept as fair and just. The Commission on Drunk Driving, having considered the evidence available on the question of the blood-alcohol level at which serious incapacity to drive sets in, concluded that 125 milligrammes would be a suitable level. At that level they believed that "the great majority of persons will be critically impaired." An important advantage of the 125 milligramme level is that at that level it is quite clear that light drinkers, moderate drinkers and even heavy drinkers will practically all be critically impaired. I realise, of course, that some persons will show definite signs of impairment before the concentration of alcohol in their blood reaches 125 milligrammes and this is one of the reasons why it is proposed to retain the existing offences of driving while unfit side by side with the new offence.
For the reasons I have stated, the Bill fixes the maximum level at 125 milligrammes, but if it becomes clear during the debates that a lower level would command a significant volume of support, I am certainly prepared to ask the Government to reconsider the level. Again, if subsequent to the enactment of this Bill, developments make it desirable to reduce the specified level, the necessary amending legislation will be brought before the Dáil. The Bureau to be established under section 36 of the Bill is being empowered to keep the whole question of drink and driving under continuous review and the reports and recommendations which will be available to me from this source will help to determine what changes, if any, will be proposed in the future.
I should emphasise that the Bill creates new offences, the essence of which is exceeding the specified blood-alcohol level, irrespective of whether the person concerned is drunk in the normal sense or not. I shall certainly not attempt to equate the level specified to any particular quantity of drink, because the relation between drink consumed and the blood-alcohol level, which is the criterion of incapacity, varies so much with various factors—weight and body build, food taken, rate of drinking, and so on. But I can say that the only sure way to avoid committing one of these new offences is to restrict drinking while driving to a very small amount. If the Bill results in drivers doing this, all its complex novel provisions will have been fully justified. Deputies who reflect on what I have said earlier on the effects of drink on the capacity to drive, even at the early stage of drinking, will find no difficulty in agreeing with me on this.
I come now to the implementation in legislative form, in Part V of the Bill, of the decided principles I have mentioned. Subject to the objective test being conclusive evidence, Part V follows closely the recommendations of the Commission, and I may say that the details have been confirmed as sound by the OECD report I already referred to. Part V is undoubtedly complex. This is unavoidable because of the provisions needed to ensure, first, that a specimen of blood, breath or urine can be taken; second, that a decisive determination of blood-alcohol will be available to the courts; and third, that the procedure, while avoiding an unbearable cumbrousness and expense, will—and this is most important—be fair to the accused and preserve his rights. Moreover, it is necessary to ensure that the powers of enforcement are really effective, not merely to secure convictions, but to achieve the real purpose of the new proposals, that is, to offer a strong deterrent to driving while unfit. Deterrence is best secured where the probability of conviction is very high. So we have the paradox that, while the Bill is designed to make the law really effective, our hope is that it will not result in more convictions but rather in fewer offences.
I do not propose to discuss separately each section of Part V but, instead, to describe generally how it is proposed to operate the provisions. As I have said already, the Government have decided that a new offence should be introduced rather than use the blood-alcohol level as evidence of prosecutions for the existing offences of driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of drink. Provision for the new offences is made by amending sections 49 and 50 of the 1961 Act so that these sections will contain provision for two alternative offences—the existing offences and the new offences of driving or attempting to drive, or being in charge of, a mechanically propelled vehicle while there is present in the body a quantity of alcohol such that within three hours afterwards, the concentration of alcohol in the blood will exceed 125 milligrammes per 100 millilitres. The same maximum penalties will apply to the new offences as apply at present to the existing offences.
It is necessary to retain the existing offences because cases may arise in which the services of a doctor cannot be obtained by the Garda in time to take a specimen from a suspect. In other cases, the accused may not have been apprehended at the material time, or may have been under the influence of drink to such an extent that he was quite incapable of understanding the requisition or of consenting to the provision of a specimen. There will also be cases in which, though the blood-alcohol level of a person is below 125 milligrammes, the Garda will have sufficient grounds for a charge of driving while unfit. In such a case, the prosecution would, as at present, rely on evidence based on observation and clinical examination, where it has been possible to have such an examination carried out. The retention of the existing offences is also necessary to deal with cases of being under the influence of drugs.
