Road Traffic Bill, 1993: Report Stage (Resumed).

Debate resumed on amendment No. 9:
In page 8, lines 48 to 51, to delete all words from and including "and" in line 48, down to and including "be" in line 51.
—(Minister for the Environment)

To recap I complimented the Minister for listening to what we had to say and trying to meet the reservations expressed in regard to this provision under which a garda may enter a person's house, by force, if necessary, in order to apprehend him. The Minister has altered the section considerably. I am still concerned that this provision may be challenged in the Supreme Court but because of the way the Minister has framed the amendment this is unlikely. I support the amendment.

I thank the Deputies for their support for my new package of proposals dealing with the power of entry. Deputy Doyle suggested that the proposals to limit the power of entry to make an arrest in a case of hot pursuit following a hit-and-run accident might be too restrictive. The Deputy mentioned that we should consider the possibility of allowing a garda to enter a person's home up to three hours after the incident occurred.

The reason I decided to restrict the power was that I wanted to meet the concerns expressed on Committee Stage. This power is only operable and effective when a garda is in hot pursuit. If a garda was to arrive at a suspect's home one hour after the incident occurred there would be grave doubts about the admissibility or value of a specimen taken subsequently. Perhaps my proposals are restrictive but, apart from those expressed by Deputy Doyle, no other concerns were expressed. I have tried to meet the concerns expressed on Committee Stage.

I would like to clarify the position in regard to the judgment handed down recently by the Supreme Court. Deputy Keogh was correct when she pointed out that this was related to the property of a third party. In so far as the section authorises entry to property not owned or occupied by the person to be arrested the section merely sets out in statute law what has already been determined by the Supreme Court. Arising from a case stated to the Supreme Court, the DPP v. Forbes involving an arrest for drink driving, the court decided in May 1993 that while the offence must be committed in a public place and provided a garda does not breach any constitutional or any other legal right of another the garda is entitled to go on to other property to effect an arrest.

Deputy Doyle also raised the question of Garda liability. Even though her amendment had been ruled out of order she very skilfully managed to raise this issue in the debate. Members on all sides are used to exploiting these skills from time to time. I therefore do not intend to be critical as I am sure, if one looks at the record, I could be accused of having done likewise at some stage.

I should point out that the Constabulary Act, 1802 is concerned with the execution of warrants. That Act indemnifies or protects gardaí in circumstances where a garda makes an arrest on foot of a warrant, acting lawfully and in good faith, and where the warrant is subsequently found to be defective through no fault of the garda. As regards the principle, I foresee serious difficulties. Every garda in discharging his or her duties must act in a reasonable manner and in accordance with the law. If a civil action is taken against the garda the matter will be determined by the courts. When such cases arise I understand that it is common practice to join the State in the action. It is a matter for determination in individual cases as to whether the State would meet the cost of an award made against an individual garda. The Garda have nothing to fear provided they act in accordance with the law and act reasonably. I would have serious concerns about a blanket indemnity.

On Committee Stage Deputy Doyle spoke about gardaí who might be over zealous or have their minds set on a particular individual. I am afraid that instead of helping the Garda on this occasion with her amendment she might exacerbate the problem. One of the best checks on Garda abuses is that they must be accountable and responsible for their actions. More gardaí might be over zealous if they knew there was automatic indemnity.

From my point of view this debate has been satisfactory. I have tabled an amendment which not only meets the concerns expressed on Committee Stage but which will ensure that there will be no sanctuary of a person involved in a hit-and-run accident.

Is the Minister satisfied that it is constitutional?

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 10 to 13, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 10, lines 11 to 14, to delete all words from and including "and" in line 11, down to and including "be" in line 14.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 15 not moved.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 11, line 3, after "section 53 (6)" to insert ", 106 (3A)".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 17 is in the name of the Minister. Amendments Nos. 19 and 21 are related. It is proposed therefore that amendments Nos. 17, 19 and 21 be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 11, line 18, after "relates" to insert "or the doctor is unwilling, on medical grounds, to take from the person or be provided by him with the specimen to which the requirement related".

The House will be aware that the drink driving laws have for many years been the subject of legal challenges. Many of those challenges have been on procedural grounds. A number of these challenges were related to the procedures governing the taking of blood or urine and the manner in which the requirement was made by the Garda. The existing text of the Bill has dealt with most of the situations which can be exploited. However, on Committee Stage I pointed out that a further anomaly may still exist. Under the Bill as drafted where a person is asked to allow a designated doctor to take a specimen of blood and refuses permission, the Garda can then seek a specimen of urine. However, where a person gives permission for blood to be taken and the doctor is subsequently unwilling on medical grounds to take the specimen of blood, the Garda cannot make an alternative request for a specimen of urine. These amendments will deal with that specific situation and remove the potential for a successful legal challenge.

The issue that gives rise to the need for this amendment has arisen in practice. In that case the person opted for and agreed to provide blood, but then told the designated doctor that he was a haemophiliac. The doctor was unwilling to proceed to taking the blood sample. Although the circumstances of that case are most unusual, there could be other circumstances or medical conditions where the same difficulty would arise. There are safeguards in the Bill to protect people who genuinely cannot provide specimens and these are set out in section 23 of the Bill and are based on existing law as set out in the Road Traffic Act, 1978.

We probably could have discussed my series of three amendments with these. I see why the Minister feels it necessary to amend the Bill on Report Stage to ensure that a garda's attempt to pursue a prosecution is not frustrated on medical grounds. I support these three amendments and do not think there is any need to waste any more time on them.

I too support these amendments. Any loopholes that allow people off on a technicality or prevent the Garda pursing their duty should be closed off and the Minister's amendments do this very well.

Amendment agreed to.

We now come to amendment No. 18 in the name of Deputy Avril Doyle. Amendments Nos. 20 and 22 are cognate. It is suggested that we take amendments Nos. 18, 20 and 22 together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 11, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

"Provided, that nothing in this subsection shall affect the right of any person to decide to give either a specimen of his blood or his urine.".

Under existing legislation an individual who has been arrested on suspicion of breaching the drink driving laws has discretion to give either a blood or a urine sample while at the Garda station. I ask the Minister to leave that discretion with the individual. In the vast majority of cases this would present no difficulty at all. Having considered the Minister's previous amendments, the case of a haemophiliac seems to be the only area of doubt. However, as long as people co-operate by providing a sample of either blood or urine, that discretion should be left with the individual and I urge the Minister to incorporate that provision which is in the present law into this updating of the road traffic law and drink driving regulations generally. I look forward to the Minister's response.

I agree with the sentiments expressed by Deputy Doyle. I see the Minister's point that people will seek loopholes in the law and possibly abuse the facility, but I think it desirable that the person being accused should have the choice of whether to provide a blood or urine specimen.

I certainly do not want to be unreasonable and I would like to accommodate Deputy Doyle's view if I can. The effect of her amendment is to transfer back to the arrested person the choice in regard to the taking of a specimen. Bearing in mind the previous amendment, I will look at this again to see if I can achieve a result whereby a prosecution could be effected and would not be frustrated in the way that has been experienced up to now. I will do that between now and the debate in the Seanad.

I thank the Minister for his sympathetic response. I trust that between himself and his advisers he will find the right formula of words before the Bill goes to the Seanad. I think it is important that in the case of the average person who is prepared to co-operate no additional dissension is created by insistence on taking a blood specimen, for example, when the person will freely provide a urine specimen. Notwithstanding the possible complications the Minister points out and in regard to which his previous amendments were introduced, the average compliant citizen should be looked after in this regard. I have a feeling that an accommodation of words between the Minister's last set of amendments and my set of amendments could be reached whereby if there was any question of a blood test being ruled out for medical reasons, no choice should exist and a urine specimen could be demanded. Where there is no medical problem in relation to a blood test, the choice could be left to the individual. I trust the Minister will be able to find the right formula of words.

We have already looked at this. Primary legislation can present notorious difficulties when a principle is adopted to deal with exceptions which then has to be applied right across the whole of society. I will look at an alternative way of reconciling the two sets of amendments.

Amendments, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 12, line 15, after "paragraphs" to insert "or the doctor is unwilling, on medical grounds, to take from the person or be provided by him with the specimen to which the requirement related".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 20 not moved.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 13, line 2, after "subparagraphs" to insert "or the doctor is unwilling, on medical grounds, to take from the person or be provided by him with the specimen to which the requirement related".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 22 not moved.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 13, to delete lines 6 to 14

Amendment agreed to.

We now come to amendment No. 24 in the name of the Minister. Amendment No. 25 is an alternative and amendment No. 26 is related. It is suggested that we take amendments Nos. 24, 25 and 26 together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 13, to delete lines 47 to 49, and in page 14, to delete lines 1 to 3 and substitute the following:

"(2) Where a person is detained under subsection (1), the member of the Garda Síochána for the time being in charge of the Garda Síochána station shall—

(a) in case the person detained is or the said member is of opinion that he is 18 years of age or more, as soon as is practicable, if it is reasonably possible to do so, inform a relative of the person or such other person as the person so detained may specify of the detention, unless the person so detained does not wish any person to be so informed, and

(b) in case the person detained is or the said member is of opinion that he is under the age of 18 years, as soon as is practicable, if it is reasonably possible to do so, inform a relative of the person or such other person as the person so detained may specify of the detention.".

On Committee Stage Deputy Keogh raised a valid point in regard to detention of a person under 18 years of age and expressed reservations that such a person could be held in custody without a relative or other responsible person being made aware of the detention. The section as drafted contains a provision to protect the rights of an arrested person, including the right to privacy. A person arrested for a drink driving offence may not wish any person to be told of their arrest and the section, as drafted, safeguards that right. However, I agree that in the unfortunate circumstances where a person under 18 years is arrested for a drink driving offence and is so intoxicated as to constitute a threat to himself or others, a parent or other relative should be told automatically and the young person should be automatically released into the custody of the parent or other responsible person. These amendments introduce a modifying procedure on those lines and have the same effect as Deputy Keogh's amendment No. 25.

The wording of my amendment is virtually identical to the wording of amendment No. 24 (b). I am pleased the Minister accepted the provisions proposed in my amendment. On Committee Stage I was careful——

Untrusting.

I would not go that far. I wanted to be assured that the provisions of my amendment would be accepted. I thank the Minister for including those provisions in amendment No. 24.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 25, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 14, to delete lines 4 to 20 and substitute the following:

"(3) A person detained under subsection (1) shall—

(a) in case he is or the member of the Garda Síochána for the time being in charge of the Garda Síochána station is of opinion that he is 18 years of age or more, upon the attendance at the station of a person being either a relative of, or a person specified pursuant to subsection (2) by, the person so detained, be released by the said member into the custody of that person unless—

(i) the latter person is or the said member is of opinion that he is under the age of 18 years,

(ii) the person so detained does not wish to be released into the custody of the latter person, or

(iii) the member aforesaid is of opinion that the person so detained continues to be under the influence of an intoxicant to such an extent that, if he is then released into the custody of the latter person, he will continue to be a threat to the safety of himself or others, and shall, if not so released, be released at the expiration of the period of detention authorised by subsection (1), and

(b) in case he is or the member of the Garda Síochána for the time being in charge of the Garda Síochána station is of opinion that he is under the age of 18 years, upon the attendance at the station of a person being either a relative of, or a person specified pursuant to subsection (2) by, the person so detained, be released by the said member into the custody of that person, unless the latter person is or the said member is of opinion that he is under the age of 18 years, and shall, if not so released, be released at the expiration of the period of detention authorised by subsection (1).".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 19, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following:

"(d) Where any person is required to produce a driving licence at a Garda Síochána station and the person produces the licence within ten days after the day on which the production was required, the member in charge of the Garda Síochána station shall issue a certificate stating that the licence was so produced and such certificate shall be evidence of the facts stated in the certificate.".

