Private Members’ Business.

Road Safety: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Naughten on Tuesday, 27 April 2004:
"That Dáil Éireann:
—notes that the number of road deaths is now at a similar level to that before the introduction of penalty points, believes that this is in part due to a lack of adequate enforcement because of the failure of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to deliver the promised 2,000 extra gardaí and his failure to create a dedicated traffic corps;
—expresses its deep concern at the lack of a national road safety strategy to reduce the loss of lives on our roads and notes that the chairman of the National Safety Council has accused the Government of failing to adequately fund the road safety strategy;
—condemns the Minister for Transport for his ill-thought-out initiative to clamp down on provisional driving licences, which has lead to a chaotic backlog within the driver testing system;
—condemns the Minister for Transport for his inability to address the huge driving test failure rate and the current backlog which is costing young motorists an estimated €50 million in extra insurance premiums by denying them a chance to obtain a full licence;
calls on the Minister for Transport to:
—ensure the effective enforcement of road safety legislation and the penalty points system and the creation of a traffic corps to allow for a visible presence and higher level of enforcement on our roads, especially in areas of known accident black spots;
—improve driving standards on our roads by reforming the current driving test to ensure better driver education and higher standards and by introducing a structured driver training programme for motorists and motorcyclists;
—immediately address the driving test backlog by increasing the number of testers and the reintroduction of a bonus scheme;
—tackle the unacceptably high driving test failure rate and the level of variation in pass-failure rates throughout the country, by implementing a comprehensive and regular training programme for driving testers and ongoing evaluations of testers;
—reform the provision of driving instruction through the introduction of mandatory approved training courses for all instructors and the establishment of a statutory registration for driving instructors; and
—establish a road accident investigation unit to investigate all road accidents and to issue recommendations to prevent recurrences especially in the vicinity of black spots."
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
"Dáil Éireann:
—notes that the first road safety strategy was adopted by the current Government:
—commends the Ministers for Transport and Justice, Equality and Law Reform and all the other agencies, particularly the members of the Garda Síochána, involved in the pursuit of road safety policy for the achievement of the sustained reductions in road deaths realised over the past six years;
—notes that the Minister for Transport will shortly publish a new road safety strategy, which will cover the period 2004 to 2006, and is based on the work of the high level group on road safety;
—commends the Government on the continued pursuit of policies on an integrated basis that is based on the contributions of all the bodies involved in the promotion of road safety, including the Garda Síochána, the National Roads Authority and the National Safety Council;
—notes that in the 17 months since the introduction of penalty points road deaths have fallen by more than 100 when compared to the preceding 17-month period;
—acknowledges that Garda numbers are at their highest ever level, that recruitment is being prioritised to bring the force to its authorised strength of 12,200 and that significant increases were secured for the Garda Síochána in this year's Estimates, bringing the allocation to more than €1 billion for the first time;
—notes that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is planning to support existing Garda resources by means of innovative private sector involvement, such as the outsourcing of certain administrative functions and the privatisation of speed cameras;
—commends the Minister for Transport on his commitment to reform the provisional driving licence system in order to reduce long-term reliance of drivers on provisional licences and notes that a package of measures to achieve this objective is being finalised by the Minister;
—notes that the Bill to establish the driver testing and standards authority will be published shortly and that the authority will have greater flexibility to respond to variations in demand for driving tests and will be responsible for driving standards in general, including the registration of driving instructors;
—notes the almost twofold increase in the number of driver testers recruited to the driving test service during the course of the Government's road safety strategy 1998 to 2002; that the current waiting times for driving tests are due to a record level of 234,000 test applications received in 2003; that the number waiting for a driving test is being reduced and that the Minister for Transport is considering measures to reduce waiting times more quickly;
—notes that the driving test is conducted to the standard as set down by the European Union and that the pass-failure rate is in line with experience in other countries."
— (Minister for Transport).

The area of provisional driving licences needs urgent reform. Accident rates continue to be highest among young males, with the majority occurring at weekends. Figures from the National Safety Council for 1997 to 2000 show that males aged between 18 years and 34 years account for over 53% of road accidents causing death or serious injury. Many of these accidents involved a combination of speed, alcohol and inexperience. There is a clear need to target the road safety strategy towards this age group. Yet, 16 months have passed and there is no sign of the strategy. In the absence of a strategy, it is evident that accident rates are increasing.

The Minister's tenure began with much promise but little has been delivered. While the public is used to the Government's failure to deliver, the ultimate problem with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan's inaction is that it sadly costs lives.

I wish to address the problems caused by mobile phone usage, particularly with headsets, that affect road safety. This morning, I noticed a young lady with mobile telephone earphones walking in front of one of the Luas trams on Harcourt Street. Only the driver was alert, there could have been an unfortunate casualty in the Luas's test period. These earphones are the new in-thing for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists with no regard for their own or others' personal safety. It is mainly young people who are enjoying these facilities. Many of them do not understand road safety procedures when using them. However, a safety factor must be included in their use. What mechanisms will be put in place to ensure the safety of users and others?

I have raised the issue of safety belts on school buses with the Minister many times before. Many parents and school bus drivers have expressed their concerns to me about the lack of action on this issue. What is happening to the proposals for the provision of safety belts for school children? The safety of the child is paramount but safety belts can also assist drivers in controlling the behaviour of school children. I hope the Minister will address these issues in his response.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Martin Brady, Glennon, Peter Power and O'Flynn.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Irish term of the EU Presidency saw the signing of the European road safety charter at a special ceremony in Dublin Castle. Up to 39 international organisations pledged themselves in the pursuit of goals, objectives and practical measures for better road safety. Areas addressed in the charter include initiatives on driving training, motor vehicle equipment and infrastructural design to minimise the risks of accidents. Other areas included are the implementation of technologies for reducing the consequences of accidents, developing uniform and appropriate monitoring of compliance with traffic rules, continuous education initiatives and contributing to a better understanding of the causes, circumstances and consequences of accidents.

A new three year Irish road safety strategy that will target speeding, drink driving, seat belt wearing and pedestrian safety has been prepared for 2004 to 2006. Over this period, the following major road safety policy initiatives will be pursued: random preliminary breath-testing for drink driving will be introduced; a new speed limit structure to be expressed in metric values will be introduced; a network of speed cameras to be operated by private sector interests will be developed; and the full penalty points system will be rolled out. In addition, and in recognition of the importance of enforcement, the Garda has established commitments to the achievement of specific levels of enforcement in seat belt wearing, observation of speed limits and drink driving.

The number of road accident fatalities since the beginning of the year is a cause of concern. It gives added focus to ensuring that the means recommended in the new strategy will be implemented quickly. The first road safety strategy was adopted by the Government. I commend the Ministers for Transport and Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the agencies involved, particularly the Garda Síochána, in the pursuit of road safety policy for the achievement of the sustained reductions realised over the past six years.

We cannot forget the former Minister of State, Mr. Molloy.

The Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, will shortly publish the strategy, which is based on the work of the high level group on road safety. I commend the Government on its continuing pursuit of policies in an integrated fashion based on the contributions of all the bodies involved in the promotion of road safety, including the Garda Síochána, the National Roads Authority and the National Safety Council.