As in the case of the existing offences, a member of the Garda Síochána will be empowered to arrest, without warrant, a person who, in his opinion, is committing or has committed the new offence. However, an offence based solely on the concentration of alcohol in the blood creates new and difficult problems of enforcement. Such a provision could not be effectively enforced unless provision were made for "spot checks"—indeed it would be patently illogical to provide for such an offence but to restrict a Garda's power of enforcement to cases where the suspect shows obvious signs of intoxication, when the blood-alcohol concentration would already be very high. There would, therefore, be little point in making it an offence to drive while the concentration of alcohol in the blood is in excess of 125 milligrammes if the Garda were not given the powers they would require to enable them to detect and apprehend drivers who show no obvious outward signs that they are unfit to drive but whose blood-alcohol levels are, in fact, greater than 125 milligrammes.
The new offence would, of itself, certainly increase greatly the likelihood of conviction in the really bad drunk driving cases now brought before the courts. It might also lead to prosecutions being successfully taken in a number of other cases, in which the driver, though suspected of being incapable of driving properly, does not display symptoms positive enough for the Garda to institute proceedings. But, of itself, it would not have any great effect as a deterrent in the large number of cases where ability to drive is impaired but little or no outward signs of it can be detected.
These are the kind of cases which escape detection and conviction at present and which are certainly the greatest source of danger. In the debate on the drunk driving provisions of the 1961 Act in Dáil Éireann, many Deputies expressed the view that it is not the driver who is "dead drunk" who is the big danger on the roads, because he will not get very far without being detected; they felt that the real danger was caused by the person who had had quite a few drinks but who did not display any of the usual signs of intoxication and believed that he was just as good a driver as ever, if not better. Unless there is provision for spot checks, these drivers will continue to escape detection.
Simple screening tests will also benefit the driver in that they will enable a Garda to satisfy himself quickly, and with little inconvenience to the driver, that the blood-alcohol level is not excessive. A preliminary breath test could, therefore, save a suspected driver the embarrassment and inconvenience of being brought to a Garda station, being examined by a doctor and being required to provide a blood or urine specimen.
Section 27 of the Bill provides, therefore, for preliminary breath tests —a garda will be empowered to require the driver of a mechanically propelled vehicle to exhale into an apparatus designed to indicate the presence of alcohol in the breath. However, before such a requisition can be made, the garda must be of opinion that the person has consumed intoxicating liquor. This means that a garda will not be able to stop individual vehicles at random on the road and, without anything to go on, require the driver to take a test. The preliminary test will be a simple procedure—it will only take a few minutes and will be carried out on the spot by means of a small portable apparatus such as is used in Germany and some of the Scandinavian countries. This apparatus does not give results reliable enough to be used as evidence in court; it does, however, give a fair indication of the extent to which alcohol is present in the body and is, therefore, an effective method of eliminating at once those drivers whose blood-alcohol levels are not excessive.
I should emphasise that the power to require a preliminary test will be a discretionary one and it will not be necessary to avail of it in all cases. A garda will have power to arrest a person who, in his opinion, is committing an offence related to drink and driving, even if a preliminary breath test has not been carried out. The purpose of the test is, on the one hand, to aid in the enforcement of the new provisions and, on the other hand to prevent unnecessary inconvenience to drivers. It will be an offence to refuse or fail to undergo a preliminary test when required to do so, because, if it were possible to refuse with impunity to undergo such a test, guilty drivers could escape the provisions of the law completely. However, that provision alone would not fully solve the problem because guilty persons might well refuse the test and deliberately choose the lesser offence and the lesser penalty involved so as to evade proceedings for the far more serious offence, with far heavier penalties, of which they might be convicted if their blood alcohol level were found to exceed 125 milligrammes. It is, therefore, proposed to extend the power of arrest without warrant to persons who refuse the preliminary test.
I turn now to the provisions of the Bill relating to the taking of breath, blood or urine specimens. Under the Bill, such specimens may be taken or provided only at Garda stations. When a person is arrested because he is believed to have committed one of the existing offences or the new offences or the offence of refusing a preliminary specimen of breath and is brought to a Garda station, the garda then in charge there will be empowered to require him either to provide a specimen of his breath or a specimen of his blood, or both. As an alternative to permitting a blood specimen to be taken, the arrested person may provide a specimen of his urine.
Although the Bill authorises the making of a requisition for a specimen of breath, it is proposed to accept the recommendation of the Commission that, initially at any rate, breath analysis should not be used as a method of producing evidence for use in court. The reliability of this method when used in normal everyday conditions has not been conclusively established, although it is used, under special conditions, in some countries, notably the United States. Research on the subject is continuing and it is likely that the technique of breath analysis will improve. It is, therefore, considered wise to provide in the Bill for the taking of breath specimens from arrested persons — such a specimen could be taken in addition to a specimen of blood or urine and it would, therefore, be possible to use breath analysis experimentally in conjunction with blood or urine analysis in certain areas, probably the larger cities. If the improvement in breath-testing techniques continues to a sufficient degree, it might be feasible, in time, to replace blood or urine analysis by breath analysis.