When a person complies with a Garda request to produce a driving licence at a specified Garda station within ten days a certificate stating the request has been complied with should be given to the person concerned. That point has been brought to my attention by members of the legal profession who highlighted many cases that ended in court because of a misunderstanding in that regard. There is a provision in the Bill that certification should be provided by a member in charge in cases where the licence is not produced within the required time limit but the converse position is not provided for. Those who comply with the law should be given a certificate verifying that fact to avoid unwarranted court proceedings or a court case. Common sense should prevail to ensure that a person who has not committed an offence is not subsequently accused in the wrong.

For fear of being accused in the House of not having common sense — although I am being reasonable and helpful — I am prepared to accept the amendment. On Committee Stage I thought this matter could be dealt with by way of administrative procedure but I am happy for it to be a statutory requirement.

I thank the Minister for accepting the amendment. It is a vote for common sense not only to consider the necessary Garda powers and procedures for dealing with those who allegedly commit crime, but also for those who comply with the law and deserve to be treated in a just manner. The legal profession recommended the inclusion of this provision and it will help prevent unnecessary vexation through misunderstanding.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 20, line 30, after "vehicle" to insert "or section 106, where the contravention involved non-compliance with paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) of that section, injury was caused to person, a mechanically propelled vehicle was involved in the occurrence of the injury and the convicted person was the driver of the vehicle concerned,".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 20, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following:

"be not less than—

(i) 6 months where blood alcohol exceeded 80-100 milligrammes per millilitre,

(ii) 12 months where blood alcohol exceeded 100-250 milligrammes per millilitre,

(iii) 18 months where blood alcohol exceeded 250-400 milligrammes per millilitre,

(iv) 2 years where blood alcohol exceeded 400 milligrammes per millilitre,

in the case of a first offence under the section concerned and not less than—

(i) 12 months where blood alcohol exceeded 80-100 milligrammes per millilitre,

(ii) 18 months where blood alcohol exceeded 100-250 milligrammes per millilitre,

(iii) 2 years where blood alcohol exceeded 250-400 milligrammes per millilitre,

(iv) 4 years where blood alcohol exceeded 400 milligrammes per millilitre,

in the case of a second or any subsequent conviction under the section concerned.".

I would like to be sure that the Minister will accept this amendment, as in the case of amendment No. 27.

Hope springs eternal.

Yes. I ask the Minister to seriously consider the provisions of the amendment. It proposes a phasing of penalties in respect of drink driving offences depending on the extent of the breach of the law. It proposes that those caught driving with a blood alcohol level of 400 to 500 milligrammes per millilitre — those whom Deputy Upton described earlier as being at the anaesthetic stage — would not have the same penalty imposed on them as someone who may have a blood level of 85 milligrammes per millilitre and be in breach of the law following the enactment of this Bill. Today a blood alcohol level of 85 to 90 milligrammes per millilitre is legal, but when this legislation is passed it will be illegal. The full force of the law will be applied, namely mandatory disqualification from driving and sentencing. Discretion has been removed from the Judiciary in this area. If the Minister cannot be persuaded to accept changes in respect of the principle of removing discretion from the Judiciary, those with a blood alcohol level of 85 milligrammes per millilitre should be distinguished from the person who has consumed eight to ten pints or those who have a blood alcohol level of 400 to 500 milligrammes per millilitre of alcohol and who are so intoxicated as to be lethal behind the wheel of a car. When this Bill is enacted if I consume two glasses of wine, technically I could be over the limit, although no one suggests I would be a serious danger to myself or any road user.

My amendment proposes penalties in respect of first and subsequent offences. There is a major difference between the person whose blood alcohol level exceeds 85 milligrammes per millilitre and who at present is legally under the limit and the person whose blood alochol level exceeds 200 to 400 milligrammes per millilitre. The introduction of mandatory penalties and the lack of discretion by the Judiciary has given rise to much disquiet. A person whose blood alcohol level exceeds 85 milligrammes per millilitre cannot be treated as a criminal or in the same way as the person who widely exceeds the legal permitted level. I would be uncomfortable if the mandatory penalties were being introduced leaving no discretion to the Judiciary. However, if there is mandatory sentencing and penalties, the wide variation in breaches of the law, when this Bill is enacted, must be recognised. The legal blood alcohol level today could disqualify a person from driving for two years when this Bill is enacted. The Bill proposes a major change but it does not provide for reality. I support unequivocally the reduction of the blood alcohol level from 100 to 80 milligrammes per millilitre. However, I am concerned about the person whose blood alcohol level may be 80 to 100 miligrammes per millilitre who could be pulled in for drink driving and technically in breach of the law but whom a layperson would regard as being stone cold sober having consumed less than two pints.

The gardaí will be less likely to rigorously implement the law if people are only marginally over the limit, if their blood alcohol level is within the 80 to 100 milligrammes per millilitre threshold. They will recognise that, in layperson's terms, the person is sober and totally in control and in such circumstances they are unlikely to enforce the law even if the person is technically in breach of the regulation because of the extent of the mandatory penalty that will be imposed when this Bill is enacted. There might be a greater emphasis placed on cleaning up the act in terms of drink driving if minor breaches of the law in respect of the present permitted blood alcohol limit were treated differently from excessive breaches.

I am making the case for a sliding scale of mandatory penalties and mandatory disqualifications on the assumption that the Minister is not prepared to change his mind in relation to removing all discretion from the Judiciary. That is a matter for a later debate but it is one about which I am very uncomfortable.

There is much merit in the principle behind this amendment. It goes back to the old saying: the punishment should fit the crime. There is no question but that blood alcohol levels of 80 milligrammes create a much different effect from blood alcohol levels in excess of 400 milligrammes. At such a high level one would be almost comatose, whereas at a level of 80 milligrammes the person may simply suffer from a mild degree of incoordination. It is very unfair that a person with a blood alcohol level of 80 milligrammes should receive the same punishment as a person with an extremely high blood alcohol level and the Minister should consider this matter. There is no doubt that there is a much lesser risk to the public from a person driving a car with a low blood alcohol level than from a driver who is out of his mind with drink.

The principle behind this amendment should be considered with a view to accommodating the general point made, particularly in the context of mandatory sentencing. If one were to be perverse one could make the point that if a person is going to drive his car when drunk he might as well indulge himself. I am not suggesting that people would do that, but that perverse logic could be applied to the present legislation.

I have much sympathy for this amendment. I agree with the previous speakers that a sliding scale should be considered in terms of the punishment appropriate to the crime committed. For example, if a person is just over the required limit they should not have to endure the same punishment as a person who is considerably over the limit and is obviously a danger to themselves and everybody else. If a person drives a car having consumed seven or eight pints he should be severely punished whereas, notwithstanding the fact that one should no drink and drive, in the case of a person who is slightly over the limit there should be a lesser penalty. Some discretion should be allowed to the Judiciary in that respect.

From listening to the Minister on Committee Stage it is quite obvious that he will insist on mandatory sentencing and will not allow discretion. I accept that the Minister has reasons for this and I understand some of them. This amendment should be seriously considered by the Minister. Nobody in this House tolerates drink driving, but a distinction should be made between the driver who has consumed between 80 and 100 milligrammes of alcohol and the driver who has consumed 400 milligrammes. Under the existing law a person who has consumed between 80 and 100 milligrammes is legitimately entitled to drive and everybody assumes that person is capable of driving. However, that position is being changed under this Bill. As Deputies Doyle and Keogh have said, a person may drive, not realising he or she has consumed in excess of the limit.

The Minister should consider this amendment. In the heel of the hunt it is enforcement of the existing law that is important. It would be more acceptable to ensure that the present law is strictly enforced than to implement a new Bill, with all its excellent measures, without giving the Garda the necessary resources to enforce it. The Minister should ensure that the legislation is enforced. If this amendment is accepted it would ensure equity and people would respond better to the law. I ask the Minister to seriously consider this matter. I suspect he will not change the position in regard to mandatory sentencing and I accept he has reasons for that.

During the course of the debate on this amendment many references have been made to the fact that I am not going to change my view on mandatory sentencing. From that one might form the view that I am introducing mandatory sentencing, but of course it has been part and parcel of our laws for 30 years and I am not introducing a new concept. However, I understand the thrust of Deputy Doyle's amendment and the supporting contributions made by Deputies Nealon, Keogh and Upton. When preparing the Bill I carefully considered the introduction of a graduated penalty system, which no doubt would ensure greater equity. However, bearing in mind that the risk of accident occurring in the case of consumption of 150 to 200 milligrammes of alcohol is 25 times that in the case of zero level of alcohol, I do not favour such a system. The risk of accident is phenomenal at much lower levels than those prescribed in the amendment.

I reject the concept proposed in the amendment, because graduated penalties would inevitably result in legal challenges to the precision of the analysis of specimens. For instance, if a driver with an alcohol level of 101 milligrammes faced a greater penalty than a driver with a reading of 100 milligrammes that would invite legal challenges to the accuracy of the results in terms of the effect of the difference, which in this case would be minuscule.

Apart from the mandatory disqualification element, the courts have full discretion to decide appropriate penalties. They decide the level of fines to be imposed, whether a term of imprisonment is appropriate and they can impose a longer disqualification where circumstances warrant a more severe penalty. Notwithstanding careful examination of what is involved here, the real risk of a successful legal challenge on the basis of the precision of the results of analysis requires me to oppose setting different automatic penalties for different alcohol levels. In the final analysis I had to be realistic, in closing loopholes, I did not want to invite legal challenge.

It is with some regret that I have not found it possible to accept the thrust of the Deputy's amendment. If we were to go down the road proposed by the Deputy we would give rise to the possibility of legal challenge and open up many of the loopholes we have sought to close. In view of the number of amendments accepted up to now, Deputy Doyle must have thought she was on roller skates, so to speak, in regard to this amendment.

I was thinking no such thing. I know the Minister better than that.

The brakes are now on.

This is a very important amendment; it deals with the areas of greatest concern in the legislation. The graduated level of penalties proposed by me would be open to change; the cut-off point between one level and another will not be sacrosanct.

The issue about which I am most concerned is the mandatory disqualification of people with 80-100 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, a level which has been accepted as perfectly safe for driving purposes for many years. The Minister said that after serious consideration he came down against introducing a graduated level of penalties on the basis of the risk of legal challenges as to the accuracy of the testing system. I put it to the Minister that the same risk of legal challenge will still exist from people who have 81, 82 or 83 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. If the Minister provided for a shorter period of mandatory disqualification for such people all he would be doing is removing the risk of legal challenge from them. Even under the Minister's proposals there will still be a risk of legal challenge.