We are facing a serious problem: the needless loss of young lives. I ask people to remember that the faster one goes, the faster one goes. One would be better off to arrive late than dead on time.

Like my colleague, I commend the Minister for Transport and all the other agencies, particularly the Garda Síochána, who are involved in the pursuit of safety policy on the achievement of a sustained reduction in road deaths over the past six years. It is interesting to note that in the 17 months since the introduction of penalty points road deaths have fallen by more than 100 when compared to the preceding 17-month period.

We must acknowledge that Garda numbers are at their highest ever level, that recruitment is being prioritised to bring the force to its authorised strength of 12,200 and that significant increases were secured for the Garda in this year's Estimates, bringing the allocation to more than €1 billion for the first time. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is planning to support existing Garda resources by means of private sector involvement, such as the outsourcing of certain administrative functions and the privatisation of speed cameras.

I commend the Minister for Transport on his commitment to reform the provisional driving licence system in order to reduce long-term reliance of drivers on provisional licences. A package of measures to achieve this objective is being finalised by the Minister. The Bill to establish the driver testing and standards authority will be published shortly. The authority will have greater flexibility to respond to variations in demand for driving tests and will be responsible for driving standards in general, including the registration of driving instructors. This is a welcome development.

I note the almost twofold increase in the number of driver testers recruited to the driving test service during the course of the Government's road safety strategy for 1998 to 2002 and that the current waiting times for driving tests are due to a record level of some 234,000 test applications received in 2003. The number of those waiting for a driving test is being reduced and the Minister for Transport is considering measures to reduce waiting times more quickly. This is welcome because as public representatives, we receive many representations from people who are waiting for driving tests, some of whom have applied for jobs that depend on their having a full licence. I commend the Minister, his officials, the members of the Garda Síochána and all concerned on the progress that has been made. Life will be made easier for everybody as a result.

New legislation is being prepared which will provide support for the deployment of key initiatives in the area of speed limits and drink driving. This will further enhance the capacity of the Garda Síochána. The Bill will feature a number of radical changes that will be focused on those key areas. A new system of speed limits based on metric values will be introduced this year. The Minister has already raised this issue with county and city managers and the new speed limit structure will, as envisaged in the report of the working group established to review speed limits, offer a far greater degree of flexibility to local authority members, who will retain primary responsibility for determining the application of speed limits at specific locations. Once again I commend the Minister and his officials on these developments.

I thank my colleagues for sharing time. I am happy for the opportunity to speak in support of the Minister's amendment to this motion. I commend the Minister, Deputy Brennan, on the progress that has been made since he took office, particularly the reduction in fatalities on our roads, which is a major achievement and is welcome. It is to be hoped the current variation in the trend is merely a glitch and that the progress made since the introduction of penalty points will be continued for the rest of this year and into the future.

The advent of the penalty points system has been an important development. The essential element of any road safety strategy is enforcement of regulations and appropriate penalty where those regulations have been breached. Only this evening, just before I came into the Chamber, I read in an evening newspaper of a case in my own constituency in which a person was found guilty of the use of fraudulent insurance documentation after a minor road traffic accident. It was good to see the regulations being enforced but I wondered about the penalty, which was the Probation Act and a €500 contribution to a charity. While it was not specifically reported, it was to be inferred from the fact that false documentation was used that there was no valid insurance, yet there was no mention in the report of any penalty for driving without insurance.

This brought to mind the reign of a particular district justice in my local area some 20 years ago. Judge Seán Delap, who is now deceased, discovered in his first few months in north County Dublin that there was a veritable epidemic of driving without insurance. At one stage he announced in the local court that he estimated that up to one in five drivers in the area were driving without insurance. He set out his stall clearly, announcing that in future his policy would be that a first offender, if found guilty, would have an automatic fine of €750 and if that offender appeared before him again he would be put off the road. He duly implemented that regime over a period of several years and dramatically reduced the incidence of non-insurance in the area. These were realistic penalties for an offence which has sometimes been made little of.

I hope the case to which I referred, as reported in today'sEvening Herald, is an isolated incident and that we are not going back to the days of unrealistic penalties for the serious offence of driving without insurance. When one compares the difficulties we are currently experiencing in the area of insurance and the major effort being made to improve the lot of motorists, particularly young motorists, in light of the punitive premiums they are being charged, with the Probation Act and a contribution of €500 to a nominated charity, it brings the entire system into clear focus and demonstrates the importance of appropriate enforcement and penalties.

The penalty points system has been a major success, whatever about the operational difficulties that may have been encountered. I use the road between the airport and the port tunnel road works on a regular basis. This stretch covers approximately one and a half miles and one encounters four different speed limits — 70 mph, 60 mph, 50 mph and 30 mph. The observance of these limits, which was imposed on road users by the penalty points system, was striking this time last year. It gives me no pleasure to say the reverse is now the case and the observer of those speed limits is very much in the minority. Over the past year, I have not witnessed enforcement of speed limits on that road, which is one of the busiest in the State.

There must be enforcement if there is to be adequate road safety. As the awareness campaign for the new system highlighted last year, penalties work and that has been the secret of its success. It has led to the reduction in the number of fatalities. Penalties are not being imposed and the novelty of the launch of the scheme has receded into our memories. The vast majority of motorists have come to terms with the system and know there is relatively little chance of them being stopped and convicted. The main element of the campaign when it was launched was the novelty of the accumulation of penalty points by a persistent offender. However, we must legislate for appropriate penalties for occasional offenders.

Human nature dictates the non-enforcement of laws will be exploited but the message of road safety is speed kills, not penalty points. Penalty points will be a headache for a while for all individuals but their lives will adjust. Meanwhile road accident victims and their families have major difficulty adjusting and that point must be got across. Speed is a major problem because it is an act of disrespect on the part of one road user towards others. All road users must get the message that speed kills and, more often than not, it kills the speedster rather than somebody else on the road. People only learn the lesson when that message is brought home to them in the most personal circumstances. Unfortunately, respect for our road traffic laws has been dramatically undermined following the significant increase in road use. Road safety must be re-engendered.

Neither road safety nor the profession of politics is well served when one of our number has no difficulty in proclaiming to the press for his own purposes that he regularly flouts the traffic laws. We must give leadership because that is why we are here. It behoves us all to lead by example and, in that regard, I commend the measures taken by the Minister for Transport. I look forward to the publication of his forthcoming strategy and congratulate him on his success to date.

We will pass on the Deputy's comments to the Taoiseach.

I thank my colleagues for allowing me to share time with them. A debate on road safety is always welcome but it is opportune in light of the disappointing statistics on road traffic deaths for the first three months of this year. While many statistics have been quoted in various contributions, it must be borne in mind that behind every statistic, there is a deep and personal tragedy.

While the number of road deaths is high in Ireland, last year more than 40,000 people lost their lives on the roads of the European Union. That is a significant number and it is the equivalent of a Chernobyl disaster every year or multiplying the number of those who died in the twin towers by ten. This is also an international problem.

