Road Traffic Bill, 1993 Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Road traffic legislation sets standards for motorists and other road users which are essential for road safety and for effective and orderly use of road space. With the exception of drink driving legislation, which was last reviewed in 1978, the vast bulk of Irish road traffic law is contained in the Road Traffic Acts of 1961 and 1968. A general review of all existing road traffic legislation is now desirable, but this will be a major task and take several years to complete. In the meantime certain aspects require urgent change and this Bill will address these. In particular it will restate and strengthen the law relating to drink driving; introduce new measures to secure better enforcement of road traffic law; introduce more streamlined arrangements for making traffic regulations; and devolve a range of functions to local authorities. Before dealing with individual provisions in the Bill, I propose to order my remarks on the basis of the general objectives I have just mentioned.

The law relating to drink driving has been updated and amended on a number of occasions. The Road Traffic Act, 1933, contained a prohibition on driving "while drunk". This was replaced, in 1961, by an offence of driving while under the influence of an intoxicating liquor or a drug, and a separate offence of being in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating liquor or a drug. The Road Traffic Act, 1968, added an additional offence of driving, or being in charge of, a mechanically propelled vehicle with a blood alcohol level exceeding 125 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. That Act was the basis for the current system of analysing specimens for levels of alcohol and for the use of the results of the analyses as evidence in drink driving prosecutions.

The Road Traffic (Amendment) Act, 1978, introduced further changes to the drink driving laws, including a reduction in the blood alcohol level to 100 milligrammes. Some of the changes arose from successful court challenges while others were made to take account of developments, including new technology, over the previous ten years.

The present Bill is designed to introduce further policy changes and to update and strengthen the law in the light of experience since 1978. It will replace the 1978 Act entirely but, while there are significant changes, care has been taken to retain those provisions and procedures set out in the 1978 Act which have successfully withstood legal challenge. I am sure the House will agree that it would not be advisable to change tried and trusted statutory provisions purely for the sake of change.

The main new provisions in relation to drink driving are as follows. The maximum permissible alcohol level will be reduced from 100 to 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, with a corresponding reduction in the level for urine. There is provision for the introduction of evidential breath testing and for a maximum permissible breath alcohol level which would equate with the reduced blood and urine alcohol levels. There will be power to vary the maximum alcohol level, by regulations, and to set different limits for different classes of drivers. Any such regulations will be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Garda will have power to detain intoxicated drivers for up to eight hours where the release of the drivers could be a threat to the safety of themselves or other persons. There will be a specific power for a garda and a designated doctor to enter hospitals to take a blood or urine specimen from a driver involved in a traffic accident. The type of specimen to be provided — breath, blood or urine — will be at the discretion of the garda. There will be mandatory orders directing persons convicted of drink driving offences to pay the costs and expenses incurred by the State in taking a prosecution. Additional amendments to existing drink driving provisions will be made to close loopholes shown up by court cases. These include power for a member of the Garda Síochána to enter on private property to secure an arrest.

The second broad purpose of the Bill is to strengthen the powers of the Garda Síochána in enforcing the Road Traffic Acts and to provide for increased penalties for certain offences. A number of these measures were recommended by an inter ministerial group on motor insurance. The most significant new provisions are: a requirement to carry a driving licence at all times when driving a vehicle; power for the Garda Síochána to impound vehicles where the vehicle is not taxed, for uninsured driving, or where the person driving is in the opinion of the Garda too young to hold a driving licence; and increased periods of mandatory disqualification, and a requirement to pass a driving test, following conviction for drink driving offences or for a dangerous driving offence.

The new drink driving and enforcement provisions are aimed primarily at improving safety on our roads. To appreciate the need for such measures it is essential to reflect on some basic statistics. In 1992 a total of 415 people were killed in 384 fatal accidents on Irish roads and a further 10,000 people were injured. International statistics are even more chilling. Every year road accidents are the cause of about 50,000 deaths and more than a million and a half injuries on the roads of the European Community. Since the Treaty of Rome was signed almost two million people have been killed in the 12 countries which are now Community members and almost 40 million injured. There are statistics. Behind those statistics lie the trauma and tragedy, the loss in human, social and financial terms which is not easy to describe. Young life has been cut off in its prime. Parents leaving the home in perfect health have, minutes or hours later, crossed the great divide.

For a long time the increase in road accidents was regarded as an unavoidable corollary to the increase in motor traffic. However, experience in recent years has shown that this need not be the case and that it is possible to reduce the number and seriousness of road accidents.

Driver behaviour has been identified as the single most important factor causing road accidents. The challenge which we face is to persuade road users to change habitual behaviour: each road user has to be made aware of his or her personal responsibility and of the risks they take or impose on others through behaviour which is careless or contrary to the normal rules of conduct. Driver behaviour can be conditioned both by education and information programmes and by laws and regulations and their strict enforcement.

In 1990 a new approach was adopted towards the promotion of road safety in this country. A campaign was launched in September of that year which recognised that a successful road safety programme had to have a multi-dimensional focus. Thus the campaign, which is now in its third full year, features initiatives in the areas of publicity, education, enforcement, research and legislation. These campaigns and other initiatives have contributed to a reduction of the order of 7 per cent in deaths on our roads in each of the past two years. The support of the Garda has been crucial in achieving this. Equally, the financial support provided by the Irish Insurance Federtion to the National Safety Council has been significant. Legislative initiatives have also featured in the approach adopted. Particular emphasis has been laid to date on initiatives relating to vehicle safety. Most realistic speed limits have also been introduced, coupled with better enforcement, and a new Rules of the Road booklet has been published.

While these initiatives have changed public attitudes to drink driving and other bad driving practices, more needs to be done. Promotional road safety campaigns will continue but they must be completed by adequate legislation and enforcement to provide a real deterrent to the hard core who have yet to be convinced of their individual responsibility. On this point, it is worth nothing that in both 1991 and 1992 more than one-third of all specimens analysed by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety had alcohol concentrations of more than twice the legal limit.

The level of death and injury arising from road accidents is simply not acceptable. I am confident that the provisions in the Bill, supported by increased enforcement, will reduce the levels of tragedy and trauma for many of our people by reducing road accidents.

The third broad function of the Bill is to streamline procedures for making traffic regulations. The current code governing traffic and parking rules is fragmented. General traffic regulations, which outline the basic rules of the road, are provided in regulations made by the Minister for the Environment. These regulations are complemented by a series of local traffic and parking by-laws, or temporary rules, which are made by the Garda Commissioner for each county. This arrangement has given rise to a significant element of duplication and so this Bill provides for an amalgamation of the two codes. This will simplify the procedures, remove duplication and anomalies between the two codes, and provide a single reference point for the gardaí, traffic wardens, local authorities and the motoring public as to the source of traffic and parking regulations.

The fourth broad element of the Bill involves devolution of functions to local authorities in line with the Programme for a Partnership Government. The existing role of local authorities in road traffic matters is based on the provisions of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, which was enacted at a time when local authorities had little expertise or experience in traffic matters and when there was an undue emphasis on central controls. The Bill will give greater recognition to the contribution which local authorities can make. It proposes a significant shift of power to local authorities in relation to the implementation of traffic management measures, in the introduction and operation of parking controls and in applying speed limits to roads in their areas.

I would now like to draw attention to some of the more important provisions of the Bill.

Part III contains major new provisions to update and strengthen the law in relation to drink driving. Sections 10 and 11 contain the most significant policy change. They reduce the maximum permissible alcohol level from 100 to 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, with a corresponding reduction in the level for urine. These sections also introduce a new breath alcohol level of 35 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath, equating with the reduced blood and urine levels. The present alcohol limit has been in existence since 1978 and now ranks as the highest in the European Community. The reduction of the limit will bring us into line with the majority of our European partners.

Sections 10 and 11 also empower the Minister to make regulations varying the levels of alcohol permissible in a person's blood, urine and breath, and to set different limits for different classes of drivers. This provision will facilitate implementation of any further amendments in the maximum permissible alcohol level without the need for primary legislation. However, because of the sensitive nature of these provisions and the fact that the current levels are set out in primary legislation, the Bill provides that any such regulations will only be made with the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

A new power for a member of the Garda Síochána to enter on private property to secure an arrest for an offence under either of these sections is also proposed. This is necessary because the Supreme Court has determined that, in the absence of such a specific power, an arrest effected on private property is unlawful as the Garda would be trespassing.

Section 13, which replaces sections 13 and 14 of the Act of 1978, contains the provisions which require persons to provide breath, blood and urine specimens following arrest. This section, together with other provisions in the Bill, will facilitate the use of the results of breath tests as evidence in drink driving prosecutions. The use of evidential breath testing apparatus is now the norm in many European countries. The advantages of this method of analysis are obvious: the breath test is easy to administer, the presence of a doctor is unnecessary, specimens will not require analysis by a laboratory, and the result of the test is available on the spot. The procedures to be followed in the taking of breath specimens are outlined in section 17.

As the addition of evidential breath testing to the drink driving code is a new departure here, it will obviously take some time to build up confidence in the system. Accordingly, I propose to phase in its operation and to use the system in the early stages in tandem with blood and urine testing. Prosecutions will not be grounded on breath test results until such time as we have gained sufficient experience of its use. In time, however, I anticipate that evidential breath testing will become the norm in drink driving cases and that it will eventually replace blood and urine testing.

In section 15, both the Garda Síochána and a designated doctor are provided with a specific power to enter a hospital to take a blood or urine specimen from a driver suspected of being involved in a traffic accident. This section removes the anomaly under existing law whereby a person can avoid having to supply a specimen if he or she has been involved in a traffic accident, is injured or feigning injury, has been removed from the scene of the accident, and is under the care of a doctor.

Section 16 provides a new power for a member of the Garda Síochána to detain an intoxicated driver who has been arrested where the person's release could constitute a threat to his or her own safety or that of another person. A number of safeguards to protect the rights of a detained driver are specified and the maximum period of detention is limited to eight hours.

Section 22 introduces a new provision which will require a person found guilty of a drink driving offence to pay a contribution towards costs incurred in the detection and prosecution of the offence. This will be in addition to any fine, term of imprisonment or disqualification. While the payment of costs will generally be mandatory, the court will have power to waive payment where it is satisfied that there are special and substantial reasons for doing so.

Part IV makes important changes in the law on driving licences. Under the Road Traffic Act, 1961, a person is required to produce a driving licence if demanded by a member of the Garda Síochána but is allowed a period of ten days within which to produce the licence at a nominated Garda station. It is only where a driving licence is not produced within ten days of the demand that an offence exists. This system has given rise to difficulties in the enforcement of the road traffic code. The new section 25 provides, therefore, that a driving licence must be produced immediately and thus effectively requires a driver to carry a driving licence at all times when driving a vehicle. This will give the gardaí immediate proof of the identity of the driver and will be of great assistance in enforcement.

Section 26 sets out the mandatory disqualification periods which will apply for drink driving and other road traffic offences. The principle of mandatory or consequential disqualification, which has applied since 1933, is that the court must, on conviction of specified offences, impose a minimum period of disqualification from holding a driving licence.

Under section 26, a person found guilty of an offence listed in the Second Schedule will be automatically disqualified from holding a driving licence and the court will have the option of imposing a disqualification until a certificate of competency — on passing a driving test — or a certificate of fitness, is obtained. The section introduces a new requirement to the effect that a person found guilty of drink driving offences or dangerous driving will, in addition to the minimum period of disqualification, be automatically disqualified until the person passes a driving test and produces a certificate of competency. This new requirement gives effect to a recommendation of the inter-ministerial group on motor insurance and is to be applied to offences which clearly signal doubts about a driver's judgment and competence.

Section 27 amends the provisions which govern the removal of disqualification orders. It inserts a new subsection into section 29 of the 1961 Act extending the minimum period which must pass before an application may be made to the court for a review of disqualification orders and for the removal of such orders where they apply for a period of two years or more.

Section 28 restates section 42 (4) (d) of the Road Traffic Act, 1961 which provides for licensing authorities to be notified of disqualifications to endorsements and extends it to include other prescribed persons. This extension will facilitate the notification of details of disqualifications or endorsements to other bodies, for example, insurance companies. Section 29 puts beyond doubt that certain provisions of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, will apply to provisional licences, as well as to driving licences. The sections concerned are mainly those relating to disqualifications and endorsements.

