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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 Nov 2004

Vol. 592 No. 4

Road Traffic Bill 2004: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

The Road Traffic Bill is of particular interest to me, in that my constituency experienced one of the highest rates of road death during the summer. Some 12 people were killed in as many weeks. I express my sincere sympathy to the families of those killed and injured. Many of the victims in these cases were very young but given that the inquiries into the specifics of those cases are ongoing I do not wish to say anything more about them.

Some aspects of the Bill need to be clarified on Committee Stage. I welcome the fact that Deputy Cullen now has responsibility for this area. However, I bemoan the fact that two Departments are involved in issues relating to roads. That is not a reflection on the Minister for the Environment Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, whom I also commend. The fact that two Departments deal with roads can lead to difficulties when it is not clear which Department is responsible for issues of concern. The Ministers in question need to work in close co-operation.

I welcome the prohibition of the sale of vehicles to minors. This provision has been long awaited and will be especially welcomed in my constituency where minors have been able to get failed MOT cars for virtually nothing. Young people drive these cars around and eventually set fire to them. They are a danger to the young people involved and to the communities in which they drive their cars. We have had lucky escapes in regard to the access of minors to cars and any move to tighten up this area will be very welcome.

Previously, car dealers ran a scrappage scheme whereby people got £1,000 for trading in their old cars. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should look at a scheme to encourage people to properly dispose of old cars, particularly failed MOT cars. This would reduce the potential number of vehicles for sale to minors.

The question could be asked as to the reason for the Bill in the first place. I come from a constituency north of Northern Ireland. I do not believe that jurisdiction intends converting speeding signs from miles to kilometres. It is not uncommon for accidents to be caused by people from abroad who are used to driving on the other side of the road. There is potential for confusion in Border areas, given that distance is confusingly measured in both miles and kilometres, depending on which side of the Border one is on. Moreover, signs indicating speed limits as 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, or 100 could refer to either mph or kph. It may not be confusing to people who do not live near the Border, but I defy officials from the Department to identify on which side of the Border they happen to be while driving in the area. I would accept this provision if it were part of an overall strategy for an all-Ireland road traffic plan and that, when the Ministerial Council is back up and running, a similar provision was introduced in the North so that we could compare like with like in regard to speed limit signs. Otherwise, there is scope for confusion, which must have implications for road safety.

An all-Ireland traffic policy is very much needed. For example, the Dublin to Derry, N2 — A5, development is being dealt with on a two jurisdiction basis. However, without it the drive from Dublin to Donegal would be 244 miles instead of 170 miles. Moves must be made to co-ordinate and develop the N2 — A5 project and the link from Letterkenny to Lifford and from Letterkenny to Derry through Bridgend. In order to travel from Dublin to Donegal, I must travel through what is technically a different jurisdiction, which uses miles and depends on funds from that different jurisdiction. If this provision is part of an all-Ireland road policy, it would make sense that the Minister of State, Deputy Callely, co-operates with his counterpart when the Northern Ireland Executive is back up and running, which I hope it will be in the near future.

I have a problem with the proposal for all regional roads to change from a 60 mph speed limit to 50 mph. The Inishowen peninsula has fewer than ten miles of national primary or secondary roads, the remainder are regional or lower category roads. The road which links Derry, Buncrana, Carndonagh and Moville is a regional one on which I will have to change from travelling at 60 mph to 50 mph, which will have implications on my ability to get around. Although, it is stated that the point of this legislation is to make the roads safer, I can identify far more dangerous national primary and secondary roads than the regional roads in my constituency, yet I can legally drive faster on worse roads.

I appreciate that some Members will state that now that the money is spent on the signs, it cannot be wasted, but why not leave regional roads at 60 mph and only use signs where the council officials consider the roads dangerous enough to reduce the limit on them to 50 mph? The concept of the Bill is to reduce all limits to 50 mph, while giving local authorities the option to increase limits to 60 mph where they consider it safe to do so. However, should an accident occur, I would not like to be a member of a local authority which decided to increase a speed limit from 50 mph to 60 mph because I would be held culpable by people seeking compensation. However, if the speed limit was set at 60 mph and could be reduced to 50 mph, it would be a different argument.

I acknowledge that the Minister is re-examining the issue of regional roads because he understands that they are of varying standards. However, the roads to which I refer are well able to justify a 60 mph limit in the vast majority of locations and it is not right for the speed limits to be reduced to 50 mph, unless the local authorities — if it is to them that decisions will be delegated — are strongly supported when they propose increases from 50 to 60 mph

I acknowledge that there have been many deaths on our roads. I am sure the Department has the relevant statistics, but I do not believe that most accidents are caused by, drivers travelling at 65 mph in a 60 mph zone. I may be proved wrong by the statistics, but I believe the vast majority of accidents are caused by, people who were driving vastly in excess of the speed limit or had consumed alcohol or drugs. A speed limit of 60 mph is not an unreasonable one for most roads, although there is a different argument in respect of more minor roads.

One of the key issues which needs, to be addressed is the visibility of gardaí and the belief among drivers that they can be caught breaking the speed limit. The penalty points system should operate as a deterrent and people should know that if they flaunt the law significantly, they will be caught. The threat of Garda patrols and the "hairdryer" speed detection unit should affect drivers' behaviour, although ultimately drivers should be responsible and should not need that threat to comply with the law. Nevertheless, the reality is that we need Garda visibility.

Many roads throughout the country have improved greatly. Some years ago, Donegal County Council had its LIS money taken back by the then Minister of State, Bobby Molloy, on the basis that it was not spending significant amounts on any particular road but in a piecemeal manner. However, in many cases, the money is still being spent piecemeal by the Department because some major roads have been receiving small amounts of money every year, when it would be much better to grab the bull by the horns and make funds available to improve the road properly. As county councillors at the time, we felt penalised. The LIS gave discretion to the council as to which roads were repaired but it was informed that not enough was being spent. However, the Department was doing exactly the same in the way it was spending money.

More money should also be diverted into areas, which are well-known for accidents. A number of examples spring to mind — there is a 90 degree bend at Quigley's Point on the road to Carndonagh and there is a blind junction just outside Malin on the Glengad road. Such areas should be prioritised, as they have been by the council. However, because they are not national primary and secondary roads, we seem to be fighting a difficult battle in regard to the money allocated for safety measures. Why not focus on recognised accident black-spots and invest significant money in the short term since it will have a much more beneficial result?

One of the biggest gripes people have with the penalty points system is that it is often people travelling at 35 mph in a 30 mph zone or 45 mph in a 40 mph zone who are caught, while people passing them at 90 mph or 100 mph in a 60 mph zone do not seem to be touched. Why not focus on where the problems are and address them?

I do not know the Naas dual carriageway well, but I do not understand why any dual carriageway has a 40 mph limit where it has two or three lanes. Perhaps there are good reasons for it and I am not up to speed on them, if Members will pardon the pun. However, dual carriageways and motorways are of a standard that can cater for traffic travelling at relatively high speeds of 75 miles per hour. I would probably have increased the speed limit on a motorway to 80 mph but I welcome the proposed increase. If a road is suitable for speed, there should be no problem in permitting it.

I did a little research on changing speed limits. America increased the speed limit and it did not cause the anticipated problems. According to a US Department of Transportation pamphlet on speed zoning, research and experience show that effective speed limits are those at which the majority of motorists naturally drive. Raising and lowering speed limits do not substantially influence that speed. If speed limits are lowered, people will not drive slower just as people do not automatically drive faster when the speed limit is increased. These are common misconceptions, along with the mistaken belief that speed limit signs will decrease the accident rate and increase safety and that motorways with speed limits will be safer than unposted motorways.

This Bill is not a panacea. We should try to put something in place to which people will adhere. What is the point of having something wonderful on paper when we know it will not work? We should aspire to put legislation in place that is close to what reality will be. If a road can easily take traffic travelling at 60 mph and the limit is decreased to 50 mph, people will get penalty points for simply doing what the road can support when they are not a danger to anybody. In that case something has gone astray. I hope that during the passage of this Bill through the Houses, the points I have made about the miles per hour versus kilometres per hour — if that is part of an ongoing process, it is fine but if it is an end in itself, it is a problem — and the reduction of the limit from 60 mph to 50 mph are taken on board.

The prohibition on the supply of mechanically propelled vehicles to minors has been long awaited and must be implemented. I look forward to the day when there is a proper way for young people to learn to drive. When I was teaching in Coleraine, the transition year curriculum included a driving course. One could watch the transition year students driving around the car park in the school. They had little slaloms and so forth. Giving them a properly controlled facility to do something that was previously forbidden is an interesting approach, although they had to be a certain age before they participated. The difficulty at present is that they appear to have easy access to vehicles. They are driving dangerously and recklessly and this is causing a considerable problem, even death.

There are many roads in my constituency on which more money should be spent to improve their standard. The difficulty with improving the standard of roads is that people will want to drive faster on them. The effect of this Bill must be the establishment of limits that are reasonable and are enforced. I have no problem with the reduction of the limit on minor roads or the increase of the limit on good roads. However, I have taken advice from people who know more than me about engineering and they concur with me that many regional roads could cater for a higher limit than 50 mph. I hope this will be addressed.

I will make my pitch now for funds to be spent on the roads from Bridgend to Buncrana, Moville to Derry, the inner relief roads of Buncrana and Carndonagh and the Quigley's Point to Carndonagh road.

Is the Minister taking notes?

Those are the major roads for which we will seek funding. Funding has been provided over the years but substantial moneys should be allocated so the roads can be dealt with more quickly than they are at present. I compliment the Minister on the work being done on the N2-A5. Previously, the roads north of the Border were better than those in the Republic. That has now been reversed. The Ceann Comhairle will appreciate the bypasses that have been and are being constructed. It is a pleasure to drive on the road to Dundalk. It is a safe, good road and I am proud to pay my €1.60. Some people opposed the level of the toll but I have been in many other countries and the toll is cheap when compared with tolls in other countries where the national minimum wage is just €2 per hour.

Significant progress has been made with the road network and progress must now be made on speed limits. However, the best way to secure road safety is for people to get the road safety messages. Those messages are most important. Garda visibility is also important if people will not take responsibility. I prefer the carrot to the big stick approach. I hope my comments today are seen to be constructive and that the issues I have raised can be addressed on Committee Stage.

I will preface my remarks by acknowledging that I am a barrister. One hears people say that legal practitioners spend an inordinate amount of time sieving through Bills to ascertain if there are any loopholes. One would almost feel it is a crime to do so. It is not; it is what one is paid to do. It also obliges legislators to ensure there is a minimum number of loopholes in legislation so they are not later subject to examination. I support people's right to go before the court to argue their case about any aspect of legislation under which they might be subject to a criminal prosecution and to mount their best defence thereto. It is important to have that right in a civilised society and a democracy.

Any Bill that makes a contribution to the safety of people who travel the highways and byways is an important step forward. It behoves us to bring forward legislation in a reasonable way. The legislation should have a target. One can have all the rules and regulations one wishes but if the people at whom they are aimed do not appreciate them, know about them or are not aware of their impact, we might as well bounce our heads off a wall. I will speak further about clarification and knowledge of some of the provisions in this Bill.

From when I was young and serving on the county council in the early 1980s, I have always believed that the responsibility of learning to drive a motor vehicle is the equivalent of learning the three Rs. It should begin at school. Many of us had to use our neighbours' tractors to acquire driving skills. The urban areas might not have had tractors——

They certainly did not.

—but rural areas did. We learned our driving skills in fields. Sometimes we ended up in a ditch but at least we did not hurt anybody. How does one acquire the skills to deal with an actual situation? I believe it should be part of the civic, social and political education course in school. Pupils could learn the theory of driving as part of the school subject. This is as important as knowing how to add.

