Road Traffic Bill 2004: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I have never had the privilege of addressing such a full Chamber but it is fading away quickly. I addressed my previous comments to general aspects of the Bill and now want to refer to more specific aspects.

Section 9 deals with speed limits. One change I propose concerns the duty to consult other bodies. There is a duty to consult the Garda and the town council, if there is one. I suggest that an amendment be proposed to ensure there is a duty to consult neighbouring county councils or local authorities generally. We have had a problem in my county council area, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, with roads contiguous to Dublin City Council areas where speed limits change at the local authority border. This makes no sense. The problem would be obviated if local authorities were obliged to consult neighbouring authorities when setting speed limits.

Section 9(6) deals with different speed limits on the same road and carriageway at different times. This has something to do with quality bus corridors. The local authorities in my area, in which there are many quality bus corridors, want to be able to create a lower speed limit in the bus corridor to the one that applies on the main part of the carriageway. For example, on the N11 this would mean that cars could drive at the normal 60 kph on the carriageway while traffic in the quality bus corridor would observe a 50 kph limit. This would make sense because the bus corridor is generally adjacent to a cycle lane or pathway used by pedestrians. It would be of benefit to drive at a slower speed. This subsection is, therefore, welcome.

On the issue of speed limits, I do not want to sound like a flat-earther, but we licence cars that can travel faster than 120 km per hour. If it will always be illegal to travel faster than 120 km per hour when this Bill becomes law, is it right to licence vehicles that can go faster? Perhaps this is a matter that could be dealt with in the future. It cannot be dealt with in this Bill. However, some cars being sold today are capable of travelling at enormous speeds. It is incredible, pointless and will always be illegal to travel at such speeds. Perhaps the introduction of some kind of damper could be considered at a later stage. That being said, those speeds are not always the most dangerous. A speed limit of 50 miles per hour in a built-up area can be equally lethal.

Section 10 deals with roadworks. I am pleased with this section because there is a problem on the N11 where there is a 30 miles per hour speed limit. The N11 is a dual carriageway running from Dublin to Wexford. There is a 30 miles per hour speed limit because the NRA and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council cannot agree on a speed limit. Therefore, the 30 miles per hour speed limit remains for no good reason. I have it on anecdotal authority only that residents are worried that gardaí are sitting in ambush and giving motorists penalty points for going faster than 30 miles per hour on a dual carriageway. That is not sensible. Section 10 allows the local authority to revoke the speed limit. I am glad this is being done because it is not right that it should take so long or that it should have to go through a public consultation process or anything of that order.

There are other problems that need to be dealt with. One relates to road maintenance. Again, I refer to a local problem. Seapoint Road, which becomes Crofton Road, and Monkstown Road are parallel roads that feed into Dún Laoghaire. There are roadworks on both roads. It is not rocket science to work out this should not happen. As a result, the roadworks at Crofton Road are being carried out at night and the residents are very annoyed about it. Surely some legislative provision could be introduced to ensure road closures do not occur at the same on roads that feed into the same area. It does not make sense. When there is so little space and so much traffic it seems a very bad decision. I am aware it is a management decision and not affected by the proposals we are discussing.

I welcome the Bill as the latest legislation in a sequence which will support the road safety strategy. While the main content is to facilitate the introduction of metric speed limits, the Bill offers an opportunity to reflect on road use and practice. There are four areas with which I wish to deal, namely, signage, the administration of the penalty points system, resourcing and a few additional measures that may enhance the Bill if the Minister would consider them.

On the first point, consistency and clarity should be the hallmarks of any signage system. As matters stand, only an Irish person could understand our signage system with its unique blend of the metric and the imperial. It is hoped this confusion will be addressed. However, it will be some time before all speed limit signs throughout the country are replaced. The directional signs also need to be dealt with.

Section 12 of the Bill deals with the transitional arrangements for the introduction of metric speed limits. The Minister stated the process of metrication would be completed by 20 January next year. During the transitional phase, signs which will have some relevance in this period will indicate speeds of 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 100 and 120 kilometres or miles per hour. This will be very difficult for the hard-pressed motorist to comprehend. The opportunities for confusion are legion. It will not be clear to the driver whether the signs refer to kilometres or miles per hour.