Part V introduces new arrangements for applying speed limits to roads with the primary aim of assigning the maximum responsibility to local authorities. Existing legislation provides for four different types of speed limit. One of these categories, described as ordinary speed limits, applies to specific categories of vehicles such as buses and goods vehicles, whereas the remainder apply to the road. The general speed limit of 60 mph normally applies to roads in rural areas and a built up area speed limit of 30 mph normally applies to roads in urban areas. Both these speed limits are currently determined either in primary legislation or in regulations made on a national basis by the Minister for the Environment. Exemptions to those speed limits can be found generally on roads approaching urban areas where special speed limits of 40 to 50 mph apply.

Section 31 provides for a new motorway speed limit of 70 mph. This will automatically apply to all motorways and will avoid having to make a separate statutory instrument every time a new section of motorway is opened to traffic. Section 32 and 33 contain the main devolution proposals in this Part of the Bill. They assign responsibility to county councils and county boroughs for determining the speed limits which will apply to individual roads in their areas. The need for ministerial approval is eliminated, except in the case of national roads.

Part VI replaces the present statutory arrangements for the regulation of traffic, including parking controls. In section 35 and 36, the procedures for the making of traffic regulations are streamlined and greater power will devolve to local authorities. Section 35 provides for national traffic regulations to be made by the Minister. Issues which should be dealt with at a local level, such as systems of paid parking controls, are to be dealt with in separate local by-laws to be made by local authorities under section 36.

Section 37 assigns greater responsibility and discretion to local authorities in the application of traffic management measures in their areas. Local authorities will no longer be obliged to obtain the consent of the Garda Commissioner before providing traffic signs. As traffic management measures are generally implemented by the provision of traffic signs, the House will appreciate the significance of this change. Under the amended provisions, local authorities will have full discretion, subject only to a requirement that they consult the Garda Commissioner in advance of providing regulatory traffic signs. The section does, however, introduce a public consultation process before certain regulatory signs can be provided. The intention is that this requirement will be limited to signs which implement significant traffic management measures which could have a serious impact on road users and property owners in the areas affected. An example would be a new one-way street system. The final decision in relation to the provision of these special category signs will be taken in all cases by the elected members, after the public consultation process has been completed.

The most significant provision in Part VII, section 39, will empower a member of the Garda Síochána to detain and impound vehicles for motor tax and motor insurance offences or where the driver is, in the opinion of the Garda, too young to hold a driving licence.

Non-payment of road tax and motor insurance evasion are serious offences which impact on law abiding motorists who, essentially, subsidise the offenders. The income lost to the Exchequer in unpaid road tax must be found elsewhere and, in the case of motor insurance, the loss of premium, income coupled with the cost of paying compensation for the actions of uninsured drivers, results in an added burden for the vast majority who meet their own obligations.

The impounding provisions are designed to give the Garda Síochána the powers they need to tackle both motor tax and motor insurance evaders and to eliminate this unacceptable practice. The power to impound vehicles being driven by under-age drivers is specifically designed to help tackle the problem commonly known as joyriding and I have no doubt this will be particularly welcomed by the House.

It is clear from the overview of this important legislation that it does much to improve and update road traffic law. I look forward to a positive and constructive debate on the Bill and I commend it to the House.

The word "carnage" has been used often in reference to the numbers killed and injured on our roads. It has become almost acceptable as part and parcel of the transportation we use. From 1981-90 almost 5,000 people were slaughtered on our roads in the Republic and 83,700 were injured.

The Minister for Energy has had a great input to legislation to protect the public. He introduced the Local Government (Multi-Storey Buildings) Act, 1988, and fire safety regulations are strictly enforced. The Minister can be sure that the siting of a national toxic waste incinerator and any potential safety problems will be rigorously analysed and controlled by regulation, but road accidents, the greatest cause of death, and our tolerance of this carnage is a tragedy and a national disgrace.

Many factors contribute to these appalling statistics. The Environmental Research Unit's annual publication Road Accident Facts Ireland, 1992 lists these factors which include the environment, road conditions, the driver or rider, pedestrians and passengers and the quality of the vehicle. In so far as it is possible to be sure, the major contributory factor in both road fatalities and injuries is the driver. In 35 per cent of cases drink is a major cause of driver error and accidents. The maxim “two will do” no longer holds. One drink, for some, will be a drink too many when this legislation, which we will support on Second Stage, is passed.

The reduction in the blood alcohol limit to 80 milligrams is the most significant element. We are also departing radically from previous practice in regard to impounding vehicles for non-insurance — I think we will be the only country in Europe to do so. The serious penalties for breaching the law will, I hope, bring about a climate of intolerance to drink driving, a greater awareness of the value of human life and of how much unnecessary death, suffering and expense could be avoided.

The Minister said that the reduction in the blood alcohol limit to 80 milligrams brings us into line with Europe. I am not sure it does. Perhaps it would be honest if we admitted we are doing too little too late on this issue. This was promised on at least four occasions, twice by the Minister, and by previous Ministers, Deputy O'Hanlon and Mr. Flynn. The Minister has now brought the legislation before the House, but it has been a long time coming. We have had the most liberal regime in Europe in regard to the legal limits for blood alcohol. We are changing just in time before a directive from Europe can be issued on rationalisation in this area. The increased penalties and stringent regulations will have to be balanced with safeguards and phased penalties to which the Minister already referred. The Minister said he is bringing us into line with Europe. However, in Europe the blood alcohol limit is 50 milligrams, not 80 milligrams. Many states in the US, Australia, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Scandinavia, which have been the most successful countries in eliminating drunken driving as a major cause of accidents and fatalities, are looking at the possibility at zero or, at best, 50 milligrams of blood alcohol as the tolerated legal limit.

The validity of a legal limit of 80 milligrams is now being questioned by socially aware people. If one has 95 milligrams of alcohol in one's blood today and is stopped by the Garda one is considered to be below the legal alcohol limit. However, if one has 85 milligrams of blood alcohol some time next week when this Bill has been passed one will be over the limit and subject to very severe penalties. I support the thrust of the Bill but I would request safeguards in regard to the implementation of the law in this area. Many people having consumed 90 milligrams of alcohol have driven safely and this has been tolerated; but next week people who consume 85 milligrams could find themselves subject to stringent penalties. A phased introduction of penalties in this area is necessary. I do not consider it possible to put the person who consumes a small amount of alcohol and who drives safely home in the same category as a person with 350 milligrams of alcohol in their blood system who would be a serious danger to themselves and the public. The phasing in of penalties in this area should be considered. If such a measure is taken the courts and the Judiciary can be asked to rigorously enforce penalties in the drink driving area and other areas.

I would like to pay tribute to Mrs. Gertie Shield and Mothers Against Drunk Driving who, as a result of personal tragedy and suffering, have invested great energy and effort into increasing the collective consciousness of the nation of our appalling record of drink driving.

No legislation will be effective if it is not enforced. My greatest concern in regard to this Bill is that the enforcers, the Garda authorities, may not be given the necessary resources to implement its provisions effectively. It is only through effective and even-handed enforcement of the law that our present tolerant attitudes to drunk and dangerous driving will be changed. The Garda will need increased financial resources and increased numbers to deal with this problem. I ask the Minister to assure the House that such resources will be provided and that his colleague, the Minister for Justice, and the Cabinet collectively will ensure that resources are available to allow the effective enforcement of this legislation.

I ask the Minister to increase the remit of the National Safety Council and I commend it for its work on the safety campaign, especially in my county of Wexford. That campaign should be reconstituted into the National Road Safety Council as recommended to the Minister in January 1992 in a submission on road accidents prepared by the transportation policy group of the Institute of Engineers of Ireland.

Given the enormity of the problem, the Minister should consider allocating responsibility for road safety to the Minister of State. With the proposed devolution of certain traffic management functions to local authorities, which is welcome and long overdue, each local authority should be required to establish a road safety committee of elected members, officials and gardaí to inquire into accidents and propose any necessary action to reduce such occurrences. These committees could then prepare road accident reduction plans for their functional area. They could be serviced by a road safety officer who would be experienced in road traffic management and road design and be responsible for the investigation of road accidents in his or her area. Local road safety committees and road safety officers could establish close liaison with the proposed National Road Safety Council. Each local authority would need to be allocated a specific budget for accident reduction plans and such a measure would provide substantial savings to the insurance companies and to the State. Given the exceptional generosity of the Irish Insurance Federation to the existing National Safety Council — an amount of over £2 million in the last two years — I am sure its continued generosity could be relied on.

I ask the Minister to reintroduce the "black spot" elimination grant to help in their identification, assessment and elimination. Road surfacing and skid resistance need greater investment as there has been a dramatic decline in recent years in the standard of road surfaces generally. Will the Structural moneys be applied specifically to road surfacing and skid resistance as distinct from major capital investment in new roads, bridges and by-passes? Where possible pedestrians and cyclists should be segregated from vehicular traffic. Traffic calming measures — ramps, rumble strips and street narrowing — should be introduced to areas where pedestrians are at greatest risk from any vehicular traffic. Flyovers rather than roundabouts should be considered where possible in major road reconstruction. Consideration should be given to the use of dipped headlights during daylight hours. Regulations requiring parking on the correct side of the road on which vehicles travel should be introduced and enforced and I will be tabling an amendment to provide for such regulations, which I hope the Minister will accept.

Are we having an MOT type system for older vehicles? Some soundings were made about this some years ago, but I am not sure what the position is in regard to this issue at present. Everybody who owns a two or three year old car need not be hounded nor should legitimate bona fide motorists and drivers be burdened with massive expenses. However, some vehicles on our roads are in an apalling condition and are a major source of danger both to the driver and the general public.

Why has the Minister not availed of this Bill to introduce the mandatory wearing of helmets by cyclist on our roads, especially by the under 18 year olds? I will table an amendment on this matter on Committee Stage and I would urge the Minister to accept it. The logic of this measure is overwhelming. However, young people especially because of peer group pressure, will need the force of law to ensure they minimise risk to themselves while cycling on our roads. There is a public clamour for legislation in this area to compel perhaps all cyclists, though I would be pleased at this stage if it were the 18 year olds, to wear helmets. I balk at insisting that all adults should wear helmets. If it were compulsory for young people to wear helmets I believe that once the habit was established those who continue to use cycling as their mode of transport in later life would continue with that good habit.

Apparently Ireland is the only country in Europe that does not have a fully trained paramedical service to ensure that road accident victims are treated quickly and in a suitable way. Perhaps the Minister would explain why he has not gone down that road or examined that option. If we are the only country in Europe without this service, it obviously is a very successful one. Would the Minister discuss with his colleague, the Minister for Health, the implementation and establishment of a paramedical service to help road accident victims and provide a team in each county who could respond immediately to traffic accidents. Such a service would reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries and would provide quick treatment of road accident victims.

There are other matters I wish to raise and I will deal with the Bill section by section on Committee Stage.

Regarding the Minister's proposal to impound uninsured vehicles, would he explain whether uninsured vehicles and those not displaying tax discs even though insured will be treated in the same way? Practical recovery arrangements and a phased penalty system are needed, depending on the severity of the crime involved.

Has the Minister considered restricted driving licences such as those which operate in Northern Ireland? When young people pass their driving test they are category R drivers for a few years until they gain more driving experience. I believe young people who have passed their driving test are the best drivers on our roads. However, they do not have experience, nor can they anticipate situations as well as someone who has many years driving experience and has come to know what to expect around each corner.

It is demoralising for the Garda and the other law enforcement authorities that traffic offences are not always treated sufficiently seriously by the Judiciary. I would like the Minister to impress on the Judiciary the need to treat offences in this area more seriously, particularly minor traffic offences, because bad habits, once established, can lead to major traffic offences. The courts need to recognise and respond to public and political concern in regard to road traffic offences generally. Did the Minister consider weight restrictions on our county roads and bridges? Many of the county roads, particularly in County Cavan and so on, are experiencing serious problems because the roads were not structured for the type and weight of vehicle they are now forced to support.

I am confused about the interchange of miles per hour and kilometres per hour here. The distance is given in kilometres but apparently the speed limits will continue to be in miles per hour. We must rationalise this. We are either using the metric system and are with the rest of Europe using kilometres per hour, or we are not. If a dual system continues it will be confusing. Will the Minister give us his view on that issue? The matter must be resolved because we cannot expect the public to respect the law when it is so confusing.

The speed limits on our county roads will now be the responsibility of local authorities and I agree with that decision. However, there could be a difficulty when, for example, one drives from Wexford to Carlow, Wicklow or Kilkenny. While driving on the same county road at a certain spot, which is not immediately recognisable one suddenly is in Kilkenny where there may be a higher or lower speed limit than Wexford. A person could be driving within the law in Wexford but, without realising it, be transgressing it, a short distance further on under a different speed limit. We must have some co-ordination and devolve power to each local authority to do what they feel is best for their region.