It is not appropriate to predicate a motion such as this on statistics for three months. The National Safety Council states trends cannot be concluded from statistics taken over three months. At a minimum, trends should be examined over three years and, preferably, over five years. The trend in road deaths over the past five years has been especially encouraging, with the number reducing from 472 to 341 annually. However, that is 341 too many.

Following a tragedy in Limerick, in which three young people lost their lives in a single vehicle accident, I visited the offices of the National Safety Council and spent a number of hours with staff going through all the measures that had been implemented, statistics and trends. There is no simplistic solution to the difficulty faced by Ireland and other countries in this regard. No single solution can be introduced to address the problem, not even penalty points. A multidisciplinary, multi-agency approach is needed.

The contributory factors to road deaths in Ireland over the past number of years include speeding, young male drivers, alcohol, dangerous roads and seat belts. A completely new and strategic approach must be taken to tackle each issue and I hope all the issues will be dealt with separately in the new road strategy.

Penalty points have had an impact on speeding because for the first time a correlation can be made between the offence and the punishment. The offender can see the effect if he or she continues to speed. I compliment the Minister on introducing this initiative in the face of opposition. People said it would not work legally or administratively because there would be problems with enforcement but the Minister took his courage in his hands and stood off his critics to introduce this system. The loved ones of many families are alive because of this initiative.

The greatest problem in terms of speeding and road fatalities is complacency. A few months following the introduction of every road safety measure, drivers, including myself, become complacent. That is why we need, every six months and 12 months, to roll out innovative measures to hammer home the message to the individual driver that this is a serious problem and that new initiatives and penalties have been introduced. Such initiatives over the next five years should deal first with random breath testing. It is only when drivers are not aware when they will be tested that they are more careful. That is very important. There must be a consistent, regular approach to new public awareness campaigns. TV advertising is very important.

Deputy Naughten last night addressed the important issue of driver licensing and testing. I was particularly supportive of his views on this matter and in that regard, I welcome the motion. In almost every discipline — medicine, teaching and law, for example — people undergo continuing professional development throughout their lives and it is time to introduce a similar regime for drivers, with regular updating, testing and development. The final aspect of the strategy must be an effective traffic management corps, whether it be independent, dealing specifically with road safety. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate, and I commend the Minister's amendment to the House.

I thank Fine Gael for moving this motion. It is wonderful that the Minister can be here to take credit for the work he is doing in the area of safety and penalty points. It is also a wonderful opportunity for the Opposition to speak about the matter tonight.

I want to talk of the cost of road fatalities to this economy and country. Others have spoken about the cost in human lives, but it is important that we also look at other costs. I ask Members not to criticise me if I do not concentrate on the human aspect, which is very important, but so far the economic cost of death and injury on Irish roads has topped €217 million. With the accelerating pace of road traffic carnage, the economic consequences at the end of the year could be as much as 30% more than the €723 million that such carnage cost in 2003. These figures come from an article by Martin Fitzpatrick in theSunday Independent three weeks ago, which carried out an in-depth investigation into the waste of life on the roads and into the economic facts emerging from the daily road death and injury toll. The study revealed that since the decade began, 1,650 people lost their lives and the economic and social costs of road deaths and injuries in the Republic topped €3.7 billion. The numbers are increasing daily.

Road safety propagandists believe that if Ireland was merely brought into line with the best safety practices around the world, more than 100 lives could straight away be saved annually. In crude economic terms, that would represent a saving to the State of at least €177 million annually. This is exactly the direction being taken by the Minister of Transport, Deputy Brennan. We commend him for making road safety his priority. The penalty points system is working.

We all know that traffic collisions are at very high levels in this and many other countries and there seems to be widespread acceptance that this is an inevitable consequence of ever-increasing mobility. That view encourages the type of behaviour which creates the environment that gives rise to such collisions in the first place. Challenging that attitude and the premise on which it is based requires the advocacy of champions. The Minister, Deputy Brennan, can be called a champion, and I commend him for his initiatives against the background of 1.2 million deaths and 50 million injuries on roads throughout the world.

The launch in Paris recently by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank of the world report on road injury traffic prevention presents a timely commentary on road safety in its broadest sense. The report presents an overview of road safety on a global basis, emphasising the scope of the problem and discussing policies aimed at the prevention of collisions and the reduction of their effects. The consequences of our acceptance of the inevitability of traffic collisions have been clearly established in very stark terms by the World Health Organisation. Failure to act would see injuries from road traffic placed as the third highest contributor to the global burden of disease and injury by 2020. Many societies and Governments have however chosen to face this challenge.

Mentalities are changing regarding road safety. Road accident fatalities are no longer accepted as an inevitable corollary of increased mobility. On the contrary, the continuous reduction of road accident numbers is now considered a challenge which warrants considerable effort. The Government is accepting the challenge and has set about building an infrastructural backbone with the aim of ensuring that every region can attract investment and jobs.

Since coming into office, the Government has embarked on the largest infrastructural projects in the history of the State. I thank the Minister, Deputy Brennan, and commend him on the penalty points system. There is no doubt that the gardaí in Cork are ensuring that people comply with the laws. Several people who were lazy about putting on seat belts and observing other traffic rules are now diligently attending to these rules daily to ensure that they do not receive penalty points. I am disappointed I have not got more time to speak, but I commend the Minister on his initiatives.

I wish to share time with Deputies Cowley, Twomey and Eamon Ryan.

Sinn Féin is calling for a co-ordinated and integrated approach to road safety. It is worth investigating what level of co-ordination exists in terms of driving standards throughout the Thirty-two Counties. We should have a nationwide integrated strategy for road safety and those standards should meet international requirements. We had a perfect example recently of EU and international standards being completely ignored by the NRA and the Department of Transport. I refer to the safety barrier erected on the M1 motorway which was simply a wire rope. It fell far short of the recognised international standard motorway barrier, which should be strong enough to prevent a truck or bus crossing the centre reservation area. It has now emerged that a family saloon vehicle has crashed through the new wire rope barrier on the M1, even before the barrier has been completed. It was mere luck that more people were not killed on this otherwise safe stretch of roadway. Three people have already died on that new motorway because it lacks a proper safety barrier.

The concept of inserting a mechanical instrument in cars which would limit the speed at which they can travel is very useful. BMW adopted such a device for some of its vehicles. There is sufficient speed capacity to enable effective acceleration for overtaking speed while limiting the capacity to exceed maximum speed limits.

Regarding the points system, it is notable that the Garda checks take place mostly on main roads and motorways rather than on the often very dangerous country roads. The penalty points system has not been effectively implemented, and the Garda is concentrating its efforts on low-risk areas such as 40 miles per hour zones rather than on high-risk stretches of road such as black spots and even housing estates. It may be that it is easier to collect money and revenue on the busier roads.

The condition of some roads is a matter of great concern. Some of the country roads should have very restricted speed limits and should be heavily signposted to that effect. Typically on country roads one will find blind spots, which should be dealt with before preventable accidents occur. Child safety is another important issue. The NCT, and in Northern Ireland the MOT, should involve checking child car seats for safety. Seating is an internal aspect of all vehicles and should be subject to the same checks and examinations as any other vehicle part. Tighter scrutiny is also needed regarding the use of safety belts in rear seats of cars.

