The Minister for Transport was in possession and he has 20 minutes remaining.
Road Traffic Bill 2004: Second Stage (Resumed).
As I said before I adjourned the debate yesterday, the Bill contains relevant provisions to support those initiatives to which I referred. Since my appointment, I have seen this as a key early deliverable. The courts, the Garda and the public should have confidence that sufficient support frameworks are in place to ensure the robust operation of the penalty points system. Our immediate goal is to see the early availability of the support frameworks. To that end, a scheme which pilots the full IT support network is being pursued by the Garda in selected divisions.
On a point of order, I intend to leave but if I do so, no Member will be present to listen to the Minister.
That is not a point of order.
I am sure the Minister would not like to preach to an empty House.
The nationwide operation of the systems will be informed by the results of that pilot scheme and it will feature the provision of services relating to the payment of fixed charges by a service provider on behalf of the Garda. Facilitating the outsourcing proposal within the timeframe envisaged necessitates the introduction of a number of amendments to existing legislation as a matter of urgency. This will happen through this legislation.
The Bill will also introduce relatively minor amendments to the Taxi Regulation Act 2003, the purpose of which is to facilitate the more effective implementation of the processes relating to the mandatory disqualification of those who have been convicted of certain offences from holding minor public service licences.
I refer to the main provisions proposed in the Bill. Part 2, which incorporates 11 sections, provides for the introduction of a new system of speed limits based on metric values. The current system of speed limits has its legislative base in the Road Traffic Act 1961. However, it has been the subject of a number of reviews, the most recent of which was provided for in the Road Traffic Act 1994. Of all the measures provided for in the Road Traffic Acts it is understandable that those relating to speed limits should be the subject of such regular review.
The background to the current review is the need to amend the current legislative provisions to provide for the application of metric values for speed limits. A comprehensive review of speed limit structures and policies was pursued in 2003 in association with the metrication proposal to ensure, in particular, that the system is relevant, having regard to modern traffic and road conditions. In addition, it was considered that greater flexibility in the manner in which speed limits are applied was needed. I am conscious that the application of the penalty points system to speed limit offences has given further emphasis to the need for the system to be regarded as reasonable and relevant.
The recommendations of the working group established to carry out the review last year are reflected in the provisions proposed in the Bill. The application of speed limits to particular classes of vehicles, provided for in section 4, remains essentially unaltered from that which has applied since 1961. The section permits the Minister for Transport to determine the maximum speed limits that should be applied to vehicle classes through the making of regulations. "Ordinary speed limits" are currently applied in respect of a small group of vehicles, in particular, to buses and heavy goods vehicles. There is no immediate reason to change the current scope for the application of such speed limits.
Where speed limits are established in respect of classes of vehicles, they apply on all roads where a higher road speed limit has been set. Conversely, where a road speed limit is lower than the ordinary speed limit, the former represents the maximum speed at which the vehicle can be driven. In so far as road speed limits are concerned, the Bill provides for four default speed limits, as opposed to the three default speed limits that apply under the current legislation. The new approach acknowledges that the rate of improvement experienced on the non-urban national road network suggests there is a case for the speed limits for such roads being set at a level in excess of that which should apply to non-national roads outside urban areas.
The current "general speed limit" is being replaced by separate speed limits that will apply to national roads and non-national roads outside urban areas for this reason. The remaining default speed limits will apply to roads in built-up areas other than motorways and to motorways generally. The new default speed limits provided for in the Bill break down as follows: section 5 provides that the speed limit to apply in built-up areas will be 50 kph — this replaces the present 30 mph built-up area speed limit; section 6 introduces a new speed limit of 80 kph that will apply to all regional and local roads outside built-up areas — this essentially is equal to 50 mph and replaces the present general speed limit of 60 mph on these roads; a new speed limit of 100 kph, which will apply to all national roads outside built-up areas, is provided for in section 7 — this speed limit will replace the present general speed limit of 60 mph on national roads outside urban areas; section 8 establishes that the speed limit for motorways will be 120 kph — this replaces the current motorway speed limit of 70 mph; and the introduction of a speed limit of 80 kph in respect of non-urban regional and local roads will result in a reduction of approximately 16 kph or 10 mph in the speed limit applying in respect of more than 90% of the rural road network.
Most of the regional and local road network is of a lower infrastructural standard in terms of design, road engineering and maintenance than national roads and it is considered that a default maximum speed limit of 80 kilometres per hour represents the best road safety match for these routes.
In the past the default speed limits were either set by the Minister through regulations or, where they were provided for directly in legislation, the Minister could subsequently change the limit by making regulations. Under this Bill the responsibility for the determination of the default speed limits is vested in the Oireachtas. If these limits are to be changed, it is appropriate that such change should be placed before the Houses of the Oireachtas for their approval.
The speed limits provided for under sections 5 to 8 will apply automatically to the roads in question, save where it is determined that there is a requirement for them to be replaced. The replacement of a default speed limit will continue to be facilitated by the making of special speed limit by-laws by county and city councils. This will be provided for in section 9. The concept that decisions in respect of the application of special speed limits should be taken by the major local authorities was introduced by the Road Traffic Act 1994. Such decisions are reserved to the elected members. The decision to devolve that power from the Minister to the members of local authorities was welcomed at the time given in particular that it gave local representatives both an input into the determination of how speed limits were to be applied and direct responsibility for the implementation of those determinations. The system has served us well in general terms and the policy considerations that underpinned the decision in 1994 are just as relevant today. However, it is the case that there have been instances where inappropriate speed limits have been applied in certain circumstances.
The House will be aware that my predecessor raised this matter with local authorities on a number of occasions. A list of locations in respect of which claims were made by the Automobile Association and the Society for the Motor Industry that the speed limits were not appropriate was circulated to local authority managers. The local authorities in question were given details of the complaints received and afforded the opportunity to comment on the issues raised.
I am conscious of the need to ensure that the speed limits applied are complied with. The first offence to which the penalty points system was applied in 2002 was the offence of exceeding a speed limit. I have already referred to the reduction in road deaths since the launch of penalty points almost two years ago. However, as penalty points have been applied to speed limit offences, it is reasonable that motorists and other road users should be confident that each speed limit is applied in a reasonable manner which in turn reflects road safety considerations and the capacity of the road in question. For that reason, section 9 incorporates a number of changes to the process relating to the making of special speed limit by-laws. In addition to the need for a council to consult the Garda Commissioner and in the case of county councils to consult urban authorities in their counties, subsection (4) provides for a public consultation process through which members of the public can submit objections to the proposals of a council. The consent of the National Roads Authority to all proposals relating to national roads will continue to be required.
In addition, subsection (9) provides that the Minister for Transport may issue guidelines to local authorities to which they must have regard in making their by-laws. I have been examining this area since I took up my new portfolio and in view of the onerous task that is involved in the determination of the application of special speed limits, I will ensure local authorities receive the greatest possible level of support. Part of this process will be the issue of guidelines aimed at assisting them in that role.
For the first time the speed limits that may be deployed as special speed limits are listed in the primary legislation. The range of special speed limits that may be used is set out in subsection (2) and is quite extensive. In addition to the deployment of the speed limits provided for in sections 5 to 8 on roads other than those where they are applied on a default basis, local authorities can apply special speed limits of 30 kilometres per hour and 60 kilometres per hour. The availability of the use of the 30 kilometres per hour speed limit will allow councils to impose a legal requirement on traffic to adopt very low speeds at locations that are very sensitive from a road safety perspective. For that reason, the use of that speed limit must be in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Minister. At the other end of the scale, the House will note that the motorway speed limit can be deployed on dual carriageways on national roads. As with the deployment of the 30 kilometres per hour speed limit, the 120 kilometres per hour as a special speed limit can only be applied in accordance with the guidelines.
Section 10 introduces a new element to the overall structures that apply to speed limits. It provides that in the event of road works, a city or county manager may make an order determining that a speed limit other than that which normally applies at the road works site should be put in place for the duration of the work. We are all familiar with situations where we see signs indicating speed limits of 10 or 15 miles per hour at road works sites. Such speed limits have no legal status and can create confusion for motorists. However it is also the case that at present speed limits can only be changed through the making of speed limit by-laws and that procedure is time-consuming.
The focus of the new section is to allow for the quick deployment of a speed limit at road works sites. It empowers county and city managers to make orders to apply speed limits deemed to be appropriate for any particular road works site. Managers must consult the Garda before making an order under the section and give public notice of the order. The National Roads Authority must give its consent to an order under the section where it involves the carrying out of road works on a national road or a motorway. The section provides that the minimum speed limit that can be set under a road works speed limit order is 30 kilometres per hour. It also limits the application of an order to a period of 12 months. In my view it is reasonable that where road works are to take place over a period longer than one year, the decision to apply a speed limit for the duration of the works should be made by the council members under their powers to make special speed limit by-laws. Section 11 provides for the substitution of the current section 47 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 which establishes that it is an offence to breach a speed limit.
The process for the metrication of speed limits will be completed by 20 January 2005. Clearly there will be a period of transition between the operation of the current imperial speed limits and the new metric system. The purpose of section 12 is to provide legal certainty for that transition. Section 13 makes a minor change to section 53 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 relating to the offence of dangerous driving to ensure that the reference to speed limits in that section reflects the new structures being introduced in this Bill. Part 2 of the Bill is completed by section 14, which provides for the repeal of the existing legislative provisions applying to speed limits.
Part 3 introduces a number of amendments to the administration of the fixed charge and penalty points system. Experience with the operation of these systems to date suggests that in the context of their full roll-out, there is a need to divert elements of the administration away from the Garda. The report recently published by the Comptroller and Auditor General highlighted a number of issues relating to the administration of the system. The outsourcing of administrative supporting activity for enforcement generally will create an environment through which the Garda will be in a position to better meet the demanding targets set for enforcement over the next three years. I have been advised that the outsourcing of functions to third parties requires the introduction of a provision in primary legislation. This is facilitated by section 17 which incorporates a provision through which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform can engage third parties in administrative functions relating to the fixed charge system.