Did the Minister consider the possibility of a points system when driving licences are endorsed for different offences — such a system is effective in the UK I understand. Under that system the licence could be withdrawn following the accumulation of a number of points.

Local authorities will also need a once off grant to cater for this devolution of authority, which I welcome. Since 1987 the local authority in Wexford has been applying for a range of speed limit revisions, the introduction of speed limits in areas and the extension of speed limits zones on the outskirts of towns and villages. The cost to Wexford County Council of signposting our revised limits, assuming they would be accepted, would be £70,000. Apparently speed limit signs are expensive. I was unaware, I did not think that was the case. I suggest that next year, or at the appropriate time local authorities be given a once-off increase in their block grant to accommodate the cost of adjusting speed limits and erecting signposts.

I would also like to see an extension of the on-the-spot fine system, particularly for minor traffic offences such as going through red lights, exceeding the speed limit not involving dangerous driving, lane hopping, cycling without lights and using trailers that do not have adequate lighting.

I broadly welcome many of the measures in the Bill. I recognise, without equivocation, the need to tighten up the law considerably in this area. Stringent regulations must be balanced with safeguards and a phased system of penalties. Above all, this Bill must be accompanied by extra resources for the enforcing authority, the Garda Síochána.

Road transport is vital to industrial development and the private car is fundamental to modern life. It has introduced a freedom of movement that is unparalleled in history. However, these advantages must not blind us to the fact that road transport in Ireland kills and maims more than private guns, pollution, fire or many of the other hazards or supposed hazards to which stringent legislation applies. That is a matter of considerable public concern. We must recognise that a licence to drive is not a licence to kill or be killed. It is time we did something about fatalities on our roads.

Like other Members, I welcome this Bill. However, it is unfortunate that Bills are being rushed through the House at the end of the session. I am glad this Bill is being referred to a select committee because it is deserving of minute scrutiny and, perhaps, the Minister will take some amendments on board. It will be an ideal opportunity to show the advantages of the Committee system.

What is the purpose behind the Bill? The Minister, and Deputy Doyle, alluded to this. Our objective must be to reduce fatalities and injuries. We are all aware of people who have suffered as a result of road accidents. I know of a tragic case involving friends of mine where one of twin sisters was killed in a simple road accident which arose as a result of drunk driving. It is a problem of which I am acutely aware. We must take the most stringent action against drink driving in particular.

It is not only the fatalities that cause concern but also the horrendous injuries that can result from road accidents. One visit to the National Medical Rehabilitation Centre, Rochestown Avenue, County Dublin, which is adjacent to my home, would convince anyone of the appalling chances people take. On drink driving, young people in particular will take unnecessary risks believing they are immortal. The result is tragedy for the families of these young people and many others. The pain and suffering caused by such accidents is incalculable. In addition to the appalling human cost, there is another consideration, the cost in monetary terms. Young people find it virtually impossible to obtain car insurance due to the number of accident claims. There is an undoubted connection between the two. Despite our environmental consciousness we are becoming more dependent on the car as a mode of transport.

According to the National Safety Council, 415 people died as a result of road accidents in 1992 and of that figure 115 were pedestrians and 169 were car users. It is not realised that although car drivers may be largely responsible for accidents the number of pedestrians killed as a result of road accidents is enormous, approximately 28 per cent of the total. That is a huge percentage.

Three decisions are credited with reducing road fatalities. They were the obligatory wearing of seat belts, the lowering of speed limits and the traffic calming measures, particularly in built-up areas. The Bill provides for tougher drink driving laws. If we do not ensure enforcement of these laws we might as well forget about them altogether.

I would like to refer briefly to seat belts though they are not referred to in this Bill. There is widespread recognition of the importance of seat belts. If a person who is involved in an accident makes a personal injuries claim, the first question the insurance company concerned asks is whether the claimant was wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. I am concerned about the position in regard to the obligatory wearing of rear seat belts, particularly in the case of children, and should like some information about enforcement of the regulation in this regard. One thing that greatly upsets me is to see a child in its mother's arms in the front seat of a car. Any time I have approached someone in such circumstances to point out the risk to which they were exposing their child, their reaction, on realising the danger involved, was one of shock. In safety campaigns and so on it should be emphasised that very young children must be placed in child seats in a car while older children must travel in the back seat, and use the seat belts. I try to ensure that my children wear seat belts all the time and they have now got over moaning about it. In regard to road safety parents should not give in to children who are not keen on complying with the regulations. I support the lowering of permitted alcohol levels for drivers. We should lead the way in Europe on this matter. Safety campaigns should specify the amount of alcohol a person is allowed to have consumed before driving. A number of people asked me about this last night and I told them that, after the implementation of this legislation, a pint would probably be enough to put them over the limit. The message must go out that one should not drink and drive.

Thankfully, for the last number of Christmases there has been a reduction in the number of road fatalities. This is due not to the imposition of limits but to the implementation of the law by the Garda who, as everyone now knows, are particularly on the alert at Christmas time. Christmas is a time of festivities and people travelling from parties etc., know that a garda may be around the corner waiting to breathalyse suspected offenders. That ought to act as a major deterrent to driving after consuming alcohol. If people know that measures, be they tough or otherwises, are implemented they will adhere to the law. The critical element must be enforcement or the threat of enforcement and the Garda must have the resources necessary to enforce the law.

The exploitation by clever lawyers of loopholes in the law as a way of ensuring their clients evade justice, brings the law into disrepute. The introduction of evidential breath-testing is sensible, as is the strengthening of the powers of the Garda to enter a hospital to take specimens from drivers suspected of being involved in traffic accidents. Yesterday, I spoke to a person about an accident in which an intoxicated driver in a big car rammed a van in which six or seven children were travelling. Fortunately, there were no fatalities. However the car driver fled the scene leaving a number of children in great distress and needing hospitalisation. Subsequently that driver, as a result of the exploitation on his behalf of a loophole in the law, got away scot-free. Such loopholes must be closed. Powers of entry to premises should be available to the Garda to apprehend someone who would behave as that driver behaved.

We hear about people locking themselves in their cars to avoid the Garda. All these matters are dealt with in the Bill and I have no hesitation in supporting them. If people think they will get off on technicalities they are more likely to abuse the law. Unfortunately, that happens in too many cases. Initially I had misgivings about empowering the Garda to gain entry in order to make arrests. I accept that safeguards must exist in regard to personal liberty, but each case must be taken as it arises. Where there is just cause for entering a premises for the purpose of making an arrest the Garda must be given the necessary powers to do so.

Part IV of the Bill refers to the carrying of a driving licence at all times. I was surprised that a number of people reacted against this idea. Ireland is one of the few countries in the world where people do not have to carry a driving licence. In other countries this document is often used as a means of identification. I suggest that we introduce a more user friendly licence. While the present licence is more acceptable than the old red covered document which was quite bulky, if it was designed along the lines of a credit card, it would be convenient to have with one always when driving.

The Bill deals with the question of the mandatory disqualification period of one year for a first offence and the necessity to pass a driving test thereafter. The latter measure will strike fear into the hearts of many older people who may never have had to sit a driving test. This is a matter that may have to be considered, perhaps along the lines suggested by Deputy Doyle but some penalty should be introduced in this area, depending on the seriousness of the offence. On the question of the mandatory disqualification period for a first offence, in many areas in the US a type of community order is served under which if a person needs a car for work he can use it for that purpose during the day and the car is then impounded outside those times. That is a penalty we should consider for less serious offences where discretion could be allowed.

In talking about our motorways, Deputy Doyle referred to the MPH signs as opposed to kilometre speed limit signs. People are confused by the fact that our speed limit signs are miles per hour whereas our directional signs are in kilometres. That should be tidied up.

Local authority members, especially Dublin members, will be pleased with section 33 which devolves responsibility on local authorities for speed limits. That power, linked with provisions in Part VI of the Bill, will enable local authorities to grapple with the constant headaches caused by parking, traffic regulation and traffic calming measures. Speed regulation and traffic calming measures have an impact on road fatalities, especially in urban areas. The dangers to children in built-up areas is evident. I have had many complaints about people speeding through housing estates but the authorities say that according to the criteria people are not speeding and that there is no need for traffic calming measures which the people in the community and local councillors seek. In many cases it takes a fatal accident to prove a point. Now we will be able to respond properly to the needs of local communities. One of the principle bones of contention in Blackrock, Dún Laoghaire and in other areas of the constituency relates to traffic management. If the local authority has greater autonomy in dealing with these matters, we can alleviate the problem somewhat. I welcome that.

With the local authorities gaining control of traffic management we will come back to the question of funding. Whatever about a once-off grant towards these measures, local authorities will later use lack of funding as an excuse not to provide traffic signs and traffic calming measures. We must look at providing resources in tandem with the implementation of this Bill. Perhaps we could divert some Structural Funds towards roads. I am sure there are ways and means to provide funding to make the implementation of the Bill easier.

The local authority should put much more emphasis on road safety. It would be a good idea to have a locally based road safety officer or a small safety council. Even though there are nationwide road safety campaigns, there are often local problems, particularly in tourist areas where people might be unfamiliar with the area, where a local organisation could better deal with the problems. There is a case to be made for funding for that project.

With regard to road safety in general, it is obligatory in many countries to have a rear window brake warning light. Studies indicate that this is very sucessful in reducing tail-end accidents. There is an anomaly here in that such brake lights have to be disconnected when the cars are imported. The Minister might be familiar with the adage in the retail trade that "eye level is buy level". The Minister could use that analogy in terms of driving. This is a small safety feature which costs nothing. In fact, it costs money to have the lights disconnected.

On Committee Stage, I will table a number of amendments but not on the limit on alcohol. The Minister has shown vehemence in relation to his opposition to drink driving. We must focus on implementing the law in this area when this Bill is enacted. We can have all the aspirations in the world but it will not do any good unless we implement the laws. There must be communication between the Departments of the Environment and Justice in order to ensure that the Garda get the resources to implement the drink driving laws. I heard a story last Christmas to the effect that the Garda had run out of breathalyser kits and were relying more on the threat than on the implementation of the law. That is a small illustration of how under-resourced the Garda can be in what is a very important area. I hope a measure of the success of the implementation of the provisions of this Bill will be that, when we calculate the number of fatalities and injuries on our roads, it will be considerably fewer than 400 annually. One fatality is too many. I hope that the provisions of this Bill will help to highlight the dangers of drinking and driving and persuade people to be more responsible.

I look forward to the debate on Committee Stage.

Like Deputies Doyle and Keogh, I will support this Bill but I am disappointed with its narrow provisions. I had very high hopes that this Bill, which we had been promised for some time past, would address the many serious problems with regard to road accident, deaths and injuries.

The explanatory and financial memorandum — repeated by the Minister in his introductory remarks — sets out four objectives, first, to restate and strengthen the law relating to drink driving; to introduce new measures to secure better enforcement of the Road Traffic Acts; to introduce new arrangements for making traffic regulations and to devolve certain functions to local authorities. While the provisions of this Bill probably restate and strengthen the law relating to drink driving I am not sure they achieve effectively the other three objectives set out — they may in a fairly limited way — but do not go far enough.

The press release by the Minister's office, in announcing the publication of this Bill, declared it was addressing the problem of drink driving. The first sentence said that this Bill would take drink out of driving. I believe it will certainly do that but it is important, and Deputy Keogh referred to this, that the public understand very clearly what is being done here. It is also important that the rationale behind it is understood.

In this Bill there is a range of measures which will — rightly — render it more difficult for people charged with a drink driving offence to get away with it, either by locking themselves in their car, driving into their driveway or, through the use of a clever lawyer, finding some technicality under which they can get off. I welcome those very good provisions.

The Bill also contains a reduction in the drink driving limit. I often asked in this House like other Members, for the drink driving limit here to be brought into line with the European norm. In the course of this debate it will be important to tease out what exactly is involved. Effectively — and the public will need to understand this very clearly — it will no longer be possible for somebody to take a drink and drive; that is the bottom line. The conventional wisdom was that the existing limit for drink driving allowed one, depending on one's capacity, to take perhaps up to three drinks and still drive home. Let us take the example of a farmer after his day's work, the existing limit enabled him to drive two miles to the pub, have his couple of drinks and drive home. That will not be possible under the provisions of this Bill. Depending on one's capacity, the limit of 80 milligrammes falls somewhere between a pint or a pint and a half of beer. For all practical purposes, the reduction of the limit to 80 milligrammes means that one does not drink if one is driving. That needs to be spelled out in very clear terms to the public. There is no point in being sanctimonious about this, we have had a drink culture here, indeed there is hardly a Member of this House who has not at some stage, been over the limit as they drove home. There is hardly a person who has not been over the limit if he or she takes a drink and drives.