If the Minister was prepared to adopt a two-tier approach to mandatory disqualification, I think many legal people would be much happier with what he is trying to achieve and there would be a greater incentive to enforce the law. In general the Garda adopt a more sympathetic approach to people who commit minor breaches of the law; human nature being what it is, they do not pursue them as vigorously a they pursue people who commit more serious breaches of the law. If the Minister really wants to deal with this problem he should ensure that the penalty fits the crime.

The Minister made the point that he did not introduce mandatory disqualification. I accept that point; but the nearer we get to a zero level of alcohol for motorists, the greater the need for equity in terms of the way in which the penalty fits the crime. Motorists who have 150, 200 or 300 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood are committing serious breaches of the law and should be put off the road for a number of years. Under the Bill it will be illegal for a person with 81 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to drive. If the Minister will not accept the graduated level of penalties and mandatory disqualification periods proposed in my amendment, I urge him to at least provide for a two-tier system of mandatory disqualification. There should be a shorter period of mandatory disqualification for people with 80-100 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood and a longer period of mandatory disqualification for people with more than 100 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

I am prepared to meet the Minister half way on this issue. My amendment contains other proposals. By accepting that part of my amendment all the Minister will be doing is moving the greater risk of legal challenge from people with 80 milligrammes of alcohol to those with 100 milligrammes of alcohol. As I said, the risk of legal challenge still exists under the legislation as it stands. Even though there is widespread support for what the Minister is seeking to do, some people are seriously concerned about having the same mandatory disqualification periods for people who commit major and minor breaches of the law. We should seek to ensure that the law is enforced, even at the lower limits, by endeavouring to make the punishment fit the crime, which it does not at present. The mandatory disqualification periods proposed in the Bill for minor breaches of the law are draconian. I ask the Minister to at least consider providing for a two-tier system of disqualification, if he will not accept the four-tier system proposed in my amendment.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 47; Níl, 68.

  • Ahearn, Theresa.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Bruton, John.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Clohessy, Peadar.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connor, John.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Foxe, Tom.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Harte, Paddy.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • Crowley, Frank.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Dukes, Alan M.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • Owen, Nora.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Sheehan, P.J.
  • Yates, Ivan.

Níl

  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Bhreathnach, Niamh.
  • Bree, Declan.
  • Brennan, Matt.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fitzgerald, Brian.
  • Fitzgerald, Eithne.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat. (Laoighis-Offaly).
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hilliard, Colm M.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Hughes, Séamus.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McDowell, Derek.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Mulvihill, John.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Penrose, William.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
  • Upton, Pat.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Eamon.
  • Woods, Michael.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies E. Kenny and Boylan; Níl, Deputies Dempsey and D. McDowell.
Amendment declared lost.

We now proceed to amendment No. 30 in the name of Deputy Avril Doyle. I observe that amendment No. 33 is related. Therefore, I suggest that, if acceptable, we discuss amendments Nos. 30 and 33 together.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 20, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following:

"(5) The period of disqualification specified in a consequential disqualification order may, where the person to whom the order relates is convicted of an offence under—".

I would have thought that amendment No. 30 could have been coupled with amendment No. 29, that it would have been consequential on the change there. However, it does not make any difference.

Perhaps I can speak on amendment No. 33 first, because it contains a principle which permeates all of this section on mandatory disqualification periods, and say that my concern is about the total removal of any discretion from the Judiciary in these cases. We have for some time accepted mandatory penalties for drunk driving offences. Even occasionally the Judiciary, if you like, has expressed its concern at the lack of any discretion left to it when it considered there were extenuating circumstances, hard as that may be to believe when one is talking about drink driving. But I think we all accept that a drunk person behind the wheel of a car is a lethal person to be driving on the road. After all, the greatest civil liberty is that to life. Therefore, if you like, one must sacrifice any indulgence towards civil liberties when one must protect life. Basically it was on that concept that mandatory sentences and penalties were originally introduced for drunk driving.

I am asking the Minister to re-examine the extension of mandatory penalties and mandatory disqualification contained in the Bill before us today. I would contend that the extension of those proposals means, effectively, we are stating that everyone is a joyrider. I know the whole area of joyriding and the lethal consequences of a lot of joyriding need to be attended to. The provision that one must have a licence in a car at all times and/or produce it within ten days was inserted to give the Garda some powers to stop a suspected joyrider, ask them to identify themselves, and, if they do not have a licence, the Garda can then apprehend and the rigours of the law will follow suit. I am making no case to protect the joyrider at all. In fact, any powers the Minister may need in order to protect the public from that heinous type of activity will be given him as far as I am concerned.

But I do not support the concept that everyone involved in a traffic accident, or who technically contravenes the provisions of the Road Traffic Act, is necessarily the joyrider type. Through an aberration — perhaps through being slightly tired, distracted by a child in the back of a car, hearing some bad news on the radio or whatever — a normal, compliant citizen can, once off, breach the law and be involved in an accident. Technically, it could be a dangerous driving offence for which they would be booked as well and not just careless driving. They could have driven dangerously in that one off incident. The Minister must allow the Judiciary discretion in this area. That is why my amendment suggests changing the word "shall" to "may". Interestingly, in the case of most Bills we amend we ask the Minister to change the word "may" to "shall" because our difficulty is to get a Minister to be absolute and precise in many cases. Yet in this case, when he is being absolute in his requirement, making his requirement mandatory, I am asking him to insert the word "may" instead of the word "shall" in relation to convictions under the provisions of section 20 (5).

The determination as to what constitutes dangerous driving tends to be arbitrary, notwithstanding statutory prescription as to what constitutes dangerous driving. Unfortunately, certain cases which would be classed as the more minor elements of dangerous driving rather than, say, malicious dangerous driving, can result in death or serious bodily harm to other persons as well. Therefore, there is a difference between malicious dangerous driving and just a once-off aberration, or a minor element of dangerous driving, even though the effect of both can be the same. In any case, those who have been involved in a minor element, or who have had an aberration that caused dangerous driving, will have the matter on their conscience for the remainder of their lives. Therefore, in one sense they will have a mandatory penalty in that they will have to live with the consequences of their aberration or action. They will have that sentence hanging over them and no court of law is needed to impose that on them. The imposition of such mandatory disqualification on top of their already difficult position all too often can have the effect of seriously disrupting and, in certain instances, destroying the lives of the second family and not merely the family of those who have been seriously injured or killed.

Such mitigating factors, no matter how eloquently presented to a court, finds the trial judge with his or her hands tied by legislation, even though he or she may well have been favourably disposed to deal with the case by way of an alternative penalty.

It is a well recongised maxim that the punishment must fit the crime. Malicious dangerous driving deserves the type of penalties the Minister is suggesting here. No one would question that. But a once-off aberration or more minor elements of dangerous driving, which tragically can result in the same consequences, deserve some discretion in the way they are handled when they reach the court. I would urge the Minister very strongly to leave with our Judiciary the discretion necessary in these cases. If we appoint judges, if we consider them to be the proper people to determine penalties to be imposed, dependent on the facts of each individual case before them, we must trust them and allow them to have that discretion. I urge the Minister to concede the point I make.

The effect of Deputy Doyle's amendments would be to make consequential disqualifications permissive rather than mandatory. We discussed this at length on Committee Stage when I outlined the reasons I could not agree with a change in that area. There are two specific aspects of this which need to be addressed. The first is the principle of mandatory disqualification. The second main point is the offence to which it should relate. I want to reiterate that I am not introducing a new concept into Irish law.

The Minister is extending the concept.

For example, the principle of consequential disqualification, that a court must on conviction of specified offences impose a minimum period of disqualification from holding a driving licence, has applied since 1933. That principle rests on two bases. Disqualification is an extremely effective deterrent, is feared more than a fine and the serious nature of certain offences makes it necessary to provide for mandatory sanctions. The bottom line is that a procedure on these lines is necessary. The knowledge that certain offences will result in an automatic loss of a driving licence is the most effective deterrent. In an attitudinal survey carried out in 1991 on behalf of my Department 39 per cent of those surveyed indicated that mandatory disqualification is the most significant deterrent which influences their driving behaviour. The specific offences are set out in section 26 and in the Second Schedule. A mandatory disqualification has applied to most of these since 1961. The new offences that attract mandatory disqualification are first convictions for dangerous driving and uninsured driving. I take it there is no argument about the second. The addition of these two offences to the list was recommended by the inter-ministerial group.

On Committee Stage the main objection was the application of mandatory disqualification to dangerous driving. Deputy Doyle referred them to technical transgressions and spoke of cases where there might only be a minor element of dangerous driving. The Deputy made the same type of argument today. My view on this is clear. I consider dangerous driving to be a serious offence and one which warrants severe penalties upon conviction. If there is a doubt about the gravity of the offence in individual cases, the courts will decide if a conviction is warranted or if the individual should be found guilty of a lesser offence of careless driving. As Deputy Doyle is aware that happens in numerous occasions.

Deputy Gilmore in a separate amendment proposed to increase the maximum penalty for dangerous driving. Unfortunately, I have no scope to increase the maximum fine or term of imprisonment. To do so could take the offence out of the remit of the District Court. The only scope I have is in the area of disqualification and I have acted accordingly. The administration of justice is a matter for the courts and, accordingly, the Oireachtas hesitates to prescribe penalties such as fines and imprisonment. Disqualification is, however, a separate category. Disqualification is not regarded by the courts as a penalty but as a regulation of the exercise of its statutory right in the interests of public order and safety. The concept has been challenged in the Supreme Court and was upheld in practice.

On Committee Stage, and again this afternoon, many references were made to enforcement. While the main discussion is about drink driving most of us realise that more accidents are caused by dangerous driving than those which are drink related. Every day we hear of court decisions relating to traffic and driving offences arising out of dangerous driving, some of which I outlined to the House on Committee Stage.

In the case of a minor transgression Deputy Doyle is trying to ensure that we do not have an automatic mandatory disqualification. In the case of dangerous driving the mandatory disqualification is the best type of deterrent and it has been in place for a long time. Two new offences are being added on the recommendation of an inter-ministerial group which was chaired by the former Leader of the Progressive Democrats Party. There was very wide agreement in that committee of the need to strengthen the law in this area. I have heard no argument which would encourage me to deviate from what we want to achieve in this area. Deputy Doyle knows as well as I that we are entering a really dangerous area — I am not saying she has done this deliberately — if we play down dangerous driving bearing in mind the speed at which some road users drive today and the consequences of their actions.

I would like to make it clear, lest the Minister's remarks suggest otherwise, that in no way am I playing down the seriousness of dangerous driving. Changing the word "shall" to "may" leaves discretion to the Judiciary to treat in the harshest way a person who is charged with dangerous driving. In fact all the penalties suggested in this legislation could be applied rigorously by the judge concerned. I am talking about malicious dangerous driving. I made some effort to distinguish between the different categories of dangerous driving. I am not a legal person but I know that the Judiciary feel there are circumstances sometimes which should be treated differently, depending on the evidence, and that some discretion should be left to it as to how these cases are treated. That does not mean that maximum penalties would not apply in the cases to which the Minister alluded, certainly to all cases of malicious dangerous driving.