Virtually everybody uses a motor vehicle at some stage to travel to work. One could be Einstein but what good is that if one does not have the wherewithal to drive to work or if one does not have access to public transport? The ability to drive is an important educational attribute people carry with them through life. Driving should be taught as part of the educational syllabus, particularly in view of the fact that there is now a theory test. Teaching driving skills in schools would provide people with the opportunity to be introduced to the theory of driving.

In the past, gardaí visited schools to monitor school attendance. They brought with them armbands for distribution among the children. These may sometimes have been used for other purposes but parents, particularly in isolated rural areas, encouraged their children to use them if they were walking home late at night. The gardaí who visited the schools encouraged children to use reflectors, armbands etc. when cycling after dark. There was the Rules of the Road publication which emphasised care, courtesy and consideration. The latter are extremely basic concepts and if everybody observed them there would be no accidents. There has been a great deal of hullabaloo about the PIAB being the great panacea. However, there would be no need for it if everybody exercised due care, courtesy and consideration because accidents would not occur.

We have an ideal opportunity to teach driving and the theory thereof to children in transition year. Simulators should be provided. I saw a report from Mondello or one of the driving schools recently in which children were doing what I advocated in 1984 or 1985. Some of the young men and women using the simulator could tell that a person was going to cross the road or that a light was going to go red. They were placed in a situation in which they had to react. However, they were forewarned. Imagine what would happen if, as in normal circumstances, they were not forewarned.

The Minister of State should try to have driving placed on the school curriculum in some form. Given that he is innovative and open to ideas, he could leave a mark in this area. Perhaps a pilot scheme could be put in place to see how things would work. I accept that he would have to discuss the matter with his counterpart in the Department of Education and Science, the various teaching organisations, etc. and that it would not be easy to put such a scheme in place immediately. There is an openness, however, to including driving in the curriculum. We all want to ensure that our children return home safely. People own vehicles at much younger ages than in the past and this is contributing to the problems on our roads.

It is easy to state that the statistics relating to road deaths are on the rise. However, we must be honest and recognise that there must be four or five times the number of cars on our roads now as there were in the 1970s and 1980s. This matter must be considered in the context of there being more people and bigger and better roads.

Many accidents happen at night or in the early hours of the morning, which is unfortunate. One sometimes hears people inquiring where the members of the Garda were when a particular accident occurred. It is unfair to expect gardaí to be stationed on every corner at night to prevent accidents. If we inculcate in young people and everyone else that there is an onus on them to drive with care and consideration and to not indulge in drinking alcohol while driving, we will have achieved something. I am strongly of the view that driving should be included in the school curriculum as part of the education process.

I salute the Minister of State for giving powers to local authorities. We have all been shouting from the rooftops seeking such powers for them. The powers they are being given in this legislation are important because there should be no national or secondary schools on major primary or secondary routes. It is time we changed the status quo. There are a number of schools situated on the N4, which is dangerous because of the huge concentration of pedestrian traffic in or around them. The Bill provides the power to put in place particular speed limits in the environs of such schools. Westmeath County Council, which was innovative in this area, sought that power from the NRA many years ago in respect of Coralstown school, on the N4 between Kinnegad and Mullingar. The latter organisation was somewhat slow to react and I will give it a bit of a walloping later in my contribution because it deserves it in respect of some matters. Local people are aware of the situation that obtains at schools in their area and the Bill will give local authorities the power to impose certain speed limits.

The position is similar in respect of housing estates. It is sad that a great deal of speeding occurs in estates. I do not understand why people feel the need to speed through built up estates. There is a constant demand for ramps in particular estates but the difficulty is that not everyone wants them because if they are too close to a house, there are problems with noise and lights shining in the windows when vehicles slow down. One cannot win in this situation.

We call them speed cushions.

Traffic calming measures.

Yes, so we have speed cushions, traffic calming measures, lights and signs. One of the difficulties that will arise will be the proliferation of signs. When there are too many signs, one has difficulty trying to absorb information. This brings us to the old human frailty of focusing upon the first sign one sees and not realising that what it says does not apply across the board in a particular area.

Deputy Glennon made a point about the N4, which is a fine dual carriageway. From Mullingar to Dublin there are five different speed limits on that road. The law can be an ass and that is when it loses respect. The law is an ass on the N4. When one reaches the only decent stretch of road in an area, the speed limit decreases from 60 mph to 50 mph. There is then a flash-lamp to ensure that one reduces speed still further to 40 mph before one is finally obliged to drive at 30 mph. However, when one comes close to Heuston Station, the limit rises again to 40 mph. I do not know who came up with these great speed limits, which cultivate a lack of respect for the law.

I salute the role played by gardaí, who are obliged to carry out some onerous work. I accept that some of this will be taken away from them and delegated to a different authority. I sometimes wonder if it is the best use of resources to have gardaí stationed under a bridge at a point where the speed limit drops from 50 mph to 40 mph. As a wise old sage said to me on the way to a football match one day, "It is like shooting fish in a barrel." People drive on the stretch of road to which I refer at 50 mph but at a certain point, where there is no difference in the camber, gradient etc. the limit decreases to 40 mph. Lo and behold, the gardaí produce the hairdryer and penalty points follow.

Some of my colleagues noted recently that they did not realise they had received penalty points until the package arrived in the post. The people to whom I refer do not drive like lunatics. They may have been doing 45 mph in a 40 mph zone and they will receive two or three points on their licence as a result. Why does this happen? It is because people driving on a stretch of road suddenly hit another with the same gradient, camber and width, but with a different speed limit — the road to which I refer is not situated in a built-up area and the Minister of State is familiar with it.

I hope the Minister of State was not speeding.

He could have been speeding. He could have been doing 42 mph in a 40 mph zone.

It is all right, the Minister of State would be exempt under the legislation.

I do not disagree with that because Ministers and Ministers of State must be able to get from A to B.

There should be no exemptions.

We would all say that when we are on this side of the House. The difference in speed limits brings the law into disrepute. I appeal for common sense to be used in this area.

Another matter about which I am concerned is the Lucan junction on the N4. One must cross the highway in order to turn back. We advocated a flyover which is the most sensible solution. We are merely ordinary Joes, not engineers or architects, but we could see the sense of it. Slipways and flyovers are important to ensure the probability is lessened of an accident happening at those junctions. We have no status and our opinion on the danger is met with, "You would not know". We know enough when accidents occur subsequent to us pointing out that this could be the best way forward.

Why is there such a marked reluctance to have service stations along the main national arterial routes? Does nobody ever have to stop to go to the toilet or to buy something? Why is the NRA so vehemently opposed to something of that nature? If one travels on the M1 and M6 in the United Kingdom, one can pull into a service station every 20 miles. They are big motorways. I suggest we should adopt the system used in the UK where motorways have a slow, overtaking and fast lane. I was a young man in London and hardly knew how to drive a tractor but I drove those roads and I had no problems because it was a simple system.

I suggest there should be warnings about road conditions. In other countries, changes in the weather or condition of the road are signalled on overhead signs. We must aim for such signalling to become the norm in this country. People should be informed of the conditions on the road ahead.

The N52 is the main north-east, south-west arterial route, going through Dundalk, Ardee, Rathconnell, Mullingar and down to Kilbeggan, Birr and Nenagh. Hardly a shilling has ever been spent on that route. I always thought that when Deputy Michael Smith was Minister for the Environment there would have been improvements on it. It is a major route carrying a lot of traffic. People in the Delvin area complain continually and the NRA has been informed of the need to put in place the necessary funding to realign that route because of its status and the significant volume of traffic. There is a significant amount of work to be done. If there is money in a pot, I appeal for money to be spent on the N52 and the inner relief roads around Mullingar. Continued expenditure is required to improve the roads.

The delay from the date of application for driving tests is a problem, which is quite difficult for people to understand. Independent accredited testers supervised by the Department should be used. This is a suggestion made by a person known to Deputy O'Donovan who lives near the Deputy in west Cork. He is a motorcyclist. The current driving test for motorcyclists is rudimentary. Does it test one's ability to ride a poor road surface, to ride at night or on primary routes? Those are the situations drivers will have to deal with afterwards.

The Bill contemplates the introduction of metric speed limits. What provision will be made to assist motorists to convert speedometers to metric calibration? Deputy Olivia Mitchell also raised this point. The current model of a well-known family car has a miles per hour speedometer with a secondary scale of kilometres per hour. The needle accurately points to the miles per hour scale but at the point where the needle crosses the kilometre scale, it covers about ten kilometres per hour of the scale and is therefore useless to the driver for judging the speed of the vehicle. I am concerned that people will be caught in that situation because the speedometers in most vehicles are of similar design. The Bill does not provide a tolerance to protect motorists who have paid many thousands of euro in taxes such as VRT. The Society of the Irish Motor Industry made that point. This is a practical deficiency. I presume the new Government fleet — I do not begrudge it — will have the new, recalibrated speedometers fitted to protect the ministerial drivers from the danger of exceeding the speed limit. As Deputy Finian McGrath stated, we must all observe the law. Bearing in mind the substantial take from motorists by the Exchequer, the Minister for Finance should fund the conversion and recalibration of speedometers in all vehicles prior to the changeover to metric speed limits.

The Bill anticipates the introduction of regulations. When drafting the regulations, I ask the Minister to consider the placement of electronic or solar powered speed limits in central locations to adjust speed limits locally depending upon the time of day or the season. In many areas what is applicable in the summer is not applicable in the winter. Such signs and variable limits are needed at school approaches at relevant hours, to reduce speed limits to take account of pedestrian traffic, on approaches to sports facilities where large volumes of pedestrian traffic may be expected before and after matches and on approaches to churches and graveyards. Those measures might be of assistance when considering the Bill. I broadly welcome the Bill and I hope the Minister continues to improve it.

I wish to share time with Deputy O'Donovan. I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. The Bill is designed to improve road safety. The Government is committed to road safety. The devastation caused to families as a result of road deaths has been apparent for many years. It seems to be part and parcel of the weekend and Monday morning news bulletins. I have seen many families including my own devastated as a result of road traffic accidents. The effects last a long time. It is vitally important that legislation is passed to ensure our roads are safer and to reduce the number of people killed each year. Legislation and rules and regulations can be in place but there must be goodwill from people willing to comply with the legislation and take due care on the road. Young people must be educated in good driving and all drivers must be educated to take due care on the road.

The Bill provides for a number of other initiatives. They relate mainly to amendments to the legislation on the administration of the fixed charge and penalty points systems, the Road Traffic Act 2002, which focus in particular on the outsourcing from the Garda Síochána of certain functions relating to fixed charge payments.

The central aspect of the Bill is the introduction of a new system of speed limits based on the metric values. That system is worthwhile. The Bill also provides for a number of changes to the Taxi Regulation Act 2002, which will assist in the operation of key provisions contained in that Act.

I have no doubt that the Government is deeply committed to road safety and is intent on achieving a record in this area comparable to none. Our policy is focused on the key areas of speeding, drink driving and seat belt wearing to reduce deaths and injuries on the roads.

The past six years have seen a distinct improvement in our road safety performance. The first road safety strategy, which ran from 1998 until 2002, succeeded in reaching its target of reducing deaths on our roads by 20% and surpassed that figure with regard to serious injuries.

The biggest change in road safety and the way we police our roads was the introduction of the penalty points system just over two years ago. That has further increased the progress in this area. Many people have spoken to me on this issue, as have Deputies who contributed to the debate earlier. It is all very well to impose penalty points for speeding but they should not be imposed on people driving at 31 or 35 miles an hour in a 30 mile an hour zone. That will not cause deaths on our roads. The problem is driving on minor roads at 70, 80 or 90 miles an hour. It is all very well to set up checkpoints in villages and towns but the issue is more serious than that. Like all computer systems, if one is over a certain limit, that is it and one moves on, but there is a need to examine this matter in terms of people travelling at 31 miles an hour in a 30 mile an hour zone. That was not the issue in respect of penalty points.

