Road Safety: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

recognising that Ireland continues to have one of the worst records in Europe for reducing road deaths according to a recent report by the European Transport Safety Council;

recognising that drink driving is still commonplace and a major contributor to road accidents;

alarmed that road deaths are up 35% in the past two months compared to the same period last year; and

noting the Taoiseach's written promise on 30 April 2007 to introduce without delay compulsory alcohol testing for drivers involved in accidents causing injury;

calls on the Government to introduce legislation, within three months, to provide for compulsory alcohol testing for drivers involved in accidents causing injury, whether it be at the accident site or in a hospital.

I wish to share time with Deputies Clune, McHugh, Creed, Mitchell, Breen and Deenihan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I ask the Acting Chairman to tell me when I have spoken for ten minutes.

Is Deputy Roche here as the Minister?

I am waiting for the Minister.

I do not know whether to wait for him or start speaking.

Deputy O'Dowd should start, as the Minister of State is representing the Government.

If the Deputy wishes to address the question I will be more than pleased to listen to him, as always.

It is nice to see the Minister of State back as a full Minister this evening.

This is a very important motion. I do not know where the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, is tonight. If there is anywhere he should be it is here, and his absence is to be regretted, although that is no reflection on the Minister of State.

I wish to put the record straight concerning the promises made by the Government and what it did and did not do. I pay tribute to the members of Public Against Road Carnage, PARC, particularly Mrs. Susan Gray and Mrs. Ann Fogarty, who are chairpersons of PARC in their respective areas, both of whom have suffered tragic losses of family members due to road traffic accidents. Without their commitment and determination to pursue the Taoiseach and all politicians with the aim of achieving the introduction of mandatory testing for alcohol and drugs at accident scenes, it would never have happened.

Before the election, on 30 April, the Taoiseach stated in response to representations from PARC:

Taking account of the concerns raised by PARC and other groups, Fianna Fáil recognise the need to introduce compulsory drink and drug testing for drivers involved in accidents causing injury. If re-elected we will ensure that these changes are implemented without delay.

That was before the election. The scene now shifts to one month later, after the election, when the Taoiseach again wrote to PARC, stating:

As reliable technology becomes available internationally, I assure you that this Government will move without delay to introduce it. Over the coming months and years, I look forward to working with groups such as PARC.

However, he did not commit to the immediate introduction of these changes.

Let us move on to the reply of the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, to a Dáil Question for oral answer on 28 June. Deputy Dempsey stated:

The Road Traffic Acts provide that a member of the Garda Síochána may require a person in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle to provide a preliminary breath specimen where the vehicle is involved in a road collision. Garda discretion in relation to the use of preliminary roadside tests in such circumstances is necessary, having regard to possible injuries sustained, and I do not propose to alter that position.

Thus, the Government's policy on 28 June was that there would be no change in the current arrangements. The Minister, whom I welcome to the Chamber, stated that he would not budge. Those are the facts as we go into the debate. I have put them clearly before the people.

Let us examine the record on road deaths in the recent past. In the months of August and September this year, 54 people died on our roads. In the same months in 2006, 40 people died. Whatever the reason, the number has risen significantly. Critically, a European report stated last week, in regard to Ireland's record in reducing road deaths, that there had been an 11% reduction in road deaths since 2001. This is to be welcomed, as any life saved is worthwhile. One might think this was a fine record until one examined the reductions achieved in other European countries. For example, in France a reduction of 42% was achieved over the same period. In Portugal, the reduction was also 42%, while in Luxembourg it was 48%. Compared to other European countries, the Government does not have a good record in reducing road deaths. We are not doing enough. The Government is failing in its strategy.

The Road Safety Strategy was first put in the public domain as a proposal last October. It is now a year later, and the strategy is not yet before us as the Government is delaying it. It is reprehensible that it has taken a year to produce a new road safety strategy, notwithstanding the consultations that have taken place. If we examine the number of penalty points applied to people due to their bad driving, we see that 440,000 drivers have received points since their introduction. However, many of these penalty points cannot be applied. Around 108,000 people, one in four of the total number who received points, are immune as they have out-of-State driving licences. A significant minority of people cannot be issued with penalty points because they do not have Irish driving licences.