Drunk driving is only a part of the problem in relation to accidents and the carnage on our roads. It has been suggested that about one-third of road fatalities involve drink driving and it has also been suggested that we do not have statistics. I offered the Minister the opportunity earlier to put on record the reasons for the reduction in blood alcohol levels. The Minister did not give those reasons at any length.

As the Minister is aware, some time ago the Dublin city coroner carried out a survey fo fatalities on our roads. According to the survey more than one-third of those killed on our roads had drink taken. The other two-thirds of fatalities must be as a result of dangerous or careless driving and also some genuine accidents; human error always plays its part. I would not play down the seriousness of malicious, deliberate dangerous driving, people who drive at excessively high speeds through urban areas and, indeed, on the open road if as a result of driving at that speed they cause serious injury to a person or a fatality. Any judge would know how to handle such a case and would not need to be mandated on what to do. Once we set maximum limits the judge knows he can apply them.

I am concerned not about the joyrider, the malicious dangerous driver, the excessive speeder or, as Deputy Gilmore said, the super stud trying to impress his girlfriend by driving at 80, 90 and 100 miles per hour on our national primary roads and causing carnage. They can be dealt with by the full rigours of the law and I make no pretence to defend them. However, occasionally, through an aberration or a once-off distraction a normally compliant person who always observes the law can be involved in an accident that results in serious injury or a fatality. Technically that person could have breached the law by crossing a continuous white line due to being momentarily distracted. The Judiciary has no discretion in such cases. The person is already sentenced by the tragic loss of life or serious injury caused. That person would have that accident on their conscience for the rest of their lives. Now it is intended to put him or her off the road with the possible loss of a job and a family suffering as a result. We should leave the discretion to the Judiciary in these cases and, at the same time provide severe penalties which can be applied to the malicous dangerous driver who cause serious injury or a fatality.

I would like to mention specifically the application of this section to a person driving without insurance. Unfortunately, such cases are not always clear cut. The person who has time and again been caught driving without insurance cover and who blatantly disregards the law should be put off the road and disqualified. I have my doubts as to whether the punishment should be mandatory in the area of no insurance. Insurance cover may genuinely be missed for one month and technically, the person would be in breach of the law but people always backdate their car insurance.

If you drive without insurance in the second month is it mandatory for the Judiciary to put you off the road for the year? Will you be treated in the same way as the chronic offender who blatantly abuses the law and has no intention of insuring his car? We need to be very sure of what we are doing. There are circumstances where genuine mistakes can occur, for example, a spouse may genuinely believe that the insurance is in order when it is not. Is it reasonable to impose mandatory disqualification in that case? I am not sure because the spouse could have believed that the insurance was in place or an insurance broker may have been at fault in having given false information. The imposition of disqualification in such circumstances may result in the loss of a job where driving is paramount causing severe hardship for the individual's family. These factors have always been taken into consideration by a court when imposing a penalty and such discretion should not be removed.

I support the thrust of the Bill and I will support the Minister when we deal with the impounding of uninsured vehicles provided he can give an adequate explanation on how we decide the car is uninsured. Will the driver have to prove that he or she is covered to drive a particular car? However, we will come to that later. I support the Minister's moves in relation to uninsured vehicles but we need discretion in the application of section 56 which deals with uninsured cars. While having maximum penalties for the chronic offender who abuses the law and intends to continue to abuse it, I ask the Minister to leave discretion with the judge where, in genuine circumstances, a mistake has been made concerning another wise compliant individual.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 20, line 40, to delete "or".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 20, between lines 40 and 41. to insert the following:

"(c) section 106 of this Act, where the contravention involved non-compliance with paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) of that section, injury was caused to person, a mechanically propelled vehicle was involved in the occurrence of the injury and the convicted person was the driver of the vehicle concerned, or".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 33 not moved.

I move amendment No. 34;

In page 22, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"27. — Notwithstanding the provisions of this Act and the Principal Act, the Minister shall by regulation introduce a system whereby persons who commit minor offences shall have certain points recorded against them and where such points exceeds a specified number such person shall have their driving licence endorsed accordingly and where such number of endorsements exceeds a specified number, a court may make an order declaring such person to be disqualified from holding a driving licence.".

I moved a similar amendment on Committee Stage but made little progress in convincing the Minister to support the case. Will the Minister accept this amendment notwithstanding the logistical difficulties according to the Minister's response on Committee Stage in terms of having a data bank of information on this entire area? Will he make provision to introduce a points system, for noting transgression on the licence for minor transgressions of the law, leading to disqualification when one reaches a points threshold to be determined by the Minister? If this could be included in the Bill, the Minister would be in a position to decide the commencement date when we have the appropriate computed software and a national electronic communications system in place and I would be satisfied. There are many minor transgressions of the law that could be adequately be dealt with by a points system, it would save a great deal of time and energy and stop minor offences cluttering up our courts. This would be a very effective way of penalising people. We are not removing the final penalties in the case of serious ongoing transgressions as when the points threshold, as determined by the Minister, is reached the person could face mandatory disqualification. This system has worked very effectively in other jurisdictions and I ask the Minister to use this legislation to introduce such a system. The commencement date could be determined some time in the future.

On Committee Stage I understood that the Minister was not opposed in principle to this amendment but had difficulty with its practical elements. I support Deputy Doyle's amendment. On Committee Stage I tried to get leeway in regard to the type of punishment people would have to undergo and indeed I supported Deputy Doyle's amendment. Even if the Minister has reservations about the practicalities of this measure will he indicate how such a system may be introduced in the future? Does he see this being introduced in the short term?

I am aware of the system that applies in the UK whereby penalty points are applied on conviction for certain road traffic offences leading to endorsement of disqualification when a certain number of points has been accumulated. On Committee Stage I said I appreciated the merits of that type of system and indeed the reasons for proposing the amendment but that I was not in a position to agree to it. The operation of a penalty points system is simply not possible under our existing driver licensing arrangements. Such a system could only operate with a centralised computerised driving licensing record and we do not have such a system in place. The Finance Act, 1993 provided a statutory basis for such a system and work has commenced on developing it. The project will be implemented over a five-year period. We will not have a central record for approximately another four or five years and, therefore, the introduction of a penalty points systems, which of itself is very complex, needs to be examined in greater detail. To do so knowing it will take a number of years to implement is putting the horse before the cart because it requires to be teased out. I do not think this could be operated on the basis of regulations. Deputy Doyle accused me on many occasions of trying to use regulations but they would not be appropriate in this case, as I would like the House to have the opportunity in primary legislation to tease out the best way to approach the detailed provisions required in legislation of this kind. I intend to monitor the systems operating in other places and at the appropriate time, bearing in mind the introduction of the system to put this in place, to come back to the House with the necessary legislation.

It is not a question of a difference of principle but the necessity to let the House know that I do not have the instruments to put in place what is being recommended here.

I thank the Minister for his response; lest there be a misunderstanding, my objection is to negative regulations, I have no difficulty with the affirmative regulations which come before both Houses. I take the Minister's point and if there is an opportunity to discuss the introduction of a penalty points system by way of primary legislation, I think we would all avail of it and if we need a centralised computerised driving licence recording system, we cannot proceed.

The Minister indicated that the Finance Bill made provisions this year. Have there been any budgetary provisions for this computerised system and has a start been made on it?

I will communicate with the Deputy and give her more details on that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 35.

In page 23, line 44, to delete "70" and substitute "60".

I moved this amendment without success on Committee Stage. I am moving it now because I firmly believe that the slogan "speed kills" is true and it seems something of a contradiction to put up that slogan encouraging people to drive slowly and then to extend permission on motorways to drive at 70 miles per hour. Perhaps if the Minister combined this amendment with amendment No. 36 he could substitute "70 kilometres per hour" and that would get around both mine and Deputy Doyle's amendments.

The Minister has rightly said that 80 per cent of accidents are caused by a combination of speed and drink. In the US it has been proved that traffic accidents are reduced proportionately as speed limits are reduced. On Committee Stage the Minister said that our motorways are dedicated routes and so on and that in terms of our experience and international experience we could allow such a speed limit. I have some knowledge of driving in the US and the speed limit on the vast majority of interstate routes is 55 miles per hour. That is because they accept that a lower speed contributes to reduced danger.

The motorway on which I travel most is the Bray-Shankill bypass. There is an enormous volume of traffic on that road throughout the day and not only at rush hours. People travel at speeds of well over 70 miles per hour, up to 80 miles per hour or 90 miles per hour. Apart from the speed there is grave danger in travelling from a dual carriageway to a motorway where there are differences in the speed limits. A pet hate of mine is where one travels from motorway to dual carriageway and then coming towards a town one suddenly comes upon a 30 mph sign when one is cruising at a steady 50 or 60 miles per hour. One speed limit on motorways and dual carriageways would be far safer. I do not accept that because motorways are of a better standard it necessitates allowing a higher speed limit. Will the Minister reconsider this amendment now, having regard to the fact that he has been reasonably open in relation to some of the amendments tabled today.

I do not agree with this amendment. A speed of 70 mph on a motorway is safe in certain circumstances. In addition to the speed limit there is the broad obligation on people driving motor cars to drive them safely at a speed at which they can control them.

Deputy Keogh knows that I am all heart and am trying to help in any way I can and that I give in perhaps in circumstances where I should not. I am sure the Deputy is not implying that the speeds on American highways are being adhered to.

The people are very law abiding. They have police to control them.

The speed limits are not adhered to, from what I know. Our 70 mile limit applies to motorways, which are designed to cater for speeds of that kind. Any of these upper limits is the maximum speed taking into account the prevailing conditions on motorways. The motorways are different from other roads in that there is limited access and there are no crossings. It is perfectly safe in circumstances like that to drive at 70 miles per hour and it is infinitely safer than to drive at half that speed on another road.

The Bill does not change existing speed limits. The provisions relating to speed limits deal with the structure and procedures for applying speed limits. While section 31 introduces the concept of a separate statutory speed limit for motorways, the limit of 70 miles per hour set out in the section is the existing speed limit which applies to sections of the motorway already constructed and in use. I made a number of changes in 1992 and am satisfied that on balance, on the information available, there is no reason for making any purposeful change at this stage.

I am not surprised at the Minister's answer because it is much the same as the answer given the last time. We do not have a motorway stretching from Cork to Belfast or from Dublin to Galway with various towns being bypassed. We have a number of sections of motorway which in most cases lead onto a dual carriageway or onto a minor road. It is all very well to say that 70 mph is acceptable on a motorway which runs for 100 miles or more, but our stretches of motorway are criss-crossed and divided up. The longest stretch of motorway we have is about 20 miles, so people zoom up to the 70 mph speed limit or more and then have to break at the end of it. Drivers are stopping and starting and it is not safe. There should be some sort of a happy medium in this. Perhaps the Minister would agree to have one speed limit on dual carriageways and motorways. I do not know if that would meet the bill. Our motorways in the main are bypasses. They are not long motorways on which people can travel at a steady speed for many miles. I realise the Minister is not going to accept my argument and, even though he says he is all heart, he has hardened his heart to me in regard to this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 36 and 37 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 26, between lines 33 and 34, to insert "and all speed limits shall be referred to in kilometres per hour.'.".