There is no doubt that breath analysis would have important advantages —it occasions less inconvenience to suspects and gives an immediate result whereas the result of a blood or urine test would not be known for some days. Reliance on breath analysis has, however, disadvantages also: it is not at present as reliable as blood-analysis and it makes it more difficult to give a suspect a sample for independent analysis and to keep a sample for further analysis in case of dispute. An important consideration too is that blood or urine analysis can be carried out by a scientific authority, independent of the prosecution, whereas breath-analysis would almost certainly have to be carried out by the Garda or technicians employed by them.
It is proposed, therefore, to rely on blood and urine analysis in the initial period. I agree, however, with the views of the Commission on the manner in which breath-analysis might be introduced and the provisions made in the Bill will make it possible to implement in this regard the recommendations of the Commission which, I might mention, are set out fully in the extract from the Commission's report which has been included in the explanatory memorandum.
I should say a few words on the use of urine samples. Direct analysis of the blood is to be preferred for several reasons, but because of the objections some people have to giving a specimen of blood, it was thought better on balance to permit as an alternative the giving of a specimen of urine. Just as the concentration of alcohol in the blood can be determined by analysing and relating the concentration in the breath, so also can it be determined by analysing and relating that in urine. But urine analysis ranks rather with direct blood analysis than with breath analysis. There is, of course, a relationship between the concentration of alcohol in the urine and that in the blood. The determination of the alcohol concentration in the urine can, as in the case of blood, be carried out by a scientific authority, independent of the prosecution, which can also determine then the related blood-alcohol level. A sample of the urine taken can be returned to the suspect for independent analysis or part of the sample originally analysed can be retained for further analysis. There are some technical and practical difficulties, but it is considered that these can be surmounted; indeed, urine analysis is used generally in conjunction with blood-analysis in other countries. On balance, therefore, it was felt that it was better to provide this as an option to giving a specimen of blood. If, however, experience shows, that the difficulties involved are greater than we expect them to be, I may have to return to the House with a later Bill proposing that only blood samples may be offered.
The procedure to be followed when a specimen is being taken or provided at a Garda station will be prescribed in detail by regulations under the Bill. This course was recommended by the Commission and the regulations will, of course, be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and can be annulled by resolution of either House. When it is intended to obtain a blood or urine specimen, the garda will call the Garda doctor to the station. When the doctor arrives, the garda in charge for the time being there will formally require the arrested person either to permit the doctor to take a specimen of his blood or, if he so opts, to provide for the doctor a specimen of his urine. The arrested person will then be cautioned in prescribed terms; I shall say more on this later.
It is envisaged that the Bureau, to be established under section 36, of the Bill and to which I will refer later, will supply to Garda stations sealed containers containing all the apparatus and equipment the doctor will need to obtain a specimen—sterile syringe, cotton wool, antiseptic material, glass tubes, etc. and only the equipment contained in one of those containers will be used by the doctor to take the specimen. It is envisaged that regulations will prescribe that the specimen of blood must be taken from a vein and must if practicable, amount to at least seven millilitres, about two teaspoonfuls. The Commission recommended that the blood specimen should be taken from a vein instead of being obtained by the capillary method, for example, by pricking an ear-lobe, so that a more convenient quantity could be taken in one go and to make for more accurate analysis. When the specimen has been taken the doctor will be required to complete and sign a form of certificate relating to the taking of the specimen and to write on a label attached to the tube containing the specimen the name given by the suspect. This label will bear an identification mark which will also be stamped on the form of certificate and on the container in which the doctor will place the tube containing the specimen and the certificate. The container will then be sealed with a selfsealing flap and given to the garda in charge of the station.
Since it is essential to have evidence of the blood-alcohol level in order to prove the new offences, it is necessary to prevent people, particularly those who suspect that their blood-alcohol concentration may be in excess of the prescribed level, from evading the new provisions by refusing a specimen. In some countries, this is done by extracting a specimen by force. This procedure would not be accepted in this country and was not recommended by the Commission, although they stated that they could see nothing unconstitutional in it. The solution put forward by the Commission was that "it should be made an offence, punishable in the same way as the offence for which he was arrested, for the suspect to refuse to permit samples of his blood or urine to be taken when so required, except where reasonable grounds exist for such refusal. The onus of establishing the existence of such grounds should rest upon the suspect if and when he is eventually prosecuted for the offence."