Sections 15 and 16 clarify the role of the Courts Service and its functions associated with the administration of the penalty points system. Section 16 also provides that notifications to the Minister for Transport of a payment of a fixed charge in respect of a penalty point offence can be made by a person authorised by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to carry out administrative functions in respect of the fixed charge system.
Part 3 also provides, through section 18, for a restatement of the requirements on defendants in court proceedings relating to the majority of traffic offences to present their licences to the court. This amendment of the position regarding the presentation of licences in court is a necessary response to difficulties experienced to date with the operation of this element of the overall enforcement regime introduced following the application of penalty points. That system and the allied fixed charge system represent fundamental changes to traffic law enforcement. As these systems become more in vogue, the need may arise to address difficulties or improvements to their administration as it evolves. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General referred to such issues. It is my intention to address them, if necessary through legislative initiatives.
Part 4 of the Bill sees the introduction of a number of general initiatives. The focus of these initiatives is to bring clarity to certain general provisions in the Road Traffic Acts and to the roles of certain organisations.
Section 19 clarifies the role of the Courts Service in respect of the administration of the application of the European convention on driving licence disqualification.
Section 20 provides for the amendment of section 35 of the Road Traffic Act 1994, which relates to the control and regulation of traffic and parking. The purpose of the amendment is to allow for the issue of permits for a range of functions and for the imposition of charges for such permits.
Section 21 provides a response to concerns expressed by representatives of the emergency services for the need for greater clarity as to the circumstances where emergency vehicles can be exempted from requirements, restrictions and prohibitions imposed under the Road Traffic Acts. Currently, exemptions are provided for in respect of particular codes established by statutory instrument. Section 20 provides a more immediate and clearer statement of the scope of the circumstances where such exemptions will apply. The need for the application of exemptions for the drivers of emergency vehicles from the majority of traffic and parking requirements is obvious. However, it must be understood that the application of any exemption is subject to the overriding prerequisite that road users must not be endangered.
Sections 22 and 23 refer to relatively minor administrative issues relating to the carrying out of functions by members of the Garda and clarify the definition of a local authority for the purposes of section 84 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, which was substituted by section 15 of the Road Traffic Act 2002 and which relates to taxi stand by-laws.
Section 24 introduces a new offence relating to the supply of mechanically propelled vehicles to minors. Members will recall that this issue was highlighted on a number of occasions in the House by Deputy Broughan. The proposals put forward by Deputy Broughan would have created difficulties in achieving prosecutions. However, I consider that the Deputy's initiative had great merit and I have decided to introduce a provision in road traffic law that establishes a straightforward offence relating to the supply of mechanically propelled vehicles to minors.
The Bill concludes with provisions which make minor changes to both the Local Authorities (Traffic Wardens) Act 1975 and the Taxi Regulation Act 2002. The latter will bring clarity to section 36 of that Act and will facilitate a more effective implementation process.
The Bill presented to the House today is targeted at very specific areas in respect of which there is particular urgency. The metrication of speed limits and the restructuring of the overall system of speed limits represent fundamental initiatives in road traffic legislation. Speed limits are among the most important elements of road safety policy and it is my firm belief that the new structure presented in the Bill will add further value to the Government pursuit of our overall strategic approach.
The outsourcing of administrative functions relating to the fixed charge system represents a further element of that policy by giving Garda authorities greater freedom in allocating resources to address road safety issues. I look forward to the co-operation of Members in facilitating passage of the Bill and I commend it to the House.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation. I welcome the legislation from a road safety point of view and I hope it will make a contribution to that. I also welcome the fact that we are at last getting around to metrification, which we have been talking about since we joined the Common Market, as it was then. Since then, we have decimalised and changed to the euro but we are only now getting around to the metrification of our speed limits. In fairness, we are well ahead of our neighbours in that regard, which is the only country now using the old imperial system. We have never been reluctant Europeans, even if we were a little slow in introducing this measure.
Apart from the metrification of our speed limits, a number of other issues are dealt with in the Bill, not necessarily to do with metrification but with road safety, which I welcome. I have no problem with any of them. I welcome also the prohibition on the sale of vehicles to those under 16 years of age, an issue to which I will return.
I am a little disappointed with the limited nature of the Bill in respect of the main topic, which is speed limits. My understanding was that with metrification would come a new structure of speed limits which would in some way standardise what is happening throughout the country, but that is not the case. As the Minister said, we have moved from three default speed limits to four and, therefore, there is the potential for proliferation of different signs on the same stretch of road.
We must do something about the myriad of conflicting, illogical and confusing speed limits that appear to operate throughout the country, which cause not just annoyance but genuine resentment. People believe they are confusing and merely a revenue-raising exercise rather than contributing to traffic management or road safety. Many speed limits appear to be a national secret about which we never find out until we have incurred penalty points.
In the absence of standardisation of speed limits and the review done by local authorities — I am aware some of them have done that review but many have not — I am not convinced that the switch to metrification and the new limits will not cause more confusion. The switch to metrification alone can be confusing but we are also getting a new set of speed limit options. It is critical that motorists know what is required of them. We give out about motorists not obeying the law but we must make the law clear to them, and when it comes to speed limits, consistency and clarity are essential. It is even more essential that we have introduced the penalty points system which, with all its warts, is the way forward.
Eventually, we will get it right but when these limits are fully operational in an automated way, as they were originally intended to be, and when all the legal loopholes, new ones of which seem to appear every day, are closed, this system will be a method of controlling speeding on our roads and could make an enormous contribution to road safety, but only if the speed limits are clear and people know what is expected of them.
Regardless of the daftness of the current signage system, the only way people can make their point if they are caught is to appeal to the courts, which is a stressful, time-consuming and expensive exercise. It behoves local authorities, therefore, and the State generally to ensure they do not push people into the courts system unnecessarily through lack of clarity.
I have some sympathy with anyone trying to devise a speed limit system because there is a difficulty between the need to standardise on the one hand and have a rational system that is consistent and easily understood while giving flexibility to local authorities in terms of local conditions on the other. That tension is not easily resolved but with so many different speed limits in operation — I understand there are now six or seven — attempts to tailor to local conditions at micro level can result in proliferation of signage and varying speed limits along a small stretch of road, and the result is more dangerous rather than less dangerous road conditions.
Problems arise, as we often hear, where there is a variety of speed limits on the one stretch of road. It is difficult to drive carefully and absorb that information when faced with a variety of signs, assuming the signs are in place in the first place, which is another problem. There is either too much signage or none at all to give one some idea of the speed limit, but when there are too many signs, one would need a computer brain to process the information. Admittedly, that is more an urban problem than a rural one.
The default signs have increased from three to four in number, and through by-laws local authorities can vary those to add special speed limit signs. I understand the reasoning for that but there is a real case to be made to encourage local authorities, in so far as it is possible, to stick to the default limits and not have endless variations of speeds. While it reduces the need for signage, it also gives clarity to motorists and produces a safer, less erratic driving environment. Local authorities should be encouraged to vary the default speed limit only in exceptional circumstances.
If I understand the legislation correctly, the definition of a built-up area is confined to a city, borough or town within the context of the Local Government Act of 2001. As a result, the three county councils in the greater Dublin area fall outside the definition of a built-up area despite being as built-up as one will find. I am sure the area beyond the city limits of Waterford is still densely populated given that cities spill over into adjoining counties. A problem will arise if a default speed limit no longer applies at a city boundary because local authorities will have to erect signage at the boundary of every road leaving a city or town.
The default limit of 80 kph, which will apply outside built-up areas, is inappropriate in most urban areas. Local authorities will be faced with a proliferation of signage as a result of by-laws showing special speed limits. Will these speed limits be consistent at the points at which counties join or on different roads? Would it not be preferable to make provision in the legislation to allow local authorities to determine what are built-up areas and, consequently, the points at which the built-up area default system ends?
I welcome that the problem will probably not apply to national roads and motorways given that local authorities must, in such circumstances, consult and obtain permission from the National Roads Authority to vary default limits. In this respect, I have in mind roads such as the N11 which has a variety of speed limits as one leaves the city. Consistency is required on national roads and it is welcome that the Bill provides that permission to vary default limits must be obtained from the NRA.
While I do not wish to labour the point, road signage is a major safety issue. Speaking as an urban dweller, it is clear that road safety depends to a large extent on road signage. Clarity, simplicity and consistency are vital as regards signage. One of the correct decisions taken by the Minister's predecessor, for which he received a great deal of criticism, was to insist on the removal of signs erected by Dublin City Council which were overloaded with information. Overload of this nature causes accidents. Drivers would have required a map and map code to ascertain to what roads the various numbers on the signs referred. They would have been a dangerous distraction to motorists.
Bus lanes which operate at different times create a similar problem. I understand the legislation also provides for different speed limits at different times. I oppose this provision on the grounds that we should keep matters simple. Bus lanes use the 24 hour clock. One sometimes see drivers stray onto bus lanes, slow down as they try to read signs to find out if they are operational and drive back into the traffic. We should keep matters simple by insisting that bus lanes and speed limits always apply.
To overcome the problem of varying speed limits and the proliferation of signage, has the Minister considered the possibility of using different coloured markings on road surfaces or margins to alert motorists to changes in speed limits? This would be a long-term measure. If introduced on a national basis, such a system would ensure that motorists would quickly recognise what the various markings meant. We should consider this option because we do not seem to be able to get signage right.
I am concerned about the timing of the switch to metrification, which should take place overnight. The legislation allows for a transitional arrangement pending the provision of new signs. This presents several problems. It is almost inevitable, for example, that local authorities will move at different speeds in erecting the new signs which I understand are being produced centrally. While local authorities have placed orders for signs, they may not erect them quickly because they must hire contractors and so forth. The greatest problem will arise due to variations in the length of time they will take to make new by-laws giving legal status to the new speed limits determined by the reviews of current speed limits. Until such time, local authorities will have time to avail of special speed limits which can be introduced by by-law. I understand many of them have not completed their reviews of the speed limits and the process could take many months. It seems to be dangerous, expensive and a waste of time to erect signs which may change in a few months.