The AA, in its submission to the Department some months ago, which the Minister has no doubt read, mentioned the possibility of a parallel licensing process. Under this proposed system, if an out-of-State licence holder is issued with penalty points by the Garda, the number of his or her licence is obtained and a parallel licence is immediately set up, so that if the person receives further penalty points in this jurisdiction they may be applied. Effectively, the person may be banned from our roads in exactly the same fashion as an Irish driver. This has not yet happened under the Government, but we are waiting.

The Minister may claim, as his Government has claimed in the past, that mandatory testing at the scene of accidents could not be introduced. Let us examine what happens in Northern Ireland. All drivers involved in road traffic accidents to which the PSNI responds are breathalysed. This is a PSNI service-wide policy, and has a basis in legislation. For example, the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 states:

If an accident occurs owing to the presence of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, a constable may, subject to Article 20, require any person who he has reasonable cause to believe was driving or attempting to drive or in charge of the vehicle at the time of the accident to provide a specimen of breath for a preliminary breath test.

The law in the South does not allow that because the garda must have formed an opinion that the person who was driving or attempting to drive the vehicle had been taking alcohol. The Minister is out of touch with what is happening in the other part of this country.

An article in The Irish Times on 26 July last stated that England has one of the worst records in western Europe for child pedestrian fatalities. The facts reveal that British drivers kill approximately twice as many child pedestrians per head of population as drivers in France, Italy, Germany, Finland and Norway. Only Austria, Portugal, Poland and Ireland fare worse than Britain. Ireland is again at the bottom of the list in terms of safety and protecting our child pedestrians. Clearly, the Government is failing miserably in attempting to bring about the same fundamental changes in driver behaviour that has occurred in many European countries. It has broken promises that it made in the general election. The Taoiseach has broken his promise and the Minister has backtracked on what he said.

The Government amendment praises the Government for what it has done but it has not done enough. In particular, I take no comfort from the Minister's point that the report shows that road deaths in Ireland have dropped by 11% since 2001. Although I welcome the reduction in road deaths, compared to other countries, that figure is not good enough.

The Minister's amendment "... notes that the Department of Transport and the Marine proposes to engage with the Office of the Attorney General to establish how the current legislation can be amended to achieve roadside testing of drivers involved in serious accidents subject to overriding medical circumstances". That is the most important paragraph in the amendment to this motion and it is welcome. However, it is a humiliating U-turn from the Minister for Transport. Now, he is listening to PARC and to the Fine Gael motion which is succeeding in giving the people what they want — mandatory testing at accidents where injuries are caused. I will repeat what the Minister stated because he was not here when I read it into the record.

He will hear it again. On 28 June last the Minister stated——

Put it in context as well.

The context is the Minister's reply to a parliamentary question, which states:

The Road Traffic Acts provide that a member of the Garda Síochána may require a person in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle to provide a preliminary breath specimen . . . Garda discretion in relation to the use of preliminary roadside tests in such circumstances is necessary, having regard to possible injuries sustained, and I do not propose to alter that position.

The U-turn is an important one, but it is more important that the people can now look forward to a change in legislation and to more safety on our roads, where drivers involved in accidents in which people are injured will be breathalysed.

We should look again at the number of deaths because the figures have begun to rise in the past two months. The most important point of all is that drink driving is common place in our country with over 350 cases per week reported by the Garda during the period 24 September to 7 October last. From July 2006 to July last, 19,391 people were arrested for drink driving. We are not doing enough but this will help.

When people are convicted in the District Courts after challenging their mandatory penalty points, a serious issue arises where they do not bring their licences with them. The sanction of the court is not imposed because in some cases licences are not marked. When I tabled a question to the Minister today to find out the number of people who received penalty points from the courts and the number of driving licences which were not produced as a result, the question was disallowed. We need big changes and they are on their way.