From November 2002 to the end of September 2004, the number of road deaths fell from 775 to 675 in comparison with the previous 23 months. The measures I have referred to have helped save almost 100 lives, and I congratulate the Government on that achievement. The Government's target is to ensure that we keep road deaths down to a maximum of 300. Perhaps we should not put a figure on that because it should be the aim of everyone involved, the Government and members of the public using the roads, to eliminate road deaths as far as possible.

In setting our goals for the period up to the end of 2006, we are supported by the knowledge that the strategic approach we have adopted has been shown to deliver the greatest benefits in the long term. The most successful countries in the European Union in delivering reductions in road casualty numbers on a sustained basis are those that have adopted such an approach.

In adopting our road safety strategy we learned from the experience of states like the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, which are the leading states in the European Union in terms of road safety performance. We have also adopted an approach that has seen the engagement of all the organisations that contribute to the various elements of road safety policy in the identification and pursuit of the policies through which the overall targets can be achieved.

In 2003 this downward trend in fatalities continued. Road deaths that year totalled 336, the lowest number of fatalities since 1963. Even though there were fewer cars on our roads in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and our population was 1 million fewer than it is today, the road death figures in that period were much greater in comparison with today's figures. That aspect should be examined. I understand the highest number of deaths was in 1973, a time when the number of cars on the roads was a small percentage of the number today.

There is a need, however, for constant vigilance and attention. Unfortunately, the number of road deaths so far this year is 28 higher than the number for the same period last year. I am confident that certain measures in the Bill will succeed in turning this figure around and ensure that our target of fewer than 300 fatalities per year by 2006 is met.

The Government has been responsible for legislating in this area by the introduction of fines, penalty notices, driving disqualifications and even prison sentences in the most serious of cases. The desired effect of the points scheme is to change the behaviour of drivers. The consequences of losing a licence becomes a reality for drivers who have incurred points, and they think twice before committing further breaches which will put them closer to the 12 point threshold.

Legislation alone, however, is not sufficient to tackle the issue of road safety. We must seek to change the driving culture evident throughout the country. It is imperative that our young people appreciate the responsibilities that accompany holding a driving licence. In that regard, I commend the Irish School of Motoring which, in conjunction with Mondello Park race track, is launching a new initiative aimed at teaching young people to drive responsibly and educate them about the dangers of speeding. I congratulate the Ministers who are embracing this initiative.

We cannot have a debate about road safety without discussing the conditions of our roads. While I am aware of the old adage that a bad workman blames his tools, it must be conceded that bad roads contribute to road traffic accidents. I congratulate the Government on the progress it has made regarding the implementation of the overall national roads upgrade programme provided for in the national development plan.

I welcome the initiative by this Government and the previous Government of putting money into infrastructure and opening new motorways. In terms of the journey from Dublin to Cork, the new Kildare bypass and the recently opened Monasterevin bypass have greatly improved conditions for drivers. The conditions in Limerick also have improved greatly. However, we must continue to fund these projects.

One of the roads where there have been more fatalities than normal is the N20, in particular the stretch between Charleville and Buttevant, County Cork. Accidents resulting in multiple deaths have occurred on that stretch of road. The route was selected for the Charleville bypass in the past six months. I urge the Minister to examine the possibility of providing funding to improve the section of road between Charleville and Buttevant. I realise it cannot be done all at once but perhaps it can be upgraded in sections. We must ensure that the bypass project is moved forward a stage and that the road is made safer. The Minister of State will remember that there were four or five deaths as a result of one car accident on that road. That stretch between Charleville and Buttevant is classed as a blackspot area. I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate and I commend the Bill to the House.

I, too, welcome the Road Traffic Bill 2004 and the opportunity to speak on it. Education is critical to this area. There is no adequate programme in transition year or fifth year to educate boys and girls on road safety and the problems of drink driving. Perhaps we should have a campaign that would frighten them into realising that if they speed on our roads or drink and drive, they are liable to be involved in accidents. We must change the attitude of young people towards driving. That would be a step in the right direction.

Last year, the road deaths toll was the lowest since 1963, although any death is one too many. I note that the volume of traffic has increased almost tenfold since 1963. Our record is, therefore, good but we must continue efforts to curb the number of accidents and road deaths.

Despite the brouhaha about the introduction of the penalty points system and concerns that we were developing into a nanny state, the system marked an important step in the process of compelling people to drive more carefully, wear seatbelts, particularly in the back of cars, etc. This should be encouraged and the regime enforced.

I was a member of a local authority when the national car test was introduced. Many councillors and public representatives argued at the time that the measure was unnecessary. It has been one of the best road safety measures ever introduced. The public is used to it and the cars on our roads are, by and large, roadworthy. Before taking my car for the NCT, I visited my garage to try to ensure my car was roadworthy. When I brought it to the Skibbereen NCT centre, the tester spotted a slight leak from a brake pipe, which, while new, had a problem with a washer or fitting. He informed me the car would not be passed that day and asked me to return at a later date with the problem repaired. In alerting me to this problem, he may have prevented an accident.

We have many foreign visitors from the Continent and America. While I do not wish to dwell on the nasty accident in which the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, was involved in County Kerry, our tourist routes do not have sufficient signs indicating that one must drive on the left. While one sees them occasionally when leaving an airport, many more visible signs are needed in areas such as the rings of Kerry and Beara, as well as other routes in the west.

I represent a constituency in which there is not a single mile of primary route. The N71, the only national secondary route, runs to Bantry via Clonakilty, Skibbereen and Ballydehob. Nobody in his or her right mind leaving Bantry or Castletownbere would consider using the N71 because it takes a longer route than other roads and one must drive through towns which, apart from Skibbereen, do not have bypasses. The road was planned 30 years ago and needs to be upgraded.

The R586 runs from Bandon to the townland of Scart in Bantry. Of all the routes in the area, I ask the Minister to consider upgrading this one. Why has the NRA not upgraded it to at least a national secondary route? It is appallingly slow to travel on this road. One must travel through a little place called Murragh, which is not even a village but a crossroads with a shop. The area has limits of 30 mph and 40 mph which is an abuse of speed limits.

The R585 runs from Ballylickey, an area the Minister of State will know, over the Cousane Gap to Cookstown where it meets the N18, the road between Cork and Killarney. I ask the National Roads Authority to examine the possibility of upgrading this road and other roads in the area. The R572 is the Castletownbere to Ballylickey route. Castletownbere is the second largest fishing port in Ireland and has the largest whitefish fleet. While I would like more of the fish landed in the town to be processed locally, 80% of it is, regrettably, taken by road to the Continent. While the road has been improved, I urge that the R572 be linked to Ballylickey Cookstown and the Cousane Gap and upgraded to a national secondary route. Given the favourable economic climate, the Minister should give this proposal serious consideration, as there is no point doing so in 15 years.

With a population of 75,000 people, my constituency is one of few which do not have a single mile of primary road. It has only one poor national route. The N71 from Bantry eventually winds its way to Killarney. Two lorries cannot pass in Marina Street in Bantry, which lies on the route and is probably the narrowest street in the town. I understand the NRA and the Department have specified a minimum road width. It is wrong that this stretch of the N71 does not comply with it.

Recently, a member of Cork County Council inquired as to when Bantry would have a bypass or relief road and was told officially by the NRA that the town may not have one until 2015. At that stage the Minister of State will be Taoiseach and I will be the Minister for foggy weather. It is crazy that Bantry may not have a relief road for 11 years. The hospital in the town cannot be accessed because the streets are too narrow. I accept the council is doing preparatory work in attempting to purchase land from some landowners to ensure the groundwork, at least, can be done. I urge the Minister to ensure the Bantry relief road is commenced. It could be completed in sections. The N71 should be a decent road from west Cork to Cork city.

We will have the matter reviewed.

I appreciate the Minister of State's commitment. If one lives on Mizen Head, Sheep's Head or the Beara or Bantry peninsulas, it takes two hours to reach the nearest maternity hospital. A previous Government of a different hue closed down our maternity hospital in 1985. I was appalled at this decision which was one of the catalysts for my entry into politics. The condition of access routes to our airport, Ringaskiddy seaport and the only decent emergency hospital, Cork University Hospital — I am not denigrating Bantry Hospital — is poor. The railway to Bantry, which I remember from my childhood, was closed down in 1961. West Cork does not yet have an airport, although we may get one if I remain a Member of the House for long enough. My predecessor, the ebullient former Deputy P. J. Sheehan, constantly argued that Bantry should have an airport and he is probably right.

At least one of the routes, either the Cousane Gap road, the R585 or the R586, which runs through Dunmanway, Ballineen and Enniskeane, must be upgraded. The narrow, winding stretch of road between Enniskeane and Bandon is appalling. Travelling to the train station on this road between 8.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. is like travelling in a funeral cortege and there are no passing bays. All the roads I have mentioned need to be improved.

I welcome the Bill and the sensible provision that the speed limit on decent roads such as the Cork to Dublin route will be increased to 120 km/h or roughly 75 mph. Cork County Council must be given a derogation as regards the reduction in speed limits on the R585, R586 and R572. It is bad enough for people commuting to Cork and ambulances and trucks to have to use these roads but, at a minimum, the current speed limit of 60 mph must be retained.

I wish to share time with Deputy Cuffe.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This Bill, when passed, will add to a series of road traffic Acts enacted between 1961 and 2003. The Government is missing an opportunity to produce a consolidated road traffic Act, given the breadth of legislation in this area. All-encompassing legislation to which everyone can refer is necessary because all citizens are road users. While addressing a long-standing anomaly through the introduction of speed limits expressed in kilometres — distances have been expressed in kilometres for many years — the legislation should also address wider aspects of road traffic usage.

A consolidated Bill would provide the opportunity to put in a hierarchy of road usage. None of the Road Traffic Acts refers to such a concept. The definitions of motor propelled vehicles and types of roads, already exists. However, a road use hierarchy is a simple element of all transport policies. If introduced, it would make matters more sane and begin to tackle the ongoing glut of needless deaths on the roads.

In the hierarchy concept, road space usage starts primarily with those on foot, then cyclists, public transport and finally those who use motor-propelled vehicles. Unfortunately, our transport policies have been in reverse of this. Any analysis of road deaths, all of which are unnecessary, will show that many of them involve pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. The failure to put a road use hierarchy in practice has caused this imbalance. It is another lost opportunity that the Bill does not cover this area. I hope the Minister for Transport will take the earliest opportunity in introducing a consolidated road traffic Bill to tackle this anomaly.

The main purpose of the Bill relates to kilometre signage and speed limits. However, what is proposed is somewhat of a parson's egg, particularly when some speed limits will actually be increased. The limit of 50 km/h is marginally more, when converted, than the limit of 30 mph it replaces. The top speed limit for motorways of 120 km/h is five miles higher, when converted, than the current 70 mph limit. These must also be weighed up for fuel efficiency and environmental measures. I admit our highest speed limit is nowhere near the speed limit levels on the German autobahn. However, the capacity to fill up the roads provided will affect all those motorways being built. The capacity of a single vehicle to effect a stop at 120 km/h must be questioned in those settings. It is one of our double standards, where people talk about responsible speeding and the right to use the overtaking lane to pass people already travelling at the speed limit.

The introduction of the penalty points system brought about the welcome reduction in deaths on our roads. Sadly deaths have begun to creep up again, as people have learned the odds are in their favour in avoiding punishment for speeding. No more than 550 members of the Garda are involved in traffic control on any given day. Traffic control refers not just to speeding detection but also issuing of tickets, monitoring intersections and court sittings. This means the odds of encountering a garda controlling speed levels are small. Attempts have been made to add to this with technology through speed cameras. However, some cameras have film in them and some do not. The Committee of Public Accounts was recently informed that video recordings are used rather than digital forms, making it difficult to read registration numbers of cars caught speeding when visibility is poor.