In the interest of commonsense, I urge the Minister to accede to this amendment. He must recognise the basic merit of it. I will quote from a letter I received on this subject following my contribution on Second and Committee Stages:

Dear Mrs. Doyle, I read a report of your recent contribution to the Dáil regarding the mix of miles and kilometres on our road signs. I made a collection of these photographs. What annoys me most is the confirmation that as a race we are thick.

He was referring to the Minister's response to me that we could not cope with the change. The letter continues:

I hate being a laughing stock. I'm an engineer and I worked as a traffic engineer for many years...

Do not draw my wrath on engineers. I have been trying to knock sense into them for two years.

The Minister should look after the local authority engineers because they are his responsibility. He should not say too much at present as he might walk himself into hot water.

One of them ran into the wrong side of me and will again I am sure.

The letter continues:

...I banished every last mile sign from my area. It was no big deal [I will spare the House the details of how he did that]. I just hate being an eejit. Can't we ever do anything right? If we change to driving on the right we would do it gradually, trucks this month, cars the next. Glad to see you talk about it.

Yours very truly.

That is a genuine unsolicited letter I received from a person in County Limerick. If the Minister wishes I will show it to him later. It explains my sentiments in this regard. Can we not get our act together on this matter? At present our distance signs are in one denomination and our speed signs in another. As natives we have got used to the confusion between some signs displaying kilometres and others displaying miles, but a simple effort would quickly put us in line with other countries. The Minister should change all road signs to kilometres. That would make far more sense and I urge him to do so as soon as possible. As the gentleman who sent the letter suggested, the Minister should not treat the nation as "thick". We are not all eejits and could adjust to the change quickly.

Are we about to have a book published called "Dear Avril"? Did the letter in question include £5 because, if it did not, it should have. Deputy Doyle has made a valid point, but I do not know if it is necessary to write it into law. I presume we are moving towards the metric system and that we will get there fairly soon.

Notwithstanding the humorous nature of the letter received by Deputy Doyle, there is a case to be made in this regard. It is most disconcerting to have to explain to my children why distances are displayed in kilometres and speed limits in miles. The Minister stated that a change would involve enormous cost, but we should make the change. However, in our defence, in England all signs are displayed in miles.

At least they are consistent.

We are half way there but they are not there at all.

Since 1977 all new destination signs which show distances are required to be displayed in metric units. On national roads most signs other than those at county road junctions have been upgraded to the standard with 100 per cent funding from central Government. On non-national routes, where such upgrading is the responsibility of the local authority, they have been advised that in all cases of replacement the new signs should be displayed in metric units. Considerable progress has been made in this area and may the Lord keep between me and recommendations from some county engineers.

(Interruptions.)

Like all professional groups, if they are the people who advise us on what we should do, we will need to ransack our pockets and the pockets of taxpayers to provide multi-million pound solutions to every problem. The Deputy should reply to the letter by making some suggestions about resources because, as Deputy Keogh suggested, many matters could be cleared up overnight if we had the resources available to us. I have no argument in principle against such a change and that is why we are progressing along those lines as quickly as possible. We are providing 100 per cent funding towards such a change on national routes, which are our responsibility. We will continue to make progress in that regard. There are some solutions more expensive than others. If people write to the Deputy about every issue raised in this House, she definitely has a clientele and is welcome to many of them.

I do not propose composing a response to the letter. I will forward a copy of the report of this discussion to the gentleman in question.

That matter involves a serious issue. As long as we continue to display distances in kilometres and speed limits in miles people will have a defence mechanism when caught for speeding because of the genuine confusion associated with such signs.

That argument works both ways. That could work for or against a person.

Nobody can stand over the chaos that exists in respect of our road signs at present. As a member of a local authority, I acknowledge that the changing of road signs involves great expense and, in general, the public do not realise the cost of erecting new signs. Notwithstanding that, I urge the Minister to make the change county by county and have all signs displayed in kilometres as soon as possible. I accept that there will have to be a reasonable phasing-in period, but it would be appreciated if the Minister indicated his willingness to make the change over, say, a three year period. Our young people do not understand the confusion because they were educated in the metric system and visitors, particularly those from the Continent, do not understand our system. Deputy Keogh mentioned the UK system, but at least they are consistent and have not caused any confusion. All signs are displayed in miles there. I accept they should have changed to kilometres at this stage; but, when it comes to the EC, the UK make changes in their own time.

They are still waiting to create that confusion. They must create it before they solve it.

I suspect they will change their system overnight. That could be done with little effort. I urge the Minister to examine this area seriously and provide the finance to make the change gradually and stop the confusion in this area.

In the meantime I will make a new appointment of senior engineer in my Department.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 37 not moved.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 28, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:

"36. — It shall be compulsory for all persons to wear helmets when cycling or horseriding.".

I ask the Minister to seriously consider this amendment which has been altered slightly since Committee Stage. I strongly believe that young people in particular should wear protective head gear when cycling on public roads. What they choose to do in their own back garden or in a field is their own business and it is up to their parents to ensure they are safe if they are minors. The days of the High Nellie are almost gone. We now have modern, high-tech bicycles which have many gears and all sorts of gadgets. Youngsters on bicycles today travel at higher speeds than cars travelled 30 years ago and on national primary routes. They put themselves in serious danger if they make an error of judgment or if there is an accident.

The case has been well documented to the Minister by many organisations, including professional groups and youth clubs. When I raised the matter on Committee Stage some of my colleagues felt that it should be compulsory for all citizens, not just young people, to wear a helmet when cycling. I have no difficulty with that concept. However I initially baulked at the idea of dictating to adults what they should do as they should be able to make up their own minds. It was a fair point and I took their views into account before retabling the amendment for Report Stage. I, therefore, specifically ask the Minister to make it compulsory for all persons to wear a helmet when cycling or horseriding.

At present there is a Bill on the Order Paper in the House of Commons — I am not sure whether it is at First or Second Stage — which would make it compulsory to wear a helmet when horseriding on a public road. In all modern developed countries it is now compulsory to wear protective head gear on public roads in respect of transport of all kinds. Insurance companies, doctors and other medical people who have to sort out the mess after accidents — and most parents whose children use bicycles to get to school or for enjoyment — would support this concept.

Parents need to be able to invoke the law to ensure that their children comply because for many groups of young people it is not fashionable or the "in thing" to wear a helmet. Unless parents can invoke the law or threaten that they will incur the wrath of the local gardaí — this was the position when I was young — many young people will not wear a helmet. I, therefore, ask the Minister to accept the amendment to protect those who use our public roads on horseback and bicyles.

The Minister may well ask what penalty should be imposed, particularly on young people, for transgressions if this is made law. I leave that matter to him and the Minister for Justice but I suggest we could introduce a system of on-the-spot fines whereby parents would have to cough up within ten days at the local Garda station if a minor transgresses the law. This might prove effective and the fine could be as low as £20 — the price of a helmet. The Minister could also specify a commencement date six months from now to allow young people earn sufficient pocket money to buy a helmet. Indeed, they could insist that they be given a bicycle helmet as a Christmas present. As more lives will be lost if we are tardy people should not be given too much time to acquire helmets.

Those who ride horses are already obliged by law to wear helmets in certain circumstances. However they do not always do so. It would be a very small step to bring them all into line. Again, what they do on private property or in their own fields is their own business; it is not our intention to interfere with them. As I said, we now have high-tech bicyles which allow young people to travel at high speeds. Combined with the increase in traffic our roads are now more perilous for the cyclist in the absence of bicyle lanes. This applies equally to the horserider. There has been a huge increase in the number of people who ride horses both professionally and for recreational purposes, in the number of people who own horses and in the number of people who attend riding schools and clubs which use the public roads. In this regard anyone who rides out with a riding club should be made wear a hard that. We also need to ensure that clubs can invoke the law.

It should also be specified that the helmet should not just be placed on the head but attached with a strap running underneath the chin. The law relating to riding helmets is specific in terms of the insurance requirements laid down for riding schools, clubs and shows affiliated to the showjumping associations and the other equestrian parent bodies.

I ask the Minister to accede to this request. I am not concerned about the penalty that should be imposed, particularly on minors. This should not deter us from doing what we know is right in this area. As I suggested we could introduce a system of on-the-spot fine for transgressions.

I support this amendment. Indeed, I am glad that Deputy Doyle altered the wording slightly since Committee Stage, when I also supported the amendment, to make it compulsory for all persons to wear a helmet when cycling or horseriding. I do not know a lot about horseriding but when it comes to cycling a campaign will not succeed if it is aspirational. Even though many children wear helmets when cycling and do what they are told many others do not.

Mine never do.

I am weary of pursuing my children out the door with their helmets in my hand and warning them not to dare go to school on their bicycles without them. Unfortunately, I have had to issue this threat many times even though they are reasonably good——

What penalty does the Deputy impose for transgressions?

There is no appropriate punishment I could impose. I used to ride a bicycle to school each day but I did not go very fast. However, I did not have a high-tech bicycle. As we are aware, in many instances children on bicycles travel much faster than cars and weave in and out of city traffic, putting themselves at risk. We need to legislate for this. I would prefer, however, if we could find some other way of ensuring that children do as they are told. In this regard this amendment, which would make it compulsory for everybody to wear a helmet, would help in ensuring that children obey the law. If it was mandatory for everyone to wear a helmet then children would not be singled out. As I said on Committee Stage, many children do not regard it as "cool" to wear a helmet no matter how attractive or how high-tech it may be. They object if they are asked to wear one because they think they look stupid in them. While sensible, mature children will respond the majority do not. The reason I make this plea is that I want to safeguard our children. I do not like the idea of imposing some sort of draconian punishment on children in this regard. There must be quite simple solutions. It was suggested that the bicycle be impounded at the local Garda station for, say, a week, or that the child could be required to present himself at the local Garda station three times a week for the following three weeks wearing the helmet. Human ingenuity is infinite. I am sure there is a way around the difficulty. I know the Minister agrees that to save lives and reduce injuries children in particular should have to wear helmets.

Nobody could disagree with the objective of this amendment. It is highly desirable that people riding bicycles should wear helmets. The accident statistics for cyclists emphasises this point. I am driven to despair at how cyclists behave in this city. I agree with the sentiments expressed at Dublin City Council last night by one of my Labour colleagues, Paddy Bourke, when he denounced in the strongest language people who pedal bicycles around this city with no lights. It is kamikaze stuff. It would be highly desirable to get going an advertising campaign which would highlight the risks cyclists are exposed to, even despite their best efforts using helmets and shiny reflector belts and so on. However, one finds people cycling around the city of Dublin on dark nights with no lights, no reflector belts and, sometimes, no reflectors on the bicycles. They really are taking their lives into their hands. I hope something can be done to get some sense into them.

I will be asking the National Safety Council to feature the advisability of wearing helmets as prominently as possible in the 1994 Road Safety Campaign. If we can incorporate other things in that programme, we certainly will. I accept the protective benefits to both cyclists and horse riders of wearing appropriate headgear. I have considered this matter since the Committee Stage. There are a number of reasons why I am somewhat reluctant to compel people to do what is right, but I might be persuaded.