I congratulate and thank PARC for continuously campaigning on this issue and bringing it to the attention of the House. They received a strong commitment from the Taoiseach prior to the election and I hope this Fine Gael motion will pre-empt the initiation of legislation in this area.

Not a week goes by where we do not hear about people who are maimed on the roads. In fact, we can become too complacent about it. It is rare for such accidents to make front-page news now but every story destroys a family, and often more than one family. Any of us who hears of accidents occurring late at night or early in the morning always wonders if there was alcohol or some form of drugs involved.

The European Transport Safety Council's Road Safety Performance Index, which tracks road deaths from 2001 to 2006, ranks Ireland 20th out of 29 states. Irish road deaths have fallen by only 10% since 2001, less than half the European average of 22%. Luxembourg's reduction of almost 50% has been put down to the priority that its government has given to road safety and the tough new laws allowing on-the-spot withdrawal of driving licence by police in cases of serious drink driving or speeding. France's reduction of over 40% was partly due to its fully automated speed-control system, including 1,100 fixed speed cameras, which saw a doubling of speed detections. If we are to have any hope of dealing with this national crisis, we must learn from the success of others. We need the Government to prove that it is committed to reducing road deaths, as the governments of countries such as France and Luxembourg have proven themselves to be.

For many years we have discussed drink driving as a cause for motor accidents but the issue of drug driving has never been addressed. The recent crime debate has proven that drugs are now freely available in our society and it is time we faced up to their involvement in motor accidents. In 2006, the Europe Against Drugs report focused on cannabis and included interesting facts which should be of concern to us all. A study by Stanford University in California on the effects of the use of small doses of cannabis on pilots found that 24 hours after taking such drugs, pilots were still affected. The report indicated that someone smoking a joint should not drive or pilot an aircraft the following day. A Canadian report found that of 1,100 fatally injured drivers, 225 pedestrians——

The Deputy has one minute remaining.

My point is that the report emphasised the effect of cannabis, and particularly alcohol, on driving. We ignore the authorities telling us the dangers involved in dangerous drug driving or drink driving. People ignore the potential punishment because they do not believe they will be caught. It is a common belief among people who are breaking the law in Ireland and it needs to be brought home to people that there is a good chance they will be caught if they drink drive or drug drive, particularly if they are involved in an accident.

The penalty points system has been worthwhile but we need to advance it. We need to ensure the introduction of legislation which develops a system whereby there may be mandatory drink testing at the scene of an accident because that is the only deterrent that will influence people.

I welcome the Minister. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an accident is defined as an unexpected happening causing loss or injury which is not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured but for which legal relief may be sought. This is the definition of accident, a word which in today's society is used all too often. It is not a word which applies to many of the so-called accidents in Ireland. How many accidents are not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured? People are dying on the roads due to driver error. Many collisions are caused by speed, careless driving and sometimes fatigue, but as many are aware, a significant number of collisions are caused by the influence of alcohol and drugs.

I concur with the Fine Gael spokesman on transport in welcoming the Minister's initiative announced today, which was pressed for strongly and arduously by an active campaign by the PARC group. I pay tribute to the tenaciousness and determination of the people involved. I mention in particular, Susan Gray, for her campaign on this issue. We must ensure the initiative is implemented sooner rather than later. It is not just drink driving that is causing further fatalities on the roads. People are dying needlessly and each week more and more families bury their loved ones and ask why.

I attended a safety roadshow organised by Donegal County Council which hammered home the message of the effects of road carnage to in excess of 900 students. For 90 minutes students sat awe-struck and terrified as they heard from members of the Garda, the ambulance service and the fire brigade. Accounts of teenagers lying dead on the side of the road were starkly presented to secondary school students. As a former teacher I know how hard it is to keep the attention of teenagers for even ten minutes. Today I saw 900 students silenced for 90 minutes in one of the hardest hitting campaigns I have ever seen. It outlined to me and the rest of the audience the fine line between driving a car and death.