The local authorities do not have to make new by-laws. The signs are ordered. The root of the problem is that many regional roads are similar to dual carriageways, a matter many Deputies have raised with me. I found it difficult to differentiate such roads for the purposes of the primary legislation and, for this reason, was forced to leave the matter to local authorities to decide. They have the power to make changes on regional roads on which stretches of dual carriageway have opened if they so wish. I could not make changes centrally.
I appreciate the difficulty as regards regional roads on which I understand the default speed of 60 mph will be reduced to 80 kph. While I understand the reasons for this decision, in most cases local authorities will have to review speed limits.
Would it not be preferable to adopt a big bang approach, as adopted for the changeover to the euro which was introduced overnight? Within a couple of days of its introduction, people were used to the new currency. This did not happen by accident but was contingent on major preparations. In the case of metrification, I understand a great deal is being done in the background in terms of ordering signs and so on but very little has been done to prepare the public. If one were to conduct a vox populi on Grafton Street, I suspect fewer than one in 1,000 people would be aware that this change will take place in January. A considerable job remains to be done in informing the public of what lies ahead and what they must do to cope with it. Is the deadline of 22 January realistic? The Minister stated everybody is ready for the change but I do not believe that to be the case.
Local authorities have ordered signs but are uncertain about whether budgets for public information are being managed centrally. Local authorities around Dublin, including mine, are particularly concerned about budgets for signage, which differs in built-up and rural areas. In the latter, signage is used to provide information, whereas in the former it is used as a traffic management measure. There is obviously a requirement for more of it and it is more expensive. Local authorities have not received their signs yet and I doubt that they will be up by 22 January.
The majority have.
Some have not.
We are rolling them out.
Even if they have, I doubt that they will be up by 22 January.
I hope they are.
I do not know if the Minister has considered the signage for the Border area. There will be particular problems there for people moving from the old imperial system to the metric system. There will probably be a need for a multi-media public information programme and, probably, additional signage to remind people. I do not know how people from the Republic drive in the North. I was never conscious that I drove differently when I was in Northern Ireland.
I am informed that there are special signs for the Border area.
The Minister has an answer for everything. I have noticed that the worst drivers in the Republic are drivers from Northern Ireland. I am not sure if it is because they are accustomed to driving at higher speeds or if they just think they are immune when driving outside their penalty points system. However, their driving is particularly dangerous. They appear to have no regard for unbroken white lines and certainly none for speed limits. Are they still immune from penalty points in the Republic? The legislation provides for notification to their licensing authority but I am not sure if it is just notification of when they have reached disqualification level. Are penalty points incurred in their jurisdiction? If not, it is something we should pursue because it is a serious problem.
Section 15 provides that the Minister for Transport should be notified by the Courts Service of convictions for penalty point offences. What is the purpose of that? Obviously there is a need to inform the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government which looks after the national driver file. However, why should the Minister for Transport be informed as well? I ask as a matter of interest. The system is tortuous enough as it is and is not as automated as we had hoped so I wonder why there is an additional requirement to inform a fourth agency.
The other big change is the outsourcing of the Garda function in respect of penalty points. In view of what was promised with the introduction of the penalty points system, what we have at present is far short of that in terms of its long-term impact on road safety. Nevertheless, I believe the system has great potential to improve road safety. I listened to a presentation to the justice committee last week and it was disturbing to discover that the problem is more than just the computer fiasco with which we are familiar. There is no communication between the computer systems and that is apart from the fact that it takes so long to feed information into the PULSE system.
Almost every aspect of the penalty points system seems to be flawed in some way or is too complex or legally demanding. The clever lawyers have little difficulty finding ever more lucrative loopholes for their grateful clients. This Bill attempts to address some of the loopholes. I have just come from a committee meeting at which representatives of Luas and Connex made a presentation. They highlighted the difficulties they have encountered as a result of some of the loopholes in the legislation.
The loopholes that appeared with the penalty points system are a reflection of the larger problem of deficient legislation, a lack of attention to detail and making the enforcement of rules more complex than is necessary. It means we keep having to revise the legislation in an effort to fill in the gaps or to close the loopholes found by clever lawyers. With each new Bill we seem to send the gardaí running in ever decreasing circles. Not closing the loopholes makes a laugh of the law and makes lawyers rich. We must deal with this. Whatever else we do — the computers and other matters have to be sorted out — we must close the legal loopholes.
The issue raised at this morning's committee meeting with the Luas representatives was the legality of evidence from a camera. Some judges accept camera footage of an infringement of the law as having the same value as a witness but other judges do not. That must be sorted out. If necessary, we should introduce new legislation to deal with it but this time we must get it right.
At present, there are two ways in which one can detect infringements that attract penalty points and both are problematic. One is camera observation and the other is being stopped by a garda with a speed gun. In the first case, the car plates might not be visible and now there is the problem of judges not accepting the speed guns as evidence. That must be clarified and dealt with. I understood the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform had got advice from the Attorney General so I put down a parliamentary question to find out what was that advice, and I was more or less told to mind my own business. However, he might tell the Minister for Transport what to do about it. It must be dealt with. Otherwise, the purpose of the penalty points system will be devalued and our roads will not be safer.
I welcome the outsourcing of the administration of the penalty points system. Anything that puts the gardaí back to policing rather than trying to serve notices on people is welcome. My only worry is about shifting the burden of proof. There is a presumption that people have received a fixed charge notice. This, in effect, shifts the burden of proof from the justice system to the motorist, who must prove that he or she did not get a fixed charge notice.
I do not know if the Minister got legal advice on the provision but I anticipate difficulty with it being upheld, particularly in a situation where the administration is outsourced. The notice is served by a civilian rather than a garda. Our experience with clamping has shown that there is huge public resistance to people other than gardaí carrying out these functions. People who are being paid to carry out the service are always considered suspect. There is a suspicion that it is a revenue-raising exercise for the agency rather than enthusiasm for increased road safety.
One of the provisions in the Bill creates the offence of selling a vehicle to a minor. Why was the term "minor" used? Why did the Minister stop at 16 years when one cannot drive until one is 17 years? There might be a good reason for that but I cannot anticipate what it might be. One cannot get a driver's licence until one is 17 years old. Why have a prohibition on selling something just to a minor? For instance, we ban the sale of alcohol to people under the age of 18. I am not sure what the thinking is behind this.
I welcome the provision regarding taxi licences, which was a necessary tightening of the existing system. The issuing of licences was far too lax in the past and I welcome the change.
The motor industry was apparently not given sufficient notification of the introduction of the metrification system, although this is hard to understand as it has been coming for almost 30 years. Therefore, new cars will not have metric speedometers and the earliest we can hope for this is 2006. There was talk of issuing drivers with ready reckoners but I have my doubts on this. Who would take out a ready reckoner when driving and should they do so? Nevertheless, perhaps notices should be put in the newspapers to help people adjust to the conversion.
In general, I welcome the Bill. My major concern is that people would be prepared for it, that the changeover takes place as smoothly and seamlessly as possible, enough information is provided to the public, that the signage will not result in greater confusion and that drivers will not incur penalty points due to maladministration. So many good ideas falter and fail on the altar of bad administration and implementation.
I welcome the Bill, however limited it is. If we were to believe anything the previous Minister, Deputy Brennan, stated during a particularly bad period of road accidents, fatalities and serious injuries over the summer, the Bill would have been amended to include everything from the awarding of penalty points for the use of mobile telephones to random breath testing etc. Many undertakings were given by the then Minister in his usual swashbuckling style when he promised to do the devil and all. Now, two months later, none of the promises mean anything and no serious work has been done. Increasingly, we realise that the previous Minister was all talk and no action throughout his term of office. He seemed to operate on the basis of issuing as many press statements as he could. However, there was no follow-up and no action behind all the headlines.
It is unfortunate we do not have a more wide-ranging Bill before us because many road traffic issues need urgent attention. Having ignored this subject in recent years, I hoped the Department of Transport and the Government would begin to take this issue seriously. The figures speak for themselves. In spite of what happened last year with the introduction of penalty points, the number of road deaths and serious injuries is again spiralling upward. I hope the new Minister, Deputy Cullen, will give new emphasis and priority to the issue of road safety, which urgently needs attention but was much neglected in the past couple of years.
The Bill is limited. Its main purpose is to provide for the changeover to the metrification of speed limits. In that regard, it is overdue. It is a pity more groundwork was not done on this, that the legislation was not passed earlier in the year and that the local authorities and the public were not better prepared for it. As Deputy Olivia Mitchell stated, there is significant lack of awareness of the changeover, a view with which I agree having spoken to members of the public. Much work needs to be done now, at the last minute, which should not be the case. The work should have been completed and an education programme should have been operating for the past year, preparing the public for the changeover and ensuring the local authorities were adequately prepared.
The eye was taken off the ball in the Department of Transport and by the previous Minister. There was total preoccupation with ideological issues such as the question of ownership of the transport companies, which are of little relevance to everyday lives in terms of driving and road safety. An area which should have received attention was neglected. Now, at the last minute, we find ourselves belatedly trying to put the legislation in place, ensure that the signage is available and ensure that the public is aware of what is happening. This measure has serious implications. Unless the work is done properly and unless the advertising and education campaigns are adequate, the changeover will lead to an increased level of accidents on the roads.
The country has serious cultural problems in regard to driving. At today's meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport, Mr. Frank Allen of the Railway Procurement Agency spoke of the serious cultural problems highlighted as a result of the various collisions involving Luas, which have brought to the fore the prevalence of drivers thoughtlessly breaking red lights. Mr. Allen stated that, for many people, a red light does not indicate one must stop but that three more cars can go through the light. This is becoming obvious in the context of the various collisions involving Luas and such behaviour can often be observed when one is waiting to exit from side roads or otherwise. An amber light should indicate to drivers to prepare to stop but, increasingly, it means nothing and cars continue to go through after the red light is on. This has significant implications for pedestrian safety specifically and road safety in general.