Recently, the parents of a teenager who was killed in a quad bike accident last year called on the authorities to restrict the use of such vehicles. A seven year old child was killed in a similar accident at the weekend. There is a need for legislation to be tightened in terms of where and when people use quad bikes. In the Six Counties, for example, quads are classed as off-road vehicles and therefore there is no legal limit for use. There is not even a stipulation that one must wear a crash helmet.

There are concerns relating to road safety in the area of school transport. The lack of seat belt provision is an issue that has been raised both at Dáil committee level and in the public arena. The provision of seat belts has been recommended at EU level and should be applied here. That would mean that every child would have to have a seat, which would further contribute to safety. The financial cost of providing adequate seats for students probably features in the delayed introduction of seat belts. I say "delayed" as it would seem it will become legally binding on bus operators to provide belts, as is the case with taxis in terms of front and rear seats. Another matter often raised is the need for first aid kits and drivers who are trained in the basics of first aid.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this important matter and I congratulate Fine Gael on bringing forward the motion.

Some years ago I made a submission on the road safety strategy — I understand one is currently being prepared — but I never heard anything more about it. Included in that submission was the way helicopter emergency medical services could save lives. We have a dedicated ambulance staff who are awaiting paramedic status, which would also save lives but we need HEMS as well.

Anyone who saw last night's television programme on Crumlin hospital would have seen very ill children arriving at the hospital. I know of many children who did not arrive alive or who died shortly after arriving. These were often children with meningococcal meningitis, which is a very serious illness in which time is of the essence. One mother, talking about her child who had meningococcal meningitis, said that she saw the child develop these necrotic spots — they were eating into the body — before her eyes. That is what happens but when a child's life is at stake, helicopter emergency medical services can make the difference. Children have died and are dying.

Young men are dying as well. Young men from the west in particular are dying from head and spinal injuries or are paralysed for life because of the difficulty of getting to the neurosurgical centre on the east coast. Helicopter emergency medical services can save those lives. The sickle score of half the people is so high they are too ill to travel but half of them can be saved by helicopter emergency medical services. We do not have that service but that would be one way of saving lives.

It is not acceptable that we are the only country in Europe which does not have this service. This is one sure way we could do a lot of good. In cold cash terms, every life saved represents a saving of €1.27 million. In one hospital alone, Beaumont Hospital, four lives per year could be saved and at least 12 people could be saved from being disabled for life. We are talking about the value of a life and saving young people from being disabled for life. That is a considerable saving.

Speed limits should be more relevant and realistic. The current position is too cut and dried. If realistic speed limits were in place, people might be more inclined to adhere to them.

Balanced regional development often means having proper roads throughout the country but we do not have proper roads. We should use the western rail corridor to take freight off the road and allow the pressure to be taken off traffic on the road.

People have become complacent about the penalty points system. I congratulate the Minister on the introduction of penalty points, which is an important measure. The need for it was obvious and other countries have such a system, including our neighbours, but enforcement is the problem here. People have become complacent because there is the get away factor; they know they will get away with it. Garda speed checks are necessary, and the idea of having cameras everywhere is a good one provided the speed limits are realistic, for example, that a 30 mph speed limit is not used in areas where it is unrealistic. These are just some of the areas where I believe we could certainly save lives.

Many of the important issues regarding road safety have been covered by a number of speakers. The most important way to improve road safety is to change driver behaviour and the most effective way to do that is proper enforcement of traffic laws. However, I would like to focus my contribution on the issues surrounding the driving test.

This motion calls for a reformed driving test and a structured driver training course; an increase in the numbers of testers; a comprehensive and regular training programme for testers to ensure they all have much the same pass rate; and a mandatory training course for driving instructors. These are laudable ideas but the reality is that we could never afford the cost involved and the logistics of trying to make these high standards available to everybody would be impossible. We should cut out the bureaucracy and target the training at those who need it.

I believe we should abolish the driving test as it currently exists. I propose that everyone be given a driving licence when they apply for it but any individual who breaks the law — this is where we should target the penalty points — should, on a first offence, be forced to sit through the reformed driving test about which we are talking. If subsequent offences are committed, that person would have to undertake a more detailed driver training course. In that way we would change the driving behaviour of those people who are causing most of the problems on our roads. It would also help to focus current resources because there are not unlimited resources available for all the measures we want to implement to change people's behaviour and attitudes. Another benefit is that it would help to keep down the penalty points of the people who are causing the offences.

Some people might say this is a ridiculous proposal and that it is nonsensical for somebody like me to propose such a measure. Many of our young drivers are driving for more than one year on a provisional driving licence but those of us who are old enough will remember that we drove for many years on provisional driving licences and we did not always have a person with a full driving licence in the car with us. Twenty years ago an amnesty was granted to people on the waiting list for a full driving licence because similar problems existed at that time in getting a driving test carried out but there is no evidence to show that those drivers are any more dangerous on the road than people who did the driving test.

The position applying in the United States is similar. To the best of my knowledge there is no practical test to obtain a driving licence in America. There is a theoretical test which one has to do but after that there is no practical test. Are the fatalities on the roads in America substantially different from ours?

This may sound like a ridiculous proposal but it might actually help to direct the resources towards those people who most need them. A huge amount of administration work is taken up with the whole process surrounding the driving test and if we want to implement a measure targeted at those people who need the most training, this would be a perfect way forward. It has the benefit of a carrot and stick approach as well because people know they will be penalised by having to do a driving test and that they may have to spend a weekend doing a structured driving course. That will dramatically improve driver behaviour.

All the other issues highlighted are important also, including our roads infrastructure and enforcement. Enforcement is vitally important but as many other speakers referred to that area, I will not deal with it. However, enforcement, coupled with sensible and less bureaucratic proposals on the way we give guidance to the citizens of this country, would be far more effective than what we are doing currently.

A recent document from the Eurocity safe campaign was an annex to the European road safety chart which the Minister launched here a few weeks ago. That annex is an excellent document which sets out the 12 principles of proper urban road safety policy and in every one of those 12 principles the Minister is failing, and people are dying as a result.

The first principle is that we reduce our speed. I therefore ask why we are not generally introducing speed limits of 30 kph, which are widespread on the continent and should be widespread here, rather than on the very limited basis intended by the Minister. The second principle is that, in urban road transport, one looks after the most vulnerable. Having been involved for years campaigning in this area, it is noticeable and remarkable to me that, since the Minister came to office, the cycling safety campaign, the provision of cycling and the whole design system that was working have come to a dramatic and sudden stop. We seem to be doing nothing to protect vulnerable road users. Having started at least six or seven years ago, it stopped in the past two years.

The third principle set out by this campaign is that one concentrates on education. In our schools, both secondary and primary, there is a disgraceful lack of proper education on road safety in terms of bringing children out and teaching them how to act on the road. That is the third major failing. The fourth principle that was set out is that one must enforce the legal measures that exist. Speaker after speaker has given us examples of how we have failed to bring in a traffic corps, random breath testing and proper speed camera checks. As the National Safety Council said, we have failed to fund the enforcement that we need.