The show culminated in the introduction on stage of a young man in a wheelchair. One of his arms had also been amputated as a result of a road traffic collision. REM's "Everybody Hurts" was the backing track that was played as the young man was pushed on to the stage. At that point, tears were visible on the faces of many students and I realised this was the way to get through to young people and to get the message across that speed kills, maims and destroys.

We must also be aware it is not young people alone who are involved in road carnage. We must show all drivers they are not indestructible or immortal. We must respect the roads. The more comfortable the car, the safer one thinks one is. Some of the driving I witness on roads is an absolute disgrace.

This initiative in Donegal was launched by the mayor of Donegal County Council, John Boyle. I appreciate his work on this initiative. I also commend the road safety team under the leadership of Éamonn Browne. I call for this show to be launched in every county. We must get the message across. Today, for the first time I thought the message was finally hitting home. At the end of the young man's speech he asked everyone to stand up and give a round of applause to the people who had organised the show. After a standing ovation he bluntly told the audience that he had asked them to stand up and applaud because he could neither stand up nor clap and that they should remember they can.

This type of exposure will stop the carnage on our roads, not television advertisements or lectures. Young people do not want to hear lectures. They need to realise for themselves the harm they can cause on the roads. We need to engage with young people in a positive way because currently they feel disenfranchised because of the lack of communication between the authorities and them on their way of life. Otherwise, they may get involved in anti-social behaviour and look for a buzz from driving too fast.

I call on the Government to make this type of show mandatory for young learner drivers with the provision of certificates to show they have attended. Young drivers should not be allowed to get a provisional licence until they have attended such a show. All drivers convicted of a minor motoring offence, such as speeding, should have to re-attend this show. This is the way forward. Anyone who was at the show in Letterkenny today would have seen the shock and discomfort on the faces of 900 students. This afternoon another 900 students attended the show and a third show will take place tomorrow. In total, almost 3,000 young adults who will soon be learning to drive will have attended the show in Donegal.

We need to build on this initiative and ensure the safety of road users by educating drivers from a young age. I call on the Taoiseach and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, to investigate the possibility of making this type of educational roadshow mandatory, just as the alcohol programme is mandatory in all secondary schools, to bring about a reduction in the death toll from road fatalities.

I support my colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, and congratulate him on introducing this motion and persisting with this issue we have raised so often in the Chamber. We are all aware there is no room for complacency. The initial good effect of mandatory breath testing on reducing roads deaths has been eroded month after month.

The key to a successful and robust road safety policy is for it to be based on sound information about the cause of accidents. As a former party spokesperson on transport, I was horrified to find we have almost no such information. When I inquired how many learner drivers were involved in accident fatalities, I was told the figure was not available. This is an ad hoc approach based on an absence of information and it has to stop. At the very least, in our road death figures, we have the evidence that our policy is not working.

The Road Safety Authority has the will to change that approach but it does not have the means, unless we provide it. The result is the debate and, consequently, the policy focus on road safety, has lurched from blaming speed to drink, drugs, going too slowly, driver fatigue, mobile telephones, driver distraction, road design, road surfaces, the weather, and driver tuition or the lack of it, but there has been no forensic analysis based on hard information about where the real problem lies or the relative importance of any one element. It is ludicrous and downright irresponsible not to test for alcohol at the scene of an accident or as soon as possible thereafter. It is done in other countries and does not cause a delay in the administration of medical treatment. That is not an excuse for not introducing alcohol testing.

The previous Minister for Transport maintained the Garda had discretion to test for alcohol and that this was sufficient. We have the evidence that it is not enough. We know accidents have taken place where alcohol was a contributory factor but the Garda did not test for it. My concern is not to aid prosecutions, nor to aid insurance claims, but for us to gain robust data on which to build a road safety policy that works.

