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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 5 Mar 1998

Vol. 488 No. 3

Other Questions. - Road Safety Report.

Proinsias De Rossa


6 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if he has yet received the report of the High Level Group on Road Safety; when the report will published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5856/98]

It is intended that the proposals of the High Level Group on Road Safety for a national road safety strategy will be finalised shortly, prior to the approval of the strategy by the Government and its publication. The new strategy will provide a framework for co-ordinating and reinforcing existing policies and measures on road safety and for developing new instruments and approaches. A similar strategic approach to road safety has been adopted by some of the leading countries in Europe and I am confident it will also benefit Irish performance.

In the meantime action on road safety is being intensified through, for example, special enforcement campaigns under the direction of the Garda National Traffic Policy Bureau, a substantially increased grant in 1998 to the National Safety Council and an increased provision by the National Roads Authority in 1998 for its low cost safety measures programme and other road safety related measures.

Is it the intention of the Minister of State to publish that report before Easter, which would appear to be in line with previous replies he gave to this question? Will he confirm how many people have been killed on our roads so far this year? Is he aware it is well established that the biggest contributor to the carnage on our roads is speed? Apart from the report which is to be considered, what are he and his Department doing to address the serious problem of speed on our roads and the resultant carnage, death and injury arising from it?

I expect the report will be available fairly soon. I may have it before Easter and, after it has been considered by the Government, it is intended to publish it. For quite some time speed has been identified as one of the major factors resulting in fatalities arising from road accidents. It is too early to identify any trend of road deaths in 1998, but provisional figures for the period to 2 March this year indicate that 63 people have died in road accidents — 28 drivers, eight passengers, 18 pedestrians, four motorcyclists and four pedal cyclists. It is a terrible tragedy for the families involved and for this country that so many of our citizens lose their lives on our roads. We have a duty and a responsibility to ensure we put in place everything we possibly can to ensure that number of road deaths is reduced. The Government is committing substantial resources to this and is examining every possible way in which it can introduce new measures which would help to make our roads safer for those who use them.

Drivers' habits and attitudes contribute to many of these accidents. With speed clearly identified as a major cause of accidents, we can only continue to appeal to motorists and all road users to exercise maximum care, to have respect for other road users, to comply with the existing speed limits and to adhere to proper procedures when bringing a vehicle out on to the road. One cannot imagine the extent of the tragedy these accidents bring into homes. There is nothing worse than for a loved one to be suddenly taken away or maimed for life. That has become a feature of modern life because there is so much traffic on our roads.

The only hopeful sign, if it could be deemed that, is that accident data in the context of greatly increased road traffic indicate the appeals for greater care have had some effect. In 1978 when 678 people died in road accidents 18,000 million kilometres were travelled while in 1996 when 453 people died approximately 34,000 million kilometres were travelled. Our roads system carried the same traffic volume in 1996 that had been predicted for it in the year 2000. Despite the enormous increase in the number of miles travelled in that period at least the overall numbers have been falling. However, that does not mean the position is acceptable or in any way satisfactory. We must continue to strive to make our roads death free.

I appreciate the information the Minister has given the House. Given what we know about the level of road accidents, the number of road deaths and the pattern that has been established over many years, why is the Department of the Environment and Local Government still approving road proposals in some cases with no footpaths, no pedestrian crossings and insufficient regard for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists?

We are widening the scope of the question. We have just had a debate on roads and should not enter into such a debate.

I am confining myself to the question of safety. Is it the case that the way in which roads are funded is resulting in roads which are manifestly unsafe and where the bias is against the pedestrian and the cyclist? Has the Minister considered discussing with the motor industry the possibility of putting physical restraints on vehicles to prevent them from going over certain speeds? Advertisements in the newspapers and the motor industry are promoting the high speeds at which cars may travel as a means of selling them. Surely, it is time physical restraints were put on vehicles to prevent them from travelling at the speeds which are causing deaths on our roads.

It is not accepted that road development policy and spending on roads has contributed to the rise in the number of accidents. One of the fundamental objectives of the Operational Programme for Transport is the provision of a safe and efficient national road network. The National Roads Authority is charged with the implementation of this objective. Local authorities also play a major role and have statutory responsibility for the improvement and maintenance of non-national roads and must ensure, as far as possible, the provision of a safe and efficient network of non-national or local roads.

As the House will know, almost £277 million has been provided by the Government and local authorities for this work in 1998. I reject Deputy Gilmore's suggestion that the local authorities or the Department are in some way responsible for the accidents on the roads.

One cannot cross the roads because they are too busy.

Road users have a responsibility to use their vehicles in a manner which is at all times safe and proper and which relates to the conditions of the road on which they are driving. If the Deputy wants me to list all the measures taken up to now by previous Governments and supported by this one, I will. I refer to the initiative taken which involves the Taoiseach, the Minister, myself and the high level group on road safety. I hope new measures will emerge from the national strategy which is being designed. Although the Government and the Department can lay down regulations and take action on improving roads and removing black spots and can introduce measures to reduce the possibilities of accidents happening, it boils down to road users.

