Private Members’ Business.

Road Safety: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann,


—that 323 persons have been killed on our roads in the first ten months of 2005;

—the number of persons killed or seriously injured on our roads in the first ten months of 2005, is now higher than for the same period in 2004;

—that the number of fatalities last month was almost double that for October 2004;

—that the Government is failing to achieve its target of reducing road deaths by 25%; and

—that the Government's failure to put in place the enforcement and legislative measures necessary to reduce road deaths and fatalities is aggravating the level of carnage on our roads;

calls on the Government to:

—implement in full the commitments contained in the National Road Safety Strategy 2004-2006;

—guarantee the complete roll-out of the penalty points system and the achievement of the full complement of the Garda traffic corps as an urgent priority; and

—immediately establish a road safety authority with a dedicated, rolling budget to act as a single agency with statutory responsibility and extensive supervision, decision-making and management powers in relation to road safety.

I propose to share time with a number of my colleagues, the names of whom I do not have to hand.

I will accept the proposal.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle.

This time last year, Fine Gael used its Private Members' time for much the same reason. I refer to the relentless upward curve in the number of road traffic accidents, the increase in the number of people killed, particularly young drivers and their passengers and the growth in the number of serious accidents. We tend to pay less attention to the injuries than to the deaths, perhaps forgetting the life changing consequences such accidents have for the injured and their families. We all know the statistics of those killed and injured and we know the figures are not improving. October was a particularly grim month with almost twice as many killed as in the same month last year, 42 as opposed to 22. Tragically, many of these were young people. Ireland is the only EU country where the trend in road deaths is upwards instead of downwards.

We have seen horrific television images of the aftermath of accidents and enough broken cars to be able to imagine all too clearly the broken bodies lifted from those cars. We have seen enough to empathise with the broken families who opened their doors to the worst news any family could get, the news we all dread, that some loved one is dead. Yet the inexorable rise in road deaths goes on — deaths that could have been avoided and accidents that could have been prevented. We can now predict each weekend with absolute certainty that the news bulletins will be characterised by the latest grim statistics. When the accidents are particularly bad, the victims young and the numbers involved more shocking and when the grief seems utterly unbearable we get promises of political action. All we ever seem to get are promises. It never seems to move beyond that. There is always another report pending, more legislation being prepared, always another excuse for why we have not come to grips with the real causes of accidents.

Nothing we have to say will be news to the Minister. He can rightly say he has heard it all before. However, we make no apology for that. If repetition is what it takes, then we must be repetitive. As the Opposition it is our duty to highlight Government failures, to hold Ministers to account to the Dáil and to the people. When lives are at stake, which is the case in the context of road safety, that duty is absolutely compelling and we cannot ignore it. The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, said recently that many Deputies say things they do not really believe. To avoid being accused of that I wish to say at the outset that I do not really believe Governments can put an end to people being killed on the roads.

People not Governments drive cars and there is a significant element of personal responsibility involved. Parents also have a responsibility to instil in young drivers, especially those to whom they give their cars or for whom they buy cars, that it is simply not acceptable to speed, drink and drive, or take risks with their own lives and, especially, the lives of others. The relentless message to young people must be that a car is a potentially lethal weapon. If necessary, parents must make themselves available at weekends to drive their children when they socialise, organise a non-drinking driver or pay for a taxi. I am conscious that it is more difficult for young people in rural areas to socialise but there must be a sense of mutual social responsibility from drivers, their families and passengers to ensure that no matter where people live they will change their driving habits and organise themselves so that they can travel and socialise without taking unnecessary risks. Even though the direct cause of most road accidents is due to driver behaviour, that behaviour can be and is influenced by Government action, or inaction.

In all areas of our lives, rules, laws and regulations seek to influence what we do and how we behave. We have countless examples of how legislation has changed how we behave. The shame of being caught breaking the law, the fear of the legal consequences, the fines, the jail sentences and the withdrawal of privileges, such as driving licences, all operate as deterrents modifying our behaviour. As somebody said, fear works. Properly enforced legislation does much more than merely change our behaviour, it changes the entire culture of a society. The culture surrounding driver behaviour is an entirely negative one, informed by the attitude of apparent official indifference. Every aspect of official attitude, from legislation to enforcement to administration, sends a message of the low priority driver behaviour and, consequently, road safety has for Government. How can we be surprised if drivers pick up on this message and act accordingly? How can we be surprised when each Garda in the country arrests, on average, only one driver on suspicion of drink driving per annum? How can we be surprised when, as that figures implies, only one person for each of the 12,000 pubs in the country is arrested for drink driving in any year? Bizarrely and unforgivably, how is it that only one quarter of that 12,000 people are actually convicted?

The priority accorded to road safety is measured by the resources allocated to it by the State. These figures speak for themselves and, consequently, over 30% of car drivers on main roads speed, drink driving is commonplace and the general driving standard is lamentable. Many people evidently feel they can do as they like on the roads, speed with impunity and drink with impunity. As far as driver behaviour is concerned, the message from Government is, anything goes. The chances of being detected are slim and of being convicted, even slimmer. Similarly to speeding offences, only 20% of the national road safety target is being reached. Heavily laden trucks with lethal potential speed with impunity, 85% on motorways, 60% on dual carriageways. With that level of non-compliance, one might as well not have a speed limit at all. It is simply ignored. The lack of a visible police presence is creating the impression that drivers can break the law and get away with it. Worse than that, the message is that, not alone will one not be caught, as one is safe from detection, but that one is also safe from traffic accidents.

The pre-election promise of 2,000 gardaí was a deception with the first numbers only appearing three years later and the full complement, at best, not due to appear until 2008. An even greater deception is the much vaunted Garda traffic corps. It was announced with much fanfare this time last year. At that time, helicopters, motorbikes and luminous yellow jackets were much in evidence. Several months later we discovered that this year there would only be an increase of a miserable 33 gardaí in the traffic unit. An even greater deception that only came to light recently is the fact that this is not a real traffic corps at all. It is not a dedicated corps, ring-fenced for traffic and road safety duties. At any time its members can be dealing with burglaries, filling in forms, signing passports or rescuing cats from trees. In fact, the traffic corps only comes into effect when its members don their yellow jackets. Once again, the public has been duped. Much was promised but little has been delivered.

Penalty points, about which much has been said in the House, are another farce. They held the promise of having a dramatic effect on road deaths and initially this was the case. On 2 November, the Minister, Deputy Cullen, blamed the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda for delaying the expansion of the penalty points system. The previous week the Joint Committee on Transport was told by Assistant Commissioner, Eddie Rock, that the Garda had no difficulties handling the penalty points system. I have heard this message from the Garda for some time although, clearly, the opposite is the case. This indicates not only a lack of transparency but also a dismal failure of leadership in terms of delivery of road safety with no one willing to take responsibility.