Speed limits also need to be consistent and reasonable. Measures within the Bill to remove the general speed limit and apply a limit that relates to the standard of the road are to be commended. Speed limits need to be reasonable and appropriate in order that most drivers will observe them. I am particularly conscious of the ring road outside Galway where there is a 30 miles per hour speed limit. It is crazy because the road is of a high standard and the 30 miles per hour speed limit causes great annoyance and frustration. It is a road where there will now be a reasonable speed limit. Having speed limits such as some of the ones we have at present does no good in terms of compliance.

Section 17 of the Bill is welcome. It allows for the outsourcing of the administration of the penalty points system to persons other than the Garda Síochána. This will free up valuable Garda time from administrative duties in order that gardaí may be deployed on duties requiring their skills.

The penalty points system has had the potential to change driving behaviour. The extent of this is evidenced by the figures relating to accident fatalities and hospital admissions for spinal cord injuries which plummeted in the period after the introduction of the system. There were 84 fatalities in the first four months under the penalty points system, compared to a previous monthly average of 39. The number of admissions for spinal cord injuries was down 50% in this period. Regrettably, this good start has not been sustained. We must ask why. Enforcement is probably at the heart of it. The level of compliance was high following the introduction of the penalty points system because most of us perceived that detection and prosecution were a real and present possibility. If properly resourced with both technology and a dedicated traffic corps, the road safety strategy will be able to achieve its target of reducing fatality levels from a current average of 32 per month to 25.

Additional measures which the Minister may like to consider including in the Bill are flashing amber lights permitting drivers to turn left on a red light. This measure is in operation in America and could very easily be introduced here. It would facilitate a freer flow of traffic. I am glad the Minister is here. I suggest that he take a detour on his journey home and, at the Wyattville junction, turn into the Wyattville Park area where he will find out what the residents have to put up with. In a short distance there is a sequence of five traffic lights which are not in sequence with each other. If one turns into Wyattville Drive and Wyattville Park, in trying to get out again one is stuck for a considerable period of time at a red light because there are five lights that need to be considered. This causes ferocious frustration. If there was a flashing amber light to permit left turns, it would facilitate the free movement of traffic. The example in Wyattville is a good one and I am sure there are many more throughout the country where the introduction of such a system might be advantageous.

Another measure I would like to see introduced, to which my constituency colleague also referred, is the outlawing of 24 hour bus lanes. I cannot conceive of any necessity to have bus lanes freed up on a 24 hour basis. On the Minister's journey home via the N11 he will be able to observe the difficulties for himself. The Stillorgan quality bus corridor has been a magnificent success and its extension is to be welcomed. Its one shortcoming is that, although the regulations permit one to use the bus lane from 7 p.m. as far as Foxrock Church which is perfectly adequate after the rush hour when sometimes there is still a lot of traffic on the road, if one proceeds beyond the junction at Foxrock Church, one is then subject to a 24 hour bus lane. If we ask motorists to comply with the regulations, we must have an understanding of consistency. However, the Minister should not get the notion that we are looking for a 24 hour bus lane on the rest of the N11, we are not. I believe he is a practical man who understands it is the taxpayers, through motor tax and many other means, who fund the roads and are entitled to use them. The question of a 24 hour bus lane should be extinguished.

I believe it is the case that roads with three lanes have 24 hour bus lanes and those with two lanes have 12 hour bus lanes. However, I take the Deputy's point.

I believe the road has now been widened sufficiently to accommodate three lanes. This is an issue the Minister might consider as it is a new area.

My colleague, Deputy Andrews, mentioned the conditions of roads and the commitment which is placed on local authorities in this regard. We are always focusing our attention on how the behaviour of motorists can be changed. Standards must be imposed but the condition of the infrastructure is also an important issue. Of particular concern in this regard are areas where roadworks are taking place and the importance of maintenance in terms of keeping cones and signage clear and illuminated. The standards in keeping these traffic calming measures tidy and highly visible are frequently questionable. An example is that of Moate in the midlands where bollards that are in place are frequently filthy. It is an agricultural area so one should expect agricultural traffic. This traffic produces a significant amount of dirt, however, and numerous people have had accidents there by banging into or crossing over the bollards and other traffic calming measures.