With these problems of logistics and technology, there are also problems of incompetence in the courts system. As penalty points apply to the driver of the car, owners can play elongated games of cat and mouse with the authorities by claiming they were not driving the car when the offence occurred. That depends if a notice has been posted in the first place. When a case eventually gets to the court system, it depends on the availability of a garda. There are variations in applying the penalty points system which members of the public have copped on to and now know whether they will be caught and punished for speeding. Will the standards of enforcement sink home and bring about a better driving culture and fewer deaths on our roads?

On a national or EU level, is it possible to introduce the concept of a vehicle governor similar to that in Japan? Why are cars produced that can go in excess of speed limits? The temptation for people, particularly young men, to speed must be removed. There is an argument for allowing vehicles to reach only the legal speed limit.

The additional measures in sections 24 to 26 are interesting. I welcome the prohibition on supplying mechanically propelled vehicles to people under 16 years. It is an attempt to deal with the scourge of young people driving mechanically incompetent cars, creating havoc and danger to their lives and those of others. I am surprised that the opportunity was not taken to address the anomaly of young people driving tractors. It is a related issue to do with age, not with the stealing of cars. People at a young age are legally entitled to use large mechanically propelled vehicles, mainly off-road but sometimes on-road. Serious accidents have occurred in these cases resulting in disablement and sometimes death. I am disappointed that the Government did not take the opportunity to tackle this anomaly.

Section 25 brings the Local Authorities (Traffic Wardens) Act in line with the Road Traffic Acts. However, regarding the promised traffic corps within the Garda Síochána, why has the Government chosen not to put in place the Green Party's election pledge? It is not a question of a separate traffic corps but a separate traffic police. Such a police force could be administered through the local authority system. It is not a unique proposal as it exists in other jurisdictions. A clear distinction between the Garda Síochána and a traffic police would bring us more in line with practice in other countries. It would also free up the Garda to tackle other aspects of serious crime.

The amendment to the Taxi Regulation Act in section 26 is a response to the concerns of the taxi representative bodies about those with criminal records driving taxis. While it will be widely accepted, I would like to be assured that it has been constitutionally tested. If an individual has been punished for a crime for which he or she has served prison time, this amendment raises serious civil liberties issues. If someone commits a crime while a taxi driver and subsequently loses his or her licence, no one could argue with that. There are crimes over which no one is prepared to stand, such as sexual assault or child abuse, that would disqualify people from driving a taxi. Will the Minister explain that this is not an intention and will not be an effect of this legislation when it is passed?

I agree with all the points my colleague has made. I see little in this Bill to tackle the daily carnage on the roads. A root and branch reform of our approach to driving and speed limits is required to stop hundreds of people being killed and thousands injured annually on our roads.

While the motorcar has wrought many changes in Ireland over the past 20 to 30 years and brought obvious advantages to those who have cars, it has inflicted many disadvantages on communities whose members are unable to afford or access cars. I represented the south inner city on Dublin City Council for 11 years. Residents there spoke of cars colonising the space that once belonged to them. Their children could not play on the streets where they played as children. Parents were afraid to allow a child close to roads that had become racetracks where previously people socialised, shopped and carried out their daily business. There has been a sea change in our towns and cities, which have become more car parks than places for social intercourse and more racetracks than streets where people live, work and relax. One way to restore the public spaces of our villages, towns and cities is to restrict the speed of the vehicles allowed there.

While I welcome the potential introduction of a 30 km/h speed limit the number of caveats the Minister for Transport may attach to those limits is ludicrous. Why are there no restrictions on speed limits of 110 km/h or 120 km/h rather than on 30 km/h limits? This would save lives and enable children to play on the street outside their home. There should be restrictions on the higher limits. I am mystified as to why by-laws specifying lower speed limits in towns must receive the imprimatur of the Minister for Transport. It goes against the grain of all that I hold dear about what makes local government effective.

In the Netherlands and Germany, it is the norm that 30 km/h speed limits apply across the board in residential areas. That is not the case here which I suspect is due to the mindset of the senior civil servants implementing this policy. Traffic calming signs in Germany show trees, cars, people, and children playing on the streets. In the few limited neighbourhoods in Ireland where those signs have been introduced, the children have been scrubbed out of the picture. That is due to an attitude among senior decision makers. The streets in residential areas should belong to children not to cars. There must be a sea change at senior level to make our streets safer for children and our neighbourhoods safe places in which the next generation can grow up. This comes down to simple matters such as traffic calming and speed limits.

The Bill does not bear any sign of the kind of changes for which I wish. Instead, it demonstrates a Toad of Toad Hall "let it rip" approach to motoring of increasing the highest speed limits by 5 mph. What national policy does that follow? Sustainable Energy Ireland goes to great pains on its website to show how one can save on energy, noise and air emissions by travelling at 50 mph as opposed to 60 mph or 70 mph. It does not even consider the 75 mph limit which the Minister is trying to introduce. The Minister and those working with him should slow down and stop the carnage on our roads.

There are other ways to address the high fatality levels on the roads. There should be speed restrictions on new licence holders, those holding a provisional licence and those holding a full licence for a year after acquiring the licence. That is the crucial time when people crash their cars. I make no claim to be a good driver. I am probably one of the worst drivers on the road but there is a crucial dangerous period after someone has acquired a licence. Lower speed limits should apply in those instances and that should be signalled in the Bill.

In section 21 there is a reference to emergency service vehicles. The provisions of the section are very broad and may not stop the double parking on Queen Street, or the treble parking by Garda vehicles on Pearse Street, both in the centre of Dublin. There is a disregard for the law at a senior level. People learn by example. If emergency service vehicles interpret the existing legislation liberally, ordinary motorists may do likewise. The Garda could set a better example for observance of the Road Traffic Acts in where and how its members park their vehicles. Gardaí should also move away from seeing the patrol car as the only means by which to go from point A to point B. I am incensed at the way Garda vehicles travel through St. Stephen's Green in Dublin. It creates a very visible barrier between the Garda Síochána and the people they serve. Garda vehicles should not be allowed within the gates of St. Stephen's Green or any other urban park. Gardaí should get on their bicycles or use Shank's mare if they are to patrol these areas in a meaningful manner.

While I recognise that this Bill is a clear and practical attempt to introduce the metric system into our speed limits, I am concerned that many of the limits are being raised by stealth and that the Minister will unduly restrict the introduction of a 30 km/h speed limit.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Fox. Tá áthas orm labhairt go gairid ar an mBille tábhachtach seo. Tá sé tábhachtach mar is é ceann de phríomhaidhmeanna an Bhille ná saol ár muintir a chosaint agus a shábháil.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. We debate many aspects of life and livelihood in this House but we seldom speak about a Bill, which attempts to save Irish lives and those of visitors using our roads. While I do not share every sentiment expressed by Deputy Cuffe, I agree that many of our estates and many of our rural roads have become death traps, even at 2 a.m. People have become afraid. However, where I differ with the Deputy is in recognising that there has to be a balance, which recognises the role of the motorcar. We cannot go back to bicycles, much as some people might like to do so. The motorcar is here to stay, so it is incumbent on politicians to introduce legislation that strikes a balance between the safety of our citizens and the presence of a motorcar, which can now go at much faster speeds than before on roads that can accommodate cars travelling at such speeds. That is why the Bill is so important. I want to congratulate the Minister on expediting the important tenets of the Bill and to speak briefly about some of them.

The attraction of the Bill is the outsourcing of the collection of various charges to agents other than the gardaí. My constituents often complain to me that willing gardaí are desk bound in offices where no crimes will be committed. People want to see the gardaí back on the beat, or at 2 a.m. in Wexford when youngsters are speeding and racing cars against each other. Any measure, which takes away the bureaucratic role from the Garda is very welcome. Like all economic progress, the Celtic tiger brings its pitfalls as well as a rise in the standard of living. Since 1997, there are more than 500,000 extra people at work and all of them have motorcars. There are therefore about 500,000 more motorcars on our roads than in 1997. It is incumbent on us as politicians to recognise that the car is here, but that we must legislate in a way that makes it safer for us to travel on the roads.

Penalty points reduced the number of road deaths from 775 to 675 between November 2002 and September 2004. That represents 100 lives saved and 100 fewer families grieving. While we should aspire to eliminating deaths, at least that reduction has to be welcomed and it is as a result of penalty points.

We now recognise the different standards of roads and that common sense aspect of the Bill is welcome. The 60 mph limit on the N11 and on some of our poorer rural back-roads is an anomaly that is now being addressed. Changing from miles to kilometres is a recognition that we are in the EU. The 120 km/h limit on motorways and the 80 km/h limit on rural, regional and local roads are to be welcomed, as it recognises for the first time that there is a difference between types of roads. Constituents approach me every week to say they and their children are afraid. Many of them look for speed ramps and speed limits.

Deputy Penrose spoke about the difficulties caused by speed ramps. If an ambulance is trying to access a housing estate at speed, speed ramps become a deterrent and could have safety implications. However, it is a road that local authorities must go down much faster. We need to recognise that speed in villages is costing lives. Speed is a frightening phenomenon and it makes old people afraid to come out of their doors late at night. I am therefore glad that in this Bill, the local authority will retain some of its legislative role in making special by-laws.

I remember saying at one of my first Fianna Fáil parliamentary meetings that we should introduce driving instruction of one form or another for students. I am glad to welcome the fact that it is now becoming part of the transition year for many students, but we need to go further. We need to teach about the dangers associated with speeding, not just at transition level, but for all students who have studied the CSPE programmes. That curriculum must include the dangers of not wearing safety belts, the dangers associated with drink driving and the dangers associated with speed. At the end of the day, the Bill only becomes effective if the majority of people accept it. I am delighted to speak in favour of the Bill and to congratulate the Minister.

I also welcome the opportunity to say a few words and I welcome this Bill. Given the dreadful reports of accidents on a weekly basis, it is obvious that there is a major problem with road safety, in particular with fatal accidents on our roads. Speeding is often cited as the major factor. In many cases this is caused not by setting low speed limits but by our own bad driving behaviour. I am hopeful that this Bill will bring clarity to the whole area of speed limits. If ever there was a road, which demonstrates the need for a general speed limit it is the N11, which I use most frequently. Cabinteely to Kilpedder on the N11 is a distance of over nine miles and the speed limit changes nine times. There seems to be no logic to the changes. The limit seems to be higher in residential areas and lower outside them. This type of signage is very confusing and frustrating to drivers and it does not serve anyone well. I am looking forward to a standard limit along that type of road.

A general speed limit will bring problems in differentiating what kind of road we are driving on. Many people do not know whether they are on a regional road or a local road and that will continue to be a source of confusion. This can easily be overcome with a few reminder speed limit signs along each route. All too often, when we are entering or leaving a town or a village, we will see about 20 signs together. Buried somewhere among those signs will be a speed limit sign and that is not very effective in such cases. We need to have a system like that in the US and Britain, where there are reminder signs every few miles on their own which leave the driver under no illusion as to the speed limit.

Local authorities retain power in certain cases to make special speed limit by-laws on certain public roads. However, this has been unsatisfactory in many cases so far. While local authorities will ultimately have local knowledge and will be better placed to decide the appropriate speeds for local roads, the reality is that this will not happen given the workload already placed on staff and members of each local authority. If we are serious about road safety, then every local authority should be asked and appropriately funded to carry out a road survey to establish the appropriate speed limit on each road within its county and change the signs accordingly. There are regional roads in all areas, which are well capable of taking the proposed 80 km/h speed limit, but there are other regional roads which can become death traps at half that speed. For that reason, local knowledge is important, but funding and expert support should be given to local authorities to enable them to carry out that job if it is to be done.

I note that county managers will have the power to place temporary speed limit signs at locations where road works are ongoing. It is obvious that such a provision is necessary. Drivers are encouraged to take rat-runs in certain cases, however, when road works are ongoing. They may drive on less suitable roads, on which the speed limit remains unaltered at 60 mph. Major road schemes such as the N11, which I mentioned earlier, can take a number of years. A special speed limit of 40 mph was set on the N11 while it was being upgraded. Unofficial diversions took place on local roads with a 60 mph limit, most of which were in residential areas. There were many minor accidents as a result. The roads in question deteriorated because the volume of traffic on them doubled or trebled.