I was disappointed the Minister did not spell out the rationale behind the reduction in the limit. He said that in the analysis undertaken by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, half the samples tested were over twice the permitted limit. Clearly there is a big problem if, under the existing limit, somebody when tested has 240 milligrammes, which means one is talking about a person who may have drunk six, eight or more pints, and is driving. The Minister did not outline the proportion of those tested who fell into the category between the new and old limits and did not explain why, or to what extent, reducing the limit to 80 milligrammes will reduce traffic accidents. How big is the problem in that area? I support the reduction in the limit but, if the public are being asked to totally abandon drinking if they are driving which is effectively what they are being asked here then the rationale behind it will have to be explained. Why is the focus of this Bill on people who drink between one and three pints? That has not been explained to date. I am glad the Minister is indicating he will explain it. We need to know the extent of the problem in that area and if it is anticipated that, by reducing the limit, the incidence of road accidents will be reduced.

We need to be clear that reducing the drink driving limit alone will not eliminate, or perhaps reduce to the degree we would like, the problems of road accidents and deaths. A broad range of other measures is needed.

I have spoken here before on the question of road safety. For example, I recall doing so in the course of the debate on the 1992 Local Government (Planning and Development) Act. Indeed I recall tabling a number of amendments to the Roads Bill last year addressing the issue of road safety. The Minister, in response to amendments tabled on Committee Stage, indicated he intended to address those areas in the Road Traffic Bill now before us. Quite clearly there is a major problem in the area of road safety. As already pointed out, the number of deaths on our roads is over 400 annually and the number of injuries runs close to 10,000. That is far more, for example than the casualties in Northern Ireland; it is the equivalent of a Stardust disaster every month. Indeed if one wanted to put that in the context of other tragedies in this country, for every death due to fire, there are nine on our roads. Its cost and pain in terms of human suffering is immeasurable. However, the cost of road accidents to our economy has been measured. Indeed the environmental research unit in the Minister's Department has put the cost of road accidents here somewhere in the region of £600 million annually. As we have not taken the issue of road safety seriously, there is a need for a radical reappraisal. While one aspect of the problem is being addressed in the Bill in a dramatic way, it fails to carry out the radical reappraisal required if we are to reduce the number of deaths and injuries on our roads.

The problem must be tackled on a number of levels. Those involved in road safety talk about the three E's — enforcement, engineering and education. On the question of enforcement, it is not enough to have road safety legislation, it has to be enforced. It is immaterial whether the drink driving limit is 80 milligrammes or 120 milligrammes if the driver is not stopped and checked. It is also immaterial what the speed limits are if they are not enforced. It is a fact that the speed limits here are a joke; they are not enforced or taken seriously. On a long stretch of main road there is the occasional speed trap, but few speed checks are carried out in urban areas where many pedestrians are killed.

Little is being done to address the problem of dangerous driving which may not be related to drink driving. I suggest that the young super stud who is trying to impress his girlfriend and who may have no drink taken is probably a greater danger on the road than the farmer ambling home at a leisurely pace having had two or three pints late in the evening. Irrespective of the cause, the problem of dangerous driving has to be addressed.

As we are aware, the Garda Síochána have their hands full at present in dealing with serious crime. When I make inquiries about traffic problems it becomes very clear that the over-stretched Garda force do not have the time or the resources to enforce our traffic laws. What we need — and I am disappointed no proposals have been made in this regard — is a special traffic police force which would operate under the control of the local authority, as is the case in other countries. It would be its responsibility to deal with traffic offences such as illegal parking, dangerous or drink driving, the condition of vehicles, speed limits and so on. This option should be considered if we are serious about addressing the issue of road safety.

We need to adopt a different approach in relation to the way in which traffic offences are prosecuted. Reference has been made to the need to get the Judiciary to take traffic offences more seriously. Many courts seem to regard traffic offences as routine and a great deal of thought it not given to the penalties that should be imposed unless a serious injury or a death is involved.

We should consider the possibility of introducing on the spot fines in respect of minor traffic offences and a points system, as is the case in other countries, whereby one would be given penalty points for dangerous driving and traffic offences such as illegal parking, the nondisplay of a tax disc and so on. Some years ago an organisation representing driving instructors made proposals to the Minister's predecessor. They suggested that we should consider introducing such a system for driving offences whereby, on a graded scale, one would be given two points for a minor offence and so on. They also suggested that once a person had accumulated a certain number of points over a period of time — I think they suggested 12 — they should have their licence endorsed or suspended. This system is being operated successfully in other countries and we should consider introducing it here.

We are not talking here about somebody who is found to be over the limit just once; somebody who drinks two pints may be a very careful driver in normal circumstances but under this law he could lose his licence for 12 months and have to do his driving test all over again. On the other hand, a persistent offender, when it comes to minor offences such as having no tax disc, bald tyres etc., who is a danger on the roads, can get away with it consistently. We should have a points system to ensure that persistent offenders can lose their licence.

Apart from the question of drink driving — I agree with what has been proposed in the Bill in this regard — we need to address the question of dangerous driving and road courtesy. We all have our stories to tell about road hogs who are a menace on the road. The person who refuses to pull in to allow someone to overtake them can cause accidents, too. In this regard I have received many complaints, particularly from women, that some drivers use this as a form of intimidation. Women have complained that when they are being overtaken on the road various non-verbal signs are sometimes given to intimidate and harass them.


Therefore the issue of road courtesy needs to be addressed.

On the question of education, we need to review the driving test. At present we have driving instruction which is aimed more at passing a test rather than good driving behaviour. Driving instruction should be aimed at good road behaviour rather than simply passing a once off test following which one is given a driving licence for life. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I am aware only three local authorities employ fulltime road safety officers. Given the number of deaths in road accidents as opposed to fires, it is clear that sufficient priority is not being given to road safety education.

On the question of engineering, we need to consider the condition of our roads. In recent years there has been a shift in emphasis in road policy, largely driven by the availability of European funds, towards the construction of new roads. There has been a corresponding reduction in the moneys available for the maintenance of the existing road network. Every Members of this House and of a local authority knows of the roads in their own area which are substandard, full of potholes and in a bad condition. Indeed, they can be considered to be dangerous for road users; in addition to bad junctions and blind bends, bad roads are a contributory factor in road accidents.

Pedestrians account for almost one-third of the number of fatalities on our roads. Last Sunday The Observer published an OECD table which showed that Ireland has one of the highest levels of pedestrian road deaths. We do not give enough priority to the safety of pedestrians. Very often roads are designed without footpaths. A section of the N11 between Cornelscourt and Cabinteely in my constituency was designed and built without a footpath. New roads are being designed and built without footpaths and cycle lanes which would provide safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

Before the Department of the Environment will fund a pedestrian crossing a pedestrian count has to be carried out and the number of pedestrians has to reach a certain level. The present levels, which were originally set by An Foras Forbartha, are unrealistically high and need to be reviewed. More priority needs to be given to these crossings, which enable pedestrians to cross roads in safety. Similarly, the roads in housing estates are designed to accommodate two cars passing each other. Very little attention is paid to the safety of pedestrians or children when designing roads in housing estates.

As a result of the reductions in the rate support grants for local authorities, the public lighting in many areas is inadequate and has not been brought up to standard. In some cases lights are turned off during the summer.

There was the absurd situation last year when Dublin local authorities turned off public lighting on the main roads in and out of the city for a few months during the summer because they did not have the resources to maintain the system. We are dealing with legislation which will tackle the issue of road safety, and one of the basic requirements of road safety is that roads are properly lit and well maintained at night, which is when the bulk of accidents occur, so that motorists, pedestrians and cyclists can travel in safety.

Deputy Keogh referred to the need to address the traffic problems in urban areas. I very much identify with this need. One of the issues most frequently raised with me as a public representative is traffic and traffic problems. When I first looked at the Bill it seemed that powers would be devolved on local authorities to address issues such as traffic management, traffic movement and traffic speeds in their areas. However, on closer examination, I am not sure that the Bill will resolve these problems. Perhaps we can deal with this issue in greater detail on Committee Stage. There are a number of problems which need to be addressed, for example, the ambiguity which exists between the local authority as the roads authority and the Garda as the traffic authority. While the Bill goes some way towards removing that ambiguity, there is still scope for further improvements. Consideration should be given to the establishment of a body to police traffic under the aegis of the local authority, thus making the local authority both the roads authority and traffic authority for its area. That would eliminate the very bureaucratic procedures which exist at present for dealing with even the simplest aspects of traffic management.

As I understand it — perhaps I am misreading the Bill — local authorities will be given the power to set speed limits for particular areas within their jurisdiction. However, they will be limited in doing this to the speed limits as already defined — in other words, the 30 miles per hour speed limit in built-up areas and the special speed limits of 40 and 50 miles per hour. I should like to know if it will be possible under this Bill for a local authority to introduce a speed limit of less than 30 miles per hour. The main problem in many areas, including areas in my constituency, relates to traffic which tries to take a short cut through residential areas at peak times. The local people in those areas have two problems. First, there is too much traffic and they want to put a stop to it. They are constantly demanding the provision of ramps and other measures which will discourage traffic from using these roads as short cuts. Second, there is the problem of speed. If local authorities had the power to set low speed limits of five, ten and 15 miles per hour for certain residential areas and had the power to enforce those limits — there is no point in having a speed limit if it is not enforced — that would eliminate many of the problems.

Reference was made to the powers of local authorities to provide ramps, bollards, etc. Even though local authorities have this power at present, they do not have the necessary resources to provide them. My local authority has 100 requests for the provision of ramps on various roads in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area. However, it only has money to provide ramps on one road per year; it does this with a certain amount of imaginative use of the block grants available to it. The Minister may say that the money can be taken from somewhere else, but it is the same story when it comes to the provision of traffic signs. Local authorities have limited resources for the provision of traffic signs. If a residents association wants a "Children at Play" sign put up in its area it will be told that there is a waiting list for such signs. However, if a residents association offers to put up the money for the sign it will be provided. There is this two speed system for the provision of traffic signs.

The devolution of powers to local authority will be useless unless the local authorities have the resources to exercise those powers. If the Minister increased the road grants to local authorities in order to give effect to the measures provided for in this legislation it would be money well spent. When one considers that the cost of road accidents is approximately £600 million per year, a small amount of money spent on traffic management and traffic abatement would be money well spent. We need to look at the issue in this way.

The Minister's Department has been very good at standardising procedures in many areas. However, one area which still requires attention is parking control. Local authorities have introduced various kinds of parking controls, for example, parking discs, ticket systems, etc. There is a need to standardise the system of parking control. It is absolutely absurd that if you visit Cork you have to buy a red parking disc, if you visit Limerick you have to buy a green parking disc and if you visit Galway you have to buy a maroon parking disc. The colour of the parking disc is the same as the county colours.

There is a difference even within counties. The parking disc in Enniscorthy is different from the parking disc in Wexford town.


It can be very difficult to have a standardised——

Perhaps the Deputy would bring his remarks to a close.

I want to question the Minister on the powers of the Garda Síochána to seize cars. As I understand it, it will be possible for the Garda to seize a car in certain circumstances when this Bill is enacted. This is aimed at joyriders and I welcome that. However, I believe that the power is confined to cases where the Garda believes the driver is too young to have a driving licence. It is important that this provision is enforcible because joyriders present a huge problem. I recently came across a case where joyriders were driving a car for several days but all the Garda could do was to ask the occupants politely to produce their driving licence and insurance within ten days. It was not until they managed to knock over a Garda motorcycle that the car was taken from them. Quite clearly that makes a joke of the law and I hope the Bill will address that case.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Jacob.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to commend this far reaching and incisive Bill to the House. We have not always been pro-active in the area of road traffic legislation and for this reason I congratulate the Minister for introducing what he describes as "the most significant changes in road traffic law to be introduced in Ireland in the past 25 years."

I will take this opportunity to read into the record the horrific statistics on road traffic accidents. Over the past ten years there have been over 4,000 deaths on the road, of which one-third occurred between the hours of 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. in the morning. On average there are 400 deaths on the road each year. A staggering 100,000 people were injured in road accidents over the same period. The facts speak for themselves: the need for this legislation is self-evident. Drunk driving is a very serious crime. Accidents as a result of drunk driving shatters lives and leaves a legacy of heartbreak for the bereaved. I am sure every Member has attended the funeral of someone who was the innocent victim of drunk driving. The lives of family members have been shattered because someone was not careful and drove under the influence of drink.