I would like to know what is the real story on penalty points. Nothing has changed or improved since the system was first introduced. In reply to a parliamentary question I was informed that the cost of installing the PULSE system was €63 million. I do not know what it has cost since then in terms of maintenance and upkeep. Will it ever deliver on its promise? Until the system is fully and effectively functioning Garda time and energy is wasted and we will continue to have more road deaths.

Random breath testing was promised by a previous Minister for Transport in 1999 but it has fallen completely off the radar. I accept there are concerns that the Garda would just use it to bump up the overall numbers of people tested and that there are also civil liberties concerns. However, we cannot just walk away from it because so many of the cases brought to court are failing simply because the Garda must prove that tests were not random and that they had cause to stop people. It is time to prepare legislation and have the Supreme Court test it. Safeguards can be included in regard to civil liberties and other concerns which people have.

If penalty points are a farce, speed cameras are high farce. Fixed speed cameras currently only exist in counties Dublin, Meath, and Louth. A total of 20 fixed camera boxes exist but there are only three cameras. Speed cameras were initially rolled out as a pilot project, with the aim being to roll out such cameras nationally. The three mobile cameras are rotated between the 20 boxes. After almost three years, there are no additional cameras outside these areas. A reply to a parliamentary question to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform tabled by me revealed that of the 20 boxes, nine, or almost 50%, were damaged. Nobody ever thought of repairing them — it took up to eight months to repair them. In essence, we have a very restrictive speed camera system confined to a couple of counties.

After lengthy consultation, many reports, published on the website, press statements and so on, and with much fanfare, it was announced that the speed camera system would be outsourced. The Minister decided he could not manage it and decided to give it to someone else to manage. Outsourcing was promised which would solve everything in that there would be increased efficiency and output. More legislation was promised to facilitate that. Both those promises are up some cul-de-sac. There has been no output as a result of those promises. There has been research, reports and promises about outsourcing but zero outcome. Surely the Minister has not been so caught up with preparing his one page plan for transport that he could not achieve anything in the area of road safety.

Driver testing is a crucial area because it is where young people first interface with the rules of the road and where they form the attitudes and practices which they will probably carry throughout their lives and which will influence their behaviour in the future. This area is a complete mess and I do not believe anyone in government could say otherwise. Over half of all drivers fail their first driving test. This is either due to poor instruction or poor driving, or both, or poor testing. The Government must introduce some regulation of the driver instruction process. Anyone can set up a driving school. One does not even need a driving licence, which is absolutely incredible. Regulation and certification are needed.

One in six drivers on Irish roads have not passed a full driving test. The number of drivers holding provisional licences is partly due to the fact that 43% of them have failed their test. Even when they are retested, the failure is almost as high. There is something fundamentally wrong with a system which allows drivers who continually fail their test to go back on the road armed with nothing other than a certificate of incompetence to drive, yet they are let out year in, year out. It is sending a message that the Government does not care and that people do not have to be careful and do not even have to make an effort to pass the test. That must change. Nobody can stand over such a system.

Legislation to delegate responsibility in this area was introduced in the House some months ago. The content of the legislation showed a lamentable paucity of ideas as to how this problem should be solved but at least a new authority was to be set up. The Minister expressed the hope that this would change everything, but the legislation has disappeared. The Minister said he will reintroduce it beefed up but there is no sign of it. People are still dying on the roads and we have no idea what will happen.

There are countless other issues to be addressed. For instance, an issue which is emerging is the impact of drug misuse on driver behaviour and this is a major cause of death. There is no roadside testing system. Clearly, any road safety programme or campaign must take into account that this may be a significant cause of road traffic accidents.

Of course, other issues have raised their heads in the context of the appalling accident in County Meath, such as the role the road surface plays in accidents. That must be addressed. It must be made absolutely clear to local authorities that they must enforce whatever guidelines are there because it is unacceptable that roads are left in a condition which is not safe, particularly when local authorities are responsible for rendering them unsafe. When road works are going on, particularly on lonely country roads, they must be clearly marked so that everyone is fully aware the road surface is not considered safe.

Another issue about which I feel strongly was raised by the former Minister, Deputy Brennan, or perhaps the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resource, Deputy Noel Dempsey, that is, mobile telephone use. Originally, the use of a hand-held mobile telephone while driving was to be a penalty point offence but the Minister did not know how to define a mobile telephone, so he had to withdraw that proposal. It is extraordinary that it can be defined in every other country in the world. This is an issue to which we must return.

To include such an offence under the penalty point offence of dangerous driving is simply not good enough and it is not working. In single car accidents involving young people, the use of a hand-held mobile telephone while driving may well be a cause. We must create a culture where it is not acceptable to drive a car while using a hand-held mobile telephone. Indeed, I have seen truck drivers do three-point turns with mobile telephones held to their ears. It is an unsafe practice and we must make it clear that it is not acceptable. People think it is perfectly legal and they use mobile telephones while driving all the time and make no attempt to hide the fact that they do so. An attempt to legislate must be made to at least reduce their use. I understand there may be problems with enforcement but we could reduce their use and the likelihood of such accidents.

The Minister of State, Deputy Callely, is responsible for traffic. Road safety is the responsibility of the Minister for Transport and only he can act to make a difference. Even best practice will not secure zero deaths but, according to the National Safety Council, it would save 140 lives per year and save 1,200 people from crippling injury. It is up to the Minister whether he saves those lives.

We face an emergency in regard to road deaths and serious injury on our roads. The figures are startling. Last year there were 374 road deaths and over 3,000 serious injuries. It is clear these figures will be exceeded this year as predictions are for approximately 380 roads deaths and over 3,000 serious injuries. When one looks at what happens in the United States, for example, when they expect a hurricane or a tornado they make efforts to reduce the number of people who will die as a consequence, but one wonders what we are doing to reduce what we know will happen by way of carnage on our roads. Given that we know that this year 380 people will be killed on our roads and 3,000 people will be seriously injured, what are we doing about it? It is clear that many of those deaths are preventable and many of those serious injuries should not happen.

I am not into the types of foolish stakes of a former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he spoke about zero tolerance and pretended it would lead to zero crime. I have heard recognised experts and have looked at the various reports, and indeed, the figures produced by the chairman of the National Safety Council who said that with best practice, we should be talking about six deaths per 100,000. That would give a figure of 240 deaths per annum. That figure is comparable internationally. Why are we not talking about saving lives and about taking those preventative measures to achieve best practice outcomes? By not doing so, we are all responsible for the deaths of at least 100 people and for the fact that at least 1,000 people will be seriously injured on our roads this year alone.