The fifth principle set out is that one should design roads based on safety and not on capacity, as we are doing. When one starts asking local road engineers how one makes something safer, the first block is when someone says that one cannot reduce the capacity and that we need so many thousand cars through a road. That has happened in every case when I have gone to engineers in this city and others trying to promote road safety. We are failing on that fifth principle. The sixth principle is that one concentrates one's safety measures on the worst spots — the black spots. We are spending €2 million out of a budget of €1.5 billion on fixing the black spots on our national roads, and that is a disgraceful failure.

The seventh principle set out is that one must have very detailed road safety audits and databases to tell one what is happening. While the CSO provides good overall statistics, no clear information is provided in this country regarding what types of accidents are happening or where those accidents are occurring on the road. That sort of road audit material could help us reduce accidents and find where those worst black spots are. The eighth principle of the 12 set out is that one must have performance indicators. I do not know what the Minister's performance indicators are or what he thinks is an acceptable level of death on Irish roads this year. That lack of clear direction is part of the problem.

The ninth principle set out is that one must use telematics and intelligent road traffic management systems to try to reduce accidents. The only telematics that we have are to produce road tolls to pay off the private sector. No traffic management is involved and no intelligent new thinking is coming from the Department. The tenth principle in transport is that one addresses all road users. However, my experience of the NRA is that it wants pedestrians and cyclists — the vulnerable road users — off its roads, as evidenced by the latest plan to turn existing primary roads into two-way and one-way sections. There is no space in those plans to cater for the vulnerable road users which this principle says we should be looking after.

The 11th principle is that one must reduce the risks for those most vulnerable to traffic and encourage people to make it safe to walk and cycle again. Once again, we are doing nothing on that, and as a result, we are seeing in our statistics a remarkable societal change whereby our children do not walk or cycle any more. They are driven everywhere since we have failed utterly in this 11th principle of achieving proper safety management. The 12th and last principle is that one tries to create intermodal shift towards public transport and those other safe modes so that there are not as many cars on the road and the figures can be brought down in that way. However, the Department has been characterised by this country being turned into the most car-dependent country in the world. We are ploughing billions each year into building new roads and failing utterly to provide the metro, the other Luas line, the western rail line and all the public transport that might get people out of their cars and reduce the slaughter on the roads.

Those 12 principles are set out by European cities in an annex to the charter that the Minister recently rightly heralded. When one examines the principles of road transport and gets down to the basics of how we design roads, one sees that we are designing them for economic benefit through capacity, and safety is a final add-on. We are failing in that regard. I recommend that the Minister consider those 12 principles in the annex and ask himself and his Department how he is meeting them. To my mind, we are failing.

I would like to share time with Deputies Enright and Kehoe.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am delighted at this opportunity to speak on this very important and timely motion. I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Naughten, on his work on transport issues, particularly on road safety. I also congratulate him on his contribution at the Fine Gael Ard-Fheis at the weekend. Ireland has become a very prosperous country over the past decade. Its economic growth has become extremely rapid, with Ireland becoming one of the leading countries in the European Union. As a result of that prosperity, car ownership has grown considerably. In 1970, we had fewer than 200 motor vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants. Today, the figure is nearly 500 per 1,000. That is an increase of over 50% in car ownership over the past ten years. The Celtic tiger economy of the 1990s led to a situation where many young people have a car at their disposal.

The year 2002 saw a dramatic reduction in the number of lives lost on Irish roads, with 376 dying, as opposed to 472 in 1997. That was partly due to the introduction of the penalty points system in October of that year. There was a further reduction in 2003, when 339 people were killed on the roads. So far this year, however, 120 people have been killed on the roads, and if that trend is to continue, it is likely that the downward movement of recent years will be reversed for 2004. I disagree with my colleague, Deputy Peter Power, who stated that one must allow three years for statistics. Three years is a long time, and many people will be killed over that period.

Ireland's attitude to road safety has to change. In recent years we saw the introduction of the plastic bag levy, which the public adopted very quickly. So far, the smoking ban has been very successful. Yet, despite the graphic advertising campaigns on television, people ignore the advice and continue to speed, drink and drive. Last night the Minister, in his contribution to the debate, acknowledged that the trend is worrying and disappointing. However, he is responsible for road safety and must accept responsibility for the absence of a strategy over the past two years. The time has come for action. We can no longer claim that road deaths and injuries are unavoidable. Hundreds of families each year are suffering the deep pain of losing loved ones. Thousands are living with injuries sustained on the roads, including some horrific ones, and we in Fine Gael believe that the Government is not doing enough to reduce the carnage.

Last year Fine Gael launched a policy document and action plan for road safety aimed at tackling Ireland's carnage. It falls into three categories, the first being better driving education at all stages of life. Recently I saw the statistic in a newspaper that 20% of road accidents are caused by people falling asleep. The second category is an improved and reformed modern driving test. Deputy Power has supported my colleague, Deputy Naughten, on that. There must also be an environment that encourages good driving and punishes those who endanger others' safety. The statistics speak for themselves, as Deputy Naughten said last night. One person is killed every 21 hours, and one young person every two days. There is one accident on the roads every 19 minutes. Consider the cost to medical services. Think of the saving to the Exchequer if we could improve road safety.

In its programme for Government, the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats coalition promised 2,000 extra gardaí and to create a dedicated traffic corps. At last week's committee meeting, senior gardaí admitted that the deployment of Garda manpower to cover the demands of the European Presidency has meant that there are fewer on duty for traffic control. In many areas, the Garda divisional traffic unit is not at its full strength.

In my county of Clare, our full strength is two Garda sergeants and ten gardaí. Today, we are one down, with nine gardaí. Despite that, they have done very good work in the county. In January and February 2003, they secured 22 drink driving convictions and in the same period in 2004, they had 28. They had 223 speed detections for the same period in 2003 and 256 in 2004. That enforcement has been reflected in the casualties on County Clare's roads. There were 16 deaths in 2002 and 11 in 2003. The contributing factors in the accidents which resulted in the deaths of those 11 people were alcohol, inexperience and excessive speed.

These figures clearly indicate that enforcement is a key factor in the reduction of accidents. We must have extra gardaí for proper enforcement and this Government has failed miserably by not increasing the numbers as promised. I pay tribute to the Garda in Clare for their initiatives in trying to reduce road accidents, particularly in conjunction with the local authority, Clare County Council, Clare local radio and the Clare sports partnership, who have concentrated their campaigns on road safety for young drivers.

The penalty points system had a good effect when introduced in October 2002. Sadly, as in the UK, after the initial novelty had worn off, drivers went back to their old habits. I see this regularly, as I drive up and down to Dublin. Today, only three of the 69 penalty points offences promised under the Road Traffic Act 2002 have been established. The Minister acknowledged his disappointment last night that the full system had not been deployed. The system still has to be fully computerised. We were told only a pilot project would be in place. This will run, I hope, before the end of 2004.