It is interesting that one rarely reads about a person convicted of drunk driving repeating the offence. The reason is that the individual concerned learned his lesson, but unfortunately it was too late for the victim who died. I believe that if people became more aware of the hazards of excessive drinking the number of accidents on our roads could be significantly reduced. Over the years Ministers have taken the opportunity coming up to long weekends, holiday periods and occasions of celebration to appeal strongly to people to refrain from drinking. While this has worked to some extent, it appears to be forgotten very soon after the campaign. We have to examine how we can put the message across more widely.

When one considers the statistics I have just referred to one must surely admit that something is very seriously wrong. I was delighted to see the stringent measures in this Bill. It is time to address the daily number of drink related traffic accidents which result in death or serious injury. This Bill introduces a number of new measures relating to drink driving offences which can only be warmly welcomed. This includes the reduction of blood alcohol levels from 100 milligrams to 80 milligrams. Some people believe that if you drive you do not drink and it would make it much easier for the Garda to enforce the law if blood alcohol levels were reduced to nil. People would then get the message that if you drink do not drive and if you drive do not drink. However, the community are divided on this.

A person convicted of a drink driving offence will have to pay the costs incurred in the detection and prosecution of the offence. Furthermore, persons convicted of drinking offences or dangerous driving will, in addition to being disqualified from driving, have to re-sit a driving test before the licence is returned. This is only right and proper as the drunk driver through his or her behaviour forfeits the right to drive. They should be forced to indicate that they have become responsible drivers by sitting a new test. People may feel this is a severe penalty, but if we can reduce the number of deaths and save lives the Minister need not apologise to anybody.

Will the Minister re-examine the current system of driving tests? I am convinced that many drivers on the road today do not understand the rules of the road and Members have given examples of drivers who believe that once they are behind the wheel nobody else exists but themselves. One only has to be behind someone to see this. They pull out and overtake without indicating. I believe if people were more aware of the simple rules of behaviour we could significantly reduce the number of accidents on our roads. There is no easy answer to this problem, but if we could get this message across we would be doing a good day's work. Very often people complain that they failed their driving test for a very simple reason, either they touched the kerb or made some minor mistake and they become very incensed. I think those taking the test would benefit from being more aware of the rules of the road.

Section 36 refers to the revenue raised from parking. Will the Minister consider giving the local authorities discretionary powers to spend the moneys collected by them from on street and off street parking? In my constituency Cork Corporation had a major difficulty in finding the moneys to run the city. Money was available from one area which would have offset the difficulties that confronted the councillors in bringing in an estimate, but unfortunately because of the restrictions the councillors were not in a position to use for essential services the money raised from parking and cut-backs had to take place. I believe there would be no difficulties if the Minister were to amend the regulations and give greater discretion to the manager, because as I understand it this money has to be used at present for building car parks or providing other parking facilities. Roads in other areas of the city would benefit if there was discretion to use this money and perhaps the Minister would examine that issue.

Local authorities are being given a greater level of power and freedom. The Programme for a Partnership Government provides that under new legislation local authorities will have greater autonomy and responsibility for a wide variety of functions, such as traffic control, land acquisition and disposal and by-laws. It is important to state that prior to the Programme for a Partnership Government the Minister had already gone down the road of giving greater powers at local level. An example of this is that decisions on small housing schemes can be taken at local level. The process of local autonomy has been going on for some time but it may not always have been recognised or highlighted.

The new powers introduced in section 37 will give local authorities the power to control their own traffic management and introduce their own parking controls. They will also set the speed limits for roads in their own areas. It has long been promised that local authorities would have greater scope for local initiative in decision making. We have heard for too long that statutory controls requiring local authorities to obtain ministerial approval in carrying out various functions will be removed so as to widen the freedom of local authorities to act.

I pay tribute to the Minister and I am delighted that this Bill allows for substantial new powers to local authorities in the area of traffic control and will give those local authorities a more meaningful role. There is nothing more frustrating for local councillors meeting deputations and residents' associations, particularly in urban areas, in relation to speeding through their estates and inconsiderate drivers not taking due care, than to have to await the sanction of the Garda Commissioner and the Department for the changes they have made. It is recognised as a major step forward that decisions can be taken at local level. Decisions do not always relate to the 60 miles per hour limit or the 30 miles per hour zone. In my own area in the older part of the estate there are eight or nine roadways where there are no footpaths. This is an area where the local authority will have discretion in relation to the control of speed limits.

I would remind Deputy Wallace that if he wishes to share time with Deputy Jacob eight minutes now remain.

The other new powers contained in the Bill which I should like to highlight include the fact that each driver will have to carry a valid driving licence at all times. Some people may be concerned about this regulation, but it is a valid measure and one that is not uncommon in other countries. This will make it easier for the Garda to ascertain whether a driver has a current driving licence. The Garda will also have the power to impound untaxed vehicles which may be driven without insurance cover and any vehicle being driven by an under-age driver. This is a major step forward so far as the Garda is concerned.

This Bill is all about encouraging responsible behaviour. The motorcar is an integral part of modern living and is an invaluable form of transport. However, in the wrong hands a car can turn into a deadly weapon, no less lethal than a gun or a knife. Car ownership carries with it therefore a burden of responsibility. This Bill is designed to develop a sense of care and responsibility. For that reason I welcome it and I am happy to commend it to the House.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Dan Wallace, for allowing me to share part of his time allocation. There are many aspects of this Bill I would like to address, but because of the acute restriction on my time I will endeavour to address only those aspects relating to alcohol and drink driving. I heartily welcome the general thrust of the Bill. It is typical of the stream of positive and much needed legislation which has been brought before the Oireachtas by the Minister for the Environment and, indeed, by this Government.

The Deputy's fan club.

Deputy Doyle is included.

Do not presume.

The statistics given to us this morning by the Minister are staggering and frightening. One would have thought that the revelation of these facts alone would instill sufficient awareness in the public psyche to avert such carnage in the future. Many of my colleagues, including the Minister, felt they should use that horrific word "carnage" as that is precisely what we are faced with in this context. Unfortunately, that awareness is not there. We must aspire in this and other legislation to create an air of extreme urgency with regard to the whole area of road safety. It is obvious that this is the Minister's intention. Already there is a growing awareness regarding drink driving. The vast majority of Irish drinkers today are very responsible. I have noticed nowadays that people tend to make special arrangements when they set out on a social evening.

We must remember that a drink and the pub is an integral part of the Irish scene and will continue to be so. As legislators, we must not try to abolish or interfere with that long standing tradition but to create a responsible attitude so that people can get home safely. In the case of a couple, I perceive a growing trend whereby one partner enjoys a drink while the other abstains. Neighbours and people living adjacent to each other in remote areas also engage in this responsible sharing arrangement. Frequently taxis and mini-buses are involved. This shows that the graph of a responsible approach to drink driving is definitely going in the right direction.

The vast majority of publicans also are ultra-responsible in this regard. I know of publicans who regularly take responsible action in the interests of their customers and, indeed, in their own interests. From a purely practical or even a selfish viewpoint, what publican wants to have an accident or a series of accidents related to drink driving adjacent to his premises, his clients, his friends or family? That responsible attitude I am endeavouring to portray exists.

Earlier, Deputy Gilmore referred to the young macho driver trying to prove a point with or without alcohol. I agree with Deputy Gilmore that the potential hazard in such a case is much more serious than the rural dweller who makes his way home at night having availed of the single social outlet available to him — a drink and a chat in his local country pub. Most young people and legitimate young drivers are becoming increasingly responsible in their approach and are making arrangements to allow them socialise and still be responsible on the roads. We do have the rogue publican who is prepared to serve and supply drink to our young people, sometimes at a cheap price on a take-away basis. Drink is still too accessible to our young people. The issue of the availability of drink at cheap prices from outlets over which there should be greater control must be tackled and dealt with on an ongoing basis.

I welcome the new powers the Minister is giving to the Garda. They will lessen the frustration felt by gardaí in endeavouring to carry out their duties in a proper manner. It is ludicrous that at present they can track down a wrongdoer to a private premises and be deemed to be trespassing if they enter that premises to carry out their duties. I am glad the Minister is dealing with that matter in the legislation.

I welcome also the new provisions which will deal with the dubious and untoward measures which have been instrumental in offenders getting off scot free in the past. Heretofore, slick lawyers have not only found loopholes in the legislation, but have driven the proverbial coach and four through the provisions which were in place.

I welcome wholeheartedly the measures the Minister has included in this legislation and, hopefully, the next time we debate this matter he will be able to supply us with much improved statistics instead of the horrific figures he presented to us this morning.

I welcome the fact that the Minister decided to include much more than drink driving matters in his legislation. In particular, I welcome the new and increased powers local authorities will have as a result of this legislation. However, in spite of the fact that the Minister made every effort to devolve minor functions to local government, I regret that fundamental reform of the local government system appears to be still a long way down the road. In spite of successive Governments making all sorts of promises and indications about the need to reform local government——

Mr. Smith

This time it is for real.

——the Minister could still walk into the policy statement trap his predecessors walked into if he generates too many expectations about the pace and speed of this reforming process. I agree that some of the powers for which he has assumed responsibility as Minister should have been part and parcel of the powers of local authorities many years ago. The fact that the Minister had to seek permission from so many people to sanction speed limits to introduce by-laws and to create new taxi ranks in major urban areas, makes a mockery of our local government system. I hope the devolvement of functions to local authorities will be speeded up and that we will see further evidence of the Minister's commitment in that regard before the end of this year.

Many of the improvements to our roadways over the past ten or 15 years have enabled traffic to travel at greater speed. The £8.6 billion to which the Taoiseach referred this morning will provide a unique opportunity for us during the next seven years to make further improvements on our road network and will generate even greater speed in regard to traffic in the future. The Taoiseach has gone on record on many occasions since the Edinburgh Summit stating that he had the £8 billion in the bag plus the 10 per cent devaluation, making a total of £8.8 billion.

Mr. Smith

Is the Deputy short of material relating to the Bill?

There is no hole in that bag in regard to this matter and the seriousness of this is not lost on the Minster for the Environment who participated in a full Cabinet decision on this matter yesterday——

Mr. Smith

We have notes here that we could give to the Deputy if he is unable to stay with the Bill.

——surrounded by the secrecy we have come to know in respect of decisions appertaining to the Structural Funds. Such decisions are made in the secrecy of a room in Government Buildings without informing the Houses of the Oireachtas or the general public about how this, or any other, Minister, intends to spend those moneys in the next seven years. The greatest single opportunity for people to participate at local level and to give a clear indication of where they would like this money to be spent in the next seven years has been lost on the Minister. In spite of his glowing statements recently about the need for greater local input and participation by local government, he has failed miserably to give local government and local communities an ideal opportunity to participate in local planning and in the implementation of local economic and development plans, including road plans.

Mr. Smith

If Kilkenny stay that far away from the ball in hurling they will never reach an All Ireland.

It appears I have touched a sensitive nerve, the Minister has started to talk about hurling. As a Kilkenny man, I have no difficulty talking about hurling, but I will stay with the Structural Funds for a few more minutes.


Even Cork people do not know much about hurling these days.

In Cork we can certainly talk about football, which is more than can be said for Kilkenny people.

Wexford people talk about hurling for six months of the year, and do not mention it for the remainder of the year. The same applies to Cork people this year.

What about roads?

In regard to the role of local government and the input it can make to the National Development Plan, it is essential that we do not spend all our money on road traffic management and safety on national primary and secondary routes. People also live along county and regional roads. In the past few years, the mandarins in the Department of Finance and, to a lesser extent, those in the Department of the Environment, have sought to exercise their discretion and priority on spending money on roads used mainly by traffic en route to ports and airports.

In the next round of Structural Funds, a proportion of money must be earmarked for the improvement of county and regional roads. People living along those routes create their own sense of community, implement their own economic development plans and meet their own standards of living. Tourists, in particular, cannot gain access to such routes because of inadequate funding during the past ten or 15 years. It is not surprising that many accidents occur on our county routes. Due to lack of finance, local government has given inadequate attention to the improvement of those roads, even in respect of surfacing. More funding should be allocated to make those routes safer by way of hedge cutting and hedge cutting notices should be served on land and property owners.

It is regrettable that the Minister did not take an opportunity in this legislation to amend existing legislation in regard to hedge notices and fines for people's failure to carry out their responsibilities in this regard. The Minister should have given himself power to increase fines so that land and property owners would take their responsibilities seriously and road users, particularly those using country and regional routes, would feel safer. I have received many complaints in the last couple of years about the inadequate amount of money the councils have to spend on this type of work. At the end of the day it is the responsibility of the adjacent landowners to put into train the work necessary to make those routes safe.