I sympathise with the Minister.

I have an odd feeling about saying "you must" to a ten year old. Then there is the question of appropriate sanctions against young vulnerable cyclists who have no other way of travelling and who are, perhaps, not in very good financial circumstances. I would be reluctant to require families with two or three children to have £100 available to meet this requirement to wear a helmet while cycling.

I am sure everybody would agree that, in the main, the best way of promoting a development like this is on a voluntary basis. I will try to approach it in two ways. I will consider between now and when the Bill goes to the Seanad what other additional powers I could put in the Bill which would give me the leeway at some time to decide on the question of compulsion. First and foremost, people would have to be alerted to the fact that this was going to arise so they could at least make some effort to prepare even for the financial investment that would be necessary, particularly for families not in the best of financial circumstances. I will have discussions with the Road Safety Council on the promotional effort. I will have that underpinned with some further developments on the legal side between now and the introduction of the Bill in the Seanad to allow for a phased introduction, if that is the decision that is ultimately taken.

I am conscious of the points being made here and am anxious to facilitate the House in the best way that I can. I have also expressed my fear about adopting such a philosophy for every problem we have. Nevertheless, the evidence on accidents is such that young people must be prepared to make changes. If it is not done on a voluntary basis it will certainly have to be done compulsorily, but not as a direct result of the debate here today.

I recognise that the Minister has come a little bit of the road with me on this. However, I am afraid it is not sufficient. I feel very strongly about this. I am reflecting the views of large sections of the community, who know far more about the dangers of cycling on the roads than I do, when I say that we need the Minister to give statutory effect to the requirement to wear helmets while cycling on our roads or horseriding on our roads. I urge the Minister to take this amendment on board. Even if the Minister could assure me that he will bring in such a requirement in the Seanad, introducing the necessary penalties. I would be satisfied. However, all the Minister appears to be saying is that he may, between now and the introduction of the Bill in the Seanad, bring in some enabling clause that would allow him sometime down the road to make the requirement compulsory, if in the meantime some efforts to persuade by way of advertising or public relations campaigns have failed to encourage the wearing of helmets.

The Minister must believe me when I say that the best possible persuasive powers have been used by most parents in Ireland to get their children to wear helmets. It is an never ending battle. They wear them if one is standing over them when they go out the door. If the parent is not there they go out on their bicycles and the helmet is the last thing they think of; even if they think of it, they do not want to wear it unless they are being forced to do so. Parents need the backup of legislation in this area and we are being remiss in our duty as legislators if we do not take this opportunity to bring in this legislation today.

Is the Minister aware that about 400 cyclists are killed or injured on our roads every year? We changed the drink driving laws on the basis that 400 are killed driving cars for one reason or another. I will give the Minister the source of the figures, which are from a professional organisation. I said that 400 people were killed or seriously injured on our roads, that is nearly one cyclist every day who is involved in either a serious injury or a fatality. Cyclists under the age of 20 are the most vulnerable age group. Boys are more likely to be injured than girls, especially when they reach secondary school age when the casualty rate increases dramatically — I suppose the macho bit comes into play at that stage. Research also shows that the actual number of cyclists injured might be as much as nine times the reported number. Head injuries are the main cause of death and amount to 70 per cent of cyclist fatalities, and over a half of all cyclist casualties receive head injuries. The figures are horrific. We really do not need to sit about and wait for advertising campaigns to persuade the public, particularly the young people of the error of their ways. The risk of fatal or even serious head injuries for those who do not wear helmets in traffic are on average four times as high as for those who do.

We cannot argue with those figures. Helmets must be carefully marked as having been manufactured to a recognised national standard. They are an essential part of cycling gear and we must persuade, with the backup of statutory support, all cyclists, particularly the young, that it is fashionable and smart to wear a helmet. I am deeply unhappy about the short distance the Minister travelled with me in respect of this issue. Like him I balk at any compulsion directed towards adults in this regard. I do not mind compelling children to do what is in their best interests. All young people are very enthusiastic, exuberant and on many occasions have more energy than sense. We cannot put an old head on young shoulders and preaching responsibility to them goes in one ear and out the other. They do not understand mortality or limits to their ability. I balk when it comes to adults; hence the reason I tabled my original amendment. I hate being told what to do or that I must do something, it immediately gets my back up and that is my nature.

I accept the Government cannot regulate for all aspects of people's lives. That point has been made on many occasions. However, the statistics and facts in relation to this issue must make us take it more seriously than any Government has to date. The speed at which cyclists travel, the amount of traffic and the high-tech nature of bicycles all point to making the wearing of a helmet compulsory. Why is it compulsory for a motor cyclist to wear a helmet? Bicycles are ridden at higher speeds than those who drive low powered motorbikes. It is compulsory for people driving low powered motorbikes to wear helmets and they are being overtaken on the roads by young people riding high-tech bicycles. If it was logical to make helmets compulsory for the users of motorbikes of all cubic capacities, and if today cyclists can travel faster than low powered motor bikes, is it not logical to make it compulsory for cyclists to wear helmets? The same argument applies in respect of horse riding where the rider must take account also of the unpredictable nature of the animal and increased traffic on our roads.

I would like to pay tribute to the Mayo Triathlon Cycle Club and its cycle helmet awareness campaign. It is participating in a two week awareness campaign which commenced on 11 November and will continue to 25 November. It is promoting cycle helmet awareness through 31 post-primary schools with extensive publicity through the press, radio, interviews, posters, adventure cycles, cycle shops, school visits, awareness seminars and a prize fund for promotions. Its new logo is, "get into the helmet habit". I would like to pay tribute to its development officer, Jarlath Sweeney, and his committee for the tremendous work they are doing in Mayo. We could learn from them. Organisations such as that are very committed and convinced about the validity of the case they make.

I received a letter from the Mayo Triathlon Cycle Club which states:

Dear Ms Doyle,

As founder of the Mayo Triathlon Cycle Club, I continue to admire your efforts to make the wearing of cycle helmets compulsory when cycling in Ireland.

There are people concerned about this issue. I urge the Minister to accept m amendment. He may wish to amend the wording and include the imposition of penalties. I suggest a sufficient on-the spot fine for minors. That would tidy us this area. In the absence of an indication that the Minister is prepared to make cycle helmets and helmets for home riding compulsory, between now and when the Bill goes to the Seanad, I must press my amendment.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 42; Níl, 70.

  • Ahearn, Theresa.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Bruton, John.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Clohessy, Peadar.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connor, John.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Dukes, Alan M.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • Foxe, Tom.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Harte, Paddy.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Hogan, Philip.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).
  • O'Donnell, Liz.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • Owen, Nora.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Sheehan, P.J.
  • Yates, Ivan.

Níl

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Bhreathnach, Niamh.
  • Bree, Declan.
  • Brennan, Matt.
  • Broughan, Tommy.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • De Valera, Síle.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fitzgerald, Brian.
  • Fitzgerald, Eithne.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Mulvihill, John.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Penrose, William.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat (Laoighis-Offaly).
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hilliard, Colm M.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Hughes, Séamus.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDowell, Derek.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Upton, Pat.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Eamon.
  • Woods, Michael.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies E. Kenny and Boylan; Níl, Deputies Dempsey and D. McDowell.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 39:

In page 32, between lines 42 and 43, to insert the following:

38.—(1) A road authority may, in the interest of the safety and convenience of road users, provide such traffic calming measures as they consider desirable in respect of public roads in their charge.

(2) A road authority may remove any traffic calming measures provided by them under this section.

(3) Before providing or removing traffic calming measures under this section of such class or classes as may be prescribed, a road authority shall—

(a) consult with the Commissioner;

(b) publish a notice in one or more newspapers circulating in the functional area of the authority—

(i) indicating that it is proposed to provide or remove the measures, and

(ii) stating that representations in relation to the proposal may be made in writing to the road authority before a specified date (which shall be not less than one month after the publication of the notice);

(c) consider any observations made by the Commissioner or any representations made pursuant to paragraph (b) (ii).

(4) The making of a decision to provide or remove traffic calming measures of a class prescribed under subsection (3) and the consideration of observations or representations under paragraph (c) of that subsection shall be reserved functions.

(5) Traffic calming measures shall not be provided or removed in respect of a national road without the prior consent of the Minister.

(6) The Minister may issue general guidelines to road authorities relating to traffic calming measures under this section and may amend or cancel any such guidelines and, where any such guidelines are, for the time being, in force, road authorities shall have regard to such guidelines when performing functions under this section.

(7) A traffic calming measure provided under this section shall be deemed to be a structure forming part of the public road concerned and necessary for the safety of road users.

(8) (a) A person who, without lawful authority, removes or damages or attempts to remove or damage a traffic calming measure provided under this section shall be guilty of an offence.

(b) An offence under this subsection may be prosecuted by the road authority in whose functional area the acts constituting the offence were done.

(9) In this section—

‘provide' includes erect or place, maintain and (in the case of an instrument for giving signals by mechanical means) operate and cognate words shall be construed accordingly; and

‘traffic calming measures' means measures which restrict or control the speed or movement of, or which prevent, restrict or control access to a public road or roads by, mechanically propelled vehicles (whether generally or of a particular class) and measures which facilitate the safe use of public roads by different classes of traffic (including pedestrians and cyclists) and includes the provision of traffic signs, road markings, bollards, posts, poles, chicanes, rumble areas, raised, lowered or modified road surfaces, ramps, speed cushions, speed tables or other similar works or devices, islands or central reservations, roundabouts, modified junctions, works to reduce or modify the width of the roadway and landscaping, planting or other similar works.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 32, between lines 44 and 45, to insert the following:

39.—(1) A member of the Garda Síochána may for the purpose of arresting a person under section 106 (3A) (inserted by this Act) of the Principal Act, enter without warrant (if need be by use of reasonable force) any place (including a dwelling) where the person is or where the member, with reasonable cause, suspects him to be and, in case the place is a dwelling, the member shall not so enter unless he or another such member has observed the person enter the dwelling concerned.

(2) A member of the Garda Síochána may for the purpose of arresting a person under section 49 (8) or 50 (10) of the Principal Act, enter without warrant (if need be by use of reasonable force) any place (including the curtilage of a dwelling but not including a dwelling) where the person is or where the member, with reasonable cause, suspects him to be.

(3) A member of the Garda Síochána may, for the purpose of making a requirement of a person under subsection (1) of section 15, enter without warrant any hospital where the person is or where the member, with reasonable cause, suspects him to be.

(4) A designated doctor may, for the purpose of taking from a person a specimen of his blood or being provided by a person with a specimen of his urine under subsection (1) of section 15, enter any hospital where the person is or where the doctor is informed by a member of the Garda Síochána that the person is.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 41 not moved.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 33, line 17, to delete "is of opinion" and substitute "reasonably believes".

Section 39 deals with the detention and impounding of vehicles. Several amendments to this section could be taken together but I will be directed by the Chair. My amendment proposes to substitute the term "reasonably believes" for the term "is of opinion" in section 39 (1) (b). The Minister knows the case I am making and I will not delay the House on this point. I await the Minister's response to see if he can accept my amendment.