The N11 is now open, thankfully, and drivers have stopped diverting to smaller roads. Such roads have not been repaired following their deterioration, however. When road works are taking place on main roads, I suggest that county managers should consider the entire road network in the area. If they do not have the power to erect temporary speed limit signs in such circumstances, it should be given to them in this legislation. Such limits should be imposed on roads which suffer as a result of road works, even if the works are taking place elsewhere.

I welcome the Government's intention to meet by the end of 2006 its target of reducing the level of road deaths by 25%. It will be a difficult task. I do not doubt that the penalty points system has altered many drivers' attitudes to speeding.

A number of Deputies have argued that driving lessons should be part of the school curriculum. I agree that should be done where possible. Such an approach works well in other countries, such as the United States and Britain, and I do not see why it should not be tried here. Young people often have to pay through the nose to insure their cars, unfortunately. They are sometimes seen as unsafe drivers, which is unfair in many cases. Many young drivers are taught to drive by older drivers, such as their mothers and fathers, who pass on their own bad habits. The introduction of driving lessons, where possible, would give learner drivers a clean slate. I hope that its positive effect on driver behaviour would, in turn, lead to cheaper insurance premiums.

This is an important Bill in so far as it sets important speed limits, but bad driving habits will not be changed if its provisions are not enforced effectively. Many Deputies have mentioned that gardaí seem to operate too many of their checkpoints on motorways and dual carriageways. While I do not wish to criticise the Garda Síochána for doing its job, it is important that there should be a visible Garda presence on all roads. Checkpoints should not be located exclusively on motorways.

While the penalty points system has made people think, many drivers become cynical when they see Garda checkpoints in the same locations week in, week out. I know that checkpoints are found in the same places on the N11 where they have been located for the last ten years. A Garda checkpoint is set up in the same place within the 40 mph zone in my local village at least once a week. It is referred to in the locality — I will not claim that the reference is affectionate — as the weekly turkey shoot. Garda checkpoints become ineffective when people become used to them being located in the same places every time. Drivers simply slow down to pass the checkpoint before speeding up again. Fixed cameras could do the same job in such circumstances. Gardaí should be randomly sent to secondary, or local, roads in country areas as part of the overall strategy of reducing road fatalities. The consequences of speeding are far more serious on such roads, unfortunately.

It is ridiculous that our educated society needs to be held by the hand and forced to change its behaviour, but it seems to be the only way. I appreciate that the Road Traffic Bill 2004 does not relate to Garda matters, but passing the legislation is pointless if the bigger picture is not changed. I broadly welcome the Bill. I hope some of the common sense suggestions which have been made by all Members in recent weeks can be taken on board.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Road Traffic Bill 2004. The legislation was initially supposed to be introduced at the end of June or in July. The former Minister for Transport insisted that prominence be given to the State Airports Bill 2004 instead, however, because he had a hunch. The delay in bringing this Bill to the House has meant that the metrification of speed limits, which was due to have taken place in November, will not happen until the new year.

The Road Traffic Bill seems to have a number of unrelated objectives, including the standardisation of speed limits and the conversion of speed limits to the metric system. It gives local authorities comprehensive powers, such as the right to set speed limits and to grant parking permits. It contains provisions relating to the outsourcing of penalty points and the notification of points to drivers. It prohibits the sale of vehicles to minors. It provides for the disqualification of public service drivers and gives certain exemptions to emergency drivers. There is a long list of objectives, many of which are long overdue, particularly the modifications to speed limits and the prohibition of the sale of vehicles to minors. It is time for action on the ground, however, if we are to improve speed limits. Motorists, who face significant disadvantages at present, will suffer further if speed limits are not regularised.

I welcome the metrification of speed limits from miles per hour to kilometres per hour as an attempt to improve the current speed limit system. While I understand that we need to follow our European counterparts in moving to kilometres per hour, I am concerned that the change will lead to greater confusion on the roads. Additional resources and vigilance will be required in the Border area because roads in Northern Ireland will not be converted to the metric system. Drivers will need to reduce their speeds when they drive across the Border. I urge the Minister and his officials to do everything they can to ensure the public is made fully aware of the change. I am anxious that the Minister should fund the NRA sufficiently in this regard. This matter was recently raised by my colleague from County Monaghan, Deputy Crawford, who has grave concerns in this regard as someone who regularly drives on both sides of the Border.

I wish to discuss public information signage and speedometers. It is likely that difficulties will arise as a consequence of the new road signs and the existing speedometers. If we are to minimise disruption, changes in signage should be made in an efficient manner, which is friendly to motorists. Information on the changes should be made available to the public to the greatest possible extent. It is certain that the use of speedometers in existing cars will cause problems. Has the Minister considered providing a conversion device to motorists to help them to understand the conversion process? Members will recall that currency converters, which were provided to consumers when Ireland changed from the pound to the euro worked particularly well. Perhaps something similar could be provided by the Department of Transport next year. It seems that such an approach would be sensible. Can the Minister assure the House that all new cars purchased in 2005 will be fitted with speedometers, which cater for the new metric speed system? I am keen to receive an assurance from the Minister of State in that regard.

The SIMI has said "Yes" to that.

The Minister of State knows that many garages are in possession of new cars, which will not be sold until 2005. I thank him for that assurance.

The public must believe that existing speed limits will work. It is clear that speed limits are of crucial importance in the promotion of road safety. Existing legislation relating to speed limits provides for the deployment of four different speed limits, in addition to the application of speed limits to certain types of classes. There has been a perception for a long time that the current system of speed limits is not appropriate to the changed system which exists on our roads. Criticism of our existing speed limits has centred on the current unbalanced policy in respect of speed limits. It does not make any sense that rural roads other than motorways are subject to the same general speed limits as national roads. This questionable aspect of our existing speed limit structure must be taken into account. Our roads have been upgraded and developed over the last 20 years.

I welcome the recent opening of the Monasterevin bypass, which is a great stretch of motorway. I have travelled on the road in question with the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, on many occasions. I welcome the fact that there is a now a motorway from Portlaoise to Dublin. It was a joy to travel on the road last week and this. It should improve road safety on that old stretch between the end of the motorway in Portlaoise and Monasterevin. I hope it will remain death-free for years and that we will not have any accidents on it.

In discussing that, I mention the Ennis bypass which will take two and a half years to construct. I had the opportunity to go with representatives of Gama the other day through the motorway, which will bring great relief to Ennis. I welcome the bypass. It should have been open by now, but unfortunately resources did not permit that. The Government halted the contract on several occasions, but it is now in place and I hope it will be open in two and a half years. I urge the Minister to continue the improvements on the western link to join Galway and the west of Ireland, giving us the same types of roads as our friends on the east coast and improving access to the west, particularly for Shannon Airport. It has been proved that there are fewer accidents on motorways.

I will now deal with the potential for public confusion stemming from the changes to the speed limits. Although it is said that changes to the speed limits will have no greater impact than the conversion to metric, they have the potential to create confusion. No doubt the requirement to reduce speed limits will cause more trouble than will the increased limits. Extensive public information on changes is crucial. Speed limit changes will have a strong impact on the speed limits on rural roads where motorists would have to reduce speeds by up to 11 mph. Since such roads are the sites of many fatal accidents, it is certainly best to reduce speeds on them. However, it means significant changes for drivers' mindsets. If the changes are to be introduced early in 2005, the Government should by now have started a campaign to give motorists adequate time to become accustomed to them. If imposed on them without a significant lead-in period, the measure will collapse.

The legislation empowers local authorities to establish special speed limits, a concept that I support. If we are to use our speed limit system to create greater safety — and, crucially, save lives — we need flexibility. Priority areas for speed limits can make a difference in promoting road safety and must be utilised to the full. That would definitely be the case with high levels of pedestrian and cyclist use outside schools or residential areas. It is also vital, if we are to reduce speed limits, including special speed limits, that they be backed up by significant funding for local authorities to introduce enhanced traffic-calming measures. There is no doubt that traffic-calming measures have been very effective in reducing speed. In my area, there is a village on the main national secondary route, the N68. Recently, they installed traffic-calming measures, which have reduced speeds substantially on the road. Residents of the area have welcomed it. The same can be said with regard to such places on the N7 as Toomevara.

International evidence suggests that it is crucial to have speed incentive measures to protect cyclists and pedestrians. Already this year, 53 pedestrians and nine cyclists have lost their lives on our roads. It is to our shame that we have one of the highest rates of child road deaths in Europe. Many such deaths could doubtless be avoided, but we need investment to implement extensive traffic-calming measures such as ramps in residential areas. Limiting speeds outside schools during busy periods, such as the beginning or the end of the school day, are worth considering. However, I fear that this could lead to further confusion. A blanket application of a 30 km/h limit outside all schools might be a better option, and I hope that local authorities will consider such proposals.

As the Minister is aware, unrealistically low speed limits in many places have undermined public faith in the entire system. The opposite also prevails where all speed limits are simply too high in certain areas, such as outside schools, where we must slow motorists down. The Minister contends that this legislation seeks to change the setting out of speed limits for the four main categories of our road networks: built-up areas; local and regional roads; national roads; and motorways. However, my fear is that it will change nothing since, if local authorities do not act to change unacceptable speed limits, we will not have moved at all.

The Minister, through this legislation, intends to issue guidelines to local authorities, but they may simply gather dust. There is an onus on the Minister to ensure that the momentum is maintained on this issue. We need to see action. Can we be assured that local authorities will seize the initiative? If they do not, motorists will continue to disrespect speeding laws. I would also like the Minister to give a full explanation to the House of how, aside from changing miles to kilometres, he expects reasonable and effective speed limits to take hold. This legislation cannot be allowed simply to show good intentions. The Minister has a duty and responsibility to ensure that local authorities work with the NRA to encourage change on the ground.

Speeding heavy goods vehicles are a major issue. Yesterday evening on the route up to Dublin on the motorway I passed about 20 lorries, but five or six lorries passed me breaking the speed limits. The relevant authorities must address that. Surveys of speed limits undertaken in 1999 and 2002 revealed that a very high percentage of heavy goods vehicles exceeded the speed limits. It is vital that we examine measures to ensure that all vehicles abide by the limits. The legislation does not appear to have anything to force goods vehicles to keep within the law. It is of urgent concern, and only last weekend in Limerick a young Clare driver lost his life in an accident involving a heavy goods vehicle. I urge the Minister to tackle the issue as soon as possible.

We have a very high rate of road deaths. Inaction by the Government in key areas of road safety, is causing that toll to rise. I checked the figures last week, and I presume they have increased since. This year alone, 324 people have been killed on our roads, 27 more than in the same period last year. Those figures tell me that the initial benefits of the penalty points system have begun to wear off. We should be extremely concerned by the trend. It appears that our slipping record on road safety is in no small part due to the patchy implementation and enforcement of the penalty points system. There have been several inconsistencies. Controversies such as those which relate to the convictions from the toxic meter used to measure drink driving and the most recent dismissal of a speeding case — I believe that it was last June — have undermined public confidence in the penalty points system. Many people believe they can evade the law on road safety. The absence of enforcement in all aspects of road safety law is eroding the penalty points system. If motorists are told by media pundits, that one can drive the length and breadth of Ireland without ever encountering a Garda inspection check point, it is little wonder that people believe they can persistently break the law and get away with it.

I welcome the decision by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, last week to recruit 2,000 extra gardaí. I hope it happens soon, but I wonder when that manpower will be out on the streets. It is very welcome that we will not have gardaí taken up with office administrative duties. I also welcome the national road safety strategy, which was recently published. I hope the recommendations are implemented as soon as possible. It is long overdue.