This recommendation is being implemented—the Bill provides, for example, that a person who has been driving or attempting to drive and who has been required to permit a blood specimen to be taken or to provide a urine specimen and who neither permits the blood specimen to be taken nor provides the urine specimen, shall be guilty of an offence, the maximum penalty for which will be exactly the same as that which applies to the existing offence of driving or attempting to drive while under the influence of drink and which will also apply to the new offence of driving or attempting to drive while the quantity of alcohol in the body is above the level specified in the Bill. The effect of this will be that a person who refuses to undergo the test will not gain any advantage from doing so.
The Commission considered that refusal or failure to provide a blood or urine specimen should not be an offence "where reasonable grounds exist for such refusal" but they felt that "the onus of establishing the existence of such grounds should rest upon the suspect if and when he is eventually prosecuted for an offence." They decided that it would be inadvisable to specify what they would regard as reasonable grounds for refusing to permit a specimen to be taken but they believed "that a person's reason for refusing must be something of substance and not trivial" and that "an objection on the grounds of inconvenience or discomfort should not be regarded as reasonable." In the opinion of the Commission, the question of what would constitute reasonable grounds for a refusal was best left to the discretion of the courts.
These recommendations are being implemented by section 35 of the Bill which provides that, in a prosecution for refusing or failing to permit a blood specimen to be taken, it will be a good defence to satisfy the court that there was a special and substantial reason for the refusal or failure. The onus will be on the defendant to satisfy the court that he had a special and substantial reason for his refusal or failure. It is intended that all cases of refusal or failure to permit a specimen to be taken will be brought before the courts and that it will be left to the courts alone to decide whether or not a particular reason is a "special and substantial" one. Furthermore, the defendant's refusal or failure to provide a specimen may in any event be given in evidence.
Under section 35 of the Bill it will also be a good defence for the defendant to show that, when required to permit a specimen of blood to be taken, he had not been cautioned in the prescribed terms of the possible effects of his refusal or failure. It is intended that the caution, which will be prescribed by regulations, will consist of a warning, in simple language, that refusal or failure to permit a blood specimen to be taken is an offence, unless a urine specimen is provided, and that the maximum penalties for that offence are similar to those which follow from a conviction of the offence for which the person was arrested. The arrested person will also be informed that he will have a good defence to a prosecution for refusing to permit a specimen to be taken if he satisfies the court that he had a special and substantial reason for doing so but that a refusal or failure may be given in evidence in a prosecution for an offence of driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of a vehicle while unfit.
The Commission considered that the analysis of all blood and urine specimens should be carried out in the same institution under the control of a Medical Director. They considered that this institution should be an independent authority and not under State control. These suggestions are being implemented by sections 36 to 40 of the Bill. Under section 36, an independent corporate body will be established. It will consist of from three to five members appointed by the Minister for Local Government and will also have a Director; it is intended that he will be a person who has medical or scientific qualifications, or both.
Under section 37, the Bureau will be responsible for the analysis of all specimens of blood and urine and the determination of the concentration of alcohol in them. It will also be required to arrange for the provision of equipment for the taking or provision of specimens of blood and urine and may undertake research into matters affecting driver fitness and road safety. The Bureau will be empowered to enter into an arrangement with an appropriate institution, such as, for example, a scientific or medical department of a university college, under which the work of analysing specimens would be undertaken in the university laboratory by persons employed there.
The Bureau will be established by means of an establishment order. This procedure is not a new one—it is based mainly on the Health (Corporate Bodies) Act, 1961 under which bodies may be established to perform functions in, or in relation to, the provision of health services. The establishment order procedure is a flexible one which will enable different provisions to be made as circumstances change and new provisions to be added in the light of experience. Examples of the provisions which may be contained in the order are given in section 39 of the Bill. The net expense of the Bureau will be met out of the Road Fund.
When a specimen of blood or urine has been taken at a Garda station, it will be the duty of the member of the Garda Síochána then in charge there to have the specimen despatched to the Bureau as soon as possible. Before handing over the specimen to the Garda, the doctor who obtained it will be required under section 42 (1) to certify the prescribed particulars on a prescribed form which he must also give to the garda in charge of the station.
