I very much welcome this wide-ranging, comprehensive and integrated Bill, which strengthens our laws relating to drink-driving. It introduces welcome measures for the enforcement of the Road Traffic Acts. There has been a large measure of criticism and dissatisfaction with the enforcement of the Road Traffic Acts. It is very welcome that this Bill strengthens the enforcement procedures. I very much welcome the devolution of powers to the local authorities.
The genesis of this legislation was the setting up of a task force by the Progressive Democrats Party Leader, Deputy O'Malley, a long time ago to look into the whole matter of the cost of motor insurance. Many of the recommendations of that task force have been taken on board in this legislation. This Bill was driven by economics, given the huge cost of road accidents, estimated at £600 million per annum. It is important also that we as legislators are motivated by the overwhelming public policy need to concentrate on road safety and the prevention of death and serious injury on our roads.
The number of deaths on our roads has decreased over the past couple of years. The decrease, though small, is welcome. A number of factors have contributed to this decrease, not least the intensive road safety campaigns mounted by the National Safety Council. These campaigns have brought about an increased awareness of road safety as evidenced by the change in public attitude to drink driving, which is no longer seen as socially acceptable at any level in society. However, it is still acceptable to speed, and perhaps the thrust of our campaigns should concentrate equally on speeding. I think speed is just as much a killer and I do not think the social awareness of the consequences of speed is as well developed as it is for drink driving.
The number of road deaths is still too high, with an average of eight people dying on Irish roads every week. We need to do much more work both in preventive engineering, that is, intervening in the planning of our roads and in the education field. Half of those who die in the age group seven-24 die as a result of road accidents. Those are startling figures and everybody needs to be very concerned that so many of our young people end up dying on our roads.
It is important to appreciate that the Irish Insurance Federation has been sponsoring the National Safety Council's campaigns and they very generously have given £650,000 to the 1993 campaign in addition to the £248,000 given towards the promotional work of the National Safety Council. I am a member of the Dublin Road Safety Council, an excellent committee comprised of elected members of Dublin Corporation and representative of the motor industry, the Insurance Federation and others. We have a common interest in preventing road accidents and devising safety campaigns for the Dublin Corporation area. I believe three other local authorities have such councils which specifically target their own local areas with a view to preventing road accidents. I think it would be a good idea to establish such a council in each local authority area. for example, we initiate campaigns on safe cycling and pedestrian safety and we run a traffic school in Clontarf for children.
It is right to teach children of primary school level how to get about and weave their way through traffic. Our committee has been substantially improved by the very valuable contribution of Dr. Ray Fuller, Head of the Department of Psychology in Trinity College. He is making an excellent psychological input and educating us on the need for an evaluation of safety campaigns and methods which could be used to change attitudes.
Road safety in the context of child safety is an important political issue, particularly in urban centres. Many people in Dublin South East—where I am a local authority member—and in my constituency of Dublin South have been politicised by the growing dissatisfaction at the level of commuter and freight traffic going through residential estates. The most frequent reason people contact me as their political representative is in relation to traffic management. The quality of people's lives is diminished because traffic management in Dublin city is at crisis point. Because of that the Dublin Transportation Initiative was set up by the local authority committee of which I am a member. This is an excellent initiative and we have just completed our final report of phase I.
The Dublin Transportation Initiative seeks to establish a vision of the city and to study the area of transportation and land use policy. In the past our planning and transportation policies were not synchronised which meant that the roads policy was not integrated with planning. That is why there is a chaotic traffic problem, particularly in Dublin city. The neglect of public transport services down through the years has given rise to the need for the Dublin Transportation Initiative which comes down very firmly in favour of moving priority from the use of the private motor car and enhancing public transport by way of quality bus corridors and light rail. Planners and road engineers need to be integrated with a view to the final report of the DTI becoming part of our national development plan. I see light at the end of the tunnel in terms of transportation and planning in the greater Dublin area.
Port access in Dublin is vital, many proposals for which—including a tunnel under the Liffey—are being put forward. That is preferable to the now discredited eastern by-pass. Of course, the completion of the C ring is vital. These matters have considerably diminished the quality of people's lives in Dublin city and county. There has been a positive chorus of requests in my constituency for traffic "calming"—which is now the buzz word. Basically, people are crying out for ramps or anything that will relieve the sense of frustration because their residential roads are no longer safe for their children. As politicians we should take an interest in the quality of people's lives. If people are happy they are better parents and better citizens. This is particularly so in areas of high social deprivation. If we had good, cheap public transport for areas of high density population, the quality of life would be substantially improved with a resultant decrease in crime and family stress. All these issues are related and, therefore, we need to have a broad approach to matters such as public transport.
The fact that local authorities have so little money to spend on pedestrian crossings is a constant source of annoyance. The annual budget allocated to Dublin Corporation for the provision of pedestrian crossings is scandalous, enabling us to complete only a couple of schemes each year. In the context of DTI and traffic management proposals, I hope some mechanism will be found for funding local authorities to provide better pedestrian facilities.
I congratulate the Environmental Research Unit who have carried out excellent surveys on driver attitudes, speeding, drink driving, etc. Their 1992 survey showed up interesting attitudinal facts. For example, 54 per cent of drivers correctly stated that the general speed limit was 55 miles per hour; 30 per cent believed the limit was higher than 55 miles per hour and 12 per cent believed it was less. This is an area of confusion as many people do not know the speed limit.
In regard to drink driving, over half the drivers interviewed said that having consumed up to two alcoholic drinks they would drive, indeed, almost a quarter said they always did. Since this Bill reduces the level of alcohol permitted we will have to make it clear just how many drinks people can take. That will have to be part of the public awareness campaign. As the number of drinks consumed increased the proportion of people who were willing to drive decreased, although one fifth of motorists surveyed would drive after consuming more than two drinks. Even in the most extreme scenario 4 per cent of motorists said they would drive after consuming over six alcoholic drinks; 4 per cent is still enough to do a lot of damage on the roads.
Further analysis of the research findings showed that males and those with the longest driving experience were most likely to risk driving after consuming large quantities of alcohol. By comparison the survey showed that those least likely to risk drink driving were young drivers in the 17 to 20 age group and female drivers.
In respect of the largest number of drinks consumed before driving, 6 per cent admitted to six pints or more; 5 per cent admitted to five pints; 6 per cent admitted to consuming four pints and 59 per cent admitted to consuming three pints. This suggests that approximately 30 per cent of drivers admit to driving on some occasions with blood alcohol levels which are probably in excess of the legal limit. Three-quarters of the drivers interviewed believed that someone convicted of driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit would face disqualification. This ties in with their perception that the most effective deterrent for drink driving would be the risk of losing their driving licence. The research showed that the threat of disqualification was a greater deterrent than the risk of being involved in an accident. For that reason I welcome the mandatory disqualification of one year for first offences.
The following startling statistic was brought to my attention by the Dublin Road Safety Council; in 1991 males accounted for 96 per cent of drink driving convictions while females accounted for 4 per cent. At that time I asked the commissioner if he could account for the difference. With a high percentage of female drivers in the State it is extraordinary that 96 per cent of the drink driving convictions should be males. Could it be that women are more responsible or is the Garda more lenient towards women in not asking them to be breathalysed?
I should like to see the development and implementation of rehabilitation courses for drink driving offenders. That provision should be stitched into the present legislation which requires the taking of a driving test before a driving licence is restored. Development and evaluation of a driver training component, which includes risk assessment skills, would be useful. We will be tabling amendments to the Bill but, in general, we welcome it and look forward to Committee Stage.