While, of course, I point the finger at the Government, which can take measures, I accept there is a responsibility on us all to push for changes to legislation, for measures to be taken as regards enforcement, for the necessary investment in this area and for insisting that at all times this issue should be a number one priority. If the hurricane or tornado predicted by Brendan McWilliams inThe Irish Times was to happen, we would take measures to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries, but we are not doing so in regard to road deaths. It is obvious what we should do. One does not have to reinvent the wheel in this regard. The prescription is in the Government’s own road strategy. It admits there should be a targeted reduction in the number of road deaths to 300 per annum. All the measures have been set out in detail but the problem is they have not been implemented. Why not?

My colleague, Deputy Olivia Mitchell, has covered the broad issue and I do not intend to plough the same ground. I will, therefore, refer to a number of issues such as speeding. Everybody accepts speed is a major problem in the context of road traffic accidents. Why has it not been dealt with? Why are there only three fixed speed cameras in the State, which is ridiculous? Why is the rate of enforcement of road traffic legislation only a fraction of that in other countries? Why has the Government not provided the equipment or the personnel? Is the money not available to make such provision? Why is this investment not made?

We also need to examine how best to make such provision. The privatisation of the operation of speed cameras, thereby improving enforcement, should be considered so that the Garda can deal with serious crime. A dedicated company should be involved in speed detection. The State has had bad experiences in the privatisation of road traffic functions, particularly clamping. I recall a number of incidents in Galway where the clampers were an absolute disgrace. However, with proper control, a privatised system could be introduced which would achieve results.

The key factor in speed detection is to discourage people from breaking the law. It should be aimed at reducing road accidents. There is no point in enforcing speed limits by setting up checkpoints to spear fish in a barrel to generate revenue or pursue detections in areas where there is no serious risk of an accident. It must be ensured blackspots and black times such as weekends are targeted. If the system were privatised, a bonus could be paid to those involved on the basis of the reduction in road deaths as opposed to speeding detections. That could be the benchmark against which the employees could be judged for a bonus.

A new approach to the detection of speeding and drink driving and the enforcement of speed limits is needed. The drink driving laws are largely ignored and not enforced, with an occasional push at Christmas and other times. Attitudes must change but, above all, stronger enforcement is needed. The Garda must be involved but the force's numbers are not large enough. Earlier in a radio interview, it was stated the thin blue line is getting thinner in many areas and has disappeared in some parts of the State. Issues such as random breath sampling must be examined. Promises have been made in this regard and, while it presents difficulties, they should be teased out. The difficulties have been resolved in other countries such as Australia and New Zealand. For example, sobriety checkpoints have been introduced in a number of states in America to get over the difficulties. The Government should do something in this regard. Its road strategy lists legislative measures which look grand in print but that is where they remain.

My colleagues are as seriously concerned about this issue as I am. The prescription is available regarding what should be done legislatively and through enforcement. Investment needs to be made and the money is available. Why in the name of goodness does the Government not follow the prescription? Why is this issue not a priority on its agenda? Until it is a priority, many people will be needlessly killed or seriously injured on our roads. The time for action is now and that is what we, in Fine Gael, demand of the Government.

I am glad to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate. I am hugely frustrated by the Government's failure to take practical and measurable steps to respond to the increasing number of road fatalities and to road safety generally. Ireland compares dismally with other EU member states regarding annual road deaths per head of population and it is the only country in the EU in which the number of road fatalities is increasing annually. A total of 323 people have been killed on our roads in the first ten months of the year, almost twice the population of the House. This is higher than for the corresponding period last year. Many of these accidents are avoidable and involve single vehicles while most are caused by driver error or poor road conditions.

People dying on our roads should not be an issue for political points scoring or division. I hope the Minister of State can tell from the tone of the debate that the issue is not being used by Fine Gael to score points. The House should support strong and prioritised policies to tackle the cause of so much tragedy on our roads. The Government and local authorities have done bits and pieces to handle the issue but the evidence is clear that the trend is headed in the wrong direction and policies are failing. The Government's primary target in its road safety strategy was a 25% reduction in road deaths so that there would be fewer than 300 deaths a year. However, we are nowhere near that and we are moving in the opposite direction.

The two most important issues are enforcement and improvement in driver behaviour. With regard to enforcement, the penalty points concept was good. It was supported by the Opposition when it was introduced and it was taken seriously by the public. It had a dramatic effect on the roads. Many Members spend a great deal of time on the road and there was a noticeable reduction in speeding in the six months following the introduction of the penalty points system. However, since then people have not taken penalty points seriously as an enforcement measure because they are not caught often enough. When they are caught, they do not receive notices of penalty points in the post. Sometimes the notices arrive three months are the incident, which does not allow an accused to challenge the offence. The system is not being taken seriously and people are dying as a result.

Three fixed speed cameras are in place throughout the State. I do not care whether the Government or a private company invests in and provides a network of speed cameras. My preference is that a private firm should create a network and deal with enforcement efficiently while being carefully monitored. The Government should get such a network up and running, whoever administrates it. There are no fixed speed cameras between Cork and Dublin, the two main cities in Ireland, even though the majority of this route is dual carriageway. There are no speed cameras between Cork and Limerick or between Galway and Dublin.

There is a camera in Lucan, County Dublin.

It will only work if the box contains a camera. The Garda traffic corps has undermined the Government's credibility regarding how seriously it is taking road fatalities. The corps comprises 23 gardaí who are not on traffic duty full-time. This Minister of State shakes his head as if this is not true but I am using his figures.

I refer to drink driving. Why is addressing drink driving prioritised at Christmas and on other key weekends during the year but not on other weekends? Why do we not take drug driving seriously? Road safety and road deaths are not a priority for this Government. Some 400 people will die on the roads in Ireland this year. The response we receive in every area can be undermined. This is not simply a matter of enforcement. It concerns teaching young people how to drive as part of their education.

Unlike other speakers, I do not think it is sufficient to implement the road safety strategy that was published. We should examine models used to great success in other countries, particularly in driver training. As part of their education, people go to driving school for two or three weeks in France, Canada and the United States. If we are serious about teaching young people how to drive responsibly and correctly, to understand cars and their dangers and the importance of seat belts, we should teach them how to drive properly. We can send people to a driving school or have them undertake a structured driving course, involving continuous assessment and requiring the passing of various tests before being allowed to drive. We should abolish the system whereby those who fail the driving test are still allowed to drive.

I thank Deputy Mitchell for proposing this motion. Many people in the country will follow this debate with interest. We are not winning the battle on road safety. I listened with great interest to Mr. Eddie Shaw of the National Safety Council when he addressed the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport last week. His comments on how road safety matters are handled, managed and executed were scathing. His premise was that no strategic planning exists, as many of my colleagues have stated. No cohesion exists between stakeholders and no targets have been set to measure achievements. Mr. Shaw's comments described the problems of the system and many of my colleagues have referred to this. I assume the Minister of State agrees with the description and if this is the case, there is a need for much quick thinking and faster action.