The Commission considered that it should not be necessary for the doctor who obtained a specimen to appear in court to give evidence of this and they recommended that the law should provide accordingly. They believed that this departure from what is usual in criminal procedure was necessary if the new system of dealing with the problem of drink and driving was to function satisfactorily. The certificate procedure is, therefore, designed to make it unnecessary for the prosecution to have the doctor in court to give evidence relating to the taking or provision of the specimen. Under section 43 (1) of the Bill, the certificate completed by the doctor will be sufficient evidence in any legal proceedings of the matters certified, until the contrary is shown.
Section 42 (2) deals with the procedure to be followed when a specimen is received by the Bureau. It provides that a part of the specimen shall be analysed and the concentration of alcohol therein determined, and that the remainder of the specimen shall be preserved. Regulations under section 46 will prescribe in some detail the procedure to be followed upon receipt by the Bureau of a specimen and the methods to be used in the analysis of specimens. The regulations will also specify the persons by whom determinations as to blood-alcohol levels are to be made and the procedure and methods to be used in making such determinations. It will be noted that only a part of the specimen is to be analysed and that the portion of the specimen which remains must be preserved in accordance with the prescribed procedure—this will ensure that some of the specimen will remain in case a further analysis is required under section 44 by the person from whom the specimen was taken or by whom it was provided. When a determination as to the concentration of alcohol in a specimen has been made, the Bureau must notify the Garda and the person from whom the specimen was taken. The Commission considered that it should not be necessary in the normal run of cases for the person who made the analysis to appear in court to give evidence. They recommended, therefore, the acceptance as evidence in court of the certificate of the analysing authority as to the results of an analysis. This is being provided for in the Bill—a certificate issued by the Bureau to the Garda under section 42 (3) will contain the result of the determination and, under section 43, must be accepted as conclusive evidence of the concentration of alcohol.
The notification to the person from whom the specimen was taken or by whom it was provided, will be effected by issuing to him in the "prescribed manner" a statement in the prescribed form containing the result of the determination and such other matters as may be prescribed. The regulations to be made under section 46 of the Bill will prescribe the form of this statement. It is intended that the statement will, in addition to notifying the person of the result of the determination, inform him of the provisions of section 44 of the Bill relating to his right to have a further analysis and determination made.
The Commission recommended that, as an extra safeguard, an accused person should have the right to require the Bureau to make a second analysis of the specimen taken on behalf of the Garda and retained by the Bureau for this purpose. They recommended that the right to request such an analysis should be exercisable only within a prescribed period after the first analysis has been made and that the second analysis should be made at the expense of the person who requested it. Section 44 implements these recommendations. When a request for a second analysis under section 44 is duly made to the Bureau, they will be required to analyse a portion of that part of the specimen preserved after the first analysis and to make a new determination as to the concentration of alcohol in it. The second analysis and determination must be made in accordance with the procedure prescribed by regulations under section 46—the same procedure as was used in the first analysis and determination —but it will not be carried out by the person who dealt with the case previously.
On completion of a second analysis and determination, a certificate containing the results will be issued to the garda in charge of the Garda station from which the specimen was sent to the Bureau. A statement conveying similar information will be issued to the person from whom the specimen was obtained. A person who makes a requisition for a second analysis will have the right to request the Bureau to make the analysis or determination in his presence or in the presence of a person nominated by him. Provided the request is made in the prescribed manner and within the prescribed period the Bureau will be obliged to comply. If the certificate issued following a second analysis and determination specifies a lower concentration of alcohol than that specified in the certificate issued after the first analysis, the lower figure must be taken.
Section 45 provides a further safeguard. Under it, a person who permits a specimen of his blood to be taken or provides a specimen of his urine must—
(a) be given an opportunity of providing an additional specimen to a doctor of his own choice or,
(b) if he requests, be supplied by the Garda doctor with an additional specimen provided by him.
The Commission recommended that provision on the lines of section 45 should be made. It will be open to a person to have a specimen which he or his doctor has obtained under the section analysed by an independent analyst and to call the person who made the analysis as a witness in court. In the event of any material difference between the results certified by the Bureau and those given in evidence by the accused's own analyst, it would be a matter for the court to resolve the controversy as best it could, taking into account all material circumstances relating to the case.
I hope I have given the House a reasonably comprehensive statement of the provisions of the Bill relating to driving while unfit through drink. If any further information is required, I shall do my best to supply it. Many of the provisions of Part V of the Bill, and indeed, of the Bill as a whole, are more appropriate for discussion on the Committee Stage and for this reason, I have refrained from discussing each and every one of them at this stage.
