Priority Questions. - Road Safety.

Denis Naughten

Question:

80 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport his plans to reform driver training and licensing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2888/03]

The Government's strategy for road safety 1998 to 2002 acknowledged the importance of driver training and testing, with the qualification that these could not be expected to yield road safety benefits on the scale of measures directly targeted at speeding, alcohol and seat belt wearing which were prioritised by the strategy. Driver formation has in accordance with the strategy been assisted in a number of ways, including the introduction of a driver theory test for applicants for first provisional licences, support for the voluntary driving instructor register and support for an initiative by the Irish Motorcyclists' Action Group to establish a network of motorcycle instructors throughout the country. A new road safety strategy to chart Government policy for the years ahead is being prepared and policy in relation to driver training and licensing will be further considered in this context.

In relation to driving instruction, proposals being developed by my Department for the regulation and quality assurance of driving instruction involve a test of the competence of individual instructors, or exemption from this requirement where an instructor is accredited to an organisation of driving instructors recognised by my Department as meeting appropriate quality standards. The design of these standards is at present being formulated by a working group comprising representatives of my Department and of instruction interests. It is envisaged that as part of this process an organisation will have to seek accreditation from the National Accreditation Board that they are operating to a set standard. The legislative basis for implementing these proposals is contained in the Road Traffic Act 2002.

On driver licensing, the only change I have made to date is the introduction of a requirement effective from 1 January 2003 that a person while driving, and a person acting as an accompanying driver to a provisionally licensed driver, must have their licences with them. Furthermore, I have announced that measures will be taken to reduce long-term reliance on a provisional licence. Under the Road Traffic Acts, a provisional licence may be granted to a person who wishes to learn how to drive a vehicle in order to pass a driving test. This licence provisionally allows a person to drive that vehicle in a public place. Over the years various changes have been made to the regulatory conditions under which provisional licences have effect and I am considering whether further changes are desirable in this regard. In particular, I am reviewing the provision whereby holders of second provisional licences for cars are not required to be accompanied by a person who holds a driving licence for that category of vehicle with a view towards ending this arrangement in the course of 2003. All other provisional licence holders other than drivers of motorcycles and work vehicles must be accompanied by a qualified driver at all times when driving in a public place.

I seek clarification of the Minister's response. Does he propose to amend the second provisional licence system to ensure the current legislation is enforced? As we all know, the legislation is not being enforced at present. The Minister's focus should be on the driving test and driver training structure. Is he aware that nine in 20 people who sit the driving test fail? Is he aware that the most dangerous drivers on Irish roads are not provisional licence holders, as was said here before Christmas, but those who have just passed their driving test? Does he accept that there is a flaw in our driver training system when the most dangerous drivers on our roads are those who have just passed their tests? Is he aware that there has been a threefold increase in delays for people awaiting driving tests in the last month? Ours is the only country in the EU without either compulsory driver training or compulsory registration for driving instructors. Our system is in the dark ages when it comes to driver testing and training. Our priority should be to address the backlog of driving test applicants, the statutory registration of driver training and reform of the driving test. Those should be the key priorities in the Department.

These issues are not so much a matter of law as of road safety. That is the motivation behind this, rather than legal niceties. The Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, is working on a series of initiatives on road safety. If the Deputy has information regarding those who have just passed their tests being the most dangerous drivers I would like to examine it. That is the second time he has made that suggestion and I would be keen to see the details, as I do not have that information officially from the National Safety Council or the Department. All the evidence I have suggests the most dangerous group of driv ers is still those with provisional licences and 20% of all drivers are provisional licence holders. A substantial number of that group are drivers of motorcycles, trucks and articulated vehicles so I agree with the Deputy that the present structure needs a radical overhaul. That is what I am trying to do. The failure rate nationally is 52 to 53%, depending on the part of the country one looks at. It is roughly 50-50.

Unless one is in Clonmel.

I acknowledge the delay in testing, which is substantially my own fault. When I announced the changes and reforms with which I wanted to proceed, I flushed out a lot of people who rushed off and applied for tests. The average waiting time is now 18 weeks nationally. In Letterkenny it is 13 weeks, in Sligo it is 14 weeks, in Finglas it is 15 weeks, in Cork it is 16 weeks and it goes up to 27 or 28 weeks in places like Churchtown. There is quite a backlog and we are working hard to clear it. I am discussing the provision of additional resources to that end with the Department of Finance. There are 108,000 applicants on the waiting list at present and 31,000 of those have been scheduled for a test.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

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