I listened to the Minister for Transport when he appeared before the Joint Committee on Transport last week. As any Minister would, he proceeded to outline the great achievements of the Government and some minor achievements can be identified. He did not mention Ireland's pathetic record within the EU. Fatalities on our roads increased by 13% at a time when every other country in the EU had an average decrease of 7%. How can this be described as progress? The Minister did not tell us that the Garda budget for technical aspects of the job was more in 2000 than it was in 2004. The budget decreased by approximately €200,000 in that period and these figures have been provided in response to parliamentary questions.

The introduction of penalty points was positive but the public caught on. People realised the chances of being caught were slim or non-existent. If the Government is not able to enforce a law, the consequences are clear. What happened to 2,000 extra gardaí promised by various Ministers and the Taoiseach? They will not be in the force for several years and all the Government speaks of is further legislation.

Minor roads, to which a speed limit of 80 kilometres per hour applies, resemble Mondello Park. No speed detection exists on these roads, which have become the new highways. I agree with my colleagues that driver testing is the greatest joke of all time.

I am relieved to have this opportunity to speak on this important motion. Watching the news, particularly at weekends, I am shocked by the considerable loss of life that occurs on our roads. As a country, we are failing to address the root causes of road accidents. That the number of fatalities increases every year is evidence of a major failure of the administration. More than 5,000 have died on Irish roads in the past decade, a significant number by any comparison.

To address a complex matter such as road deaths requires a multi-pronged strategy. The first issue to be addressed is the number of gardaí dedicated to the traffic corps. This must be allocated its full complement of staff immediately. In conversation, one will often hear a comment on the likelihood of getting caught driving slightly over the speed limit in zones of 50 miles per hour or 60 miles per hour. People should uphold the law but human nature sometimes goes against this. People need incentives to uphold the law and they must know that if they drink and drive, break the speed limit or rob a bank they will not escape punishment. This is the kernel of the problem.

I drive to Dublin most weeks, as many people do, and I am struck by the farcical state of the Dublin-Cork road. Part of the road is a dual carriageway, elsewhere there are single lane stretches where the speed limit is routinely broken. Approaching Dublin, traffic grinds to a halt first because of roadworks, then because of a never-ending rush hour. It is no wonder people are tempted to break speed limits when they reach a stretch of good road. The frustration they encounter on the road makes the journey extremely difficult for drivers. For this reason, speed cameras must be located at frequent intervals along this road. The purpose of these cameras must not be to catch people out but to warn them.

Other speakers referred to minor roads, a source of significant problems in this country. Local authorities have not addressed the problem of overgrowing hedges in the summertime that cause accidents on minor roads. In autumn, falling leaves make roads treacherous and local authorities make no effort to clean up such roads. An ever-increasing number of accidents occur on these roads.

While there are many issues to be addressed, an important one is the education of young people. People are driving a mechanically propelled vehicle, which can be extremely dangerous. The transition year in schools is an ideal opportunity for people to learn to handle mechanically propelled vehicles. Deputies from all sides of the House agree with this, yet nothing is done about it. I ask the Minister of State to consider transition year as an opportunity to educate younger people on this issue.

I thank Opposition Members for their comments, which I have noted. I wish to share my time with Deputies Cassidy and O'Connor.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all the words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"—notes that Government policy since 1998 on road safety has provided a framework for the delivery of reductions in road deaths on a sustained basis;

—notes the progress already achieved in relation to the roll-out of the penalty points system and the commitment of the Minister for Transport, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Commissioner to advance a further major extension of the operation of that system as quickly as possible;

—notes that the Government has decided to pursue arrangements for appropriate private sector involvement in the deployment and operation of speed cameras;

—acknowledges the progress being made by the Garda Síochána in increasing the strength of the Garda traffic corps in line with the commitments made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform;

—notes that the Minister for Transport is pursuing legislative proposals for the establishment of the road safety authority and that the new authority will have a central role in the co-ordination of the delivery of road safety programmes; and

—acknowledges and supports the Government's continued commitment to the delivery of the policy initiatives set out in the Road Safety Strategy 2004 to 2006 and its continued efforts to realise the target set in the strategy to reduce road deaths to a total of not more than 300 per annum by the end of 2006."

As someone who made a living driving along the highways and by-ways of this country, I have a fair understanding of road safety issues. Equally, as a parent with two children at home who are licensed to drive, I am conscious of much that has been said concerning the tragedy of fatal road accidents involving young people. Deputy Cassidy and I listened intently to the accurate information that has arisen during the debate. We share the Opposition's view and dearly wish to see a reduction in the number of road accidents causing death and serious injury. I do not think there is anybody in the House who would not share that view.

Long before I assumed my current portfolio at the Department of Transport, the record shows that I pursued some of the issues that were raised this evening, including road safety education in transition year, speed cameras and driver theory testing. The latter test is applied before granting a driving licence. It is frustrating that some people are not allowed to drive on motorways even though most routes are now motorways. On the other hand, when people pass the driving test they are expected to drive on motorways in the same way as an experienced driver. Such people have driving licences allowing them to drive on a motorway without any additional training.

We know what the problem is.

The Minister of State can change it.

Allow the Minister of State to continue without interruption.

The Government has been in office for eight years.

I understand the frustration.

That is reassuring.

The reassuring part is that some progress has been made and we should not lose sight of that. Earlier in the debate it was said that Ireland ranks seventh of 15 EU member states in terms of road safety and we have been in that position for a while.

They are all improving, but we are not.

Maybe we are not improving, but we need to examine the increase in our population together with a corresponding rise in car ownership, compared to what has happened in other member states in this respect.

Deaths per thousand of population is the key statistic.

The presentation of the subject of road safety for discussion today and tomorrow allows me an opportunity to outline the progress the Government and other agencies engaged in road safety are making in pursuing our plans on an ongoing basis.

The current rate of road deaths provides the general background to the motion tabled by Fine Gael. It looks in particular at the number of road deaths in October. I have no intention of minimising the concern society rightly has when it witnesses the deaths of 43 people over a period of one month. That concern is shared by the Government.

It is disturbing that the rate of progress achieved in reducing road deaths in 2003 has not been maintained or improved upon. However, I express some caution in looking at data relating to road deaths over short time periods. Dependence on the consideration of data over short periods, such as monthly totals, masks the fact that such data can be influenced by particular tragedies that result in multiple deaths and injuries. Of far greater relevance is the establishment of trends that are sustained over relatively long periods. Provisional data for this year reveals wide variations on a month-to-month basis. Road deaths in October were at a level that was nearly double that of the previous year. However, it is a fact that in other months this year the numbers of fatalities were significantly lower than those experienced for the same months in previous years.