In addition to dealing with the problem of drink and driving in so far as mechanically propelled vehicles are concerned, Part V of the Bill amends the law on driving a pedal cycle while under the influence of drink, section 47 increasing substantially the maximum penalties which may be imposed for this offence. This implements a recommendation of the Commission which pointed out that a cyclist who is under the influence of drink can be a serious danger to other road users as well as to himself and considered that the law should emphasise the seriousness of the offence.
Part V of the Bill concludes with amendments of the provisions of the 1961 Act which contain the more important offences related to driving and parking. Sections 48 to 50 relate to careless and dangerous driving and section 51 to dangerous parking. The existing offence of driving without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration is split into two separate offences, one of which—driving without due care and attention— will carry a heavier maximum penalty than the present offence. It is intended to deal under section 49 of the Bill with the type of case in which juries and justices have tended to acquit on a charge of dangerous driving but which nevertheless involves more than lack of consideration. Amendments to section 53 and 55 of the 1961 Act, which deal with dangerous driving and dangerous parking, respectively, are designed mainly to remove technical difficulties which have arisen in the operation of the existing sections. In addition, the power of arrest without warrant is being extended to both dangerous driving and dangerous parking cases.
I turn now to the other Parts of the Bill. Many of these provisions are selfexplanatory and notes on them have been provided in the explanatory memorandum which has been circulated with the Bill.
Part I contains the usual provisions relating to short title, interpretation, commencement and collective citation and construction. The provisions of section 3 under which the 1961 Act and the Bill must be construed together as one Act will have the effect of applying many important provisions of the 1961 Act to the Bill, for example, the definitions, the general power to make regulations, the financial provisions, and the provision relating to the general penalty in section 102 of the 1961 Act.
Part II is aimed generally at ensuring that vehicles in use on the public roads are road worthy, particularly in relation to the design and fitting of vehicle parts and driver equipment, the design and quality of the vehicles themselves and, in the case of goods vehicles, their ability to carry loads. A number of the new provisions will place the responsibility on the supplier of vehicles, vehicle parts, equipment, etc., of ensuring that what is supplied by him meets the requirements which will have been determined beforehand. Under modern conditions with the increasing technical complexity of regulations, the exercise of control in this way is very desirable.
The provisions of Part II of the 1961 Act, which place responsibility on the owner or user of a vehicle, will continue to apply, to ensure that the vehicle (once supplied) is properly maintained and used. Taking into account the need for European harmonisations as well as developments arising from the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement and having regard to the possible special needs of various interests, flexibility in the use of the new controls will be essential. The specific requirements will, therefore, be determined by regulations under the appropriate sections. Before such regulations are made the various interests involved will, of course, be consulted.
Other provisions in this part of the Bill will empower spot checks to be carried out on vehicles in use on the public roads in order to ensure that they are roadworthy, the exercise of a measure of surveillance over the vehicle maintenance schedules and procedures of statutory bodies or firms having reasonably large numbers of vehicles in their fleets, more adequate checking of vehicles suspected of carrying excess weights and a sliding scale of fixed penalties where serious overweight is detected.
The provisions of this Part of the Bill are rather technical and complex and are, I feel, more appropriate for discussions at Committee Stage.
Part III of the Bill amends and extends Part III of the 1961 Act so as to provide for control of driving instruction, eyesight tests for persons who make application to undergo the driving test, the issue in certain cases of limited certificates of competency to drive and the postponement or remission of disqualifications for driving.
The driving test scheme has now been in operation for almost three years and has proved itself as fair and efficient. The rate of failure in the test, which in the last six months of 1966 averaged 55.2 per cent indicates, however, that there is a grave lack of competent driving instruction throughout the country. Control of driving instruction for reward would go some way towards solving this difficulty and powers to this end are provided in section 18 of the Bill. There are many possible developments in relation to this control, which can be operated in stages. It is envisaged that the initial stage would be the licensing of driving instructors.
One aspect of driver testing which is not covered in the scheme hitherto operated in this country and which is commonly part of the test in other countries is that of a test of the eyesight of applicants. While there is no proven association between poor eyesight and accident causation it is accepted that a person with defective vision is at an immediate disadvantage. The problem is not, however, a simple one. There are many aspects of eyesight which may affect driving— visual acuity, static and dynamic, field of vision, night vision, etc., etc., and in relation to none of these, with the possible exception of static visual acuity, is there a standard below which it is internationally recognised that a person should be debarred from driving. The nature and scope of the eyesight test, under section 19 of the Bill, will therefore be determined from time to time by regulations following investigations and consultations with bodies competent to advise on the subject. For the present it is envisaged that the test will be a simple one of visual acuity but a more complete test may be introduced later.