A major deficiency, referred to by Deputy Gilmore, has been the lack of attention to facilities for pedestrians traversing those roads. The Minister is well aware of the problem on the Waterford-New Ross route at Glenmore where a parish has been practically divided. People have great difficulty in traversing that route now because of the speed of traffic resulting from the major improvement works carried out with the help of EC regional funding. Greater attention should be given by the Department of the Environment to making those routes safer with the provision of overhead pedestrian bridges to allow people to cross safely. Animals need to be able to cross too because, if animals break out they can cause serious problems for road users.

Another problem relates to expenditure on an inner relief road in Kilkenny city which has received substantial funds in the last few years and will be receiving more in the next couple of years. No account has been taken of the fact that the route goes through a housing estate and that there is no pedestrian crossing which would enable old people in particular to cross that route which they have crossed all their lives to go to church, to shop or to avail of various services. These facilities should be incorporated as part of any plan.

In regard to drink driving generally, the legal blood alcohol limit has been reduced substantially in the last few years, but there has not been a substantial reduction in the numbers killed on our roads. The Department gives the impression that reducing the alcohol limit will automatically bring about a corresponding reduction in fatalities on our roads. I do not share that view. The reduction in the alcohol limit has not resulted in the improvements the Minister for the Environment expected. We are further reducing the legal alcohol limit but I do not think this will add significantly to a reduction in fatalities on our roads. There should be different punishments for different offences under this legislation. I do not see how anybody could indulge in any sort of social drinking in view of the penalties proposed in this legislation. I know that people must be responsible and that those with large intakes of drink must be kept off our roads because of the danger to the public. However, it is difficult for me, as a legislator, to support a situation where a person who has had two pints is hammered by the same penalty as a person who has had 32 pints. A distinction should be drawn. The Minister should give guidelines on the treatment of such cases. I do not accept that a person who has taken two pints will be the cause of any fatality on our roads but I accept that people who have taken excessive amounts of alcohol would. There are unfortunate innocent victims of legislation but I know the Minister will say that he cannot legislate for the minority, that he has to legislate for the majority. There needs to be a mechanism to permit leniency in the case of responsible people.

I brought to the attention of the Minister recently the difficulties and inconsistencies in driver testing in the Kilkenny area. I have received complaints about possible collusion between inspectors and those involved in the business of teaching people how to drive. Even though the statistics from the Kilkenny centre will clearly indicate that they are in line with the national average, the Minister should investigate to see if there is collusion between inspectors and driving instructors and to examine the pass and failure rates in respect of individual driving instructors. I ask the Minister to do a survey in relation to this matter so that I will not have to raise the matter again by way of parliamentary question. An allegation of that sort has been made to me in respect of the Kilkenny Driver Testing Centre and I would be greatful if the Minister would check out the authenticity of that information.

I agree with Deputy Jacob that the sale of alcohol through supermarkets and other outlets is not controlled. Too many young people are roaming our streets under the influence of alcohol, particularly at weekends, because of the ease with which they can get it. They can cause much more serious damage to the environment and to society than people who are penalised for having just two pints of Guinness or Smithwicks in their system at a particular time. We should focus on the parents' responsibility in this matter and ensure that they take full responsibility for the activities of their minors in relation to alcohol. As the House is aware, at this time of the year when examination results are out large numbers of young people, 14 and 15 year olds, traverse our cities and towns with plenty of alcohol in their bloodstreams but nobody is taking responsibility for how they acquired it. This matter should be urgently addressed. Some towns have introduced a system of identity cards which has yielded practical results. I understand that in Mullingar this practice is operated by publicans and is quite successful in clamping down on and reducing the number of irresponsible young people who have access to a large amount of alcohol.

There was a reference to the problems associated with getting insurance, particularly for young people. As an insurance intermediary, I have to declare a vested interest in this matter. The former Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce, Deputy Brennan, said that if he reduced the commissions for intermediaries it would automatically result in a reduction in insurance premiums. He directed that the number of counsel in accident cases should be reduced and the resulting saving should be passed on to policy holders.

In recent years regulations were introduced by the Department of Industry and Commerce to regulate the insurance industry without considering what was happening in the marketplace. There has been a 150 per cent increase in the cost of motor insurance premiums for young people and some of them will not be given cover. Many young people cannot afford to pay the insurance premiums quoted and as a result there are a large number of uninsured vehicles on our roads. I am pleased the Minister has provided in this Bill for the impounding of uninsured vehicles. We must ensure that responsible people are not treated shabbily. Accidents caused by uninsured drivers cause great difficulties for a third party. Harsh measures must be adopted to deal with uninsured drivers. I hope the Minister will ensure that young people under 25 years will be able to insure their motor vehicles at a reasonable cost. Cars are a necessity, not a luxury, and people need them to get to work.

I am concerned about section 11 which grants extra powers to the Garda Síochána to arrest people without a warrant and to forcibly enter premises if necessary. The penalties the Minister proposes in this legislation are sufficient to deal with irresponsible people identified by the Garda Síochána without the inclusion of the extra powers in section 11. I welcome the Bill, with that reservation. I hope it will be possible to introduce different penalties for the various offences under this Bill.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Toddy O'Sullivan.

An Leas-Ceann Comhairle

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister on introducing additional measures in this comprehensive package. The Bill deserves close examination as its provisions will have far-reaching consequences. I am sure the Bill when enacted will set a pattern of safer driving.

Any measure that improves road safety is to be welcomed. The figure of more than 400 deaths per year on our roads is often quoted and is indicative of a problem which must be addressed in legislation and capable of evolving. The figure of more than 400 deaths per year only hides a huge human tragedy of young widows, widowers and children left to grieve the loss of a parent, son or daughter who in the majority of cases are blameless. Any measure to reduce that number is to be welcomed. The Bill will also reduce the number of those injured as a result of road traffic accidents. Many thousands of people are injured annually — many seriously and their enjoyment of life is considerably curtailed. Many of those people are bedridden for months or years and in many instances they never recover from their injuries and are hospitalised for the rest of their lives.

The effects of bad driving practices on our roads not only hide a huge human cost but also an economic and social problem of dimensions which is no longer tolerable. Millions of pounds each year is expended on hospitalisation of road traffic victims. A person's life can be changed overnight from one of gainful employment to the misery of subsistence living on the social welfare system. The court lists continue to grow with personal injury claims, choking the court system and providing a handsome living for many solicitors, barristers and court experts.

Up to now, our conscience as a Legislature was absolved in the knowledge that this human misery could be compensated in the majority of cases by a suitable level of court awards for the victims of car accidents. In cases where the offending driver was not insured the Motor Insurers Bureau saw to it that the majority of road victims were handsomely compensated.

Many thousands of uninsured drivers, mainly young people starting out in the world of employment use our national road network. A car is now a necessity and is not longer a luxury. Young people are being quoted prohibitive premiums — a young male driver was quoted a premium of approximately £1,600. Often the premium is more costly than the value of the car. Young people are compelled to flout the provisions of the Road Traffic Acts and take an uninsured car on the road or, alternatively, not take up offers of employment in the services sector and elsewhere and as a result live in a culture of dependency at an age in life when they can contribute most to this economy.

Recently a local radio station in Mayo, MWR, held a phone-in on the cost of car insurance. The programme was on air for approximately one hour in the morning and it was inundated with telephone calls regarding car insurance. Telephone calls were received from counties Mayo, Sligo and Donegal. Those calls related to job offers which required people to have their own car. The jobs ranged from photographers, salesmen to many other categories of work in the services sector. Those people were not able to take up those job offers and begin their working career because of the extremely high motor insurance quotations they received.

I welcome the measures in the Bill. The widest possible publicity campaign should be undertaken to inform the public of the major changes being introduced. The public should also be informed by radio, television and newspaper advertisements of the consequence of a successful conviction.

Fear of detection or apprehension is a powerful deterrent to persons who may think of driving while under the influence of alcohol. Previous Garda campaigns, particularly at Christmas, have been successful but the resources devoted to the road safety campaigns by the Road Safety Federation and the Department of the Environment will have to be substantially increased. According to a recent radio programme the insurance industry, which has expended approximately £2 million on road safety campaigns, should save a considerable amount following the implementation of the provisions of this Bill. I am sure once this Bill is enacted it will have the effect of substantially reducing the number of road traffic accidents.

I wish to refer to the mandatory disqualification from driving for a period of one year for dangerous driving simpliciter. There are two categories of dangerous driving, dangerous driving simpliciter and dangerous driving causing actual bodily harm. From my 14 years experience as a solicitor I know the vast majority of drivers who commit driving offences are charged with the appropriate offences. Many dangerous driving summonses are for minor incidents where an error of judgment or momentary lapse of attention results in vehicular damage only. In most of those cases drink is not involved. The majority of road traffic accident cases which come before the courts occur in the morning and no alcohol is involved. Under this Bill if a judge does not accept a plea to the lesser charge of careless driving, drivers will face automatic disqualification for one year.

I do not like tying the hands of our Judiciary in the sense of consequential or more correctly described mandatory orders which follow conviction. I have the utmost confidence in our Judiciary to hand out appropriate sentences, particularly at District Court level, either comprising monetary penalties, community service orders or discretionary disqualification orders, depending on the circumstances of accidents arising from incidents not involving drink.

The Minister should have left the position which prevailed previously, namely, mandatory disqualification for dangerous driving only for a second offence within three years and not for the first offence or, alternatively, increase the period of disqualification from six months to one year but leave the question of disqualification discretionary in the hands of our Judiciary depending on the circumstances of each case and not tie their hands to the extent contemplated under the provisions of the Bill.

Gardaí operating in rural towns are faced with many pressures when trying to apply their responsibilities with an even hand and they are, of course, conscious of the consequences of bringing a person before the courts charged with a particular offence. Gardaí will now increasingly bring charges for careless driving, rather than dangerous driving which prevailed heretofore, for vehicular damage cases only. Alternatively, the Circuit Court appeal lists will now increase dramatically, further clogging up quarterly sittings of the Circuit Court outside the Dublin area which will impact severely on the determination of civil and family cases.

From my experience in the west the vast majority of court summonses are for dangerous driving. A mandatory disqualification for a year is a serious penalty. These people will have no option but to go to the Circuit Court. The first cases heard in the Circuit Court are criminal cases which means that civil and family law cases will be put back repeatedly.

Similarly, in relation to driving without insurance, the Bill provides for mandatory disqualification for one year. This will impact particularly on young people who are forced into evasion because of their inability to pay the cost of premiums or even to obtain a quotation. The discretion of the District Court should not be removed for a first offence under this heading. We are going too far and removing the equity and discretion which, in most instances, should be left to the Judiciary, depending on the facts of any particular case. I know of young people particularly, but also others charged with driving without insurance, whose cases relate primarily to circumstances involving acts of charity carried out on behalf of a neighbour or friends, or emergencies which required a person to drive without insurance. In such circumstances, when the full facts were accepted by a judge, a suitable monetary penalty or the Probation Act was applied. This discretion is now being removed. I would not feel so strongly about this if the other provisions of the Bill were introduced and if other proposals were implemented with the intention of substantially reducing insurance premiums.

I put forward the following proposal for consideration by the Minister's Department, in conjunction with the insurance industry, to reduce costs of motor insurance primarily for young drivers. This proposal would entail insurance companies introducing a daytime insurance policy. The main beneficiaries should be young people who are currently hindered by the excessively high cost of motor insurance but this proposal will also be suitable for other people who only use their cars in daylight hours. If introduced it would enable the majority of young people to drive to and from work without suffering the current high insurance cost.

The typical cost of insurance for drivers between the ages of 18 and 25 is, as has been stated, £1,600 or more. This is ridiculously high. The majority of fatal and serious accidents occur at night and involve drivers between the ages of 18 and 23. Insurance companies are constantly quoting these statistics in their defence of the cost of motor insurance for young people. The practical enforcement of my proposal would involve only the requirement of additional information on car insurance discs. The insurance industry is at present spending huge sums of money on advertising new insurance products, particularly financial and mortgage type products. They should become more flexible to suit the needs of many young drivers who are forced to drive without car insurance.

I would like to have the opportunity of carrying out a comparable study of insurance products available in other European countries as I am sure that such products are more flexible than those currently offered to Irish drivers. If my proposal could be implemented, it would generate substantial additional income for the insurance industry. Figures available indicate that the PMPA is the only insurance company who did not make an underwriting loss in 1991. I understand it is the only company prepared to quote insurance premiums for young drivers. Guardian Royal Exchange, who were the leaders in this field, made substantial underwriting losses.