While a proper educational campaign is needed, a further serious issue is that of enforcement. This is a huge weakness in the context of the traffic laws and the same applies in regard to the changeover to metrification. When penalty points were introduced, drivers, for the first time in many cases, began to pay attention to their speedometers. Many calls were made to chat shows to tell of how difficult it was to watch the road and speedometer at the same time while being aware of speed limits and keeping the car under control. This situation will worsen with metrification. Assuming all the new road signs are in place, which is quite an assumption and a matter about which I am concerned, there will be serious difficulties due to lack of awareness but also because speedometers in all cars are based on the imperial system. I cannot understand, given the advance notice of several years, why agreement was not reached with the motor industry to ensure a corresponding change of speedometers in new cars from January 2005 to coincide with the metrification of speed limits.
What discussions has the Minister had with the motor industry? Such discussions should have started several years ago. What is the earliest date at which new cars will have metric speedometers installed? Is it possible to take action in the interim? For several years we will have cars on the road using the imperial system. The imperial numerals are the largest on the speedometer whereas the metric ones are the smallest, yet it is difficult enough to read the imperial measurements on speedometers while in charge of a car. A media report suggested the possibility of a conversion sticker for speedometer figures. Is there any truth in the report? Is it possible to develop such a conversion chart for car users? What efforts have been made to prevent widespread confusion in January when the new system is introduced? I am not satisfied that adequate preparatory work has been done in this area. When the new system is introduced in the early months of 2005, we will face a dangerous time owing to lack of awareness and the physical constraints of inadequate signage and imperial speedometers. It is inconceivable that more serious work has not been done. If it has, it has not been successfully promoted. No evidence exists that serious preparatory work has been done on changing the physical nature of cars to facilitate the changeover to the metric system.
I agree with Deputy Olivia Mitchell's comments on the unwieldy system for the notification of penalty points. Over the past year, it has been difficult to get any statistics on the system. The system crosses over four agencies from the Garda to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding the national driver file to the Department of Transport to the Courts Service. Is it necessary for all those different agencies to be involved? I question the involvement of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Can the system be brought under the Department of Transport for a more streamlined operation? Can there be compatible computer systems within the courts and the Garda? This would ensure all the necessary information can be provided rapidly and efficiently on a computer-based system.
The system as it stands is simply crazy. When the penalty points were first introduced, gardaí were using ledgers and notices were sent out in the post. Information was relayed to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and back to the Department of Transport. This whole process is a nonsense in this day and age when any minor office is properly computerised. Given the advent of the Internet, can the systems be linked to allow the process to happen automatically? We cannot continue operating in the dark ages with pencils and ledgers. It must be possible to streamline the process.
There have been major problems with the enforcement of speed limits. It is an area that has been much neglected even with the introduction of the penalty points system. The limited number of gardaí are already over-stretched in dealing with the general crime problem and increasing public order problems in our communities. These extra burdens on the Garda are not helped with the need for enforcement of road traffic legislation. This problem was recognised before the previous general election when the Government promised to increase Garda numbers by 2,000. Yet it is only now being delivered. The Garda cannot cope with all the traffic legislation with which it is expected to deal. This leads to the Garda taking the soft option when under pressure to deliver numbers. Gardaí patrol main roads picking up people travelling at 33 mph in 30 mph zones when the accident records on these roads are limited. Alternatively, patrols are done on motorways which are just as safe. However, the Garda does not have the capacity to provide any serious enforcement on the back roads where most of the accidents happen. Urgent attention needs to be given to this area.
In a way the Garda cannot be blamed for not standing close to accident blackspots on back roads. Recently, RTE broadcast a radio programme on accident blackspots and the number of accidents resulting in death and serious injury. When the reporter asked the garda superintendent to be brought to see some of these blackspots, he replied he could not do so as it was too dangerous to stand near some of them. As this type of enforcement cannot be done manually, a widespread system of speed cameras to help in the dangerous areas is needed.
However, I am concerned at the outsourcing of much of this work as it will not be adequately managed. Instead, targets will be set and to meet them, the Garda will not operate in the most effective way in reducing road accidents. I hope there will be close management of the camera system and clear guidelines set down as to how they will be used. It must not become a revenue generating operation. The focus must remain on road safety and the reduction of road accidents.
Another provision in the Bill relates to the supply of vehicles to minors. I could never see any reason why the 16 year age limit was used and I believe it should have been raised to 17 years. I welcome that such a measure has been included in the Bill. It is a tribute to the campaigning work of Deputy Broughan in respect of joyriding. However, I am not satisfied the provision goes far enough. There are two outlets in the Dublin North-West constituency, and presumably there are others in the greater Dublin area, where a particular supplier provides cars to all and sundry. Anyone with €60 can buy a clapped-out banger. These illegal dealers have acquired cars that have failed the national car test. The cars are stored illegally and yet no one does anything. In recent years, major business has been generated in this area as a large number of cars fail the national car test. As the motor industry and the previous owner are not obliged to take responsibility for this, a trade has developed in clapped-out cars. While many purchasers are minors, others are over 18 years of age. As the cars have failed the national car test, they are driven illegally without tax, insurance or a licence.
This major issue of lack of enforcement is not adequately addressed in the Bill or in a wider sense by the Minister for Transport. Why does the Bill only provide for a fine? That is no deterrent to a person operating such a lucrative business, especially when there are umpteen of them. Why does the Bill not provide for a period of imprisonment? If a person makes large amounts of money selling old cars, having to pay a small fine is of no consequence. I will table an amendment to this section on Committee Stage. The Minister in his previous incarnation at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was asked several times about the issue of responsibility for end-of-life vehicles. It is not obvious what progress has been made in practice on this issue.
We have been told for years the Department would get tough on the motor industry to ensure it had a legal obligation to take back end-of-life cars which it had supplied to the market. However, there is no indication that progress has been made. Will the Minister respond to that point when he concludes the debate?
Another issue in this regard is the responsibility of the last registered owner of a vehicle. These responsibilities should be clear and technically they are, but nothing is done about it. End-of-life cars provide a source of cars which are used for illegal and dangerous purposes by young people. They buy the cars very cheaply and use them for entertainment at weekends. A group of young people get together, contribute €10 each, buy a car and drive it around until it runs out of petrol. They drive it at speed around housing estates terrifying residents and putting people's lives in danger. When the car runs out of petrol they simply set fire to it and have a bonfire on the local green or wherever. This is a regular occurrence in many council estates throughout the country but nothing is being done about it. It should be possible to trace these cars back to the last owners or suppliers, even on the grounds of waste management. Proper penalties should exist to tighten up this area.
This phenomenon also results in a significant additional charge on local authorities that have to deal with an average of one abandoned car a day, which is the case in my area of Dublin North-West. These cars have to be collected and disposed of by local authorities which is entirely unsatisfactory in that the motor industry and the last registered vehicle owner are the people who should take the responsibility. It is regrettable that so little progress has been made by the Minister in that regard.
Another provision relates to taxi licences and their revocation for certain serious offences. I fully accept that problems arose as a result of deregulation of the taxi industry. One side effect of the fact that taxi licences were so expensive prior to deregulation was that there was a certain guarantee of safety for taxi users. The numbers were smaller and the Garda had a much better fix on the situation. By and large gardaí working in the Carriage Office knew all the taxi drivers, their reputations and so on. The number of taxi licences increased dramatically following deregulation. Because the cost of licences went down we now have a situation where nearly anyone can walk in off the street and buy a taxi licence if he or she has a few thousand euro. Previously, when a taxi licence was valued at over €100,000 there was an in-built guarantee in terms of safety because if people forked out that much money they would not jeopardise their investment by attacking passengers. Accordingly, parents felt a certain security about their children coming home from town late at night in taxis. They knew that if they got a taxi they would be reasonably safe, but that is no longer the case because anybody and everybody is in the taxi industry and no controls are in place.
I agree this whole area needs to be tightened up. The courts have not assisted in this regard. We have seen examples of well-known serious criminals who have appealed decisions to the courts and been granted taxi licences. That needs to be dealt with but I am not satisfied that the manner in which it is dealt with in the Bill is the right way to go about it. I do not like the blanket approach taken to summary offences. As the legislation is drafted, a situation could arise where a person who was prosecuted for not having a television licence could lose their livelihood by having their taxi licence suspended for a year. That does not make sense. An offence like that is not a particularly serious one but it could threaten one's livelihood.
More seriously, we could have a situation where if somebody was imprisoned for seven days, for example because he or she did not have a television licence his or her taxi licence would be revoked. That is a blunt instrument. It is an over-the-top response to a particular problem which undoubtedly needs to be addressed. I do not accept the blanket approach proposed in the Bill. A more finesse approach is required and I will propose amendments to that effect on Committee Stage.
I do not know if the reason for the Minister's focus on road safety in his opening speech last night was an attempt to get headlines. The belated road safety strategy was recently published. Many other aspects of road safety are not given attention. There is a litany of problems associated with the penalty points system, some of which were highlighted by the Comptroller and Auditor General last week, but there are many others as well. Challenges to legal notices in the courts is one problem, but problems also exist with the printout from speed guns and I do not know if action has been taken in that regard. A significant number of cases are now backed up in the courts as they are being challenged. Legal challenges have also been made on intoxilyzers.
It appears there is a problem with the legal advice available in the Department. Solicitors and barristers are prepared to examine in detail prosecutions and charges brought against people. They go into the minutest detail, which they are entitled to do, and they come up with umpteen loopholes and flaws in the legislation and notices. People who are in a position to pay for the best legal advice can avoid being banned from driving. It is no longer acceptable that this is the case.
Much closer scrutiny needs to be given to this area because the legal system that underpins road traffic legislation is leaking like a sieve. Several problems have been exposed and I hope the Minister will get his legal advisers to go through this whole area for the sake of giving confidence to people in road traffic legislation. People need to believe they will pay the price if they are caught doing something illegal, whether that is to be banned from driving, get penalty points or whatever else. It is necessary to create in people's minds that if they break traffic laws they will pay the price.
There is very little confidence in the system at present. As has been shown with penalty points, if the matter is ignored, the chances are the law will never catch up with it, and one will get away with it. The more these things are exposed and publicised, the more people feel the law is an ass and what is the point. Why should they bother obeying speed limits and if they are caught why should they bother paying the fine because if they hold out, as inevitably has been shown, only 18% of people have to pay a penalty?