Last week a deputation from the Irish drivers' association met our transport spokesperson, Deputy Olivia Mitchell. It is concerned at the implementation of the penalty points system. It believes motorists are being badly affected by Government policies. If a driver is caught travelling at 33 mph or 34 mph in a 30 mph zone, he or she receives an €80 fine and two penalty points. It believes this should be changed so that driving at five or six miles per hour in excess of the speed limit should result in a fine but not penalty points.

I welcome section 24, which deals with the sale of vehicles to minors. I am reminded of an accident in Carrigaholt, west Clare, last year in which two young girls were killed. They were passengers in a car sold to a minor in another county. This issue is close to my heart and I welcome the provision. Many Members are aware of the problem that the sale of vehicles to minors presents, particularly in terms of joyriding and related anti-social activities. The imposition of fines to deter adults from selling vehicles to minors is welcome but I urge the Minister to amend the provision because it prevents people selling or lending motorbikes and cars to people under 16 years. Cars can still be sold to a youth aged over 16 but under 17, even though he or she is not legally old enough to drive. The legislation needs to be amended in this regard.

There is also a need to make a distinction in regard to motorbikes. They can be sold to 16 year olds but they should not be sold to those under 17. Perhaps the Minister should go further in the section and provide that all sellers of vehicles should be required to check whether the purchaser has a licence, thus making it an offence to sell a car to an unlicensed driver. I urge the Minister to re-examine this difficulty.

Section 17 deals with the notification of speeding tickets. I am concerned because the onus of providing a notification of speeding offences has been placed on the motorist and not the Garda. The legislation is attempting to turn on its head the usual proposition that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. I am not sure it is fair to expect motorists to prove they have not received notification of a speeding offence. The issue of notification of speeding offences has caused problems in the past. However, as the legislation is drafted, it may continue to create difficulties. Can the Minister implement a system whereby the Garda or those to whom the Garda has outsourced the notification of road safety offences must prove they notified individuals of their summonses? That is a rational and fair approach.

I welcome the provisions under section 26, which provide for the disqualification of public service vehicle drivers for 12 months if they are found guilty of offences that do not warrant imprisonment. I support this provision in addition to those in place if they guarantee the public will get a top quality, secure service from such drivers.

Section 20 covers exemptions for emergency vehicle drivers from speed limits. I welcome the provision but I would like to know whether emergency vehicles include ministerial cars. I stress that I prepared this contribution last week prior to the incident in Killarney involving the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. This is valid question.

Fine Gael welcomes the Bill. We hope the Minister will restore public confidence in the penalty points system and that he will implement the national road safety strategy so that the high numbers of deaths and injuries on our roads are reduced.

This is the fourth road traffic Bill introduced since the previous general election and this illustrates the Government's commitment to road safety. I welcome this legislation. There has been greater compliance with road traffic laws over recent years. While the significant number of accidents and deaths on our roads over the past 20 years and, in particular, over recent weeks, is unacceptable, there has been a general improvement in compliance by road users over that period, especially in obeying speed limits.

The legislation making the wearing of a seat belt compulsory has been an outstanding success. While more modern cars are fitted with an alarm that sounds if one does not put on one's seat belt, it is generally accepted by motorists that wearing a seat belt is in their own interests and not only a necessity to comply with the law.

Speed is the greatest killer on our roads, as the Minister correctly pointed out. Given the significant capital investment in new roads and road improvements, there is a temptation to speed. While the legislation is being introduced to curb speeding and make roads safer, I am concerned that a number of local authorities have a tendency to extend speed limits outside small towns and villages to accommodate planning applications, which is the wrong reason for doing so. A number of Members have pointed out that motorists are critical of the Garda because members of the force use 30 mph zones on an ongoing basis to catch them. As I travel throughout my constituency and between Dublin and my home, I can identify locations where the Garda normally sets up speed traps. Such speed traps amount to shooting fish in a barrel and are wrong. The Minister should examine this issue and guidelines should be set down regarding the establishment of 30 mph zones in particular.

The Government has experienced major success in reducing the cost of insurance over the past two years. The establishment of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board has been successful in that the number of fraudulent claims by unscrupulous individuals has been reduced. Other changes have not made the Government popular among the legal profession. Members of that profession abused their position by availing of the ambulance-chasing facility afforded them in legislation. That was unacceptable. The insurance industry has pointed out that there has been a fall off in the number of claims in the past months. Claims are also being settled in a faster and more efficient manner. In some cases the settlements are larger than heretofore, but the legal fees involved are substantially lower. This must be welcome.

A number of insurance companies made presentations to the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business and it was frightening to hear some of the stories they related. We heard of settlements of €5,000 or €6,000 on a claim, followed by legal fees of €40,000 or €45,000. That situation could not continue as it forced motorists who could not get insurance at a competitive price to drive without insurance. Now that insurance is becoming more affordable and competitive, the number of individuals who think of driving without insurance will reduce.

I welcome the section of the Bill which will strengthen the role of the authorities in dealing with the unscrupulous individuals who have been selling vehicles to minors. The problem of joyriding is not only associated with Dublin and large urban areas, but is growing in certain rural areas also. The sooner this legislation goes through both Houses and is implemented the better.

This Government has made major investments in road improvements over the past four or five years, thereby making our roads safer. The call made for the setting up of a special traffic corps could reap rewards for the public and motorists. The improvements on the N9, the road with which I am most familiar, have ensured better safety. The Government's commitment to the improvement of the inter city routes will ensure that the roads most used by motorists will improve.

The fitting of speed controls on vehicles is some way into the future. However, it would be worth the Minister's while to consider this. Perhaps, he should also consider increasing the number of stationary speed traps as the number around the country is quite small. More stationary speed traps would be an investment. I do not suggest they be introduced to make money. However, if there were more of them, we would see a reduction in speed offences and greater compliance with speed limits.

The number of cycle lanes throughout Dublin has been increased. I would like to see cycle lanes introduced in large urban towns throughout the country. Cycling is dangerous, particularly in the winter when evening comes earlier and driving conditions are poor. While many more cyclists use helmets, they would have more confidence if cycle lanes were more plentiful.

The issue of heavy goods vehicles was raised by previous speakers. We had a significant problem in this regard, in particular over the years since 1997 since the significant improvement in the economy and the great improvement in the construction industry. The overloading of HGVs was a major problem. Apart from the dangers these vehicles caused to other users as a result of spillage of items from overloaded vehicles, the weight of the vehicles was destroying some of our smaller country roads. Road repair and construction costs are so high that it was unfair, and illegal, of these HGV drivers to overload their vehicles. I do not know whether the Garda initiated a deliberate operation to end this. However, I commend the Garda on the fact that HGV owners have become compliant. We will see the effects of that compliance in improved road standards. Also, our local authorities will not be under the pressure of having to patch and repair roads because of the damage caused by such vehicles.

The number of road deaths in 2003 was 336, the lowest number of fatalities since 1963. Road safety must remain a priority for the Minister for Transport. The legislation and policies being introduced must focus on the areas of speeding, drink driving and the wearing of seatbelts. We have come a long way with regard to compliance on seatbelts. However, we must continue to focus on the areas of speeding and drink driving if we are to reduce the number of deaths on our roads.

Road safety is about the behaviour of road users. If we have the legislation and it is implemented by gardaí, road users will improve their behaviour. We must continue to work on improving our roads. The Government committed itself in the national development plan to investing significantly in upgrading the standards of our roads.

In adopting the road safety strategy, the Government learned from the road safety experience of the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and a number of other EU countries. In his Second Stage speech the Minister said: "We have also adopted an approach that has seen the engagement of all the organisations that contribute to various elements of road safety policy in identification and pursuit of the policies through which the overall targets can be achieved." Did the Minister consult and contact the driving instructors in that regard? In recent years calls have been made on Ministers to bring in legislation for driving instructors. We do not appear to have regulations which provide for driving instruction companies to impose standards on their members. I hope this Minister tries to provide for regularising the driving instructor association in the lifetime of this Dáil.

I welcome this legislation and hope it has a speedy passage through both Houses of the Oireachtas.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this legislation. Road traffic Bills come before the House reasonably frequently, but this is not necessarily good. I do not say that by way of criticism. I was once responsible for this area and introduced a road traffic amendment Bill. We seem to be always tweaking the system.

That may be a requirement of coming to terms with one of the biggest killers of young people in particular, road traffic accidents. With changing technologies and life patterns we will frequently reassess and change our strategy to try to make roads safer.

By and large I welcome the legislation. The core of the Bill, to put our speed limits into metric form appears to be a straightforward proposition but it is fraught with difficulty. We have had a parallel system for a long time with distance signs being in kilometres and speed signs in miles. I am sure this was a cause of confusion for visitors. For example, coming out of Dublin city the distance to a destination is written in kilometres but the speed limit is given in miles although there is no indication as to whether it is in miles or kilometres. It is necessary to have a uniform system. It could only happen in Ireland that we would have two systems operating in parallel.

There is an inherent difficulty in changing speed signs to the metric system. As we are changing from miles to kilometres the figure will increase. When people see 100 written on a sign it must be clear that it is 100 kmh not 100 mph. Will the Minister indicate if the letter "k" or "km" will appear on the sign to avoid confusion on this matter?

The previous Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, voiced his concern at the arbitrary way in which speed limits are set. He indicated that if local authorities did not take a more rational approach to the decision making process he would take away this power from them and vest it in a national agency such as the National Roads Authority. I did not often agree with the previous Minister but he had a point in regard to this matter. Local councillors are often subject to pressure and irrational decisions are made particularly in regard to national roads. I am afraid the problem has not been overcome with the response of local authorities to the Minister's exhortation to be realistic. I note in the legislative proposals before us the Minister has left that decision with local authorities.

We need to have some overarching authority that says this or that is not right or is not a rational way to proceed. When driving one does not want to be constantly checking if one is moving from one zone to another, especially if one is on a national primary route.

Every Deputy who has spoken has instanced the road with which he or she is most familiar. I regularly travel the N11. When I travel from Dublin to Wexford I am delighted to reach Loughlinstown and get on a motorway. This road was previously the Bray bypass. The speed limit there is 70 mph. I immediately go from the motorway speed of 70 mph to 60 mph on the dual carriageway to a short 40 mph zone then back to a 50 mph zone through the Glen of the Downs and up to a 60 mph zone in the space of some 15 km.

There is no correlation between the quality of the road and the speed limit. Often the better road has the lower speed limit. There needs to be some overview on this. For a while a great deal of the new dual carriageway was a 40 mph zone, which was ludicrous. I spoke about this to members of the Garda Authority and officials of the NRA who all regarded that as an anomaly, which has been rationalised to some extent. I give that as an indication that one has to have consistency. The notion that people would be in jeopardy of losing their licences for not constantly adjusting speed on what looks like a consistent road of dual carriageway standard is something that needs to be examined.

I wish to briefly discuss the role of the Garda Síochána in regard to monitoring of speed limits. There is now a view within all operations of the State that we need some kind of yardstick to measure outcomes. All successes, be they in health, education or police enforcement have to be in some way measurable. The tape measure used for the Garda Síochána is the PULSE system. In order for one Garda division to be seen to be effective, the rate of prosecutions has to be at least equal to the neighbouring division. I am certain that gardaí are dispatched during the year to improve the batting average of their division. That is no way to improve road safety.

There should be a commendation for areas where there are few prosecutions because that is a true indication of effective policing. The fact that prosecutions have been made often means people are breaking the law more frequently. A highly visible Garda presence will often force people to keep the law. One does not need to have prosecutions to keep the law. The yardstick I suggest is a reduction in accident rates, not the level of prosecutions or fines within a Garda division. This is a very important point. The criteria for success should be a reduction in accident fatalities and injuries, not the number of captured lawbreakers whether they are people a few miles over the speed limit or overtaking on a continuous white line or whatever. I am not encouraging that by any stretch of the imagination but it is a mindset we have to get right. I accept this is not primarily the responsibility of the Minister for Transport but it is an important component of a Road Traffic Bill to have that view expressed.