Looking at data for the years since the introduction of the first road safety strategy, it is clear that there has been a measurable decrease in road deaths compared with preceding years. The Government will not be complacent, however, by suggesting that we are content with the situation. We are not and our aim is to see that major reductions in the current levels of road deaths are sustained over the long term.

Road safety is a multidimensional area of public policy. It engages a range of Government and other agencies which must work together to achieve concrete, lasting results. That is why in 1997 the Government adopted the national road safety strategy. This represented the first time road safety planning and initiatives were placed within a distinct policy framework. That framework featured a set of specific goals based on the delivery of progress across a range of areas. Previously, road safety policy had been fragmented and initiatives were pursued on a singular basis.

The adoption of a more strategic approach was pursued, in the first instance, against the realisation that the persistent growth in vehicle numbers and negative trends in road casualties required a concerted and integrated response. An immediate focus of the consideration of the response was the realisation that, internationally, those states where the greatest level of success had been achieved in reducing road casualties on a sustained basis, had adopted strategies that were planned nationally and pursued against a background of the realisation of specific targets.

It is likely that if we had not adopted a similar approach we would have seen the maintenance of the level of casualties that had been prevalent through the 1990s. In the period between 1990 and 1997 the average annual number of road deaths was 442. This compares with an annual average of 400 since the adoption of the first road safety strategy. In the past three years, the average number of road deaths was 362.

Given the focus of the motion from Fine Gael, it would be appropriate to reflect briefly on the delivery on the commitments made over the past eight years within the framework of the first strategy.

In the area of drink driving alone we have seen the delivery of a range of major initiatives. In 1999, the roll-out of evidential breath testing was completed. Through the Road Traffic Acts 2002 and 2003, the circumstances by which a driver can be required to undergo a preliminary roadside breath test were extended. In addition to the situation where a member of the Garda Síochána forms the opinion that a driver has consumed alcohol, any driver who has been involved in a collision or who may have committed a traffic offence may be required to submit to a roadside breath test.

The 2002 Act also featured the first comprehensive review of monetary penalties for road traffic offences since 1984. A major feature of the 2002 Act was the introduction of the penalty points and fixed charge systems. The initial effect of the application of penalty points to speeding offences was a dramatic reduction in the rate of road deaths. While the scale of reductions realised in the months immediately following the introduction of the system has not been maintained, the number of road deaths annually over the past three years is significantly lower than the levels recorded in preceding years. It is clear that the system has made a positive contribution to road safety since its introduction.

The Road Safety Strategy 2004-2006 also presents commitments to pursue major policy initiatives across a number of key road safety areas and progress is being made in the metrication of speed limits, the establishment of a Garda traffic corps, the further roll-out of penalty points, the engagement of private sector interests in the operation of speed cameras and the pursuit of an appropriate form of random breath testing for drink driving

It is accepted that excessive speed is both a primary reason for many road collisions and a major contributing factor in determining the degree to which the collision gives rise to casualties. A review of our speed limit structure against the background of the adoption of metric values was targeted as one of the central legislative initiatives to be pursued as part of the strategy.

The process that underpinned the adoption of the new metric speed limit system was supported by the passage of the necessary legislation in December 2004, which was followed by the provision of some 58,000 signs showing the new speed limit values. The latter exercise was completed by local authority personnel over a short period leading up to 20 January, when the new system took effect. Not only did this system see the adoption of metric speed limit values, it also saw a reduction of 16 km/h in the speed limit applying to the rural regional and local roads.

The new legislation confirmed the central role of the elected members of county and city councils in making determinations for changes to the speed limits applied under the legislation and gave them the capacity to deploy a greater range of speed limit values, including the 30 km/h speed limit. The legislation also allowed for public engagement with local authorities making speed limit changes.

The establishment of the dedicated traffic corps last year by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform with a distinct management structure under the command of an assistant commissioner addresses a particular commitment given by the Government. The Minister has achieved his commitment to increase the strength of the corps to 563 members by the end of 2005. When fully staffed, the corps will make significant gains in road safety through consistent high levels of traffic law enforcement. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has in recent weeks reiterated his commitment to rolling out the traffic corps and announced the deployment of additional Garda resources to Donegal given the number of tragic collisions in that region in recent months. By the end of 2008, traffic corps strength will more than double to 1,200 gardaí.

The establishment of the dedicated traffic corps will not impact on the capacity of all other members of the Garda to address road safety issues and pursue those who breach traffic laws. However, the growing presence on our roads of a dedicated highly visible corps of officers will be a greater deterrent to the type of behaviour that leads to road collisions.

One of the key policy initiatives proposed in the original road safety strategy was the introduction of the penalty points system. The system was applied to speeding offences in 2002 and has subsequently been rolled out to the key offences of not using a seat belt, driving without insurance and careless driving. The significant downturn in road deaths recorded in late 2002 and into 2003 reflects a reaction to the deterrent effect of the penalty points system. That effect has dissipated somewhat since then. I share the frustration of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, that we are not yet in a position to extend the application of penalty points. However, we intend to extend penalty points to a range of additional road safety related offences as part of the next phase of the system's overall roll-out as quickly as possible. This extension will depend upon and be supported by the application of the necessary information technology support framework which is being developed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda.

The road safety strategy commits the Government to engage private sector interests to deploy and operate speed cameras. A working group, established to examine the general framework for this proposal, acknowledged that it will be necessary to engage private sector interests if we are to reach the critical mass required to meet the enforcement targets for speeding offences in the road safety strategy. Legislation will soon be brought forward to provide an appropriate statutory basis for the pursuit of this proposal, initially through the development of an appropriate tendering process which will be informed by the key recommendations set out in the report of the working group.

The report of the working group, which will inform our pursuit of this initiative, presents a template for its operation grounded in road safety. The Garda will have a general supervisory role in the management of the initiative and, with the assistance of the National Roads Authority, will be responsible for choosing sites for the placement of cameras. Sites will be selected by direct reference to collision history and prevalence of speeding incidents. The group has recommended that there be no connection between revenue collected from detections by privately operated cameras and the funding of the operation.

The road safety strategy provides that random breath testing should be in place before the end of 2006. This is seen as a particularly successful element of road safety policy in many states. In pursuit of the commitment given in the road safety strategy, my Department has engaged in a detailed examination of the possible approaches that could be adopted in this country to give the Garda greater powers to impose roadside breath tests. This has been informed and supported by the receipt of independent legal opinion and the opinion of the Attorney General. Our policy in this area must be pursued in the knowledge that significant legal challenges have been presented to the current drink driving laws. The Minister, Deputy Cullen, has invited the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and the transport spokespersons of the political parties to meet him next week to discuss the adoption of a policy in this area that will command cross-party support.