There is a great lack of confidence in the system at present. It should be the Minister's priority to pay attention to this area because it is not just an academic issue. It often results in mayhem on bank holiday weekends, especially where an unacceptable level of road accidents occur. The issue needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency.
The other issue on which we have received promises is the practice of people using mobile phones while in charge of a car. People driving buses and large articulated trucks go around bends or roundabouts with a mobile phone in one hand while trying to steer the vehicle with the other. Undoubtedly this is the source of many accidents. Why did the Minister not take the opportunity to include that as an offence in this Bill? His predecessor promised it over the past two years but no action has been taken. Anybody can see it is a widespread practice among drivers of all vehicles. It is extremely dangerous and is being allowed to continue.
This further undermines the notion of the rule of law on our roads. Is it possible at this point for the Minister to introduce a new section in the Bill which will outlaw the use of hand held mobile phones by drivers? He should give that serious consideration. I and other Deputies on this side of the House would facilitate the passage of a new section to the Bill. It is a major potential danger on our roads and has been completely neglected. The previous Minister issued many press statements saying he would tackle this, yet people see no action and conclude therefore that laws do not matter and one can do as one likes on the road without paying the price for that. I urge the Minister to prepare and introduce a new section to the Bill taking the opportunity afforded by this legislation. There are several other transport Bills to process but if the Minister does not deal with this issue in this legislation, it will be at least a year before any further action is taken. The Minister should give his attention to this serious source of danger on the roads.
There are two other problems which the Minister needs to address urgently, the first of which is drink driving. There are serious historical and cultural problems surrounding this but they persist because of the culture of lack of enforcement. Every weekend large carparks outside large pubs are full. At closing time, many people who are clearly over the limit leave the pubs and drive away. It is all very well to have high profile targeted campaigns but cultural change is needed too.
The second problem is the crazy situation whereby there are almost 400,000 drivers with provisional licences on the roads. They contribute significantly to the high level of road fatalities and serious accidents. Much work remains to be done which was neglected by the Minister's predecessor.
I wish to share time with Deputies McHugh and Eamon Ryan.
The content of this Bill is largely acceptable and many parts of it incorporate welcome developments in the area of road safety. I am glad to see that section 12, "provides recognition of the need for the establishment of transitional arrangements to facilitate the changeover from the imperial speed limits ... to the metric speed limits established under this Bill." I welcome the clarification at the outset of the introduction of metric speed limits in section 12(1) which outlines the mile-metric speed limit equivalents etc. This simplifies life for drivers.
The concept of outsourcing some Garda functions in the administration of the fixed charge system is not so straightforward. Part 3 through section 17 allows for "the outsourcing of certain duties currently carried out by the Gardaí to third parties by way of agreements entered into by the Minister." Will the Minister in his response please clarify his proposals in this area because there is a bad taste in people's mouths following the outsourcing of clamping? That process and the company dealing with it in Dublin were something of a disaster. We need to hear more about what the Minister intends here.
On the theme of how gardaí might best be deployed, the Minister has already publicly accepted that in areas such as the enforcement of the points system, there should be more emphasis on having gardaí patrol built-up areas and dangerous by-roads to enforce this. Despite the high number of motorists receiving points, the number of people injured on our roads continues to rise with 159 road deaths so far this year, 14 more than this time last year. Like many others, I have criticised the locations of Garda speed traps. Most fatal accidents occur on non-national roads, yet speed checks tend to take place chiefly on main roads and dual carriageways. Gardaí clearly are not patrolling the right zones. I listened recently to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform saying on the radio the speed traps were in areas of high fatalities and so on. He is telling falsehoods or he is fooling himself because in reality many of the speed checkpoints are in places where there has never been an accident, or no serious accident. It recalls the expression "shooting fish in a barrel". Unfortunately that continues. As I drove in this morning, I saw a GATSO van at the Spawell at the bottom of Templeogue. I do not recall there ever being an accident at that spot, yet the GATSO van is there regularly, catching people coming off the motorway. That does not seem to make any sense.
I hope the Minister will be proactive in redirecting Garda checks to locations known for speed-related accidents. Most accidents happen within a three-hour period in the day and we know the worst 20 hours in the week when most fatalities occur are between Thursday and Sunday. Much of that is due to the shortage of gardaí on duty which in turn is because they do not receive overtime during that period. If we are serious about tackling drink driving and speeding and so on, gardaí should operate at that time. Is public order the priority or will gardaí who patrol the streets be assigned to speed checks and, I hope, save lives?
I welcome the Minister's acknowledgement of the dangers surrounding the use of mechanically propelled vehicles by minors and often in the context where insurance criteria etc. are unclear. Section 24 outlines the criteria for penalties for supplying such vehicles to minors. Can the Minister be confident, however, that ways cannot be found to supply a child under 16 with such a vehicle despite the clear stipulation that this cannot legally happen? A purchaser could provide evidence of age for an older offspring while actually providing the minor with the vehicle. We are familiar with the practice of older people buying alcohol for minors and so on. A similar practice could arise with people buying licences for minors.
What does the Minister intend to do about the number of such mechanically driven vehicles already in the possession of children under 16 years? Will there be action to take these vehicles from them? Where will these so-called company cars be stored? For example, in Tallaght the only area where the gardaí can store them is the yard in front of the Garda station. Between 1 January and 8 October this year 411 vehicles were seized under section 41 of the Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 1994. This creates the ridiculous situation whereby at times Garda vehicles cannot be parked in their own parking spaces. That needs to be resolved as part of this legislation. While negotiations about this between the Garda national crime prevention office and South Dublin County Council continue, nothing seems to be happening.
The Bill's provision for extensions and clarification of the application of exemptions from traffic and parking restrictions for emergency vehicles is a positive move. I take that to incorporate ambulances, fire brigades and so on. On the matter of the proposed "mandatory disqualification for holding of either or both a small public service drivers or vehicle licence on conviction of certain offences", will the Minister outline what is meant here by "certain offences"? Are they incidents that occurred in vehicles while driving or in some way connected to the issue of road traffic? A number of people have contacted me on this whole area. Not only does it affect people with criminal convictions, but people arrested for politically motivated offences in the past. There needs to be some sort of clarification on this. In the recent past, republican ex-prisoners have had their teaching posts discontinued and they had to take cases to the courts to have their posts reinstated. I would like the Minister to outline what he means by these cases. Will they be retrospective? There was a commitment in the Good Friday Agreement to upskill unemployed prisoners and I would not like to think that this legislation will bar people from working in the motor industry.
Can the Minister provide clarification on the position of tractors and trailers used by county council sub-contractors? I have been contacted by people in Wexford who would have used agricultural vehicles. There genuinely seems to be confusion among sub-contractors on that.
The key to road safety is changing behaviour. We have road safety in every primary school where gardaí are assigned. At secondary level, there does not seem to be anything except for an education pack. There seems to be a road safety officer in most council areas, but it seems to be a part-time post with a €2,000 salary. If we are concerned about road safety, it needs to be an integral part of our whole education curriculum. The 17-25 age group is the dangerous group and we need to focus on it. While I welcome this Bill, there needs to be work done by the gardaí in this area to save the lives of the individuals involved as well as other drivers on the road.
This Bill is very welcome and it contains provisions which are long overdue. The spirit of the Bill is to be applauded. However, some of the detail in the Bill needs further thought and analysis. While the Bill's main purpose is to provide for the introduction of a new system of speed limits based on metric values, the most important element of the Bill is the thought that has been put into the level of those limits on roads of varying standards. It is complete folly and an example of bureaucratic decisions made without regard to reality, that the same speed limit exists on boreens as national primary roads.
It is acceptable, on the basis that the NRA has responsibility for national routes, that its approval has to be obtained for the application of general speed limits on those routes. However, it is completely unnecessary for local authorities to have to seek approval from the NRA for the application of a road works speed limit order to facilitate road works. This is a creation of a further layer of bureaucracy, which is totally unnecessary. Why can we not keep things simple? Let the professionals on the ground decide, as they have the practical experience. The decisions should be taken as close as possible to the site.
As a Deputy based in a rural constituency with experience of driving on a daily basis on county, regional and national roads, I dispute the speed limits now being proposed for regional and national roads. The 80 kph speed limit on county roads is acceptable, but such a speed limit should not apply to regional roads, and I feel that a higher limit of 95 kph would be more sensible. We have to travel over miles of regional roads to complete long distance journeys. To restrict motorists to a limit of 80 kph on those roads is not sensible, as it will only lead to frustration and frustrated motorists are a hazard. The 100 kph speed limit on national secondary routes is acceptable, but it is too restrictive on national primary routes and a limit of 110 kph is more reasonable. The 120 kph limit should apply to dual carriageways as well as motorways. If we are to undergo a national change on speed limits, we will have a complete change of signage. That will be expensive and so we need to make sure we get it right. I ask the Minister to eliminate the ludicrous provision in this Bill where the speed limits can change on the same section of roadway. That is a God send to the traffic corps as they have handy victims. If it is necessary to have a change of speed limit on the motorway, it needs to be adequately signed. Otherwise, it is not fair on motorists.
There is a requirement to give notice in national newspapers of an intention to make special speed limits. That is not good enough. As a former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Minister should recognise that in previous planning and development Acts, it was acknowledged that it was necessary to give notice in media organs closer to the site. Accordingly, there should be a requirement in all areas of this Bill, where notice is required, that such a notice be published in local and regional newspapers, as well as local radio stations covering the area in question. This is another example of the establishment being out of touch with the real Ireland. Not everyone in the real Ireland gets a daily copy of The Irish Times, the Irish Independent and the Irish Examiner. The extent of their weekly reading is often the local and Sunday newspapers. The population of Dublin 4 would have difficulty understanding that but that is the real Ireland.