I do not see any real difference between the terms "is of opinion" and "reasonably believes"— both terms have the same basic meaning. An opinion formed by a garda must be reasonable and he must have a basis for it. I have no real difficulty with either term but if I accepted the amendment different terminology would be used in section 39 (1) (a) and (b). Because there is no real difference between the two terms I do not see any purpose in pursuing the matter.

There is no point in pursuing a minor point at this late hour of the day. I will withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 43 in the name of the Minister. Amendment No. 44 is an alternative. It is proposed to take amendments Nos. 43 and 44 together.

I move amendment No. 43:

In page 33, line 21, after "paid" to insert "in respect of a continuous period of 2 months or more immediately prior to such use".

On Committee Stage several Deputies expressed the opinion that the power to detain vehicles for the non-payment of road tax would be excessive. Arising from that debate I undertook to re-examine the position. The provisions and procedures provided for in this section are almost identical to the provisions of section 97 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, which provides for the detention and impounding of vehicles which are either abandoned or unlawfully parked. For a number of years the Garda Síochána has been impounding vehicles unlawfully parked in clearways, on bus lanes and on double yellow lines. I am satisfied that a procedure which can apply for parking infringements is also appropriate for dealing with people who evade paying road tax. The annual loss in motor tax revenue due to evasion is more than £20 million per year and the reality is that the law abiding motorists are subsidising the evaders. This should not be allowed to continue.

On Committee Stage I pointed out that it is not the intention to impound a vehicle merely because the tax is a few days or weeks out of date. The purpose of this amendment is to give effect to that commitment. The amendment will confine the power to impound to cases where a garda finds that the road tax of a vehicle in use in a public place has expired for at least two months. Deputy Doyle proposes that the minimum period should be six months. This would be far too long. I can understand somebody forgetting to renew his road tax for five or six weeks but six months is excessive. I do not want signals to go out from this House suggesting it is acceptable not to renew road tax for as long as six months.

I thank the Minister for taking our concerns partially on board. This issue was raised on Second Stage and Committee Stage. I made it clear on Second Stage that while I supported the power being given to members of the Garda Síochána to impound or detain uninsured vehicles I still had strong reservations about extending that power to untaxed vehicles. Driving an untaxed car is, rightly, an offence but people driving such cars are not a danger to themselves or any other road user unlike people driving uninsured cars. Uninsured drivers involved in accidents can cause immense complications in terms of personal injuries claims, etc. In some cases the State has to take responsibility for the payment of compensation by the uninsured driver in cases involving injury or death.

The power to impound vehicles whose tax is two months out of date is oppressive. That is the view of the Incorporated Law Society, the Automobile Association and many other conservative bodies which have considered this section. I accept a case can be made for impounding the car of someone who habitually fails to tax it. I asked people better qualified in this area than I for a definition of someone who blatantly abuses the law in this area as distinct from someone who forgets to renew his tax or has temporary difficulties in renewing it. It was suggested that six months should be the minimum exemption period under this section — indeed some proposed a much longer period. I agree with the Minister that we cannot afford to give wrong signals to the public. The driving of untaxed vehicles is illegal and there are penalties to deal with this problem. It should be underlined that anything we say or do here today will not change the existing penalties.

I ask the Minister to take on board my amendment. Unlike many other people, I support the impounding of uninsured vehicles. However, I should like to hear how a member of the Garda Síochána will form a reasonable opinion as to what is an insured vehicle. Will a car with a current insurance disc constitute an insured car? We referred briefly to this issue earlier. A person driving a car with a current insurance disc may not be insured to drive that car. What criteria will be used in deciding whether a car is insured? Will uninsured drivers be able to get away with driving cars which have a current insurance disc? This point needs to be clarified as it could be wide open to legal challenge otherwise.

Will a car without a tax disc be automatically deemed untaxed? As both the Minister and I know, this may not necessarily be the case. What criteria will be used in deciding whether a car should be impounded? I urge the Minister not to make the provision too oppressive in regard to untaxed cars. I accept that a person who blatantly flouts the law, has not taxed his car for years and who has no intention of doing so deserves to be penalised. However, a person who normally taxes his car but who may be a month or two late in doing so should not have his vehicle impounded. This provision is excessively oppressive. There is not a whole lot between the Minister and me on this issue. In view of the fact that the Incorporated Law Society stated that the provision in the original Bill was oppressive and that the Automobile Association believes six months should be the minimum exemption period, I ask the Minister to accept my amendment.

I do not think allowing motorists two months grace in this case is unduly oppressive. I would be quite happy if the Minister says in response to Deputy Doyle that he would allow three months' grace in relation to taxing a car, particularly as he has now allowed the reinstatement of the quarterly tax disc. I did not put down an amendment on this, I was content to see the course that Deputy Doyle followed in regard to this matter as he had mentioned it on Committee Stage. I was unsure whether the Minister should allow any grace but having had to pay a couple of months' back tax recently. I have a little more sympathy for those who may forget to pay the tax. I did not have time to get to the Tax Office although I was carrying my insurance certificate in my car with the intention of doing so.

I do not believe that two months' grace is oppressive but it might be helpful if the Minister would allow three months grace in view of the fact that he changed his mind in relation to the tax discs earlier this year.

As I explained earlier, for a number of years the Garda had been impounding vehicles which were unlawfully parked in clearways and bus lanes. I do not want Deputies to suggest we are introducing something new. I am sure the Automobile Association and the Incorporated Law Society have made the same arguments in regard to this issue. This provision has worked effectively in traffic management and there is no real public outcry or problem with it.

On Committee Stage I was concerned to see to what extent I could tailor the amendment to deal with persistent offenders.

They are my concern, too, Minister.

This was not possible because while the Garda have access to the vehicle file which contains details as to whether the vehicle is taxed, the vehicle file does not include information concerning convictions or matters of that sort. Therefore, I found that it was not a practical proposition. However, having been invited "down the road" for the third time today by Deputy Doyle, to quote her expression, I am proposing for the time being to "go down the road" with Deputy Keogh in her suggestion to reach agreement.

Peace maker.

Thank you, Minister.

Is amendment No. 43 agreed?

Agreed as amended, that is important. What would be the criteria for deciding that a car is not taxed and uninsured?

The Garda will have access to the national vehicle file and in all cases must be of the opinion and take whatever steps are necessary to lead them to that view.

Amendment, as amended by the deletion of the figure "2" and the substitution of the figure "3", agreed to.
Amendment No. 44 not moved.

Amendment No. 45 is in the name of the Minister. Amendments Nos. 46 and 48 are related and the suggestion is that amendments Nos. 45, 46 and 48 be taken together.

I move amendment No. 45:

In page 34, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

40.—A road authority may, with the consent of the Commissioner, provide and maintain on public roads in their charge any equipment or structure which the authority consider desirable for the detection of offences under section 47 (as amended by this Act) of the Principal Act.

The need for more effective action to enforce the law in relation to excessive speed was raised during the Second Reading and indeed on Committee Stage when I pointed out I was anxious to ensure that the Garda would have the necessary statutory powers and the use of modern detection equipment to tackle this problem. At present, the Garda make extensive use of radar speed meters. They also have the use of in-car video equipment which is proving very effective. New enforcement techniques and equipment are being developed on an ongoing basis. The purpose of these amendments is to cater for the use of the latest technology by providing for modern automated equipment to detect and record speeding offences.

The specific amendments proposed are as follows: amendment No. 45 will empower road authorities to provide on public roads the necessary infrastructure to facilitate the use of speed cameras; amendment No. 46 amends section 105 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961 to put beyond doubt that the apparatus which may be used by the Garda to detect speeding offences includes photographing apparatus; amendment No. 48 amends section 107 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, to empower the Garda to require details of who was driving at the time of the alleged offence either in person or by service of a notice by registered post. The existing provisions do not cover such a requirement and the amendment is designed to put beyond doubt that a requirement can be made by service of a notice by registered post.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 46:

In page 34, between lines 38 and 39, to insert the following:

41.—Section 105 of the Principal Act is hereby amended in paragraph (b) by the insertion after "a watch or electronic or other apparatus" of "(including photographic apparatus)".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 47:

In page 34, between lines 38 and 39, to insert the following:

42.—Section 106 of the Principal Act is hereby amended by the insertion after subsection (3) of the following new subsection:

"(3A) A member of the Garda Síochána may arrest without warrant a person who in the member's opinion is committing or has committed an offence under subsection (3) of this section where the contravention involves or, as may be appropriate, involved non-compliance with paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) of this section, injury was caused to person, a mechanically propelled vehicle was involved in the occurrence of the injury and the first-mentioned person is, or as may be appropriate, was in the member's opinion the driver of the vehicle concerned."

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 48:

In page 34, between lines 38 and 39, to insert the following:

43.—Section 107 of the Principal Act is hereby amended by the insertion after subsection (4) of the following new subsection:

"(4A) (a) A requirement under subsection (4) of this section may be made of a person either personally or in a notice in writing served upon him by registered post.

(b) Notwithstanding the said subsection (4), where a requirement under that subsection is made of a person in a notice served upon him by registered post the person shall not be guilty of an offence unless he fails to comply with the requirement within the time (being not less than 14 days from the date on which the notice was posted) specified in the notice.".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 49 is deemed out of order.

Amendment No. 49 not moved.

I realise I cannot move the amendment but may I make a brief point? Will the Minister look at this section, regarding which many professional bodies, including the advice available to the Incorporated Law Society, have major concerns? With the three year provisions I was attempting to amend to one year, the maxim "justice delayed is justice denied" applies. I urge the Minister to examine the time it could take for such cases to get to court. Before the Bill goes to the Seanad, perhaps the Minister could look at this again and try to meet the concerns of the Incorporated Law Society.

Subsection (1) (b) provides, contrary to the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act, 1851 and indeed contrary to the Courts No. 3 Act, that summary proceedings for an offence under the Road Traffic Acts, 1961 to 1993, may be instituted "at any time within three months from the date on which evidence sufficient, in the opinion of the person by whom the proceedings are instituted, to justify proceedings comes to such person's knowledge". Subsection (2) goes on to provide that "summary proceedings mentioned in subsection (1) of this section shall not be instituted later than three years — [that is my concern] — from the date on which the offence was committed".

Subsection (3) provides that "a certificate signed by the person instituting the proceedings or on his behalf by a person authorised by him to sign such a certificate...stating the date on which evidence described in subsection (1) (b) of this section came to the knowledge of the first mentioned person shall, until the contrary is shown — [I presume that is by the defendant] — be sufficient evidence in any proceedings under the Road Traffic Acts, 1961 to 1993, of the facts stated therein, without proof of any signature on it or that the signatory was the proper person to sign it, and shall, until the contrary is shown, be sufficient evidence of compliance by the first mentioned person with the requirements imposed on him by or under this section."

I was under the impression that the Deputy wished to make a brief point.

I acknowledge your generosity, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and I admit I am transgressing on it slightly. The point I urge on the Minister is that there are unanimous concerns in the legal profession about the operation of justice. Justice delayed is justice denied in this section and it the Minister could tighten up the timeframe involved it would satisfy the requirements.

If Deputy Doyle's adherence to the speed limits on the roads is anything like her adherence to the rules of this House, the measures are in real trouble.