Section 20 of the Bill covers a point which has occasioned some hardship for a limited number of applicants for the driving test. In line with international practice the number of classes of vehicles for driving licence purposes has been kept to the minimum consistent with conditions in this country. As a result some classes embrace fairly wide ranges of vehicles and the driving test must take account of this by requiring that the vehicle on which the test is carried out is representative of its class. A certain hardship may result in a special case where a person wishes to take the test in a particular type of vehicle and it is clear that there is no likelihood of the person concerned driving a more difficult type. The issue of a limited certificate of competency in such a case would meet the exceptional difficulty involved while retaining the overall pattern of the present driver licencing system.
The provisions of section 21 of the Bill will enable a court, when making an order disqualifying a person from driving, to postpone for up to six months, the commencement of the period of disqualification provided it is fully satisfied that this action is justified by exceptional circumstances. In this way a court can, for example, give a convicted person whose livelihood depends on driving the opportunity to train, say, a member of his family so that he will be in a position to support himself and his dependants.
Section 22 of the Bill will restore to the Minister for Justice the power to remit ancillary disqualification orders, that is, those which may be imposed at the discretion of the courts.
Ancillary disqualification may be ordered by a court at its discretion, (1) where a person is convicted of any offence under the 1961 Act, except, of course, those to which consequential disqualification applies, and (2) where a person is convicted of any other offence in relation to a mechanically propelled vehicle or a crime or offence in the commission of which a mechanically propelled vehicle was used.
It is necessary to give the courts this wide power because the circumstances of the case, however minor the charge, may indicate the wisdom of disqualifying the offender for a while. On the whole the courts have exercised the power sensibly, but there have been cases where a court has imposed disqualification for a very minor offence with no exacerbating circumstances. This can operate very harshly when the court also decides not to suspend the operation of the disqualification order pending appeal. Thus, although the present law provides for an appeal to a higher court against an ancillary disqualification, whether the conviction is being appealed or not, the appeal can take a long time to come to hearing.
Again, the disqualified person can, after 3 months, go back to the court which made the order and seek to have the disqualification removed, but this provision does not apply to disqualifications for periods of less than six months and, in any event, the court has power to remove the disqualification only after it has operated for six months. It is important that there should be some machinery for dealing quickly with such harsh decisions, relatively rare though they may be. The Bill proposes, accordingly, to restore the power of remission in respect of ancillary disqualifications. Cases where this power is exercised will be published in Iris Oifigiúil.
Part IV of the Bill deals with speed limits. Apart from a number of minor amendments to the existing provisions, this Part of the Bill authorises the introduction of a general speed limit for all mechanically propelled vehicles and in respect of all public roads, or all public roads with specified exceptions, should this course appear desirable in the light of experiments and research in this country and abroad. The provision for general speed limits is a flexible one which will enable such limits to be introduced for holiday or other peak traffic periods or for an experimental period or on a permanent basis. Another important amendment in this Part of the Bill is the provision in section 24 which makes possible the application of special speed limits on specified roads for certain periods of the year, e.g. during the summer months in a holiday resort.
Part VI of the Bill modifies the compulsory insurance provisions of the 1961 Act. Section 52 terminates the system under which cover may be afforded by an approved guarantee. This system has not, in fact, been operated in this country for a number of years and it has disadvantages both for the guaranteed person and for third parties. Sections 53 and 54 are concerned with limiting to statutory bodies and semi-State companies the right to become an exempted person under the 1961 Act, that is, a person who, in effect, is allowed to carry his own insurance. The present option, under the 1961 Act has been availed of only by Córas Iompair Éireann. It is considered that, in present circumstances, it would be unwise to continue to permit bodies other than statutory and semi-State bodies to be exempt like the State from the compulsory insurance provisions of the 1961 Act.
Part VII of the Bill contains minor amendments and extensions of the provisions of the 1961 Act relating to the control and operation of public service vehicles. In addition, it provides for the transfer from the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána to the Minister for Local Government of the power conferred by section 86 of the 1961 Act to make statutory instruments to control and regulate stopping places and stands for omnibuses. These powers, which are of a general nature, are applicable throughout the entire State and are ancillary to the powers conferred by section 88 of the 1961 Act to make general bye-laws for the regulation and control of traffic. For reasons which I shall refer to later, these latter powers are being transferred from the Commissioner to the Minister and it is considered desirable, therefore, that the powers conferred by section 86 should also be transferred.