I also wish to refer to the previous Act, the Road Traffic Act 2002, to which this Bill refers. That was the Act which introduced the penalty points regime. I only want to refer to the provisions of the Bill that facilitate the issue of penalty points from a date other than the date on which the offence was committed. I have knowledge of a case where a speeding offence was committed in November 2003. The person was served with a fixed charge notice and duly paid. Low and behold, the penalty points did not take effect until October 2004, 11 months after the offence was committed. The farce is that the penalty points will remain in force until almost four years after the offence. That arises because the penalty points only take effect 28 days after the date of issue of the notice. If the authorities do not get around to issuing the notice for five years after the offence, then the penalty points will not be removed until eight years after the offence was committed. If a motorist is on a level of penalty points where another offence or conviction will put him or her over the 12 penalty point threshold, then a case may arise where that person could be disqualified without being notified, for example if such a person was caught speeding on camera. If a motorist receives penalty points for the first time, there is no reason the points cannot apply from the date of the offence. Otherwise, one is at the mercy of the issuing authority, which is the Department of Transport in this case. The date on which the penalty points will take effect will depend on the efficiency of the issuing authority. There is something wrong with having to pay a fixed charge within a specific period of time. It is unfair not to set the date by which penalty points have to be issued. I urge the Minister to examine this issue and to put in place a fair regime which upholds common sense.
I will conclude by referring to young drivers who have alterations made to their cars so that they are more souped up. The alterations may involve the installation of larger wheels and tyres then those specified on the NCT certificate, souped up engines, double exhausts, steering wheels which create a more sporting image, windscreens with an increased density of tint, modified rear and side windows and oversized sun visors. I ask the Minister to consider making it an offence under this Bill for a person to make such alterations on behalf of young drivers. He could include such a provision in the section of the Bill which prohibits the sale of cars to minors. People living in built-up areas experience hell when cars with double exhausts and souped up engines pass by. Such problems are found in certain rural areas in my constituency.
A policy of zero tolerance was trumpeted by the Government more than seven years ago but we have not heard of it since. A period of zero tolerance is needed today in the area of road safety. The tragedies which occur on our roads almost daily, when people are killed or seriously injured in traffic accidents, are unacceptable. Such accidents are avoidable if road safety is considered differently by legislators and the public. It may be impossible to eliminate road deaths, but we should pursue such an objective. The latest thinking I have encountered at international conferences is that a zero tolerance approach should be adopted. That would require reductions in speed, better behaviour, certainty and the putting in place of conditions in which people know what they are doing. Such conditions should change depending on the road and the locality. Drivers need to be slowed down as they approach towns and city centres, for example.
Particular problems are found at junctions, where there are major dangers and risks. Deputy Shortall mentioned her experience with the Railway Procurement Agency at this morning's meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport. The reality is that drivers in Dublin and other Irish cities speed up as they approach junctions. Engineers provide for long cycles when sequencing traffic lights. They are concerned with getting the maximum number of cars through the city rather than thinking about road safety. Drivers know that traffic lights stay green for a long time, sometimes up to two minutes. If they arrive as the light changes, even just after it has gone red, they think they need to get through on that occasion because they might have to wait for two minutes before they can proceed through the junction. When drivers speed up to pass through red lights, they often collide with pedestrians or Luas trams.
The problems with the Luas, which were discussed at the joint committee, are just one example of how our behaviour on the roads demonstrates that we tolerate activity which leads to road deaths on a daily basis. The National Roads Authority has published statistics which prove that the vast majority of drivers breach current speed limits, for example, by passing through junctions too quickly. Successive Governments have tolerated such behaviour for far too long. Our remarkable tolerance for the slaughter on the roads is allowing it to continue, regardless of the welcome reduction in road deaths in recent times.
I am not sure whether this Bill will lead to a new zero tolerance structure. I welcome some of its provisions, but I have slight concerns when I consider whether it will speed up Ireland's drivers or slow them down. I fear that it will encourage them to speed up. I do not agree with my colleague, Deputy McHugh, about the default speed limits which are set in the Bill. I think some of the limits should be lower, where appropriate. I welcome the proposed introduction of an 80 kph speed limit, which is lower than the current limit. I acknowledge that such a limit sensibly recognises this country's different types of roads.
We can argue about the default speed limits, but my main concern in respect of this legislation relates to special speed limits. I have particular concerns about whether a 30 kph speed limit will be introduced throughout the country on a widespread basis. Having listened to the Minister's speech, I am not sure about the guidelines he intends to introduce, as he is entitled to do under the legislation, in respect of the 30 kph limit. Perhaps he will respond to my concerns at the end of the debate. Does the Minister agree that a 30 kph limit is appropriate in city centre streets such as O'Connell Street and Suffolk Street in Dublin, Patrick Street in Cork and the streets around Eyre Square in Galway? I certainly do. I cannot understand why cars are allowed to drive along such streets, where there are many pedestrians, at 30 mph or 40 mph. It should not be allowed because it is reckless and lethal.
I would like the Minister to outline the type of guidelines he thinks are needed for the regulation of 30 kph speed limits. I think 30 kph should be set as a default speed limit for certain urban areas, such as city centres. There should be a default speed limit of 30 kph throughout Dublin city centre and in most other city centres. I appreciate that there may be legal difficulties in wording the regulations. I have a real concern that the tone of the legislation is that the 30 kph limit cannot be touched because it would be dangerous to do so without regular ministerial guidelines. It is the only special limit that is proposed to be retained as a reserved function. It is as if it would be incredibly risky and dangerous to allow others to be involved. I am willing to accept that members of local authorities will understand the reasons for the proposal, but the Minister's speech did not give me a sense of his views in that regard. It has been reported that the previous Minister said he would introduce a 30 kph speed limit only in areas where traffic management measures such as ramps are in place or close to certain schools. That does not make sense to me. We should give local authorities much wider powers to introduce such limits.
The advantages of a 30 kph speed limit are clear when one examines the evidence from other countries. When a 20 mph speed limit was introduced in England in 1991, average speed limits in the relevant zones decreased by 9 mph, the number of crashes decreased by 60% and the number of crashes involving children decreased by 67%. Other speed provisions were put in place in the areas in question. Many studies have indicated that the number of casualties decreased by 56% even when 20 mph speed limits were introduced without ramps. The number of deaths decreased by 90% in such areas. We cannot ignore a 90% reduction in deaths. Given that we have seen them work in every other country in Europe, why is Ireland, of all countries, scared of 30 kph limits and reluctant to introduce them? I would like the Minister to indicate clearly his opinions on the success of the introduction of such limits.
A 30 kph limit should be introduced in most city centres in this country. I do not see why a car should travel at more than 30 mph in the College Green area of Dublin. The Minister is familiar with the statistics. If one is hit by a car which is travelling at 30 kph, one has a 20% chance of being killed. If one is hit by a car which is travelling at 40 mph — I do not know the equivalent speed in kph — one has an 80% chance of being killed. The former Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, equated being hit by a car travelling at 40 mph to being dropped off the third floor of a building. We cannot allow cars to travel at 30 mph or 40 mph in the centre of our towns and cities, areas in which children are playing on the streets. We need to reduce substantially the average speed in such areas. I do not have a sense that such a limit will be imposed under the terms of the section of the Bill that deals with this matter.
I would like to speak about the special speed limits. I am concerned by the Bill's proposal to impose a 120 kph speed limit on dual carraigeways. If widely applied, that would lead to exactly the type of confusion of which Deputy McHugh spoke. If we have a speed for motorways, let us restrict it to them. If we apply it to dual carriageways, we will undoubtedly have a situation where people driving on long sections of road will not differentiate which type they are on, maintaining their speed. On those sections there are junctions and cars crossing. Someone doing 120 kph is not able to react to a tractor or anyone else pulling out. I have to ask the Minister why that provision to introduce a limit of 120 kph for dual carriageways is in the Bill when the main argument always made for motorways is that they create safer and more certain road conditions. If legislated as initiated and if that special limit is widely applied, the Bill is a return to the same old fudge, allowing people to put their feet down, since they are only 5 kph over the limit. That is inappropriate.
One of the reasons that we have had reductions in accidents in recent years is that all the motorways we are building — we are building a great many — lead to slightly safer conditions since there is no one else on the road. However, in England, though they have a remarkably good road safety record with outwardly impressive statistics, people do not walk anymore. They do not allow their children out on the road or cycle because it is dangerous. One must be careful with statistics. If we lean on statistics to reduce the accident figures, something that we must do, but on the basis that everyone is in their cars and no one ever walks or cycles, with children driven around, we may be missing the other statistics concerning children dying or getting early onset of diabetes. They are becoming obese and not learning how to explore their environment and neighbourhood. We must be very wary about the use of statistics and how we argue road safety.
Road safety should start with the question of how one can walk down a road and not have to clutch one's three year old son constantly for fear that he will run out and be knocked down. That is the daily experience of the vast majority of people with young children — absolute fear. We should start by returning to zero tolerance and how we can make roads safe for those people. In certain instances on motorways we will be able to allow motorists to drive at a certain speed and set the traffic agenda. However, any place where there are pedestrians, including on my street and everyone else's, we should return to what I had as a child, one of the best environments to grow up in, with the ability to play on one's street. One learns to become streetwise and fit, and to interact with one's neighbourhood and environment. Where there are such environments, we should first and foremost ensure that children are safe on the road and we should set the speed limit accordingly. I get no sense of that here.
It is remarkable the Minister cites examples that his predecessor gave of the need to increase the speed limits, the ones that the SIMI and the AA sent to local authorities. It seems the former sets transport policy in this country. In Braemor Road in my constituency, a residential road, it was totally inappropriate to change the speed limit from 30 mph to 40 mph. The Minister backed the SIMI proposal, which was rightly turned down by the county council. That is an indication of where the Government's priorities lie, with speed and not with the people on the road.
That is not fair.
I see nothing in this legislation that changes that. There are certain points, but the jury is out. I particularly wanted to hear in the debate how widespread will be the special limits. That will allow us to judge whether this legislation is about speeding up the country or slowing it down and making it safer.
The Government has a tremendous record of improving road safety——
——and building up a great network of roads.
I congratulate my constituency colleague, Deputy Callely, on his appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Transport. He has a national brief and I look forward to working closely with him on several transport issues in the Dublin North-Central constituency.