Many constituents have spoken to me about the need for a standardisation of ramps. There are ramps of different standards throughout the country and in different areas within County Dublin. This matter may not suitably be included in the provisions of this Bill, but some type of regulation is required. It would be easier for the local authorities if they had guidance in terms of a minimum requirement, for example. The ramps in one area in my constituency have small glides which allow cars to gently glide over the ramps. Ramps in other areas, however, impact severely on the bottom of cars and I am sure the council is facing many claims as a result of this.

I welcome the Bill as one element of the measures which the Minister will bring forward in terms of the road strategy Bill. We must be more determined with regard to the budgeting for the road strategy Bill and in ensuring the recognition on the part of the Department of Finance in particular that securing adequate resources for the implementation of the strategy and the imposition of standards, especially in terms of detection and the introduction of technology for the penalty points system, is in all our interests. There will be a saving with regard to health care. The statistics speak for themselves in terms of that very good period at the introduction of the penalty points system and the diminished number of spinal cord injuries. The Department of Finance must recognise its responsibility in making other Departments recognise that they should provide some of the budget for the road strategy and that it is not just a matter for the Department of Transport. The Department of Health and Children and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform have particular requirements in this area. If the road strategy is properly resourced and implemented, lower fatality figures can be achieved.

There is a general consensus among most of the Deputies to whom I have spoken that the provisions of the Bill are necessary. Whether it goes far enough is another question. Irrespective of the region in which one lives, whether built-up urban areas or sparsely populated rural areas, the issue of speeding, drunken driving and the entire driving culture is on everybody's lips.

Regarding speed limits, it is the correct approach to convert to metric. I have no difficulty with the Bill's proposal regarding the maximum limit, which is fair and reasonable. Something the Minister should be careful about, however, is the issue of dovetailing the speed limit to the standard of the road. This is a very important issue. I am not sure whether it is the Minister's Department, the NRA or the local authorities which will have the final say in this matter. Deputy Andrews mentioned the importance of consistency across county boundaries. It would not do, for example, that when one comes to the county boundary at Mount Talbot between counties Galway and Roscommon, that there should be two different speed limits within a distance of five yards. This should never happen at any county boundaries.

I congratulate the Minister and his predecessor on another matter which I have always believed was important to implement. This is to put some type of speed limit on the smaller roads, whether they be called county roads or regional roads. There is a unique situation in this country whereby one can travel at 50, 60 or 70 mph on certain roads but can travel legally at 100 mph on some other roads. There was nothing to stop one travelling at such a speed because those roads have never been checked as such. The major difficulty with imposing a speed limit on roads of this description is that the resources must be there to police that limit. This is the most significant trouble I have observed over the years regarding this issue. Irrespective of which parties are in Government, there must be a much greater degree of policing for this strategy to work. I do not know how this will be handled, whether through a beefed-up traffic corps or a much greater use of speed cameras.

I hope that while all this is in train there will be a culture change whereby people will simply no longer want to drive in a reckless fashion. As several of my colleagues observed, every time a new model of car is introduced to the market, it seems the greatest selling point is its capacity to go from zero to 70, 80 or 100 mph in a few seconds. This is apparently what appeals to the purchasing public. I am not sure if anything can be done about this, be it in terms of legislation or good sense, because it is a matter of technology improving from one year to the next. It is difficult for a driver who has shelled out €50,000 or €60,000 for a new car which could perform a lap of honour around Mondello Park to keep his or her foot off the accelerator. Cars are getting larger and more sophisticated and can go from a standing start much faster than they ever did before.

I notice, as I am sure the Minister does in his own area, that many constituents say they are taking their lives in their hands when attempting to cross the road in their own small village or hamlet. I was recently approached by a woman in a very small village in south County Galway called Killimor, who told me that she blesses herself every day when crossing the road. There is a 30 mph speed limit in this village but nobody seems to take any notice of it. Another example is the small village of Kilrickle on the N6 between Ballinasloe and Loughrea.

Something will have to be done to ensure the lives of local people are protected as much as possible.

Another story is doing the rounds, in respect of which the Minister might outline the factual position. In consultation with the local authorities and the Garda, during the years speed limit signs have been placed at strategic places outside towns and villages. Any of us who were members of county councils or corporations know there was more to the placing of the speed limit sign than the protection of pedestrians, including children; it gave people more than half a right, so to speak, to planning permission for a development inside the speed limit sign. That is the way the issue of planning was handled.