My proposal for a daytime insurance policy is practical because if a son or daughter is added to an insurance policy, as a named driver, the insurance broker could state that the person is covered, say, from 8 o'clock in the morning or from 4 o'clock in the evening on a certain day but that the cover becomes ineffective at a certain hour, perhaps six months down the line. It may be argued that this could lead to an increase in fraudulent claims. I am satisfied that would not be an unsurmountable problem because named drivers are already added to policies.

We must take steps to reduce the cost of car insurance for young people. I ask the Minister, in association with the insurance industry, to examine this proposal. I apologise to Deputy O'Sullivan for taking up too much time. I would have liked more time to deal with other provisions of the Bill. I congratulate the Minister and hope that the Bill will be passed.

There was a reference to the provisions concerning driving licences. Certainly this will cause some difficulty until people change their habits in this regard. It is reasonable to expect drivers to carry a means of identification because vehicles can be used for various purposes. However, it is necessary to implement these measures fairly. There could be many instances of people leaving their children to school in the mornings who may not have their driving licences with them. I have no doubt that these provisions will be implemented fairly by the gardaí. The intention behind this, referred to by the Minister in his speech and in press releases, is not to apprehend the innocent person.

I welcome the devolved powers to local authorities, which are long overdue. The totality of the package, with the vast improvement in our road system in the past four or five years under the Structural Funds, is welcome. No doubt we will see further improvement as a result of forthcoming funds from Europe. I hope this will result in an improvement in road safety and a reduction in the number of road accidents and the number of claims coming before our courts.

I congratulate the Minister on introducing this Bill.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this legislation. The Road Traffic Bill, 1993, is by far the most important legislation of the past 25 years in this area. I welcome the devolved powers to the local authority, as I have been a member of one for the past number of years. This will give people at local level the opportunity to deal swiftly with problems which affect the regulation of traffic in their respective areas. In the past, a cumbersome centralised system operated. It did not afford the local authority the opportunity to come to grips at an early stage with problems that were capable of being resolved locally. I welcome the measures in this regard.

Deputy Dan Wallace said there should be greater flexibility in regard to funding at local level. The present system is restrictive, for example, Cork Corporation has a fund of several million pounds which can be used only for matters relating to traffic. Local authorities should have greater flexibility and discretion as to how this money should be used. Deputy Wallace's suggestion is a sensible one and I ask the Minister to accept it.

One of my fears regarding this legislation is that the driver is seen as a potential criminal. That is an attitude that should not be encouraged; drivers should not be seen in this light. For too long there has been a tolerance on the part of Irish people towards the person who goes for a few pints. To refer to such a person as a social drinker is somewhat dismissive of the seriousness of the problem. Such tolerance should not be accepted in view of the serious problem of deaths on the road. As somebody who, at the age of 12 years, experienced a fatality in the family — a close relative was killed at an early age while playing outide his own door — I am very conscious of the effect this can have on family life. Such a tragedy is a serious blow to any family and is a matter that should not be dismissed. I welcome the reduction in the limit of alcohol allowed to drivers. I also welcome the introduction of new technology in regard to breathalyser testing.

Deputy Hughes raised the question of carrying a driving licence at all times. Bearing in mind that there now exists a ten year licence it should be possible to introduce a licence along the lines of a credit card which could be held in a wallet. In addition, a driving licence number should be permanently displayed on the windscreen in the same way as road tax. I accept that proof would be necessary to show whether the driver is the holder of the licence. We must discourage people, particularly young people, from driving without a licence. There is an awful description of young people who break the law, that is "joyriders." That terminology should not be used. Young people who take cars for pleasure or sheer vandalism must be discouraged.

The Bill provides that untaxed and uninsured vehicles be impounded by the Garda. I spoke yesterday with a member of the staff of this House whose car, which was parked outside his own door, was damaged beyond repair by a person who did not hold a driving licence and did not have proper insurance cover. That person's car should be impounded. This matter must be addressed and I welcome the steps taken by the Minister in this regard.

While I agree that additional powers should be given to the Garda, like Deputy Hogan, I would sound a warning in this regard. The question of access to private property must be further considered as this is an area where problems could arise. While it may be legitimate to enter a hospital in pursuit of a person there is a danger that to enter private property would infringe the rights not alone of the person involved but of the owner of the property. This is a matter that must be thrashed out bearing in mind the question of the invasion of privacy. This measure may create more problems than it will resolve. For that reason, I ask the Minister to consider further the section dealing with this matter.

The Bill refers to the garda in charge of a station. The person involved should be a garda above a particular rank. At present some Garda stations are closed down for a number of hours a day and a garda on motor patrol who may arrest a person could also be the garda in charge of the station. Conflict could arise in these circumstances and it could lead to many problems. For that reason the person in charge of a station should have a rank of sergeant or inspector. I am not questioning the honesty or integrity of any garda but bearing in mind that eventually the garda will have to fight the case in court, conflict may arise. This matter needs further consideration.

In regard to signs erected by local authorities, many signs for guesthouses, factories and so on, are similar to local authority signs. There should be a clear distinction between local authority signs and those put up by people to display their business. Otherwise confusion is created. As somebody who drives 13,000 miles a year, I am conscious that there is a tendency to confuse road traffic signs with bed and breakfast signs and so on. A standard sign which would be clearly identified should be introduced for local authorities.

I am a member of a local authority that introduced an extensive one-way system. As far back as 1975 An Foras Forbartha held a seminar in Dublin entitled "Streets for Living" at which an expert from Holland spoke on what he called "the Delph experience threat" of the one-way traffic system. While it is acceptable to regulate traffic and make better use of the space available and allow for a better flow of traffic through towns and cities, there is a disadvantage to the one-way system. It has been proved conclusively that this system encourages increased speed which results in deaths. For that reason I would sound a warning about the greater use of the one-way traffic system. One need only a walk along Bachelor's Walk in Dublin to observe the speed at which traffic travels in the inner city. McCurtain Street in Cork is another example of that. The volume and speed of traffic in the city pose a threat to pedestrians. I accept that the one-way system makes it easier for people to travel between points but it creates problems for pedestrians and this is a cause for concern. Perhaps the Minister can deal with those points on Committee Stage.

Throughout the country at this time of the year silage and hay making is engaged in and during the harvesting there is quite a lot of traffic on country roads. As a warning that farm traffic is coming on to the main road, farmers place an oil drum on the road. We should have a recognised standard sign for this purpose, as people unfamiliar with travelling in the heart of the country might not realise the significance of the oil drum. This device is also used on national primary routes. It should be possible to devise a cheap standardised sign which would ensure that people would know that farm machinery was coming on to the road. This sign could be included in the rules of the road.

On the cab of each tractor in France a revolving light indicates that the vehicle will be travelling at a slow pace. We should make that standard practice for this country because there is a growth in the use of farm machinery and proper traffic regulations should apply to it. With regard to public transport it is common enough for a CIE bus to break down and the only warning sign is seats removed from the inside of the bus placed a number of yards behind the vehicle. We should have a warning light which can be connected to the electrical system of the bus.

Tachometers are used in commercial vehicles. People drive long distances in private vehicles and there should be an upper limit on the number of miles a person may drive in one day. I may appear to be asking the Minister to dig a hole without specifying the depth, but this area should be examined as should the use of mobile phones in cars. One often sees people travelling at excessive speeds while engaged in conversation on a mobile phone and this is a danger to other road users. If a person must have a phone some type of speaker should be fixed in the car to enable a person to engage in conversation without holding the applicance.

I will refer to some figures from the International Road Traffic Database of the United Nations Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development as reported in The Observer of last Sunday. Car ownership per 100,000 head of the population in Ireland is 29,100.

We have 14 deaths per 100,000 of the population, whilst in the Netherlands, with 45,300 vehicles per 100,0000, of the population, there are 9.2 deaths. A far more frightening statistic is the number of pedestrians killed on the roads. In Holland it is one per 100,000 of the population. Although Holland has more cars on the road we have 4.3 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 of the population. The only country where more deaths occur is Greece, where they have fewer cars. This must relate to the quality of the roads and that factor must be taken into account. In Italy, we have the highest rate of car ownership with 58,700 vehicles per 100,000 of the population and there are 12 road deaths per 100,00 of the population and of that only 1.9 are pedestrians.

We run a very effective campaign during the Christmas period in order to reduce road deaths. It has now been proved that in Britain there are more deaths between June and August than between December and February. There are 3,000 accidents between June and August and 2,500 accidents between December and February. There is far more activity on the roads during the summer months and as a result deaths have increased. I imagine it is largely due to social drinking. I do not know whether the Minister has the statistics available, but they are worth considering. I thank the Minister for introducing this Bill which I hope will contribute to a reduction in road deaths. Will the Minister take on board some of the points I have made and introduce measures on Committee Stage in order to minimise the carnage on our roads?

I shall be brief in my comments. I think Members will be aware that, whenever they offer me time, I avail of it.

Like other Members, I welcome this Bill. I remain very concerned about the manner in which juggernauts and container trucks speed along our roads. The owners of those vehicles are used to driving on continental motorways, and while we have a few motorways of that kind they are not sufficient to deter drivers, on leaving the motorways to slow down. One need only observe the way many of these juggernauts and container trucks speed along the Chapelizod by-pass any day of the week, way in excess of the 40 mile speed limit. I often wonder why the authorities stipulate such a speed limit because only occasionally, do I see vehicles being pulled up for speeding.

Always the emphasis must be placed on speed in regard to traffic movement generally, which was touched on by Deputy Toddy O'Sullivan who has just spoken. "Speed Kills" was the slogan used in an excellent campaign in Britain. The speed with which many motorists drive on our roads leaves much to be desired; they rely totally on the capability of a motor vehicle to respond to their actions, believing that whenever they put their foot on the brake the vehicle will stop, whereas sometimes brakes do not work.

While welcoming the extra powers being given local authorities to implement minor traffic changes I suggest that, in the months of November and December, when traffic comes to a standstill in and around Dublin, the Minister might authorise substantially increased fines. Many people are very inconsiderate of other road users and should be punished for their selfishness. I am a member of the Dublin Road Safety Council who constantly deal with road safety, meeting once a month. Always we have been very concerned about drunk drivers, particularly the fact that one-third of all drunk drivers caught are found to have consumed twice the legal limit of alcohol; itself a dreadful indictment of the sense of responsibility of our drivers generally.

The hit and run driver has not been mentioned. Personally I would lock him up and throw away the key because it is one of the most cowardly crimes. I cannot understand somebody who has taken a drink, or even somebody who has not, driving on having hit somebody, particularly when a person's life might have been saved had they stopped, got out of their vehicle and ascertained whether they could render assistance. That, in itself, almost amounts to a form of murder. I have met and spoken with parents who have lost loved ones and who have witnessed such hit and run drivers, when caught, being sentenced to something like 22 months imprisonment, leading them to believe that 22 months imprisonment was all the life of their loved one was worth, sometimes such people being released even earlier. Once a person is caught and convicted of a hit and run drunk driving offence, they should be banned from driving for life, should never be allowed behind the wheel of a car again. Such a ban should be mandatory, not left to a judge. I would strongly support such a ban. I know that anybody who has ever suffered a bereavement within their family on that account would also support that view. That begs the question: why do we have to await some such happening to ourselves before we do anything about it? As Deputy Toddy O'Sullivan said, when he was 12 years old his family suffered such a bereavement and knows what it is like.

While the stipulation that motorists should carry their driving licence with them is fine, everybody would agree that it is foolish to leave a driving licence in the glove compartment of a car because, if the car is stolen, and perhaps burned, the likelihood is the licence will not be recovered. The Minister might examine the possibiity of issuing a plastic card that could be kept easily with one's credit cards. The modern driving licence is somewhat bulky to carry around, particularly in these days when we endeavour to carry as little as possible. While we men have not yet got round to carrying handbags a driving licence the size of a credit card, carrying the photograph of the licensee, should be sufficient. If the authorities wanted to charge an extra 50p or £1 for such a card, I do not think anybody would object.

I am delighted to note that the provisions of this Bill will be applied to people who, when involved in an accident, quickly book themselves into a hospital. There are too many smart merchants engaging in that practice and the Garda should be able to take a blood test or urine specimen and obtain the results, particularly in the case of accidents in which people may be injured.

While realising that much of the problems in this area overlap and/or interact with the remit of the Minister for Justice I contend that the families of persons killed by drunken drivers should be compensated by the perpetrator of the offence. I am glad to note that at least such people will have to pay something towards the cost of prosecution, which is also important.

Another matter to which I wanted to refer was the practice of motorists using telephones while driving. It is most annoying to see people driving recklessly while speaking on the telephone. It was my understanding of the law that they are not allowed do so. Perhaps the Minister will confirm whether my interpretation is correct. My understanding was that it is illegal and that prosecutions have been brought against people for so doing. Perhaps people generally are not aware of this and should be made realise that they can be prosecuted.