The Bill's primary purpose is to provide for the introduction of a new system of speed limits based on metric values. Those values must be in place by 20 January 2005. The Bill also provides for the adoption of changes to the administration of the fixed-charge system for traffic offences, including the outsourcing of certain Garda functions relating to it. The Bill introduces a new offence relating to the supply of mechanically propelled vehicles to minors. It extends and clarifies the application of exemptions from traffic and parking restrictions for emergency vehicles. It provides for other miscellaneous changes to the Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 2003 and for certain technical amendments to the provisions in the Taxi Regulation Act 2003. It is therefore a significant Bill.
As I said, it provides for a changeover from imperial speed limits to metric ones. There is no real objection to that. People accept the inevitability of metric speed limits. In the short term, there will be inconvenience for motorists in particular, but I am quite sure that after a short period people will adjust to the new regime. It begs a question regarding the possible introduction of a further measure, namely, whether there are plans to change the law on driving on the left of the road. There are very few countries in the world where drivers are obliged to drive on the left and we are one. However, I see no realistic possibility of ever introducing conformity across the world in that area. From the point of view of road safety, it would be impossible. People will adjust to the new metric speed limits quickly. The changeover to the euro provides an example. Everyone was very surprised with just how quickly Irish people came to terms with the new regime and adjusted to the new monetary system. The changeover will be effective and efficient.
The Bill provides for new speed limits as follows: 120 kph on motorways; 100 kph on national roads, including primary and secondary roads; 80 kph on rural, regional and local roads; and 50 kph in built-up areas. I welcome the provisions in the Bill which give powers to local authority. In principle, any Bill that gives more powers to them should be welcomed. Democratically elected councils are the right bodies to set the law in many such areas relevant to local conditions. The local authorities are being given power to increase or decrease significantly the speed limit on selected dual carriageways. The councils will also have the power to reduce speed limits, particularly around schools, and to introduce temporary speed limits. Those provisions introduce the flexibility that local authorities need. There is obviously a desire on their part for such powers, and I am delighted that they are being provided for in this Bill.
The Bill allows for the introduction of a metrication changeover board, which will plan and oversee the implementation of the changeover from imperial to metric speed limits by the deadline of 20 January 2005. I am quite sure that the new board will put in place an imaginative plan to bring about this changeover.
They had better do it soon.
I hope that the board will be imaginative. This Bill needs a speedy passage through both Houses so that the board can set about the task of introducing its plan for an effective and efficient changeover.
It is obvious that motor dealers are already anticipating the change. Cars currently being sold show metric speed more prominently on indicator dials than the imperial figures. It is clear that some planning has taken place regarding the changeover. People will need information on the conversion figures. A figure of 30 mph equates to 48 kilometres per hour, 40 mph is 64 kph, 50 mph is 80 kph, 60 mph is 96 kph and 70 mph is 112 kph. Garages, motor dealers and motor insurance companies have a great opportunity to prepare user-friendly material on these conversion figures, which can be placed in cars. I am thinking of tax disc holders and various stickers, leaflets and so on. Even in terms of advertising, motor dealers, insurance companies and others would need to move quite quickly. It would be of great help to motorists.
I suggest to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and to the Garda Commissioner that there must be some flexibility for the first week or so following the changeover. Motorists will take a little time to get used to the new speed limit displays in kilometres per hour and adjust their driving accordingly. In the first week, reasonable flexibility will be required with regard to the implementation of the laws on speeding. I am sure that a practical and pragmatic approach can be adopted. People do not like change and will take a little time to get used to the new set-up.
In the run-up to the European and local elections and in their aftermath, there was a great deal of talk about the so-called nanny state. Some people came to believe that there is over-regulation of people's personal freedoms, especially in the matter of road safety. People complained about the possibility of penalty points being extended to other offences and the suggestions that higher standards were being sought since 15 September 2003 with regard to the national car test. People objected to the idea of introducing random breath testing, to suggestions that the permitted alcohol level for drivers would be reduced and to the notion that new legislation would restrict the use of mobile phones by drivers of mechanically propelled vehicles.
Like it or not, there are people who do not want any more regulation in this area. As legislators we must therefore strike a balance. There is no doubt that road safety, to which the Minister last night devoted much of his speech, is of paramount importance. I have no doubt that anyone who has been affected by road accidents or experienced the death of a loved one will be adamant that all these new laws should be introduced. I suggest that for the moment we have gone far enough. We have sufficient laws on the Statute Book but we need to enforce them. Let us monitor the effectiveness of the existing laws and enforce them. If necessary, we can in time extend the provisions on road safety.
I listened to contributions from the Green Party and the Labour Party, whose members called for more laws. We have heard of what is called the joyless agenda of the nanny state. Those parties will sit well in Government if they ever get that far. We need to be pragmatic.
The Deputy should consider who is foisting a nanny state on us before casting aspersions on this side of the House.
If the Deputy thinks the current state of affairs is bad, she should listen to the contributions from that side of the House. The new laws are not being proposed by Fine Gael and certainly not by the Deputy. Let us enforce our existing laws.
What about driving on the right-hand side of the road?
That is not a possibility or a prospect. The Department of Transport has produced a document entitled Road Safety Strategy 2004 — 2006. This follows on documents produced since 1998. Progress has been made. This strategy refers to legislation for full random breath testing, private operation of speed cameras, the revision of speed limits, the need for a legal basis on which to control mobile phones, establishing a driving testing and standards authority, computerisation of the penalty points system and outsourcing of the collection of fixed fines. There are many suggestions and much food for thought. Between the various strategies introduced since the late 1990s, much progress has been made, yet more can be done.
All accept that penalty points have been successful. Motorists altered their driving behaviour as a result of their introduction. Problems remain which have been well articulated in this House. Gardaí are not enforcing speed limits. Every day I witness reckless driving on the streets of Dublin. Motorists initially obeyed the law but once they came to believe the laws were not being enforced, they reverted back to their bad driving habits. That issue needs to be examined carefully. Many speakers dealt with the administration of the penalty points system during this debate and others. That administration leaves a lot to be desired. The issue of computerisation is involved. I welcome that steps are being taken to deal with the administrative problems.
The Bill provides for the outsourcing of certain administrative functions of the Garda, which is welcome. The dogs in the street have been calling for it for many years and I am glad to see it introduced in this Bill in the context of road safety and driving laws. The Garda will have more time and resources to deal with other more important issues. I welcome the fact the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has reiterated his commitment to recruiting 2,000 additional gardaí during the lifetime of the Government. Steps have already been taken to honour this commitment.
We have heard that before.
The recruitment of these additional gardaí will be of major assistance in respect of road safety and the enforcement of road traffic laws.
The question remains, however, about the condition of our roads. Motorists can only be asked to do so much. The Government must do a great deal more. We cannot continually blame motorists for all of the problems on our roads. The Minister outlined what has been done in connection with the road building programme. Better roads will play a major role in bringing about greater road safety. I welcome the fact that the National Roads Authority has introduced specific accident reduction measures at over 400 locations on the national road network. The Government has direct responsibility for issues such as improving accident blackspots and the condition of our roads.
There is also the issue of faded road markings, a matter of which I am particularly conscious in my constituency. Local authorities are not doing enough to renew faded road markings and their budgets are not adequate in this regard. In many cases, road markings are simply allowed to fade away and are not replaced. The absence of such road markings must also be a cause of accidents.
I referred earlier to complaints and the introduction of higher standards since 15 September 2003. We should leave the NCT as it stands at present, monitor its operation and ensure that vehicles comply with the required standards. There is no need to raise those standards at this point.
Joyriding is a major issue for people on the northern fringe of Dublin city. The Bill introduces a new offence relating to the supply of mechanically propelled vehicles to minors. For many years the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been stating further legislation is not required to allow the Garda deal with the problem of joyriding. I welcome the fact, however, that the Minister for Transport is introducing new legislation to meet a perceived need. The Garda Síochána has a number of strategies in place locally to deal with the problem of so-called joyriding. Various local initiatives have also been introduced in this regard, such as the Priorswood task force on joyriding. Priorswood is in Dublin 17 and the people on the task force have come together to deal with a major problem which affects their daily lives. The task force has been very effective and has been provided with financial support by the probation and welfare service and the local authority in the area. That initiative is a particular example of how joyriding can be dealt with.
From time to time the media highlight joyriding and it becomes a matter for national debate. However, the problem is present on a continual basis and we need to tackle it. I commend the Priorswood task force on joyriding on its initiative. It is a good pilot scheme and other communities could follow Priorswood's example by putting similar schemes in place.
The Bill forms part of the solution to road traffic problems. When it is enacted, the effectiveness of its provisions will be monitored and if other laws are called for, we should consider introducing them. I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important legislation which I support in principle. However, there is a number of issues about which I am extremely concerned.
The Minister referred to the efforts made in recent years to improve road safety. I have lost neighbours and close family friends who were killed on the roads and I am of the opinion that we must do everything possible to minimise the number of deaths caused by road accidents. We must also minimise the serious cost to the nation of the injuries that occur as a result of such accidents. So many people carry the injuries they suffered in road accidents to their graves. While we have no difficulty calculating the number of deaths that occur, we often do not realise the huge number of people who carry such injuries throughout their lives.
The policy focus during the past six years has been aimed at minimising accidents etc. I wish to raise one issue which may not be relevant to the Bill but which must be highlighted because it is continually raised by young drivers, namely the difficulties people experience in obtaining driving tests, which leads to them driving on provisional licences. The Government could take fairly immediate action in respect of this matter at quite a low cost. All that needs to be done is to employ additional driving testers in order that people can sit their driving tests on time. This would improve the quality of drivers on our roads.
Action must be taken in respect of this and to that end, even though Fine Gael is often accused of being only negative, Deputies Coveney and Naughten brought forward a progressive proposal on the issue of driving tests. The proposal in question suggests that young drivers could learn to drive through the secondary school system, undergo further instruction when they leave school and finally sit their driving tests. As a result of completing this process and on obtaining a full licence, they would benefit by obtaining reduced insurance premia. If we are serious about trying to minimise the number of road deaths, we must improve the quality of those driving on our roads. We can only do so by making better use of the facilities available in secondary schools and driving schools. We must also ensure that driving instructors operate to the highest standards and that they are not themselves driving on provisional licences.
