Written Answers. - Road Safety.

Denis Naughten

Question:

120 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport when he commenced the review of speed limits; when he intends to have this review completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19659/02]

A comprehensive review of speed limits was carried out in Ireland between 1990 and 1992. This left urban speed limits unchanged at 30 mph and 40 mph, but increased the speed limit for heavy goods vehicles from 40 mph to 50 mph and the general speed limit from 55 mph to 60 mph. The motorway speed limit of 70 mph was introduced in 1994.

Changes to this regime are not proposed in the immediate term, the priority must instead be to secure a much higher level of compliance with existing limits. However, the Government does not rule out the option of revising speed limits if enforcement of existing limits does not show good progress towards the road safety strategy goal of reducing present excessive levels of speeding by 50%. The situation continues to be monitored in line with this approach.

Denis Naughten

Question:

121 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport the number of speed surveys completed by the National Roads Authority in the past five years; the date of the last such survey; the proposed date for the completion of the next survey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19660/02]

The compilation etc. of the surveys referred to is a matter for the National Roads Authority.

Denis Naughten

Question:

122 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport when he intends to introduce random breath testing and reduce the blood alcohol content to 50 milligrams; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19661/02]

The Road Traffic Act, 2002, extends the grounds on which a member of the Garda Síochána may require a driver to provide a preliminary breath specimen to include situations where a driver is involved in a road accident, or where the Garda considers that a road traffic offence has been committed. This is in addition to the present grounds where the Garda has formed an opinion that a driver has consumed alcohol.

The steps being taken in the Act represent a move towards random breath testing however, by extending the grounds on which a member of the Garda can request a preliminary breath specimen, but maintain an efficient use of resources. This is the most effective and targeted manner in which we can use the resources available to us and equates to standard practice in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Government policy as set out in the current road safety strategy states clearly that a move towards unqualified random breath testing is not envisaged within the period of the strategy given its possible negative implications for wider public attitudes to and co-operation with the Garda. The approach which is now being taken will lead to a significant improvement in driver behaviour with subsequent benefits for road safety.

The Irish position on proposals to reduce the blood alcohol content to 50 milligrams is based on the principles set out in the Government Strategy for Road Safety 1998-2002. These recognise the relatively recent introduction of the 80 milligrams blood alcohol limit in Ireland and the consequent priority to improve compliance with this requirement rather than to move to new limits. We apply an 80 milligrams limit with very strict application of driving disqualification. Lower blood alcohol limits operating in some countries do not necessarily attract such strict penalties. The strategy also states that in considering the adequacy of the present 80 milligrams limit in Ireland the Government will have regard to developments internationally, as well as progress towards relevant national road safety targets.

Denis Naughten

Question:

123 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport if he has carried out a review of the international developments in drug testing of those in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle; the conclusions drawn from this review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19662/02]

The Government Strategy on Road Safety 1998-2002 recognises that the influence of drugs on driving behaviour is an issue of increasing concern. Identification of the presence of drugs is however more complex than for alcohol. Consequently, considerably more work is needed to develop a more detailed regulatory regime in relation to drugs and driving. A number of research programmes are being carried out internationally in this area and the strategy commits the Government to monitoring and assessing these developments.

In order to advance research in relation to drugs and driving in Ireland, my Department has provided additional funds of some €250,000 to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, MBRS, over 2000 and 2001 for a two-year programme of drug analysis of blood and urine specimens.

The analysis of 2000 specimens for the presence of drugs by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety was completed in 2001. The preliminary findings of the survey showed that 37% of samples screened were positive for drugs. The extensive survey conducted during 2000 and 2001 will identify true trends in the types of drugs being taken, their combination with alcohol and the extent of polydrug use. The confirmation analysis of specimens here continued in 2002 and the data collection and report is scheduled for publication towards the end of 2002.

These early findings underline the Government's view expressed in the road safety strategy that drugs and driving is an issue of growing concern. While it is too early to draw definitive conclusions, the research programme when completed will, along with other international analysis and research in this area, inform development of better testing methods for the presence of drugs, changes in enforcement practice and procedures and, possibly, changes to existing legislation.

The MBRS is aware that screening devices have been developed for roadside drug testing. Such testing devices are in prototype stages and the MBRS is keeping abreast of developments in this area.

Denis Naughten

Question:

124 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport the details of the current reduction in road deaths based on the 1997 figures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19663/02]

Denis Naughten

Question:

125 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport the details of the current reduction in serious road accident injuries based on the 1997 figures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19664/02]

Denis Naughten

Question:

127 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport the details of the current reduction in the number of fatal road accidents occurring during the hours of darkness, based on the 1997 figures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19666/02]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 124, 125 and 127 together.

The number of road deaths in 2001 was 411 representing a 13% decrease on the 1997 level of 472. There were 1,640 serious injuries on our roads in 2000 representing a decrease of almost 25% on 1997 levels. The number of fatal accidents for 2000 occurring between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. reduced by 16% compared to 1997 figures.

Figures relating to serious injuries, and fatal accidents occurring between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. in 2001, are not yet fully analysed and authenticated. They will be set out in the Road Accident Facts, 2001, which will be published by the National Roads Authority.

Question No. 126 answered with Question No. 110.

Question No. 127 answered with Question No. 124.

Questions Nos. 128 and 129 answered with Question No. 116.