Representations have been made to me that there is a proposal by the National Roads Authority that when the speed limits signs are rejigged, some of them be placed closer to the centre of villages. I am referring to major roads in certain areas of the country, including some in County Galway. Is this the Minister's doing, the National Roads Authority's proposal or a proposal by the local county council which I do not think is the case?

As the Minister is aware, the National Roads Authority has a policy that if one drives from Dublin to Waterford or from Dublin to Galway, one should be able to arrive in reasonable comfort under normal driving conditions in X number of hours and minutes to facilitate the commercial life of the nation, but these target times must be counter-balanced. It is one thing to drive from Dublin to Galway in three hours but another to ensure a child is not hurt on the journey. It is against this background that a good deal of thought will have to be given to this matter before speed limit signs are placed nearer to the centre of towns and villages. If the area covered by such speed limit signs in town and villages is reduced, a mechanism, whether flashing lights or improved signage, will have to be used.

Many residents associations, chambers of commerce and town development associations will be up in arms about this proposal. I wanted to bring this matter to the Minister's attention which I am sure he has heard raised on many previous occasions. However, it is no harm to reinforce this point of view. From a safety perspective, I hope there will not be much changing in the placing of signs, or if that is what is proposed, the reason for it will be explained and, more importantly, an alternative mechanism will be put in place.

Many colleagues mentioned the question of consistency of speed limits. There is no greater inconsistency than on the N6 from Dublin to Maynooth. There are no fewer than five speed limits on that short stretch of road. There are speed limits of 30 mph, 40 mph, 50 mph, 60 mph and 70 mph. There are occasions when one finds oneself in a zone where one is not sure exactly what the speed limit is. I incurred two penalty points travelling along that road.

The Deputy is speaking from first-hand experience.

I thought I was travelling in a 60 mph zone and was travelling at 54 mph, but incurred two penalty points as I was travelling in a 50 mph zone. Needless to say, when I travel on that part of that road again, I will know what zone I am in. One hopes that under the new speed limit regime, the signage used will be rationalised. I am not making a case about that incident as I was breaking the law. All I am doing is pointing out that this matter is worthy of note.

Deputy O'Malley raised a issue on the other side of the coin. She referred to a road in Galway city, the Tuam road leading to the first roundabout near the Menlo Hotel. It is as good a road as one would find anywhere in the country. It is one of the ring roads in Galway of which we are extremely proud but it is in a 30 mph zone. One must travel so slow that one would nearly think one's car had gone into reverse. I am not an expert on road safety or the calculation of speed limits appropriate to particular road surfaces but the speed limit on that stretch of road does not serve the travelling public. I hope the powers that be will review it because the road could accommodate a faster speed limit, perhaps 10 mph higher. I cannot graphically get this point across, but if the Minister was to travel on this road, he would know what I am talking about.

In regard to the penalty points system, I note the Minister proposes to replace Garda manpower. I take it this will occur on the administration side and that there will not be lay people manning a speed camera or speed trap. I take it the Minister is giving an undertaking this will not happen.

No, that is not included in the Bill. It only deals with the administration side.

I accept that change because I assume the thinking is that there will be more gardaí available to police traffic. The Minister might indicate how many gardaí will be involved in this activity. Will it be a token number or will it involve a considerable number? Will it be ten, 20 or 100, or does the Minister know the number?

I wish to bring to the Minister's attention a regional matter related to the Bill. I saw him in his great splendour last night on television as he opened the Monasterevin bypass. Good luck to Monasterevin and the Minister.

At least, I was not in an open-top car, freezing to death; we got that one right.

Is that what the former Minister, Deputy Brennan, did?

I would like to think that in the not too distant future the Minister will appear in similar circumstances on the N6, but we are a long way from this.

The Deputy might as well list the N9 and the N10.

Why have all the radial routes around and out of Dublin been completed a long time before the N6? It appears to be a forgotten territory, but we will manage.

The west's asleep.

Unless we do something about the matter, that is the way we will be left. It is nothing short of shameful that despite the area being included in the BMW region and having Objective One status, the main roads westward are improved very slowly. This will become a major issue in the next few years. Those of us living in the west are as entitled to a road as good as anywhere else in the country. We will fight to have them. We sincerely hope on this side of the House that we will have an opportunity to make sure this happens when the time comes.