I am deeply concerned with the view expressed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in regard to the outsourcing of speed cameras. I served on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, which investigated the insurance industry. We produced two substantial reports and a raft of recommendations that come within the remit of the Minister for Transport. The former Minister for Transport was very helpful with the committee's work. After careful consideration and on a unanimous cross-party basis, the committee recommended that speed cameras should be operated by the Garda Síochána and not by a franchised commercial entity. I am strongly of that view.

We looked closely at the model used in Great Britain. If we move away from this being an initiative to reduce accidents and save lives to one designed to make money, we will be on a very dangerous road, if the House will pardon my mixed metaphor. I genuinely believe this. If this is commercialised and there is an incentive for people to cover costs by capturing people the objective is no longer road safety. This is something I feel strongly about. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is quite wrong in holding firm that we should take this function away from the Garda Síochána and outsource it to some commercial entity.

We have the experience of clampers who, by and large, do a good job. However, in Galway a decision has been made to dispense with their services. A decision has been made in Dublin to look again at the contract for this service. A balance has to be struck between good public policy and a commercial company with a commercial mandate to make money. No company will apply for a franchise unless there is a commercial motivation. That was the strongly held collective view of the Oireachtas joint committee on reflection, which I hope the Minister of State will communicate to his Cabinet colleagues.

The committee made a number of recommendations which relate to the Department of Transport and road traffic, many of which are extremely important — for example, the improvement of driver testing and the regularisation of qualifications and standards for driving instructors. The committee supported the notion of random breath tests and the introduction into the school curriculum of road safety at second level, which are important issues, which will form part of a rational approach to road safety.

Is the Deputy referring to the 2004 report?

Yes. This is the second report of the Oireachtas committee, published in July 2004, which includes a checklist of the proposals which have been implemented, one of which is this Bill. The Health and Safety Bill, which is due before the House next week is another. On a cross-party basis, the committee is pushing to have a range of legislation implemented, even though some Bills are difficult. For example, the establishment of the PIAB was agreed on a cross-party basis and supported through the House, which is the correct way in which to make legislation if possible. I do not have time to go into detail on the work of the committee. I acknowledge that the Minister of State has read the report, but I recommend it to him and hope it will not gather dust. The committee will return to the issue and the Minister will be called before the committee again to examine the checklist of items which need to be addressed.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. For example, insurance costs for motorists have fallen by 18% on average this year, for which the committee can claim some credit by calling the insurance companies before it and holding them to account. The committee system is an effective way of doing business. The Press Gallery, which is obviously bulging now, might take note of the work of the committees.

Deputy Cassidy is working on them.

I am sure he is. We have a very able and hardworking chairman and a new able vice-chairman since his predecessor, Deputy Conor Lenihan, was catapulted into high office.

I welcome the new offence of supplying a mechanically-propelled vehicle to minors, but the provision has come very late. On two occasions my colleague, Deputy Broughan, introduced legislation to the House to deal with the issue of so-called "company cars" only for it to be defeated by the Government. It is too important an issue to have been regarded as party political and voted down simply because it was proposed by this side of the House. Unfortunately, in my judgment that is the only reason it was voted down.

That is not a fair reflection of the position.

The Minister of State will have an opportunity to respond to that point. It is my discernment that the legislation which was proposed twice is the same type provided for in this Bill. It is a very important issue because so-called "joyriders" have been putting people's lives at risk in Dublin and across the country. The measure is very welcome but it should have been dealt with earlier.

It is not a criticism of any particular Minister, or even of any particular Government, but it is a pity we do not normally have the generosity to accept legislative proposals from this side of the House. They might not be crafted to the finessed degree of Government legislation, but that can be addressed on Committee Stage. We should consider a mechanism such as exists in other parliaments so that Private Members' proposals and even Private Members' Bills could get much more hearing time in this Assembly. Perhaps this could be examined by the committee on Dáil reform. In some assemblies, for example, government departments are available to draft legislation for individual members from the other side of the house. I hope through the Oireachtas Commission that we can at least resource the House to provide better support for Members with good ideas from whatever corner of the House they come.

Section 21 clarifies the use of emergency vehicles, although I am not sure it does so all that well, to which the Minister of State might make reference. The very last sentence cites all the provisions from which emergency vehicles are exempt, but the final subclause states: "where such use does not endanger the safety of road users." I presume there is a duty of care on everyone, even those with blue lights flashing. In that context, an ambulance driver trying to get a cardiac arrest patient to a hospital will take due care and attention because he or she will be a trained able person, but will have to be careful not to come a cropper because someone might suggest that he or she "does not endanger the safety of road users". For example, travelling at 80 mph might well de facto endanger other road users but it might be necessary in certain circumstances. Perhaps the provision is lifted from elsewhere but the Minister of State might refer to it in his summation.

Section 8 sets the speed limit for motorways but I want to see a definition of "motorway". The Arklow bypass is as good a road, with no direct access on to it that I can determine, as the Bray bypass. However, the Bray bypass is a motorway with a speed limit of 70 mph, which will be 120 km/h, whereas the Arklow bypass is a dual carriageway, although it looks identical in quality, and will remain a 60 mph zone or 100 km/h equivalent. We need to rationalise what is a motorway and what is an enhanced dual carriageway. I do not know whether it is just for funding purposes that the NRA categorises such roads differently.

Section 10 provides for local authority managers to make temporary speed limits for road works but it appears to be a very cumbersome procedure. I presume road works are often undertaken on an emergency basis, for example, when one needs to dig up the road in the case of a burst pipe. However, according to this section, the commissioner has a month in which to make representations on it, to which the manager must have regard. How exactly will that work because I am not certain? I presume there is an over-ride. When I was the Minister, there was an over-riding principle of practicality. There was an unwritten rule which provided for the works being done.

I always thought it a nonsense that speed traps were erected on some of the best roads in the country, which captured drivers travelling at a few miles per hour in excess of a 60 mph limit, whereas drivers could whizz around on country roads without breaking the law. I welcome the more rational approach to speed limits. However, many non-national roads now carry heavy vehicles, notwithstanding the comment made by Deputy Nolan, collecting milk, delivering goods and so on. We need to examine restricting weights on some of our non-national roads and on ensuring that all lorries are covered. It is sugar beet season in my area at present, which provides one of the most dangerous factors on the roads at this time of year, as the Chair, given where he comes from, will be aware. Sugar beet falling onto icy roads is lethal. Therefore, we must ensure lorries are covered. I could say a great deal more about this important legislation. Perhaps I will have the opportunity to do so on Committee Stage, when I hope some of the points I have made will be taken on board.

This is an enabling Bill and it gives Members an opportunity to express views on a number of issues relating to road conditions and road traffic. Everybody has an opinion on speed limits. On the N4, for example, it is almost necessary to have somebody else in the car to say whether one is driving in a 30, 40, 50 or 70 mph zone. The section from the M50 roundabout to the Spa Hotel is probably the most signposted section of road in the country and the most abused with regard to speed limits. Sections of it have a 40 mph limit, which is ridiculous. Further along, there are sections with a limit of 50 mph before one reaches the M4.

Are these speed limit signs serving the purpose they are meant to serve? Is there a need to have so many speed limits on such a short section of road? It would be better if speed were controlled on those roads by means of warning signs rather than the signs currently used.

The Bill deals with speed limits throughout the country. It proposes to reduce speed limits on regional roads to 50 mph. This is low because some of these roads are in better condition than some of the roads classed as national secondary roads on which there is a 60 mph speed limit. The discretion for dealing with speed limits that the Bill proposes to leave to local authorities is important. Certain roads have a history of major accidents and perhaps the local authority should have the power to intervene immediately if it believes there is a need to do so and place speed limits on those sections of road.

I am worried about county managers being given the power to declare speed limits. They should come before the local authority before the limits are imposed. However, in some cases it might be necessary to impose speed limits at short notice, for example, if road works need to be carried out in an emergency. We must be reasonably flexible. All speed limit changes should come before the local authority members. Under section 10, it is up to the local authority to notify members of the council. Will the members be notified before or after the speed limits are decided? It is imperative that there be a lead in period during which the managers would have to give notice to the councillors.

Speed limits are terribly important at schools, especially in rural areas. The recent programme of funding in CLÁR areas for warning signs at schools is of enormous benefit to both pupils and parents. In rural areas, children who do not use school transport are dropped to school and collected by their parents. As a result, one will see 20 cars or more outside some schools at 9.30 a.m. and at 2.30 p.m. or 3 p.m. These are dangerous times and warning signs are most important because motorists who are not from the local area will encounter a traffic hazard with parents allowing children to disembark at the schools. They can be in an extremely vulnerable position.

We must also consider the issue of driver education, which is most important. Deputy Howlin mentioned the recent reduction in the cost of insurance but I am aware of somebody who was quoted a price of €6,000 this week for insurance for a 1.2 litre car. The person is 17 years old and had just got a provisional licence. That price is way beyond the financial resources of any young person. Such prices can lead to the other problem of people driving without insurance, which is unacceptable. If there were a proper driver education programme in second level schools, and I have suggested this many times previously, we could ensure that when people reach the driving age of 17 years they will be able to get cheaper insurance. Driving habits are formed early. Driving tuition should be introduced as part of the second level curriculum. Young people should be taught how to drive so that when they go on the public roads they will have the benefit of a reasonable education behind them.

Another problem is that young drivers tend to feel they know everything about driving. However, no matter how much we have driven, we are always learning a little more. If one regularly drives on a certain road, one becomes familiar with its hazardous sections. One learns how to deal with road conditions, which can be an important factor in road accidents. If roads are wet or frosty they pose a grave danger which does not exist on a nice dry road in the middle of summer.

The education system for drivers should also inform them about the maintenance of vehicles and ensuring that tyres, brakes, lights and so forth are well maintained. This is most important for safe travel on the roads, especially for young people. Will the Minister consider the possibility of introducing into the second level curriculum a driver education or tuition programme?

Another cause of concern is people driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol or just fatigue. Look at the effects some prescription drugs can have on people's ability to react. This is a grey area that needs to be examined. People should be made aware of the dangers of driving after taking prescription drugs. There is also the use of non-prescription drugs, which is a major hazard for road users. People who are under the influence of drugs and who take control of a car are, in effect, a lethal weapon. Let us be under no illusion about this.

The other common problem is drink driving. Everyone has their own opinion of drink driving and nobody condones it. However, I believe younger people are less condoning of drink driving than others. It is no longer socially acceptable to young people to drink and drive. That is a good attitude and it is the result of the education of young people about the dangers of drink driving. They have seen the consequences for some of their friends and families. The consequences are terrible. With regard to education, if somebody is invited to speak to young people about driving it might be no harm also to invite somebody who has been involved in an accident. He or she could explain how it has affected his or her life. In some cases that has been done and it had a major effect on young people. They saw the consequences of somebody driving either under the influence of alcohol or too fast.

Driving when tired is another problem but the only way to deal with it is by using common sense. We might consider the use of drink drive car locks in this country. These are operated in some Scandinavian countries — I have seen them — and they are considered to be quite successful. If one fails to pass the drink drive lock blow, one's car is immobilised and one cannot drive it. That is a good idea. We should examine if it would be acceptable in the Irish context.

The Bill also deals with the sale of vehicles to young people, which is a major problem. Everyone is aware that it happens not only in Dublin but in rural areas. There are unscrupulous dealers who will sell cars to young people. It is easier to take a couple of hundred euros from a 16 year old to get a car out of the yard than to have it taken away, to be scrapped. The only way we can change this will be if it becomes mandatory to have insurance cover before one is allowed to take a car out to drive. Garages should not be allowed to permit a person to take mechanical vehicles off their premises without proper car insurance. This would probably be the most rapid way to deal with this problem.