The Bill is designed, in the main, to bring about the changeover to the metric system. I am not sure why we are debating it at all. I contacted a number of local authorities and discovered that all the relevant signage is already in place. It is questionable as to whether we can make any real changes to the legislation on Second, Committee or Report Stages because the signs are already in place and the decisions have already been made. The relevance of the House is being undermined and questions arise as to whether we are being listened to by Ministers or others when we debate legislation of this nature.
The Bill also provides for changes to the administration of the system of fixed charges and the outsourcing of certain Garda functions in respect of that system. I have stated on many occasions that gardaí are obliged to do jobs which are not necessary. Gardaí are involved in administration work when it is much more important for them to be visible on our streets, regardless of whether it be performing traffic duties during the day or ensuring that social order is maintained at night.
Regarding the selling of cars to minors, this problem is not confined to Dublin. Recently in my constituency we witnessed the sad tragedy of a widow who lost her 16-year old son who was killed while driving his car. If this Bill had been in place, he would not have been in a position to buy the car. I accept that the legislation will not stop minors stealing cars but it will prevent them from purchasing them. Perhaps the Minister will indicate why the age of 16 and not 17 years was chosen as the cut-off point in respect of this matter.
As stated earlier, the signs relating to the changeover to the metric system are already in place and I do not know, therefore, whether our debate on the legislation is relevant. Deputy Haughey stated the Bill does not provide for us to change to driving on the right hand side of the road. I live near the Border and there are enough differences between the North and South without creating another one. We often hear that different political parties are leaning towards an all-Ireland structure. However, workable structures need to be introduced which can be administered both North and South. Right hand driving can only be introduced if agreement is reached between the Republic, Northern Ireland and, possibly, our neighbouring island. Otherwise it would not make sense. I am concerned about the effort that has been made to achieve an all-Ireland focus on this issue. Two different systems, one of which is being amended, will operate on either side of the Border and that will be significant.
While the current political climate in Northern Ireland is difficult, when a settlement is reached among the parties there, an all-out effort must be made to introduce common driving laws throughout the island. It is ludicrous that Northern drivers think that the minute they cross the Border, they can do whatever they like. I am not sure what is the legal position in this regard. However, I have used the M1 to travel to Dublin on a regular basis since it was opened. I may drive at 72 or 73 mph, which exceeds the maximum speed limit, but 90% of the cars that pass me are registered in Northern Ireland. I do not condemn them but the law is lax in this regard. A smoking ban has been introduced in the Republic but not in Northern Ireland. Let us not draw up other similar laws without consultation with the Northern Ireland authorities to minimise rather than maximise the divisions on this island.
I welcome the attempts at reductions in specific types of accidents. Five members of a family were killed in a car accident at a crossroads and accident blackspot one and a half miles from my home. I give credit to the Minister for Transport because he provided the money to build a roundabout at this crossroads, known as Swann's Cross, when he was Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This demonstrates what can be done if the money is available. An application has been made for funds for a road project at a minor junction called Killycraggy Cross, which is not far from Swann's Cross. A sum of €100,000 is needed to alleviate a serious problem at this junction and if something is not done, there will be fatalities.
The Deputy will have to contact the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
I appreciate that and I have done so. I give credit where it is due and the Minister for Transport provided the money for the project at Swann's Cross when he was in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I also welcome the M1 and Carrickmacross bypass projects as they have led to improved road safety.
The Bill's purpose is to introduce a metric system of speed limits. Common sense has been applied to speed limits on roads such as the M1 where the limit has been increased to 120 kph. Drivers are travelling at higher speeds than that currently but, while I may be the first caught, I hope the new speed limit will be imposed.
I do not have a major problem with the imposition of a speed limit of 60 mph or 100 kph on national primary and secondary roads, although I do not accept the argument that the limit should be increased to 70 mph or 110 kph. The speed limit of 100 kph is reasonable on such roads. However, I have a major problem with the imposition of a speed limit of 48 mph or 80 kph on regional roads. I make no apology for being parochial. My constituency does not have the benefit of train services and my constituents depend on road transport. It is ludicrous to suggest that vehicles travelling between Cavan town and Monaghan town, which for the past year have had to travel through Cootehill, can only do 48 mph under the legislation while a vehicle travelling on the national primary road between Cavan and Monaghan via Clones can do 60 mph. It is lunacy when one considers the quality of the two roads.
I will back good laws but if we introduce ludicrous laws which are unreasonable and unworkable, we make the House look an ass and stupid. Ballybay is six miles from my home. No national primary or secondary road serves the town. The businesses in the town will be impeded by the introduction of a speed limit of 48 mph, which is unworkable. If speed limits had been imposed up to now, I might have had less of a problem with the new speed limit. Speed cameras were mounted on national primary routes and in 30 mph zones outside towns primarily but they were rarely found on regional roads. Towns such as Ballybay, Cootehill, Ballyjamesduff and Bailieborough in my constituency are not served by national primary or secondary roads. The same scenario pertains in many other towns in rural Ireland. County Louth has a good scattering of national primary and secondary roads and, therefore, the new speed limits are not a major problem for people there but the new speed limit is a serious concern in my constituency. I have spoken to engineers, gardaí and others about this and a number of them agree with me. I want to back laws that will save lives but I do not want to back laws that will cause chaos, frustration and road rage and make businesses unviable because traffic is further delayed in different areas.
Under the legislation, local authorities have the right to introduce their own by-laws. However, if one local authority imposes the 80 kph speed limit while another imposes a 90 kph limit, it will be illogical. Will the Minister consider introducing a 90 kph limit on the principal regional roads?
The introduction of penalty points had an impact when they were introduced but the administration of the system has been difficult. When one reads the documentation that has been released regarding the system, one must question the way in which it is administered. The Garda needs support and I welcome the measure in the Bill which provides support for it in producing summons and so on, but I must question that in the year 2004 there is not a properly functioning computerised system in place. Banks are frequently condemned for making profits but they computerised their systems even though they deal with a large number of clients. When the country changed over to the metric system, it happened with a bang and the banks were able to deal with that, yet many years later the Garda systems are not computerised. A person issued with a speeding fine needs to be informed as quickly as possible. I am aware of some illogical situations which must be changed where people have gone to the end of the line before receiving information about their first offence. Speed limits must make common sense in the case of regional and local roads. On the road from Cavan to Monaghan via Cootehill there are several different speed limits. In some areas there are limits of 30 mph and others 40 mph. I want to ensure that logic will prevail across the board.
The penalty points system was originally successful but it needs to be re-examined. The Garda Síochána should be more visible on the job. A Garda van placed in a quiet place is a way of making money out of the system, but I do not believe this system was put in place to make money, it was established to control traffic speeds and save lives. The best method of saving lives is to have gardaí in their cars and visible. I hope that the 2,000 extra gardaí we will get next week and the gardaí who will be more available will be visible on the roads.
The issue of drink driving is as important as the speeding issue. I am not a teetotaller but I have no time for someone getting behind the wheel of a car who is not fit to stand let alone drive. There are still too many people behaving like that. Many accidents occur in the early hours of the morning for no other reason than people have taken too much alcohol. The issue of drink driving must be dealt with and monitored as soon as possible.
I ask the Minister of State for information on the number of active speed cameras on the roads. How many active speed cameras are available to the Garda? In which parts of the country are they used? I honestly believe that they are only used in the north east, and that is completely unfair. If the system is legal and workable, cameras should be in use throughout the country in the most active way to save lives. If speed cameras are a useful tool, it is vital they are used under Garda control and not handed over to another body such as the clampers in Dublin. They should not be used just for the sake of making money but to minimise speed.
I welcome this Bill but I ask that the issue of workable speed limits on regional roads be seriously examined. I appreciate that the signposts are ready and waiting in the county council yards but if a speed limit of 90 kph or 100 kph is placed on a busy regional road, the public will welcome logic and common sense.
I will provide information on speed cameras for the Deputy.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Fiona O'Malley.
All road traffic legislation should have road safety as its guiding principle. A hierarchy of safety starting with pedestrians and working up towards cyclists, motorcyclists, child passengers in cars and drivers should be reflected in all road traffic legislation and its enforcement, but that is not always the case.
In my constituency of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, a regular speed camera is positioned under the bypass at UCD, Montrose. That road has a perfectly good cycle lane which is separate from the main carriageway. It has a 40 mph speed limit where there are no residences in the area and therefore no vulnerable road users. Yet this is the one place where speed enforcement is guaranteed. In my experience, one will never find speed enforcement outside schools where there is cycling traffic or in housing estates where children are playing. This is a perverse attitude in terms of the hierarchy of safety and road traffic law and it is unfortunate. This may not be a matter to be dealt with in this Bill but it is worth stating that road safety should be the key principle and the interests of the most vulnerable should be at the forefront of all thinking.
The Bill has its origins in EU law which will explain some of the points raised by Deputy Crawford. The EU aspiration was for proper co-ordination of laws across all member states. Northern Ireland has had its own penalty points system since 1997 but as yet it is not possible to track an offender who has picked up penalty points in one member state unless such a person applies for a licence or picks up penalty points in this State. That person could have picked up ten penalty points, for instance, and very little can be done about it. The natural consequence of European Union legislation could be a convention for the mutual recognition and enforcement of these types of offences, if such a convention is not already in place.
The local authority in my constituency takes many measures to fund traffic calming, but that income has decreased in recent times. If local authorities are to be given responsibility for speed limits, they should also be provided with funding for traffic calming measures. A good example is Barnhill Road, Dalkey, where a very dangerous situation has existed for many years. There is no footpath and there is a very dangerous corner. Deputies of all parties have been trying to persuade the local authority to introduce some traffic calming there but nothing has been done. While this Bill has the best of intentions, funding must be provided so that its intentions are matched by action on the ground.
The Department of Transport has issued a road safety strategy for 2004-05. From what I have read of it that is an excellent document but without proper funding the local authorities cannot deliver on the ground.