The Deputy and I have a good regional focus.

Yes, except mine is not winning. We will have to switch jerseys.

I have no problem with the penalty points system. We must have stringent controls in place because of the awful carnage on our roads and the hardship and anxiety families suffer.

I have a word of advice for the Minister. The former Minister for Transport was a lively spark. He seemed to introduce a new initiative every ten days but one wondered if he had a planned approach to what he would do afterwards and whether there was any substance to his initiatives. It is all very well to announce measures and there is always a public reaction for a short time afterwards. However, one must provide for the policing of the measure in place and persuade members of the public that they will be caught if they break the law, whether by drinking and driving, driving at excessive speed or failing to use safety belts. It has entered the psyche of the people that policing has not followed the many excellent proposals of the Minister's predecessor. If the new Minister for Transport is to be successful — I hope he is, for everyone's sake — it is important for members of the public to see that they will be caught if they break the law. Once they believe this they will adhere to the law, as happens in every other country. When one sees road accident numbers rising steadily, one must accept many members of the public believe they will not be caught. That will be the litmus test of whatever measures the Minister implements. The results we all want can only be achieved through enforcement of the law. We have sufficient laws. It is time for order. Accident figures rise every weekend and every quarter. One must assume many believe that with a little luck they will not be caught. I hope the Minister will succeed in enforcing this aspect of his road safety strategy. It has yet not happened.

It appears it has been decided to put a central crash barrier in place on dual carriageways. I argued for this in the Dáil some years ago and spoke to the National Roads Authority about it at the time. Will the motorway from Dublin to Galway have a central crash barrier? It is my understanding the NRA intends that a central barrier will be put in place on the road between Dublin and Kinnegad but not on the more westerly section of the road. It is important that a crash barrier is built now because if it is not, it will never be built.

I hope the packages introduced by the Minister will save lives. Nevertheless, if he does not enforce the law, we will not make progress.

I wish to share time with Deputy Finneran.

We all have a personal responsibility for road safety. Every family has been touched by death on the road. It is not someone else who will crash; it is us, if we do not drive carefully. We should make the changes required by this legislation quickly, safely and clearly and the public should be informed when, where and how it is happening.

The road safety theme provides a general policy background and framework for this Bill. The central purpose of the Bill is the metrification of speed limit signs. This is inevitable and long overdue. It is another aspect of our increasing European identity. It is important that we take advantage of our European identity, especially from a worldwide tourism point of view. Many tourists from the rest of the world do not include Ireland in their visits to Europe. Ireland is not included on many tour itineraries which visit France, Italy and Great Britain. Many have commented on how for some time our speed limits are measured imperially while distances are measured metrically.

The EU unit of measurement regulation of 2002, made by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, requires that all speed limit signs display metric values. The Bill aims to ensure the regulation is in place in January 2005. From that date the display of imperial values on speed limit signs will have no legal basis. This will introduce faster and slower speed limits and be confusing for some time. The proposed value for the speed limit on national roads is 100 km. This represents an increase of two miles per hour over the current general speed limit of 60 miles per hour. On non-national roads a new proposal will see a new speed limit for the rural road network and a reduction of ten miles to 80 km per hour. In built up areas the application of a 50 km per hour limit is the equivalent of 31 miles per hour. This, essentially, is in line with the current built up area speed limit of 30 miles per hour. On motorways a new speed limit of 120 km per hour will be applied. This will be an increase of four miles per hour on the current limit of 70 miles per hour.

Motorists will have to become familiar with the kilometre display on their speed clocks instead of the miles per hour display. Such a change will take time to get used to. However, Ireland has adapted to big changes before such as decimalisation and the introduction of the euro. We will get used to change on our roads. As part of a positive approach to the European Union, Ireland has sought to bring forward the metric system. As long ago as the 1970s, children began learning in terms of litres, grammes and kilometres. For a country often portrayed as conservative in nature, it is surprising that there has been no fundamental resistance to this process. Metrification began in France during the French Revolution, although many of the revolutionary efforts were abandoned.

When we talk about speed limits, we must talk about their constant breaking.

Debate adjourned.