The process of establishing the road safety authority is well advanced. Its legislative basis is the Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill 2004 which has completed Second Stage in the Dáil. The principal purpose of the Bill is to establish a driver testing and standards authority whose primary responsibility will be the delivery of the driver testing service and the regulation of driving instructors. The authority will also have a statutory duty to promote the development and improvement of driving standards.

During the Second Stage debate the Minister indicated that establishing a separate public sector body to deliver the driver testing service and take responsibility for other functions connected with the testing and control of drivers provided an opportunity to assign other general road safety functions to that authority. As a consequence, the Government decided to amend the Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill 2004 to enable it to assign other functions to the authority. This will ensure that the authority can play an important role in improving road safety in general. In view of these amendments, it is proposed to change the title of the driver testing and standards authority to the road safety authority and that of the Bill to the road safety authority Bill.

The road safety authority will be a single agency with responsibility for a wide range of functions which have a bearing on road safety and will be in a unique position to co-ordinate and advance the road safety agenda through delivery of road safety programmes such as the testing of drivers and vehicles, driver education and the promotion of awareness of road safety in general. The authority will play a significant advisory role to the Minister in the development of road safety policy.

To facilitate the road safety authority, the road safety functions of the National Safety Council will be transferred to it.

As the Bill already provides that the authority will have a general duty to "promote the development and improvement of driving standards" it is appropriate that the educational brief of the NSC, together with its brief for the promotion of road safety, be transferred to the authority.

In the road haulage sector the authority will take responsibility for the functions currently exercised by my Department regarding driver hours and rest periods, including the tachograph, the working time directive for mobile workers in the road transport sector and the implementation of EU requirements regarding bus and lorry driver vocational training. In addition, the authority will also be enabled to enforce the relevant regulations in these areas as well as the conditions applying to licensed road haulage operators. Responsibility for implementing new requirements under EU directives on professional driver training in this area will also be assigned to the new authority.

While the Bill already provides for vehicle testing to be transferred to the authority, it is proposed to also transfer other functions relating to the standards that apply to vehicles sold or used in Ireland, as required by EU directives, and all related matters. Work in this area includes EU vehicle type approval law, standards for in-service vehicles, commercial vehicle testing and oversight of the NCT.

Major improvements in Irish road safety have taken place over the past 30 years. The annual road death toll had reached into the 600s during the 1970s, whereas between the early 1990s and 2001, it stood in the 400s. Since 2002, the highest annual number of road deaths experienced was 376. This significant improvement has been achieved in the face of increasing traffic volumes and road travel.

A range of factors has contributed to the delivery of this improvement. It is no coincidence that the improvements have coincided with the adoption of a strategic approach to road safety policy through the implementation of road safety strategies. However, the Government is not satisfied with the current situation. We recognise that the achievement of the overall target in the road safety strategy is a major challenge. We are fully committed to meeting that challenge and to continue to advance road safety in a concerted and co-ordinated manner. I commend the amended motion to the House.

For most of my life I have been travelling 60,000 miles annually all over Ireland, on inferior roads for much of the time. Most Members of the Oireachtas probably travel more than 40,000 miles annually.

It is every parent's worst fear at weekends when their sons or daughters go out for an evening that they might not come home safely. Unfortunately we occasionally see the most horrific tragedies and accidents on our roads. These accidents involve not only young people, but many others.

The Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, of which I am the chairperson, have examined this issue with regard to the insurance inquiry. I agree with Deputy Coveney that road safety should be on the school curriculum in terms of the importance of good driving. Students should be assisted before they leave school, by whatever means the Government can offer, in order to alert them to the important issues and to the responsibility which anyone who turns a key in a car ignition and drives a car has to fellow citizens and to those travelling in the car.

In the course of our investigation for the insurance inquiry we visited New York, where we spent two and a half days with the New York police. We learned much about their techniques and methods. Regarding insurance, we noted that every police person in New York has a hand-held computer. Put to the window of a car, this shows whether insurance and all else is in order, and indicates if the person driving the car is of good character or has previous convictions. It provides a sort of character reference for the police. The police traffic corps is wholly responsible for traffic in the state of New York and would not agree that their work should under any circumstances be hired out to the public sector.

I note Deputy Howlin has arrived. He is a very valuable member of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business.

To our surprise, we also found in New York that with the traffic corps in action 24 hours per day, crime fell by one third in New York state, because a criminal has to get from A to B.

Mr. Eddie Shaw is a very eminent man who has given unselfishly of his time to the cause of the National Road Safety Council.

So good that the Government replaced him.

He is a Westmeath person.

I rest my case.

His grandfather was the first Cumann na nGaedheal Deputy for a constituency in this House, in 1929.

Why did the Government replace Mr. Shaw?

Eddie Shaw recommended to our committee that we had only half our investigation concluded if the committee did not visit Australia and particularly New Zealand. Our committee is taking his advice and is inviting the Minister for State, Deputy Callely, to join us on a visit to New Zealand. That country has in place the computer which has been successful in everything to do with penalty points, the issuing of summonses and so on. No trial is necessary and there is no excessive cost to the Exchequer. The computer machinery is in place in New Zealand. I accept Eddie Shaw's advice that this instrument could reduce road deaths by 50%.

Perhaps the Minister could set it up.

It is a bit late now.

It is never the wrong time to do the right thing. The Deputies should be uplifted by their presence in this House and their membership of it. It is an honour and a privilege to serve. We must all look to the future. If this piece of machinery can reduce road deaths in this country by 50%, why not use it?

The black box, compulsory in most other European countries, particularly in many German states, should be installed in public transport, Garda cars and ambulances. The track record of every accident is there for everyone to know within 25 or 30 minutes.

A great deal of progress can be achieved in a short time. This is a worthwhile motion. I commend Fine Gael for its introduction. We will do anything we can do to support our Minister in this regard. All parties are anxious to see the issue pursued to a speedy conclusion.

I thank our colleagues in Fine Gael for putting down this motion and I commend Deputy Olivia Mitchell. She and I share a constituency boundary.

I saw the Deputy in Dundrum on Sunday.

I spend a lot of time in Ballycullen.

I saw Deputy O'Connor in Dundrum on Sunday. I am beginning to worry.

I am not afraid to travel on good roads provided by this Government and I go over there as much as I can.

Do the Deputy's constituents know he has left Tallaght?

Woodstown in Ballycullen needs attention and I am happy to try to help. I am also happy to support the Minister for State, Deputy Callely, and I am glad that Opposition spokespersons are being kind to him. He does a great job and his work impresses us greatly. The information advertisement he placed this morning will be welcomed by many Dubliners.

We are talking of a serious issue.