Penalty points were not meant to put people off the road. They were intended to change people's attitudes. Unless we change habits, we are losing the battle. It is quite obvious that many of the speed checks we see on the roads are there to catch easy targets, particularly in 30 miles per hour zones. Many of these limits are much too low, anyway. They generate enormous revenue for the Exchequer. The Joint Committee on Transport was told last week that 75% of the penalty points issued related to the low speed limits of 30 to 40 miles per hour. That figure speaks for itself. Speed checks should be concentrated on urban areas and black spots where there is speeding as well as on national secondary and regional routes. This Government has promised to review the national speed limits. So far the review has not been published. The current speed limits and the implementation of penalty points are actually turning people off the system.

Problems already exist with the new road safety strategy, which, I hope, will be published shortly, as the Minister has said. That there has not been a road safety strategy since 2002 has contributed to the increase in the number of deaths for the early part of this year. Senior gardaí told the transport committee last week that they were very much under resourced and there was no way they could meet the target set by the Minister in the new road strategy, that is, 25% over the next three years, with annual road deaths below 300. The target is too low and the Minister should aim for a 50% reduction. In Victoria, Australia, that was the target set and it was achieved. The leaked report in theIrish Independent last week, backs up that statement from the gardaí, which revealed that just 3% of the target numbers for speed checks asked for by the Government, can be carried out with current resources. Will the Minister say how the Garda are going to increase the speed checks from 340,000 to 11 million, as he is asking? How will they increase the number of drink driving arrests to more than 45,000 from the present level of 13,000, when random breath testing is introduced? More manpower is needed, as well as a dedicated traffic corps. I know there are difficulties between the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and himself on this.

The current waiting time for driving tests is up to 54 weeks. Despite measures promised to clear the enormous backlogs the driving test waiting time has risen in recent months. There are currently 232,000 applications on the waiting list, as against 51,000 in 2001. There are 140 testers working with the Department. They are coping with some 3,000 tests a week, approximately. Add the 50% failure rate and the whole matter goes around in a circle, with people having to be tested again. The Minister said last night that there is a curb in the recruitment of new testers. I contacted the Local Appointments Commission last week and was told no new driving testers had been recruited since 1998. The Department of Finance's curbs only came in last year. This problem did not arise overnight. It has been there for several years. Obviously the Minister has failed in this regard because more driving testers should have been appointed. People will accept changes in driving behaviour if the Government is serious about funding the resources required to enforce sensible measures and make road safety a top priority. I hope the road safety strategy will be published and that it will be adequately resourced so that the necessary funding is put in place and more lives are saved on the roads.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and to compliment my colleague, Deputy Naughten, on bringing it forward. I reject the claim made earlier on the benches opposite that it was a reactionary motion. It is no such thing. Deputy Naughten has put much work into it over quite a long period of time.

This initiative is of great importance. I accept that efforts have been made. Unfortunately we are failing abysmally to meet the targets set. The statistics prove that. Deputy Naughten outlined many of the statistics yesterday as regards accidents and fatalities. Of interest also are the facts and statistics as regards road safety and children, in particular children under 14. The National Safety Council in its statistics from 1997 to 2001 showed that 55 pedestrians under the age of 14 were killed on Irish roads. Some 21 cyclists under the age of 14 were killed, and 1,410 pedestrians and 413 cyclists under 14 were injured on Irish roads. When people are termed "pedestrians" and "cyclists" it should also be acknowledged that they were children.

More child pedestrians are killed in Ireland than in any other country in Europe. A survey of road deaths in the EU and eastern Europe shows that Ireland has the highest fatality rate among pedestrians up to 14 years of age. It shows that Irish children have a higher risk of being killed while walking or cycling than their counterparts in Britain, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain or France. We must ask, tonight, what is being done to address this. I think the answer is, very little. Does the Minister believe that children under 14 are sufficiently aware of the risks they face? What is he doing to ensure they are? I do not believe there is the same level of awareness, or the same level of risks advertising, particularly for children of primary school age, as existed some years ago. I would urge the Minister to seriously consider a reduction in speed limits outside primary schools in rural areas, in particular. I know of many instances where schools are located beside roads with 60 miles per hour speed limits. This places the gardaí in a "catch 22" position. Gardaí I have spoken to have made efforts to police such situations, but the prevailing speed limit is the problem. They cannot pull someone over for driving just under 60 miles per hour when in reality the speed limit outside schools should be far less than this.

The scenario does not improve as children pass the age of 14. There must be much more education at all levels, with children learning road safety at primary school and right through the formal education system. I do not believe everything can be taught in schools within the education curriculum. However, there is room for this in transition year and students are at an age, then, when they want to learn how to drive. There is room for better awareness in primary school, also. A proper programme should certainly be put in place at second level. Fine Gael would propose that as part of transition year second level students take part in a road safety programme, designed to instil in them the importance of observing speed limits, the driving regulations and the rules of the road. This programme should be drawn up in consultation with interested bodies and would be an excellent starting point for young road users.

Such a programme should also include the basics of the driving test so that the abysmal failure rates that currently exist may be improved on. I agree that we have to have driving tests. The test needs to be modernised, however, with higher standards both in terms of driver training and in the test itself, with more thorough training of people before they sit the test. It is unacceptable that they have to wait the length of time they do at present before they can sit their tests. In the three test centres in my constituency the waiting time for Birr is 30 weeks, for Tullamore it is 37 and for Portlaoise it is 34. That is well over six months in each case. That is not acceptable. There must be additional testers to deal with this, to ensure a maximum waiting time of around eight weeks. We also have to ensure the results of the test are standardised and that there are not wide-ranging gaps, as at present.

Will the Minister provide for a better breakdown of where people go wrong when they sit their tests? That is a major problem for people who fail. They get a sheet with an answer but it does not give them enough information on their weak points and where they need to improve. If we ask people to re-sit a test for a driver's licence the least we should do is let them know the areas in which they failed and need to make more progress.

I compliment my colleague, Deputy Naughten, on tabling this important motion. I do not often praise somebody on the other side of the House but when the Minister took up office he showed great promise, which has fallen by the wayside. He made good proposals about provisional licences and penalty points but he has failed on both counts.

The introduction of the penalty points was very exciting because it seemed many lives would be saved and the carnage on our roads would end. There would be no late night calls to homes bringing sad stories. The loss of life on the roads has decreased somewhat but not to the extent that the Minister promised when he introduced the penalty points system. It might not be entirely the Minister's fault because he needs a dedicated traffic corps to deal with the problem on our roads. This is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

I am pleased to see his Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, here tonight because he can bring the message to his senior Minister, Deputy McDowell, who has lost the plot. He was on doorsteps before the last general election promising 2,000 extra gardaí in the programme for Government, which would incorporate a road corps.

The Minister of State's mobile phone is ringing — it must be the Minister to say they are on their way.

I apologise.