Part VIII of the Bill deals with the regulation of traffic. Section 58 is a new provision, designed to deal with pedestrians who are under the influence of drink in public places to such an extent as to endanger traffic or themselves. It implements a recommendation of the Commission on Driving while under the Influence of Drink or a Drug.
Section 59 repeals section 88 of the 1961 Act, under which the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána may, with the consent of the Minister, make by-laws applicable throughout the State, for the general control and regulation of traffic and pedestrians in public places, and instead, empowers the Minister to make regulations for similar purposes. By-laws under section 88 are in effect, the Rules of the Road, the formulation of which must, in the light of developments in recent years, now be regarded as a matter of policy. As such, it is more appropriate that they should be made by a Minister directly answerable to the Dáil.
Section 60 is designed to make it clear that restrictions on vehicles using a bridge may be related to axle or wheel loads as well as overall weight and to make it possible to bring combinations of vehicles (as well as single vehicles) within the scope of such restrictions.
Section 61 is purely an enabling section under which all traffic management functions in a specified area can be vested in one road authority. This would, of course, have obvious advantages, provided the authority concerned was capable of discharging the functions effectively and had established an adequate organisation for the purpose. It will be possible to transfer to a specified road authority, by order under section 61, functions of the Commissioner as well as functions of other local authorities.
Section 62 replaces section 97 of the 1961 Act under which a member of the Garda Síochána may remove or arrange for the removal of a vehicle which is left on a public road in such a position as to cause, or to be likely to cause, danger or obstruction or is abandoned on a public road. The problem of abandoned vehicles has become a serious one in recent years and the new section will enable regulations to be made establishing an effective system under which vehicles may be removed, stored and, after the expiration of a specified period, disposed of. Under the section, it will be possible to deal with the "remains" of vehicles and to dispose of valueless vehicles and also other vehicles which are not claimed and the owner of which cannot be traced. The new section, in addition to dealing with vehicles which have been, or appear to have been abandoned, covers vehicles which are parked in contravention of the 1961 Act or regulations or by-laws made under it, for example, at a meter parking place or on a clearway.
Part IX of the Bill contains two sections. Section 63 will enable the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána to appoint persons to aid in the enforcement of the system which has come to be known, incorrectly, as "fines-on-the-spot". The growing volume of vehicles on the roads is making ever increasing demands on the Garda, whose duty it is enforce road traffic legislation. The stage has now been reached where the Garda, particularly in Dublin, are becoming seriously short-staffed and are scarcely able to cope with their primary tasks of preventing and detecting crime and preserving law and order. Much of the work connected with the enforcement of the Road Traffic Act is of a very routine nature and could well be performed by persons other than gardaí who are highly and expensively trained in police duties proper. Faced with the choice of expanding the strength of the Garda Síochána or recruiting a special traffic service whose personnel would not be required to be of the physical standards and police training of the Garda, it has, very naturally, been decided to opt for the latter. The Bill provides that the new personnel will be used for the work of affixing and delivering "fines-on-the-spot" notices. The members are to be appointed by the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána and their remuneration and conditions of service will be fixed by the Minister for Justice in consultation with the Minister for Finance. The actual cost of the Force will be recouped from the Road Fund.
Prosecutions for failure to pay "fines-on-the-spot" imposed by members of the new traffic corps will be taken by the Garda with the members acting as witnesses. The corps will not have any powers of arrest.
The intention is to employ members of the new corps in Dublin initially. Details of the hours of work and the level of remuneration have not been worked out, but it may be that they will be employed on a part-time basis only, concentrating on the peak hours. If the scheme is a success in Dublin it will be introduced in other cities and towns.
Section 64 is designed to remove certain difficulties which have arisen in connection with section 112 of the 1961 Act, which makes it an offence to take or use a vehicle without the consent of the owner or other lawful authority. The scope of section 112 is being widened so as to make it a specific offence, not just as heretofore, an offence of aiding and abetting, to allow oneself to be carried in a vehicle which is known to have been taken without the owner's consent.
I do not propose to discuss the various amendments to the 1961 Act made by section 6 and the Schedule to the Bill. These are mainly Committee Stage points and notes on each of them are included in the explanatory memorandum.
In conclusion, I repeat that I appreciate that legislation by itself cannot solve all our road traffic problems, but it must provide the framework for action on a wide front and not merely that of enforcement. The Bill aims at bringing right up to date our legislation on this important subject, which is of practical concern to practically everybody in the State in his daily life.
I commend the Bill to the House and ask that it be given a Second Reading.