I was driving on a dual carriageway last week on the way to the by-election campaign in Limerick when I was passed on the inside by a car just before a roundabout. The car proceeded at some speed on to the roundabout. There were no injuries as a result of his reckless driving but he demolished a sign as he travelled around the roundabout. Human nature and human error are factors over which the Department or regulations have no control.

Although the Minister said substantial resources are being provided for road safety, I am sure he will agree resources are not limitless. Does he agree that better use could be made of some of the resources? Does he agree the use of speed traps on the best roads is not always the best action to take? Speed limits are the same on bad roads as on good ones but the danger from speeding is much greater on the worst roads and that is where the most serious accidents occur. The Minister will be aware of an example in north Kildare-south Meath. Is the Minister of State aware of a system being put in place where a 50 miles per hour speed limit is being imposed on a seven kilometre stretch of road with a great amount of road signage?

This is an extremely long supplementary question.

It is a short stretch of road on which 39 deaths have occurred but none have occurred since these measures were put in place. Does the Minister agree that the speed limits imposed on heavy lorries are not being enforced? Will he take up the point made by the last speaker about the speed limits on cars? If it is illegal to travel over 70 miles per hour, why are cars designed to travel at 140 miles per hour?

The national strategy has not yet been presented to the Government and the high level group is sitting and considering matters. I invite the Opposition parties to make submissions to the group containing their suggestions on changes or improvements which might be helpful to our objective of seeking to reduce the number of horrific accidents on our roads and to make our roads safer for everyone.

Did the report from the road safety group consider the use of safety belts, an issue which concerns me? When driving in traffic locally people do not always use their seat belts and we see children standing between the two fronts seats and babies sitting on people's laps in the front seat. Could any of the accidents or injuries this year have been prevented by the use of safety belts?

It is illegal to travel in the front driver or passenger seat or in the back seats of a motor car without wearing a seat belt. Any person not wearing a safety belt is breaking the law. I cannot hold anyone responsible other than the individual who fails to comply with the law.

Mr. Hayes

I thank the Minister for figures he gave the House which are utterly shocking. He said 63 people have died from January to March which is a shocking indication of the problems on our roads. Given the upcoming holidays, including St. Patrick's Day and Easter, and the increase in the number of cars and vehicles on our road network, is the Minister or the Department in discussion with the Garda Commissioner about launching a safety or publicity campaign at those peak times of travel?

As the Deputy knows, the National Safety Council was established for the purpose of promoting road safety and it is generously funded by the Government and the insurance federation. The Garda are playing an important role in promoting and enforcing road safety and in introducing new measures for enforcement. The National Safety Council carries out special campaigns to draw the travelling publics' attention to the need to take care on our roads, particularly at times of heavy volume of traffic such as the holiday periods. The Deputy can take it that this matter already occupies the minds of people in the National Safety Council and that is standard practice. In the run-up to last Christmas the Government gave it additional substantial funds to enable it to step up the level of road safety promotions it was undertaking in that critical period of dark winter nights and the holiday season when huge volumes of people travel home from abroad for Christmas. We are conscious of the need to support the National Safety Council and its work and we have done so by additional finance over and above what was originally provided for.

In deciphering the road statistics, it seems that approximately 10 per cent of road accidents involve a foreign driver. The Department of the Environment and Local Government has approved different designs of signs which county councils can erect to remind drivers to drive on the left. None of these has been erected. Is this because funding is not available to the county councils for this purpose? If this is not the reason, why have they not been erected?

The Taoiseach said the school bus safety standards will be changed by regulation. When does the Minister intend to implement such regulations?

I am glad Deputy Naughten has drawn our attention to the question of foreigners who drive on the opposite side of the road from us. I greatly appreciate the necessity for warning signs and I have asked the high level group to give special consideration to it. I have put proposals to it which were made to me by persons campaigning for greater publicity of this sort for tourists, especially given the large number from the Continent and America who visit and hire cars or bring them across from the Continent through England. This is an area in which I wish to ensure there is greater signage to remind tourists to drive on the left. Such signs are erected outside airports and in certain parts of the country, such as outside Kinnegad.

It is the only one.

It is the only one on the Galway to Dublin road.

It was erected because a person was killed there.

I know the terrible personal tragedy the Deputy suffered. We all have relatives who have suffered in this way. I am conscious of the matter and I am doing all I can to increase public awareness and to make an impact on these horrific figures.

What about the school bus regulations?

I will have to communicate with the Deputy. I must first seek a time or date.

When will these regulations be implemented? I am sure the Minister would be able to tell us. It was raised on the Order of Business.

I will communicate with the Deputy.