Deputy O'Dea should go back to the supposed real Minister and tell him that we need 2,000 extra gardaí to stop the carnage on our roads. Last night Deputy Naughten spoke about what a road corps could do. This could restore drivers' confidence. I know many older people who are afraid to go on the roads at night, for example my parents, who want to be off the road by 10 o'clock because accidents happen later. The Minister should look closely at this.

Before Christmas when I drove from Enniscorthy to Dublin I saw four Garda checkpoints on the road. On my journeys since Christmas I have not seen one checkpoint. It was one thing to spread the gardaí across the country to catch the drunken drivers because we needed them there but where are the checkpoints now? Between Christmas and yesterday I have hardly seen a Garda checkpoint. It is fine for a garda to go into a 30 miles per hour zone to clock up penalty points and report to the sergeant in the station that he has done his job, but there is more to the job of a garda. We need serious action before the problem gets out of hand.

I saw the superb work of the traffic police in Australia where I spent a year. The proportion of road deaths in that large country is lower than in this small one. The Minister of Transport should reconsider this serious situation. If we do not move fast on this people will forget about penalty points and do what they like on the roads.

People with provisional licences are waiting months for their driving tests. Macra na Feirme and its national president, Thomas Honner, met the Minister a few months ago to discuss this. They told him that the delay was costing our young drivers €50 million. This is unacceptable especially when we complain about the increases in insurance premia. The Minister should look at this immediately.

This debate concerns a topic which has, at one time or other, affected almost every family in the country. Most of us know someone who has lost his or her life or been seriously injured on the roads. The Opposition Members are recent converts to the necessity of having a road safety policy and in sharp contrast to the courageous political leadership which we have witnessed from this Minister on this issue, there was a complete silence from the rainbow Government on the issue. The previous Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government was the first to initiate a national road safety strategy.

Under Dessie O'Malley.

As of 26 April 2004, the personnel strength of the Garda Síochána was more than 11,900 and we are on target to achieve a Garda force of 12,200 by the end of this year. For 2004 the Garda Vote is at its highest ever level at over €1 billion. There are approximately 520 gardaí attached to dedicated traffic units throughout the State.

Where are they?

The Garda national traffic bureau, headed by a chief superintendent and based at Garda headquarters, was established in 1998 to give greater focus and direction to Garda road safety initiatives.

Where are they? They are not visible.

The Minister of State should answer the question.

There are now traffic units in every Garda division with special responsibility for traffic law enforcement and a new unit, managed by the Chief Superintendent in Dublin Castle, is currently operating on a pilot basis in the Dublin metropolitan region with positive results. These units are supported by a range of other vehicles, motorbikes, vans etc. as well as an array of modern speed detection equipment principally hand-held laser devices, but also including in-car motor cycle cameras and mobile GATSO units. In 1996 there were more than 300 gardaí dedicated full time to traffic duties in 16 units. Today that total is in the region of 520 gardaí, attached to 40 divisional units. All uniformed gardaí throughout the State are involved in traffic law enforcement as part of their duties.

Since 1998, the enforcement priorities of the Garda Síochána have been determined by the key targets of the strategy on road safety and will continue to be informed by the new strategy due to be published by the Minister for Transport shortly. The high level group on road safety is overseeing implementation of these strategies. Since the introduction of the strategy Garda enforcement and detection of road traffic offences has increased significantly. The principal Garda enforcement campaign Operation Lifesaver focuses primarily on speeding, drink driving, seat belt offences and vulnerable road users.

We have achieved a considerable improvement in road safety since 1998, when the first Government road safety strategy was launched. The number of fatalities on our roads fell to its lowest level in 40 years in 2003. There is no doubt that the introduction of penalty points contributed significantly to this decline. The success of the strategy can be measured by other means. Detections in respect of speeding, seat belt and drink driving offences all peaked in 2001. Everyone agrees, however, that more can be done, and it is being done. The new road safety strategy will set further ambitious enforcement targets with a view to achieving significant improvement in driver behaviour. Those targets are ambitious by design and everyone involved acknowledges that they will be very difficult to achieve but this is an issue of life and death; complacency is not an option.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform recognises, and the Garda Commissioner agrees, that there are some support functions which could be as effectively carried out by persons without full Garda powers. A working group was established in late 2003 to examine the scope to outsource the installation and operation of speed cameras, both fixed and mobile, even though the Garda will retain ultimate responsibility. I will also be examining with my colleague the Minister for Transport and officials of both Departments how to ensure that public support for the changes will be forthcoming, and we will draw on the considerable expertise of the National Safety Council in this regard.

Considerable resources have already been made available for major infrastructural investment in IT systems to support the operation of the penalty points system in the Garda Síochána and the Courts Service. These developments include the fixed charge processing system and the criminal case tracking system both of which are well developed.

Deputy Naughten raised several points in the debate which I wish to address. He referred to the need for a longer driving test for candidates who are nervous or have literacy difficulties. There is a question on the application form for the driving test concerning special needs. Any candidates with such needs should indicate this on the form so that appropriate arrangements can be made to facilitate them when they attend for the test. I assure Deputy Naughten that a situation cannot arise where a person has penalty points endorsed on his or her licence without being notified. As soon as the Department of Transport is notified that a fixed charge has been paid or a court conviction secured in respect of a penalty point offence, this information is processed and a notice issued by the vehicle registration unit of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on behalf of the Department of Transport. The legislation provides that penalty points apply only 28 days after the date of that notice. This process normally takes approximately two weeks.

I wish to share time with Deputy Naughten. I will speak for five minutes and he will speak for ten minutes.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I congratulate Deputy Naughten on bringing forward this important motion. Since entering the House he has shown a keen interest in the issue of road safety. He prepared, with Deputy Coveney, a major plan on the training and qualification of young drivers. The proposal was to be backed by the insurance industry. It is incorrect to say he is doing this purely for political purposes. He is dedicated to trying to save lives through his actions and proposals.

I wish to focus on speed limits and the need for action on the issue of speeding and bad driving by those who can get away by crossing the Border. As a Border Deputy this matter is important to me.

As previous speakers said, we all had high expectations of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan. He introduced a change in the licensing structure and scared the living daylights out of some older people who thought miracles would be created in a few days. Older people, especially those in rural areas, need to be encouraged to stay on the road provided their health allows them to do so.

Significant delays exist for driving tests which is costing a great deal of money in terms of insurance and also, in some cases, it is costing people jobs because they cannot get licences in time.

The cart has gone before the horse in regard to speed limits. All manner of regulations are being introduced, yet speed limits are completely unorganised. There are insufficient road signs in regard to speed. The Ceann Comhairle will be familiar with the road from my home town of Ballybay towards Carrickmacross. As one leaves the town, there is a 30 mph sign on the left hand side. Adhering to the signage, one has to drive four or five miles towards Lough Egish before one can pass 30 mph. However, there is no sign on the left as one drives into the town. These are major legal anomalies that must be dealt with as a matter of urgency.

In some parts of the constituency there are 30 mph limits going through small villages while it is 40 mph in other places. There is no co-ordination. On one road going through Cavan and Monaghan, the limit is 40 mph in Cavan while it is 30 mph in Monaghan. We need realistic regulations. Many parts of the dual carriageway coming into Dublin city have speed limits of 40 mph yet minor roads around the country have 60 mph limits. We must take the matter seriously.