I am an active, born and bred Dubliner. I am looking forward to Christmas in Dublin and I know other Dubliners are too. I am particularly delighted with the announcement this morning with regard to Luas. I use Luas as much as I can, thought not so much at 3 a.m., but I look forward to the extended hours at Christmas.

Deputy Coveney is right to say road safety should not be a party political issue. I hope we all agree on that. Road safety is a serious issue and I hope we can help the Minister in that area.

Deputy Jim O'Keeffe made a point about soft targets. One has to be very careful in that area. I recall making a similar speech when I was cathaoirleach of Dublin County Council six years ago, and being given a lecture by the road safety people. The perception exists in terms of speeding that there are soft targets. Some weeks ago, I attended a Fianna Fáil meeting in Kilnamanagh, Tallaght, where it was noted that areas such as the Belgard Road are regarded as soft targets. Deputy Jim O'Keeffe is correct in that respect.

I have visited a number of schools in south-west Dublin. At a girls' school in Greenhills, I had an opportunity to actively support the road safety week it had introduced. I commend such initiatives and look forward to voting for the Government's amendment.

With the permission of the House, I would like to share time with Deputy Howlin.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Much is revealed about the carnage on our roads by the fact that the figures included in this motion when Fine Gael issued notice of it last Friday are already out of date. Sadly, the numbers of fatalities on our roads are increasing daily and currently stand at 328 this year.

This exercise is not about apportioning blame but should be about taking responsibility for a problem that has robbed us of 2,239 lives in the past six years. The Government is not to blame for these deaths. There are any number of causes for serious accidents, including driver behaviour and error, vehicle standards and driving conditions. However, the Government is charged with addressing these causes and it is time it is held to account for its failure to do so.

Responsibility for road safety and, in particular, the implementation of the road safety strategy stretches across the Departments of Transport, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Health and Children, yet there is little evidence that the issue is being taken seriously by the four relevant Ministers. It is disappointing that none of those senior Ministers bothered to attend tonight's debate.

The truth is that there is a lethargy at the heart of Government, where road safety is quite often seen as someone else's problem, reform happens whenever there is time to get around to it and the issue is pushed to the back of the political and legislative agenda. We are 13 months into the current road safety strategy, which has a further 13 months left to run. In the absence of an annual review, I have been examining how each target is being met. While there have been some welcome initiatives and I welcome in particular the establishment of a Garda traffic corps, although delays are being experienced in bringing that to its full complement, by and large the strategy is behind schedule. I have identified at least 20 road safety measures which the Government has yet to implement or for which there are no obvious dates for completion. Of course, the Government will say that 13 months remain before they must provide many of these items but the fact that many proposals are not even listed in the Government's indicative legislative programme suggests they will not be met.

With regard to drink driving, no legislation has been introduced for random breath testing, despite the promises made some years ago by the then Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, and other undertakings made at the commencement of the road safety strategy to introduce measures. The current Minister for Transport cites constitutional difficulties with this measure.

Equally, there has been no increase in the charges applying under section 22 of the Road Traffic Act 1994. This section provides for a charge to be applied against convicted drink drivers as a deterrent and to meet the cost of investigating their offences. Currently the fine stands at a mere €95 and, while it was to be increased to €250 under the current road safety strategy, the amount has not changed since the commencement of the Act.

The expansion of the penalty points system has been stalled by the failure to put in place the necessary information technology. The latest news is that the system may be ready in April but it is becoming more difficult to believe the Government's target dates. More than three years after the introduction of penalty points, only five of the 69 promised offences are included.

There appears to be little or no progress on the mutual recognition of penalty points between the South and the North and Great Britain. Drivers on both sides of the border can drive with impunity as far as penalty points are concerned. The Minister of State, Deputy Callely, need only travel along the M1 to see many cars with yellow registration plates driving at speed south of the Border. This is the most glaring example of putting matters on the long finger I have seen for some years and it amounts to political negligence.

In terms of enforcement, no legislation has been published on the control of mobile phone use by drivers, despite many promises. There has yet to be a response to EU Directive 2003/20/EC, which requires that seatbelts be worn in vehicles in which they are fitted, including school buses. The EU Convention on Driving Disqualifications has not been implemented nor, as was suggested in the strategy, has a bilateral agreement been entered into with the UK on the matter.

The Minister confirmed in his reply to a recent parliamentary question that compulsory initial practical training for motorcyclists will not be introduced until the road safety authority is established. However, this authority will not be established until the Minister produces amendments to a different Bill. We will have to await the passing of that Bill in both Houses before he begins to address this area.

There are no regulations with regard to requiring motorcyclists with provisional licenses to display L-plates, which means the law banning learner motorcyclists from carrying pillion passengers cannot be properly enforced.

There has been no move towards changing the licensing regime for learner drivers. The Minister has indicated this will not happen until after the current average waiting time of 40 weeks per driving test centre is significantly reduced. Unfortunately, the Minister's best estimate for this to happen is 18 months to two years. Again, an undue delay will occur before attention is paid to the content of driving tests.

A new rules of the road booklet has not yet been introduced. The current booklet is approximately ten years old.

There is a good picture on the front of it.

Deputy Howlin was a Minister and had a beard when the booklet was last published, which indicates how long ago it was. It is a scandal that anybody who begins to learn the rules of the road cannot get an up-to-date rules of the road book. This was brought to the attention of the Minister's predecessor three years ago and to the Minister last year but no progress has been made.

Measures have not yet been finalised which would introduce required standards and training procedures for the recognition of driving instructors.

While a disproportionate number of larger vehicles are involved in serious road accidents, the Minister has not transposed Directive 2002/85/EC on the fitting of speed limitation devices on HGVs. I recall that the Minister of State appeared on television some months ago to promise that such a step would be taken without delay but no action has resulted. Nothing has been done in terms of the introduction of on-the-spot fines for licensing and tachograph offences by HGV and bus drivers. The directive on working time for HGV and bus drivers has not been transposed.

A number of issues are outstanding with regard to vehicle standards. No schemes have been introduced for testing imported vehicles before registration or for roadworthiness tests for motorcycles.

It may be seen from this list, which is not by any means exhaustive, that the Government has a mountain to climb before all of these road safety measures are implemented and is not even in compliance with the reforms required of it by the EU. These problems are compounded by the fact that a great deal of information is missing. The Minister has refused to publish his legal advice on the difficulties of providing legislation for random breath testing. He has not published the 2004 annual report of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, which provides details of detection rates and breath testing rates for drink and drug driving. The Government has not published its report on the interdepartmental review of road safety expenditure. The NRA has yet to complete its study of the collection of serious injuries data so, contrary to what was supposed to happen under the current plan, no target has been set.

Another commitment in the road safety strategy was for 11.1 million vehicles to be checked, per year, by the end of the strategy period. Yet, in replies to parliamentary questions, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has not been able to tell us how many vehicles were checked in 2004 as part of the Garda speed limit enforcement programme. How can a target be met if there is no measure of the current activity? We need to see real progress that is measurable and accountable and where clear targets are seen to be met.