The fine set down in the Bill for selling a car to a person under 16 years of age is €3,000. It is equally lethal to sell a car to a person between the ages of 16 and 17 as to someone under 16. The Bill should be amended so that it will become an offence to sell a vehicle to someone under 17, the legal age at which someone can obtain a driving licence and insurance. It should be mandatory that a vehicle cannot be sold to someone unless he or she can produce insurance cover and he or she should not be allowed to remove it from a premises without such cover. This would prove far more effective than the imposition of a €3,000 fine. It will be difficult to collect the fine from many of the individuals who sell the cars to which I refer because they will either have moved on or will simply not pay it.

Perhaps on Committee Stage the Minister will consider changing the age from 16 to 17. No one under 17 years of age should be permitted to buy a car. The only vehicle a 16 year old is allowed drive is a farm tractor. Perhaps that is the reason the legislation refers to the sale of vehicles to persons under 16. Those aged 16 are legally allowed to drive agricultural tractors on the roads. The problem must be tackled.

Deputy Howlin referred to so-called company cars. I refer to them as company hearses. We have all seen young people rallying cars down narrow rural roads at night. It is frightening to see some of the marks left on some bypasses on Sunday or Monday mornings by those who executed hand brake turns on them the night before. I travel regularly on the N4 and regularly see such marks after the weekend. These drivers may be displaying bravado but their behaviour could lead to terrible tragedy.

We should consider introducing a system of speed warning signs. A number of such signs are already in operation. I noticed one recently on the N3, the Cavan-Dublin road, which, as one approaches it, indicates the speed at which the vehicle is travelling. This is terribly effective. It makes people aware of the speed at which they are travelling and the speed at which they are actually entitled to travel in a particular area. A system of such signs would be far more effective than one which utilises speed cameras. A person who does not return to the proper speed on encountering a speed warning sign would not be entitled to any measure of mercy when it comes to prosecution. Someone who is aware that he is driving at high speeds and continues to do so does not deserve great sympathy in the event of their being prosecuted.

If we were to introduce such a system, it should apply on the entrance roads to towns where 40 mph, 30 mph and slow-down sections are in operation. The sorts of signs to which I refer would be far more effective than those currently in existence. A sign which shows someone the speed at which he is actually travelling is much better because it shows him that he is a danger to others if he is driving too fast. With modern technology, the system to which I refer would not cost much more than other systems. Signs warning people to reduce speed, keep left or whatever are used wherever one encounters road works throughout the country. Smaller versions of such signs could easily be provided. These would warn people about the speed at which they are travelling. They would be particularly useful in built-up areas and on roads on which there has been a high incidence of accidents.

Section 26 relates to taxi regulation. Everyone in the House will welcome that section because, in many cases, cognisance is not taken of a person's record when a taxi licence is granted. We are aware that, on occasion, gardaí have issued taxi licences to people they felt were not suitable to hold them. This section is a positive development because it will give us the opportunity to deal with situations with which it is not possible to deal under existing regulations.

We must also consider the issue of vehicle testing as it relates to problems on our roads. Since the introduction of the NCT, many older vehicles have been removed from our roads. However, it remains the case that reasonably new vehicles do not pass the NCT. This may sound alarm bells for car owners. However, when one's car passes the NCT, one is at least aware that the tyres, brakes and lights on one's car are working properly. The NCT is important and while there was some opposition to vehicle testing in the early days, it has been quite successful.

When one considers the many road traffic regulations and all the changes that have taken place with regard to dealing with offences, one can see that mistakes are made every day in terms of pursuing prosecutions. The Garda authorities should be asked to ensure that members of the force do their homework properly. That is all I want to say on this matter. I accept that it is not intentional that prosecutions cannot sometimes be pursued but in many instances people guilty of driving recklessly get off on technicalities. This is a matter of concern to many people.

The most important factor relating to road use is education. We must start at the bottom, namely, with people attending second level. Driving instruction should be placed on the curriculum to ensure that people obtain a proper grounding in respect of road use and what they can do while driving a car.

I referred earlier to the sale of mechanical vehicles to people under 16. I hope the Minister will consider my suggestion that the age limit should be raised from 16 to 17. A maximum fine of €3,000 on conviction is not sufficient. Judges should also have scope to impose prison sentences, if necessary, particularly in respect of persons committing second or third offences. I feel strongly about under age people driving without insurance. Not only are these individuals putting their lives at risk, they are putting those of other road users in danger. If, as in recent years, we are going to curtail the number of deaths on our roads, we will need the co-operation of all road users, including drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

I could speak at length about what should or should not be done in respect of road use. The Bill is a positive move towards improving the situation and I commend it to the House.

This Bill provides an opportunity to examine issues of road and traffic safety. Its purpose is to introduce a new system of speed limits based on metric values rather than miles. It provides for the adoption of changes to the administration of the fixed charge system for traffic offences; introduces a new offence relating to the supply of mechanically-propelled vehicles to minors; extends and clarifies the application of exemptions from traffic and parking restrictions for emergency vehicles; provides for amendments to taxi regulations; and contains various other changes to road traffic Acts since 1961.

Approximately one person is killed and one seriously injured in road accidents every day. It is time to look at road safety in a more detailed manner. Speed, alcohol and drug use are the main difficulties. It is important appropriate speed limits are put in place to ensure road safety is uppermost in people's minds. Many speakers have outlined areas with numerous different speed limits, ranging from 30 mph to 70 mph, on a short stretch of road. This does not help solve the problems with regard to safety.

The issue of county roads is key to road safety, the prevention of road traffic accidents and ensuring lives are not lost unnecessarily. Speed limits on county roads must be reduced, in some cases substantially. There has been reference to the issue of speed limits in the vicinity of schools. A speed limit of 30 km/h should be introduced in such areas. I concur with Deputy Ellis' suggestion that warning signs be provided. The vast majority of pupils are taken to and from school by car. Often significant numbers of vehicles are parked on narrow country roads or roads with numerous bends. Drivers who are strangers to the area might come upon such a situation. There should be a speed limit of 30 km/h as well as warning signs.

The outsourcing and privatisation of the installation and operation of speed cameras will not be good for road safety. Cameras should be operated by the Garda Síochána to ensure the primary objective is road safety and not revenue collection. The Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform should examine the issue again.

Control of speed is the most important element with regard to road safety. Trucks are now fitted with speed limiters, and this restriction should be extended to private motor vehicles. It is a necessary and acceptable measure and will ensure road safety and the control of speed is uppermost in motorists' minds. It will also ensure substantially less carnage on the roads. This Bill should be amended on Committee Stage to ensure speed limiters are fitted to cars.

The initial impact of the penalty points system was successful and reduced road traffic accidents and fatalities. However, this impact has waned because of the low probability of actually being caught. A special traffic corps should be established within the Garda Síochána to deal with road and traffic safety. The penalty points system will be largely undermined unless drivers feel there is a probability of being caught if they exceed speed limits.

However, there should also be an element of fairness. One runs the risk of both a fine and penalty points if one exceeds the speed limit by one, two or three miles per hour, particularly in lower speed limit zones. There should be an arrangement, a twilight zone if you like, whereby exceeding the limit by one to five miles per hour in lower speed limit zones of 30 mph or 40 mph attracts a fine and not penalty points as well.

The transition year curriculum in second-level schools lends itself to helping promote road safety. The education of young drivers is important, and transition year should be used for that purpose. Learner driving, tuition, and knowledge and minor maintenance of vehicles should be introduced as part of the transition year curriculum. That would contribute significantly to road safety in the future. I welcome in particular section 24 that controls the sale of cars to minors. Like Deputy Ellis I believe the age limit should be at least 17 years of age and not 16 as proposed in the Bill. I hope that provision can be changed on Committee Stage. The sale of cars to minors continues to be a problem and it has been raised in the House on a number of occasions. I hope an amendment to this section will be tabled on Committee Stage.

The practice of able-bodied people parking in parking spaces for the disabled annoys people including me. Many disabled people have indicated to me and to others that this offence should be dealt with severely. They recommend increased fines for that offence. There is a limited number of parking bays for the disabled. I recommend an increased fine when these spaces are used by able-bodied drivers.

Another element that could be provided for by way of an amendment to the Bill is that of the long waiting times for driver testing. The waiting time for a driving test is now running at between 40 weeks and more than a year and this is unacceptable. Not enough has been done to ensure that a reasonable time applies.

That is not true.

It is probably nearer to a year.

Once an application is made, the outside waiting period should be 12 weeks. Many people are waiting to take the test in order to use their car for employment purposes. While the officials in the Department are very helpful in this area, they are not in a position to shorten the waiting time significantly even for people who are waiting to take the test for employment purposes. I ask that this Bill be amended to allow for an additional section providing for a waiting period of not more than 12 weeks.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He has been quite vocal since taking up his new appointment in which I genuinely wish him well. He is a very committed politician since his time in the Department of Health and Children and I am sure he will be the same in the Department of Transport. In some ways those of us with responsibility for health matters miss him from that Department. Unlike some other people, he was a bigger risk-taker than most and he got things done.

I thank the Deputy.

I wish to credit another person who has moved, Deputy Naughten, for the work he accomplished during his time with responsibility for this area. He was extremely conscientious and did a great deal of research and work. He brought many issues forward. He heavily influenced and determined Fine Gael policy in this area. One of those issues he raised and to which Fine Gael is committed is the establishment of a road accident investigation unit. I ask the Minister of State to examine this area because a road accident investigation unit must be established to discover the root cause of accidents and to compile and publish accurate and detailed accounts of the causes of accidents.

While drink driving and speeding are major contributory factors to our atrocious road safety record they are not necessarily the main causes of accidents in the first instance. No one can supply an accurate figure in respect of the number of fatalities caused by drink driving because the only way to do so is to have the coroner test the blood alcohol level of a person involved in a fatal road accident and that is done at the discretion of the coroner. Figures relating to the involvement of drink driving in fatal accidents are not compiled. No one can therefore provide definite figures in respect of this matter. A system for the automatic investigation into the causes of accidents is required. The National Roads Authority currently has responsibility in this regard.

While the NRA compiles statistics relating to dangerous stretches of national roads, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Many other sections of national routes are accident hot spots. County roads have some very dangerous stretches which are often not recognised. When they are recognised, a traffic sign is erected which often only lasts until it is hit and then is not renewed in many cases. Any community situated on a national primary route will know the official and unofficial black spots. The frequency of accidents at these unofficial locations does not bear out the statistics that road conditions are responsible for 2.5% of all accidents as claimed by the NRA. Many accidents are due to poor road conditions or in the cases of new roads, poorly designed roads, yet the NRA has failed to highlight this in any report to date because this would place the focus on the authority. The only way to ensure proper statistics is through the establishment of an independent road accident investigation unit.

I can give an example of the circumstances of a fatal accident. A tennis ball in the car rolled along the floor into the driver's area. When the driver went to brake, the tennis ball jammed behind the pedal and caused the accident. It is important that people should be alerted to the many things that must be considered.

I wish to draw to the attention of the National Roads Authority the need for a bypass for Adare village in my constituency, from both a road safety and traffic access point of view. Some serious accidents have occurred particularly on the Rathkeale side of Adare. It is also dangerous on the Limerick side of the village where there are narrow bridges and many people walk that area. I ask that the NRA consider a bypass for Adare. Limerick County Council is publishing today a report on the options for the Adare bypass. Options, procedures and decision making in respect of the bypass are fine but funding is very important, not alone from the point of view of safety but from the point of view of development of the tourist products of Adare and the need to remove heavy traffic from the village. It is an excellent tourist product, one of the best in the country. From discussions with the NRA, I am aware that the inter-city routes are the Department's chief consideration. I remind the Minister of State that the bypass for Adare is very short and very necessary. In the context of an overall budget it is a very small amount but would be very significant from a safety point of view and would provide access to the western part of west Limerick.

Debate adjourned.