When briefing us at a party meeting yesterday the Minister told us that 35 per cent of accidents occur between the hours of 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. That is a horrendous figure because we know there is not much traffic on our roads between those hours.

I welcome the Bill. We cannot be too severe on those motorists who have no consideration for others. I hope the numbers of people killed and injured on our roads will be reduced enormously once the provisions of this legislation are implemented.

Although I have mixed feelings about the provisions of this Bill I should make it clear that I do not condone drunken driving nor do I believe would any other Member of the House.

While there are enormous difficulties in this area the provisions of this Bill may be somewhat too narrow in their application. There are other factors which contribute to deaths on our roads which should be taken into consideration and debated. As Deputy Briscoe has just pointed out, 35 per cent of fatalities on our roads occur within a six-hour period between 9 p.m. in the evening and 3 a.m. in the morning. That gives rise to the question whether not merely our drunk driving laws but also our licensing laws should be amended. I have never agreed with the present law under which publichouses, such as your own, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, must close at 11.30 p.m. for one half of the year and 12 midnight for the other half.

These rigid pub closing hours are a major contributory factor in road fatalities that occur late at night or early in the morning. No attempt has been made to address that problem in the Bill. If our licensing laws were more liberal there would not be a mad rush to the pubs 30 minutes before closing time when people drink three or four pints. These people are a danger to other road users as well as to themselves. It would be far more civilised and conducive to safety if pubs could remain open for an unlimited number of hours as is the case in many other countries. The rigid closing hours provide an impetus to the rate at which accidents occur late at night and early in the morning. This is one of the holy cows which has never been addressed; we have extended the hours by 30 minutes to an hour depending on the day of the week or the season of the year but until such time as we adopt a more mature attitude this will continue to be the prime time for accidents.

As I said, the licensing laws should be incorporated in this legislation. Publicans should be obliged to ensure that people have access to food on licensed premises so that they are not found to be intoxicated in the eyes of the law. If a substantial meal was available they might not be over the limit. There are many deficiencies in that regard. I do not think that we have adopted a civilised approach to this problem. The holder of a publican's licence should be compelled to provide a substantial meal in addition to serving drink. Our outlook is too narrow.

People living in Dublin, or other major cities and large towns have access to public transport, hackney and taxi services. This facility is not available in a predominantly rural community. There is a bias against those living in remote areas. It is all very well to say that people should make arrangements to ensure they have a drive home or organise a hackney cab or a taxi but this is easier said than done. There is a social aspect and it creates a difficulty. Under this new law the difficulty will be exacerbated. I am not attempting to defend the drunken driver; all I am saying is that the legislation creates an additional social problem. I would be less than honest if I did not state this; I suspect that nobody else will say it but it needs to be said. However I do not know what the solution is.

Five years ago the Department of the Environment launched a safe driving campaign prior to Christmas when they told people that they should not take any more than two drinks. That was the keynote of the advertisements carried on radio and television and in the newspapers. This campaign cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. The insinuation was that it was quite safe to drive if a person had just two drinks. I presume this meant two pints as well as two half ones. I am not an expert when it comes to milligrammes of alcohol per millilitres of blood but I suspect that under this legislation a person may be over the limit if they have one pint and will definitely fail the test if they have two. That is inconsistent.

I suggest that most people, if they have two drinks, are not a hazard on the road. This is backed up by the advertising campaign which was launched by the Department of the Environment. I do not recall any medical association contradicting the message given in that campaign. We can be too puritanical at times. This begs the question as to how people living in rural areas who like to go for one or two pints, as they have done for 20 to 30 years, are going to cope with the difficulties that will be created for them.

Nobody could attempt to justify drunken driving and I am not going to vote against the changes proposed but I wish to point out that there are contradictions and that difficulties will be created for those who have little else to do in life expect to have a chat at night, particularly in remote rural areas. One cannot compare rural areas with densely populated urban areas either in this country or in continental countries where there is a massive flow of traffic. One must take every aspect into consideration.

Deputy O'Sullivan spoke about those people who use mobile phones while driving. I think that most of the men and women concerned are not talking to anyone; this is just a fad for show-offs and yuppies. Most of them probably vote for the Progressive Democrats. They try to create an impression when they are stopped in traffic; one wonders at times if the phone is connected. I assume that it is an offence to use an object such as a telephone, be it dead or alive, while attempting to drive. Obviously drivers need both their hands in an emergency. If the use of mobile phones in cars is not an offence, an amendment should be put down to make it so. The use of mobile phones in cars, either on a genuine or bogus basis, needs to be discouraged.

I am somewhat amused at the Minister's statement that there will be power to vary the maximum alcohol level by regulation. Does this mean that a person from the city, who can avail of public transport or a taxi, can be summonsed for having a certain level of alcohol in his blood while a person in a rural area who has the same level of alcohol in his blood will not be summonsed because he is disadvantaged? We tell the people in the west and the mountainous areas of Waterford, Wicklow and elsewhere that they are disadvantaged in many ways. Yet under this Bill they will be treated the same as the yuppies living in Dublin. I ask the Minister to explain his statement. Does it mean that the man living on the top of the mountain may have three pints while a person in Mount Merrion may have only one pint? It is not very clear. This power is also contained in sections 10 and 11.

I support the provisions in section 15. It has been a cause of concern for many years that a person involved in an accident and who was clearly over the limit could have himself rushed off to hospital and put under medical care so that the alcohol level in his blood could not be tested. This was an abuse of the system. Many people over the legal limit who either killed or maimed others avoided such a test by using this subterfuge. I am glad that this practice will no longer be allowed. In future the Garda will be able to go into a hospital and test the alcohol level in a person's blood.

I wish to refer to the proposed change in local traffic laws and by-laws. I persume that the designation of a 30 mile per hour or 40 mile per hour speed limit, the painting of double yellow lines and the erection of no parking signs will, in future be the responsibility of the local authorities, in consultation with interested groups. Up to now the procedure was so complicated that it irritated just about everybody — the general public, the Garda and the members and staff of local authorities. Sometimes the erection of a 30 mile per hour speed sign could take two years because of the toing and froing between the local authority and the Garda. It is a very cumbersome procedure. I am glad that responsibility for these issues is being handed over to the local authorities in its entirety.

I suppose it is too much to expect that all the money collected by way of road tax would be handed back to the local authorities to enable them to fund their road networks. That was the original intention behind the introduction of this tax. However, this has been forgotten about along the way. The money collected under this tax goes into the general coffers and a fraction of it is dished out to the local authorities.

Motorists can often be regarded as soft targets when it comes to apprehension. It can be more dangerous to walk through the streets of our towns and cities nowadays than it is to drive through them. The real area of lawlessness is not being tackled as it should be. The Garda often feel impotent to deal with this matter. The public are up in arms at the fact that the criminal element in our society is able to get away with so much and we do not seem to have the resolve, manpower, commitment or will to tackle this problem. Crimes such as violent assaults, murder, rape, child abuse, etc, appear to go unheeded in many cases. The authorities do no appear to have the ability to tackle the real crime in our society. This is why I say it is more dangerous to walk through O'Connell Street or the main streets of many of our towns and cities than it is to drive through them. Murders and assaults occur on a daily basis, and the level of crime is increasing rather than decreasing.

Cyclists in Dublin give the impression that there is no law governing lane discipline — they cycle all over the place. I do not know of any jaywalker who has been prosecuted for walking out in front of traffic. Some of them do this because they know they can get away with it. The Bill deals with drunk driving, an issue which has to be addressed; the accident rate has to be reduced and, if possible, eliminated. However, the Bill is too narrow in its focus — it does not deal with the greater problems in this area. The Department of Justice should have an input into such legislation so that the wider issues in this area for example, the licensing laws can be tackled.

Due to other commitments, I did not have an opportunity to listen to the contributions to the debate. The only contribution I heard in full was Deputy Deasy's contribution which covered a wide range of issues from the use of car telephones to signposting. I hope his assertion that all the users of mobile telephones vote for the Progressive Democrats is incorrect. The number of people using such phones is increasing all the time and we will all be in political difficulties if his analysis is correct.

I welcome this Bill. I do not have a thorough knowledge of all the provisions in the Bill, but obviously the concept of making our roads safer has to be fully supported. When one introduces regulations which place a strict limit on the amount of alcohol which can be consumed by motorists etc., inevitably people will point the finger and accuse one of being a killjoy. We must disregard that attitude because a great many people are killed on our roads as a result of drink-driving and bad driving, this must be highlighted and policy measures taken to deal with it. Over the past five to six years great progress has been made, which is evident from the statistics, but we have a long way to go. The current advertising campaign which illustrates the hundreds of deaths still being caused is proof positive of the need for this legislation.

Deputy Deasy referred to the problems caused by cyclists and pedestrians in our major cities. When I did my driving test, the strong emphasis in the rules of the road was on the three Cs: care, courtesy and consideration. If those qualities were displayed, not only by drivers but by cyclists and pedestrians, many of the problems would be solved. In cities, in particular, drivers face major difficulties because pedestrians cross in front of them instead of waiting at the lights for the signal to cross. Pedestrians may cause unnecessary danger but the attitude is to do what you like and not to bother with the rules. It is very different in most European countries where people appear to have greater respect for civil laws. I hope we can instil through our school system and the junior traffic wardens programme a more positive attitude to obeying the rules of the road.

I welcome the decision to reduce the blood alcohol level allowable when driving. This is necessary and, as mentioned by previous speakers, we are not even keeping abreast of the European limits. Europe has moved ahead and reduced the limits further and we are still behind. This measure is a step in the right direction and I have no difficulty with it.

I accept some of Deputy Deasy's points on pub closing hours, the law needs to be updated for the Ireland of the nineties.

There is no reason to believe that a person leaving a pub at 11.30 p.m. is a safer driver than a person leaving at 1.30 a.m. and, as was pointed out, there is the added difficulty that everyone leaves together. I hope a Minister in another Department will deal with this problem. Drink-driving is now less socially acceptable, but people are ambivalent about it. There was public disquiet at the clampdown on drink-driving over the Christmas periods of 1991 and 1992. It is almost accepted that people should try to beat the system and the rules and that those who succeed are the heroes of the hour. That is a very negative attitude but the attitude of a number of people is to ignore the civic rules. We must try, through civic classes in our schools, to inculcate respect for law and order and life and limb. Drink-driving must be totally unacceptable. At present it is acceptable if the person gets away with it but we must change that. The recent graphic TV advertisements highlight forcefully the consequences of drink-driving and succeed in bringing home to the majority the danger of such anti-social behaviour.

The measures the Minister is introducing and which have the support of Members will not be successful unless the proper resources in terms of manpower and cash are made available to the guardians of the law, namely, the Garda Síochána. Legislation can be put in place but unless the manpower is there to enforce it, it will not be effective. I was encouraged to hear the Minister for Justice in recent weeks talk about recruiting extra members to the Garda Síochána. I hope that will happen over the next couple of months. There is a major need for extra gardaí on the beat, not only to deal with the problems of drink-driving but the many other problems throughout society. If this Bill is not simply to be enacted but enforced, additional resources are necessary.

There have been certain changes in regard to driving licences and it will now be necessary to have a driving licence in one's possession when driving. That is a welcome change. While it will not produce numerous advantages there is no reason to oppose it. However, one point, which is not connected with this Bill needs to be made. I am unhappy with the current driving test system. It has not worked very well and it is basically hit or miss. Year after year, the number who pass the driving test is raised in parliamentary questions, 50 per cent of applicants pass it the first time, the rest will do the test twice and pass it on the second occasion. I favour a different system which would involve every applicant having to undertake a minimum number of driving lessons from a registered qualified instructor, that is more important than tests. For example, if you do the test at 4 p.m. and everybody before you has passed, statistically your chances of passing are diminished. The system to obtain a driving licence could be improved resulting in better driving practices. As it is now part of the culture people are more willing to wear safety belts although those who obtained their licence ten or 15 years ago are not as safety conscious as they could be. That could be changed if we found a new way of implementing testing regulations and provisions in relation to driving tests.

I welcome the additional powers being given to local authorities. As a local councillor I and my colleagues throughout the country find it amazing that we do not have control over such matters as the extension of speed limits. It makes a mockery of local councillors that they and their managers cannot decide to modify a speed limit from 30 to 40 miles.

The provision in this Bill which gives a minor power back to the people, in whose hands it should always have been, is welcome. I hope it will be introduced in the very near future and that at local authority level we can get to work in implementing changes which we have been seeking for many years.

Debate adjourned.