On the issue of achieving targets, let me put something to bed. The Minister for Transport stated at the meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport last week that all the targets were met in the last strategy. If he bothers to read beyond the preliminary paragraphs of the review of that strategy, he will find that this is simply not the case. While it was undoubtedly a welcome and reasonably successful strategy, the targets for speed reduction, seat belt wearing and the introduction of the full penalty points system were not met and the latter remains outstanding.

The motion also calls for the immediate establishment of a road safety authority. The Labour Party fully supports the creation of such an authority and would like to see it up and running as soon as possible. There is an urgent need to draw all the strands and agencies dealing with road safety together so that there can be one co-ordinated effort and one coherent voice.

The Labour Party believes we should be mindful of Mr. Eddie Shaw's recent remarks that the road safety authority "must operate in a radically different legal and operational context, specifically in regard to its governance, autonomy, funding, staff and systems". The Labour Party supports this view and would like to see the new authority become a body with the ethos of a road safety champion as much as a managerial and implementation body. We want to see it become a body that bothers various Departments and agencies rather than simply bowing to them.

We also believe that in establishing the authority the Minister should seek to change the policy setting and in this context I draw the Minister's attention to remarks made by Mr. Eddie Shaw in his recent contribution to two Dáil committee meetings in recent times. His submissions contained some very sound advice. The Labour Party believes that the Minister, when he tables his amendments on Committee Stage, should incorporate that advice into the formation of the new road safety authority, and I hope that happens soon.

I want to turn now to the area of driving instruction. This is an area which has been very much neglected. I do not know if people generally are aware that there is no legal requirement for driving instructions to be registered. There are an estimated 2,000 driving instructors but at present only about two thirds of them are actually registered because registration is voluntary. That leaves approximately 600 or 700 instructors who are not registered. One of the functions of the new authority will be to provide for the regulation of driving instructors. So far, however, the Minister has given very little information on what his proposals will entail.

Many people, particularly parents, would be shocked if they knew just how easy it is to become a driving instructor under the current rules. There is essentially a free-for-all with no Garda clearance required and no minimum standards set down for driving experience, let alone tuition experience. I am not casting aspersions on the current crop of driving instructors, I am merely saying that it is the responsibility of the Government to establish safeguards and set down minimum standards.

The Minister needs to tackle this problem before he establishes the road safety authority. He needs to signal a clear policy to existing and intending driving instructors on what training and accreditation will be required of them so that they can begin to obtain these before the Bill passes into law. He needs to set down clear guidelines in terms of Garda clearance, tuition standards and competency reviews. If he waits until the Bill passes it will be another two or three more years before the regulatory regime will be established satisfactorily.

I repeat that this motion is not about apportioning blame. It is about taking responsibility and it is time we saw a bit more of that from those on the opposite side of this House.

I commend Deputy Shortall and my colleagues in Fine Gael, Deputy Mitchell and others, for tabling this important motion. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. That committee embarked on a study of road safety as an ancillary project to the work it was undertaking on insurance costs in the State. Although the committee began from an economic perspective, the shocking information that was presented to it made it examine the human and social aspects of this issue. While we can quantify, in monetary terms, the impact on the State of the multiplicity of road accidents, deaths and injuries, the human tragedy that befalls individual families, weekend after weekend in the appalling litany of carnage that we have become accustomed to, demands a single-minded and determined focus from this House and all agencies of the State.

There are a number of important issues in this debate. Compelling evidence was presented to the Oireachtas Joint Committees on Enterprise and Small Business and on Transport, by representatives of the Garda Síochána and the National Safety Council in recent weeks. The National Safety Council told the committees that if the level of deaths here was the same per 100,000 of population as in Sweden, Holland and the UK, on average 20 people fewer per month would die. That is an extraordinary statistic. If we were given a formula to save 20 lives every month, if we were to build an extra hospital or institution to do so, would we not vote it through tomorrow? The council went on to argue:

. . . from where we are today, we could prevent 140 deaths and approximately 1,200 serious injuries every year. This is achievable.

Not only is it achievable, it must be achieved. If we have any conscience in this House, we cannot be indifferent to that plain statement of fact from the people we have asked to look at safety in this State.

The traffic corps is an important issue in this debate. The first report of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business recommended a traffic corps. That was endorsed in the manifestos of all political parties in the last election, but what is the situation with the traffic corps? How many new members will it have this year? The answer given to the committee by the deputy commissioner was 33. There will be 33 additional personnel for the whole of Ireland in 2005, which will bring the total complement to less than half the promised strength of 1,200, which in itself is hardly an excessive figure. We are crawling to achieve——


I do not know whether the Minister of State wants to say something or is prepared to listen.

The Deputy is manipulating the figures by the manner in which he is presenting them.

Let me read from the presentation given to the committee by the assistant Garda commissioner. There have been——

I wish to clarify the reason. The figures are the same but——

Some 33 additional personnel have been allocated to the Garda traffic corps in 2005, giving a total current strength of 565. I can break the figures down by county. There is one additional garda for Clare, one inspector for Cork city, one garda for Limerick, one for Roscommon and so on. That is the reality.

Let me deal with penalty points, which some people have described as a sham. They worked initially because they were announced with a fanfare and people believed they were real, but they are not real. The assistant commissioner told the committee that the Garda Síochána is currently operating the fixed-charge penalty points system primarily on a manual basis. The new IT system is operating in Dublin, Cork city and parts of the Louth-Meath division. The Garda organisation is in readiness for national roll-out of the fixed charge processing system. However, actual roll-out is dependent upon the signing of the contract for the out-sourcing of payments. That information was given to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business on 19 October last, so it is not exactly ancient history. The penalty points system is not fully in place and is not working. Worst of all, somewhat like the boy who cried wolf, because it was announced when it did not have weight or effect, when it actually becomes effective, people will be immune to it and the process will have to begin all over again. This is a shame.

The key recommendation of the National Safety Council is for an integrated strategy. There is no overall budget or driver for the strategy. My colleague spoke about the need for a fixed road safety authority with power and teeth to co-ordinate and drive and with a budget. I gave the instance of what happened in France where President Chirac, a man I do not normally quote in a positive way, drove an agenda that reduced road deaths. We need that same commitment. With no disrespect to the Minister of State present, I share the despair of my colleague, Deputy Shortall, that it is a Minister of State rather than one of the three line Cabinet Ministers with responsibility in this area who presents himself in this House.

I could say much more but, unfortunately, time has expired. This is an area on which we all need to work together. It is not a party political issue. We need to have the moral determination to achieve what is achievable and to save lives.

Debate adjourned.