It is glorious for all of us in the north-east area to travel the M1. It is a good road which has a speed limit of 70 mph. One can be guaranteed that nine out of ten overtaking cars on this road are UK registered vehicles. As with many other issues, we need co-operation and co-ordination from the authorities in Northern Ireland on this matter. There have been many casualties on the stretch of road from Dundalk to Dublin. That is not the only road; I can also name the N2 and the N3, among others, in this context. One day as I was going towards Cavan from Clones three cars passed me on a bend. It was ludicrous. Gardaí must be out on the road, not just sitting at the edge of a 30 mph limit but making sure they are a visible deterrent.

I want to ensure that people's lives are saved by whatever means, be it in regard to drink-driving or whatever else.

I thank Members of the House who contributed to the debate. I especially thank the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, who was brave enough to address the issue. Serious issues of concern exist in regard to inadequate resources within the Garda Síochána. It was brave of him to come here in light of his outstanding record as Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science with special responsibility for school transport. He was presented with a report four and a half years ago in regard to school transport safety issues. In fairness to him, he gave bus drivers mobile phones. The issue of the 3:2 ratio in regard to bus seatbelts has not been addressed. During his watch pupils fell out the back of school buses. One pupil was caught in the door of a school bus and dragged along the ground. In one instance, an uninsured and unlicensed school bus driver was carrying primary school pupils. I welcome the contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea.

As he is well aware, I am not a late convert to the issue of road safety. He was presented with a report regarding safety on school buses a number of years ago. He is also aware that the Fine Gael Party published two separate documents on the issue of road safety. I acknowledge that the Government was the first to introduce a road safety strategy. I also acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Brennan, introduced the penalty points system. I have always acknowledged that welcome development.

In his contribution to the debate, the Minister incorrectly interpreted a point in regard to the road accident investigation unit. We were speaking about a road accident investigation unit within the Garda Síochána. The resources and skills are available at present, yet no dedicated investigation unit exists. Many PSV licence inspectors have significant skills in this area and they should be used to provide conclusive reports. We do not compile statistics. Everybody refers to the connection between speed and drink in causing accidents. I am aware of a case involving one young man in County Roscommon where drink was allegedly the contributing factor to his death. However, his death was caused by a toolbox in the back of his van. That information has never come into the public domain. In another case a tennis ball was responsible for a fatality. It rolled from under the back seat of the car and became lodged between the brake and the floor of the car when the driver put his foot on the brake. Lack of sleep has also been responsible for a number of fatalities on Irish roads. We have only recently seen statistics in that regard. I urge the Minister to utilise the mechanism and structure that currently exists.

The Minister referred to the existence of a road safety strategy. Sadly, the first road safety strategy which was implemented by the then Minister of State, Bobby Molloy, covered the period 1998 to 2002. The new road safety strategy will apply from the second half of 2004 to 2006, which leaves a gap, regardless of the way one looks at it. We still do not know when the strategy will be implemented. The Minister said it has gone to the printers and will be published soon. It will not be a three-year road safety strategy, as outlined in the programme for Government. At best, it will be a two and a half year strategy and we will be without any strategy for 18 months.

The Minister stated that benefits in regard to investment do not accrue to the Department of Transport but to other Departments. He was critical of the Opposition because it focused on the issue of funding. The reason he was critical regarding the issue of funding was because the Bacon report commissioned by the Government highlighted the major savings that can be made if investments are put in place. The Minister stated that the resources set aside for road safety in 2004 are €22.4 million, yet in the 17 months since the penalty points system was introduced, it has brought about a saving of €148 million in terms of fatalities and the real figure is probably significantly higher when the reduction in number of road accidents is taken into account. It seems that only a fraction of the savings are being reinvested which would have a significant impact on reducing the number of fatalities on our roads.

The Minister has made an impact since he came to the Department. He introduced the penalty points system and he made a significant impact in terms of the driving test. No one could have made the impact he has made. With one short soundbite he was responsible for the waiting time for the driving test increasing from ten weeks to 13 months. The waiting time changed overnight. The driving test system is a shambles purely because of one comment the Minister made in December 2002. He said he could not understand the phenomenon whereby there was a doubling in the number of applications for the driving test. Not having a full licence costs young people €50 million per annum in additional premia. Such a long waiting time is an example of the lack of urgency within the Department to address this problem. There are eight vacancies within the driving test service. If those vacancies were filled, such driver testers could conservatively carry out an additional 15,360 driving tests per annum. However, the Minister will not fill those vacancies nor has he any plans to do so.

The Minister referred to a 20% variation in the driving test pass rate in centres around the country. He said the rate is similar to the rate in the UK. Perhaps the Minister should read, and some of his officials should provide him with, a copy of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General who was extremely critical of the driving test system in this country. The Minister should commence to implement some of the recommendations in that report. Young people are losing out in terms of having to pay additional insurance premia. Many of them are also losing out in terms of employment because many of them cannot get a job because they do not have a full licence. Yet there is no action from the Minister or no resources have been invested to address this matter. Some 16 months on, all we have is another promise from the Minister that he will bring forward legislation at some point.

With regard to what the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea said about Garda resources, at any one time a maximum of 144 gardaí are dedicated to policing the roads of this country and enforcing road traffic legislation. That is a pathetic response. We need a dedicated and highly visible Garda traffic corps which can enforce the legislation and be seen to do so, which is critical. The Minister of State's response last night was that this is being progressed. Two years after the Government gave a commitment in the programme for Government to introduce a traffic corps, the working group is only being established. What is wrong with deploying a member of the Garda Síochána aged 56 or 57 to do policing duties? I do not foresee any difficulty in doing that. The requirement that gardaí must retire at the age of 55 should not prevent us bringing back retired gardaí, who proved to be capable and who did a good job during their years of service to this State, and deploying them on such policing duties. They could have the necessary powers and there are people who could ensure that such powers are protected and not abused. That would overcome the anomaly in the system.

The Minister spoke about the need for a new road traffic legislation in the form of a new road safety Bill. It will be introduced some time in 2004. This legislation will also include the ill-fated ban on the use of mobile phones proposed by the former Minister of Sate, Deputy Molloy, which was first announced in 2001. It will be at least 2005 before such a ban is in place. Given that the Ministers present are well able to bandy about statistics, I ask them how many additional fatalities and accidents must there be on our roads in that intervening period due to the use of mobile phones by motorists. Nothing has been done to address this practice.

We were promised consistently since the Minister, Deputy Brennan, announced the introduction of the penalty points system that we would have a computerised system in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform by June 2004. We cannot even get a straight answer from the Department as to when this system will be up and running. One of the organisations which tendered for the job is up and running and is doing the exact same job to that proposed under the penalty points system in relation to parking fines in Ennis. If that can be done in Ennis, it should be possible to do it in other parts of the country. I commend the motion to the House.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 67; Níl, 47.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Curran, John.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Keeffe, Ned.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Padraic.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Murphy, Gerard.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Stagg.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.