The reason for the extended time is where the conduct of the defendant is responsible for the delay in obtaining necessary evidence. To reduce that to one year may not be sufficient in certain cases but I am prepared to consider this between now and the debate in the Seanad.

I thank the Minister.

We move on to amendment No. 50 in the name of the Minister which has already been discussed with No. 3.

I move amendment No. 50:

In page 36, line 12, to delete "12" and substitute "12 (b)".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 51:

In page 36, between lines 43 and 44, to insert the following:

"(h) in section 101, by the insertion after subsection (7A) (inserted by the Act of 1968) of the following new subsections:

‘(7B) Where, in relation to a mechanically propelled vehicle, there is a contravention of a bye-law under subsection (7) of this section, each of the following persons shall be guilty of an offence—

(a) the registered owner of the vehicle,

(b) if the vehicle is the subject of a hire-drive agreement on the occasion in question, the person to whom the vehicle is hired under the agreement, and

(c) if the person who parked the vehicle is not its registered owner or the person to whom it is hired under a hire-drive agreement, the first-mentioned person.

(7C) (a) Where a person charged with an offence under subsection (7B) (inserted by the Road Traffic Act, 1993) of this section is the registered owner of the vehicle concerned, it shall be a defence for him to show that the vehicle was being used on the occasion in question by another person and that—

(i) such use was unauthorised, or

(ii) the vehicle was on that occasion the subject of a hire-drive agreement.

(b) Where a person charged with an offence under subsection (7B) (as so inserted) of this section is a person to whom the vehicle concerned stood hired at the time of the commission of the offence, it shall be a defence for him to show that the vehicle was being used on the occasion in question by another person and that such use was unauthorised.';".

The amendment provides that, where there is a contravention of a local authority car park by-law, the registered owner of the vehicle will be held to be liable. The amendment brings the arrangements for dealing with parking infringements in local authority car parks into line with the provisions governing parking offences on public roads. The wording of the amendment is based on the provisions of section 35 and 36 of the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 52:

In page 38, to delete lines 18 to 25 and substitute the following:

"12. (a) An offence under section 106 of this Act where the contravention involved non-compliance with paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) of that section, injury was caused to person, a mechanically propelled vehicle was involved in the occurrence of the injury and the convicted person was the driver of the vehicle concerned.

(b) An offence under section 106 of this Act (other than an offence to which subparagraph (a) of this paragraph relates) where injury was caused to person, a mechanically propelled vehicle was involved in the occurrence of the injury and the convicted person was the driver of the vehicle concerned, being an offence committed in a period of 3 years in which a previous such offence was committed by the person for which he was convicted.".

Amendment agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stage today.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass".

Are we in order in saying a few words, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle?

Yes, but confined to what is contained in the Bill.

I accept that.

Notwithstanding my limited reservations in certain areas, this is a very important Bill now being passed through this House. When the Minister has had a chance to go through the provisions of the Bill again, as it passes through the Seanad, I would urge him to endeavour to take on board the major areas of concern voiced here. I do not expect him to accept all of the points we made in a wide variety of areas but the areas of concern to us have been narrowed to a few at this stage. I would urge him to too look again at the points made by way of amendment today. I thank him for having accepted an amendment tabled by me and effectively compromising on two other amendments today.

However, I remain concerned about the provisions in regard to impounding of uninsured and untaxed cars only because the criteria to be deployed are far from clear in deciding what in fact constitutes an uninsured car. For example, if the car has a valid insurance disc displayed but the driver is not validly insured to drive it, how will that be determined? I contend there is a major loophole or difficulty remaining to be closed in that area.

I would plead with the Minister, when he gets to the Seanad, to table an amendment, or accept one from the floor, in relation to bicycle helmets, helmets for cyclists generally riding on our public roads. I will not rehearse my case there since I dealt with that area to some extent. Whereas the Minister, to use my expression, did travel some of the road with us, he did not accept my amendment. Nonetheless, he was reasonably sympathetic to the case made. With the statistics staring us in the face I would ask him please, if you like, to complete the circle. Rather than wait too long, depending on public relations machines to persuade, all, but particularly the young, I would ask him to take the initiative, giving a commencement date, say, of 1 June next, to allow people financially to comply with the requirement of purchasing a helmet when everybody would be reasonably satisfied.

I will not rehearse many of the other arguments with which we have dealt already. I must reiterate that this is a most important Bill. But the removal of total discretion from the Judiciary in certain of its sections is a major cause of concern to me. I contend the punishment must fit the crime and not all dangerous drivers are joy riders. I am unhappy about the mandatory disqualifications and mandatory penalties being introduced in this area where no discretion at all is left with the Judiciary, if you like, to deal with the once-off offender as distinct from the malicious dangerous driver who needs no sympathy or support from us here today.

I thank the Minister for having taken on board, with an amendment of his we all accepted today, the concerns I voiced initially on Second Stage and with which we dealt subsequently at some length on Committee Stage, in relation to the extension of the new power being given the Garda to enter private property, with force if necessary, and to arrest without a warrant in certain cases. The Minister has made that requirement quite crime specific. He turned out at the end of the day to be even stricter than we on this side of the House had required of him. We tried to meet him; he came even further along the road in this case to meet us. He has made the extension of that power to be crime specific just to the pursuit of the hit and run, the pursuit of someone who leaves the scene of an accident, in other words, the hot pursuit case.

The Minister did say he would examine the possibility of extending that power up to three hours after the occurrence of such an accident. I am happy with what the Minister has done in that regard because I had feared for the constitutionality of his original intent in the Bill, as initiated. In extending to the Garda the powers they need to ensure that criminals are taken out and face the rigours of the law, hopefully, this amendment will render the extension of this particular power constitutional. I am afraid that probably that will still be tested in our courts — in fact I have no doubt that it will — but in making it crime specific to the hot pursuit case most of the arguments many of us advanced in terms of its contravening Article 45 of the Constitution will have been taken care of.

There are other new terms — perhaps not so new — of road traffic law introduced in relation to the whole body of law generally, for example, powers of detention by the Garda, as distinct from powers of arrest, to give them time to take a blood sample or urine test from a suspect in relation to a breach of drink driving alcohol levels, various other such powers which I contend are needed, such as the power to stop a joy rider and insist on the production of driving licence. Again, some compliant members of the community are somewhat worried that if they did not have their licence with them in their car a garda might insist that they produce it and not give them the option of producing it within ten days at their local garda station. But I understand the Minister's argument that this is the only way a garda who suspects an under-age driver, or a joy rider of some kind, can prevent a false name and address being given, thus preventing them from getting off scot free.

We travelled the road with the Minister in some areas, perhaps with some reservations, but understanding fully what he was endeavouring to achieve. I should like to thank the Minister and his Departmental officials for the tremendous amount of work put into this Bill.

It would be remiss of me not to voice my disappointment at the Minister not having been able to take on board a graduation of the penalties, particularly the mandatory disqualification from driving. I am deeply unhappy about a person with 85 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood being treated the same way before a court of law as someone with 400 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood, in that the persistent, drunk driver, the blatant abuser of the law is being treated in the same way as someone who inadvertently consumed half a glass too much and to whom the Minister or I might appear perfectly sober although technically or marginally in breach of the law. The fact that all discretion is removed from judges is a real cause of concern at that end. At least a phased introduction of mandatory penalties would have been warranted, in order to treat a person with an 85 milligrammes level of alcohol slightly differently in terms of mandatory disqualification from driving from a total abuser, someone with say, 200, 300 or 400 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millitres of blood.

I hope that what we have done today ultimately will save lives; that has to be the bottom line. While some civil liberties have been impinged, and life will be a little less comfortable even for the compliant citizen, I hope that the compliant citizen will be paid back in dividends in terms of allowing the Garda to pursue the criminal, those who are criminally negligent, in relation to road traffic offences of one kind or another. It is not always easy to achieve the correct balance. Some of us still have concerns but we have acceded to the Minister's requests in many areas given the carnage on our roads today.

I hope that the provisions of this Bill will pay dividends and that many lives will be saved.

I thank the Minister for the open manner in which he approached this debate. All of us said — it seems a long time ago now we were generally supportive of the provisions of this Bill even though we had difficulty in certain specific areas. I think we have had a good debate overall.

As somebody who has been critical of the committee system from time to time, I should say that, having been able to examine the provisions of this Bill in great depth in Committee Stage was of great benefit to me and, I hope, the Minister. I believe that the powers of persuasion of people from all sides of the House meant that the Minister was more open to taking amendments on board or to tabling his own, as he saw fit.

The success or otherwise, of the provisions of the Bill will become evident when the road accident figures for Ireland for 1994 are published. It will be easy to assess from the figures whether these measures, some of which we had difficulty with, are effective. I have reservations about some of them but I appreciate that the Minister has accepted amendments both from me and other Members. In particular the power to enter a dwelling by gardaí if necessary using reasonable force, was debated long and hard and I thank the Minister for listening. I wish the Minister well with the Bill in the Seanad where, I have no doubt, a number of amendments will be tabled. Our debate on the Bill will be scrutinised.

I appreciate very much the complimentary remarks of Deputies Doyle and Keogh. I thank also my officials who burned the midnight oil often to deal with the amendments. For my part this has been a very good experience. We spent some of the long summer days dealing with Committee Stage of the Bill. There is no doubt that the combined wisdom of Members from all sides of the House has produced a much improved Bill. We will have to wait to see what happens in the Seanad. The current law dates back to 1978 so it was definitely a time for review.

There is a proven connection between road accidents and alcohol. We have to take account of many new systems and advancing technology such as the evidential breath-testing machines. We have tried to up-grade and make the system more efficient while at the same time ensuring a good balance. Overall, I think we have achieved that. There is no doubt that new deterrents are needed. There is still a hard core who, for one reason or another, are prepared to drink excessively and drive on our roads.

Deputy Doyle referred to the loss of civil liberties of a compliant citizen but I would remind her of the many deaths on our roads. Where there is a conflict we have tried to ensure in hit-and-run accidents that no mercy is shown and that there is no sanctuary for such offenders.

I am grateful to Members who contributed, particularly the Front Bench spokespersons. They must undertake a considerable amount of work. Some of the step dancing can only be done by the Opposition. A Minister has to make choices and decide issues. I was amazed at the way some Members were able to dance through the web of difficulties if they perceived an electoral problem. When there was mention of compliant and helpful people I was told the Minister for the Environment was not prepared to listen. We may have the back-up staff but we carry the responsibility for making decisions. In political life there will always be opportunities for the Opposition to exploit such problems. The sensitivities and the vulnerability of this side of the House can be exposed now and then.

This debate has been a very good experience and I look forward to the debate in the Seanad and, more important, to the successful implementation of this legislative framework. A cultural change in the country as a whole in the form of the non-acceptance of excessive drinking or drinking and driving will ultimately lead to safer roads for those who use them.

Is mian liom anois mo buíochas a ghabháil do gach éinne a cabhraidh leis an mBille seo a chur os comhair na Dála agus an tacaíocht a thug sibh dom chun go mbeidh an Bille seo againn ag an am seo.

Question put and agreed to.