Prior to the last election the Government was dragged kicking and screaming to an acceptance that mandatory alcohol testing at the roadside was an important part of road safety. Having introduced this measure, surely it is nonsense that gardaí involved in mandatory alcohol testing must test all drivers for alcohol, including innocent ones who have not given any cause for suspicion or who may not even drink alcohol, yet they are not obliged to test people following an accident where there are manifest signs giving reason to believe alcohol is implicated? This is an inconsistent, illogical and unsustainable approach.

We must gather that kind of information about accidents and then we must collate it and make it usable and useful. Information on the status of licences is collected at the scene of an accident but then it is brought back to Garda stations and filed away where no use is ever made of it. We must have a national collection of these kinds of data and they must be collated and made available if we are to build a picture of what is the underlying cause of road deaths.

If the policies of the Road Safety Authority are to be successful and acceptable to the public, and if they are to have the authority of logic, they must be based on real information. Speculating about the cause of accidents has no place in road safety strategy. Knee-jerk reactions in response to individual road accidents do not work either. Resistance to this simple and utterly reasonable measure has defied logic and understanding. It is a good day's work for Fine Gael and democratic politics if we can change the Minister's mind on this matter. I hope his announcement today is based on fact and is not another empty promise.

We have all watched the graphic road safety advertisements on television depicting the carnage on our roads. The latest publication and statistics from the European Transport Safety Council show that Ireland is fifth from the bottom of the European league in terms of reducing road deaths. That indicates the Government's policy is failing and more families will suffer the same fate if action is not taken.

Portugal had one of the worst road safety records in Europe but has now surpassed Ireland in terms of providing improved infrastructure, building new motorways and taking motorists off dangerous roads. As previous speakers stated, other countries have followed suit. France has increased its number of speed cameras by 1,100.

In my constituency of Clare, to date this year nine families have suffered the loss of a loved one, including the family of the late William Ryan of Ennis who died tragically yesterday morning. I extend my sympathy to the family. The fire and rescue services in County Clare have reported an increase in the number of road accidents in the county between January and August of this year. During this period they attended a total of 168 road accidents, an increase of over 31% on the same period last year. Some 60% of the incidents occurred between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

One the main factors contributing to road deaths in Ireland is alcohol, which was a factor in 36.5% of fatal crashes, of which 62% were single occupant fatal crashes. Some 89% of drivers where alcohol was a factor were male, with the weekend periods the worst time for alcohol related crashes. With regard to Garda numbers in County Clare, to date this year 410 people have been arrested in the county for drink driving offences, which compares to 262 arrested for the same offence in 2005.

The majority of accidents occur on regional roads. As the statistics from Portugal demonstrate, improving the road structure can make a difference in reducing road deaths. The Garda Síochána has identified and targeted road sections of between 5 km and 8 km in length where collisions particularly occur, known as collision prone zones. In an analysis of the past ten years, seven people have been killed on the N68, the Kilrush to Kilkee road, seven have been killed on the N67, the Lisdoonvarna to Kilkee road, and eight have been killed on the R352, the Ennis to Tuamgraney road, not to mention those injured. While the €18.9 million allocated for local road improvements in Clare is a fair sum, it is not enough if we are to improve regional roads and make them safe to drive on.

An obvious contributing factor in many road deaths is speed. In County Clare, between the introduction of the penalty points system and 31 March 2007, 3,900 drivers have amassed penalty points on their licence. While the majority of these drivers are at the bottom of the scale on two penalty points, one driver has 12 points. The Garda must be given resources to implement speed controls on the roads as the penalty points system has proved a Garda presence will deter people from speeding and that driver behaviour can improve.

Road traffic enforcement can be transformed if we continue to invest in technology and equip the law enforcers with the technology they need. The introduction of automatic number plate recognition, forensic collision investigation and fixed charge processing systems are important initiatives which will help to put greater emphasis on policing. However, we also need to ensure that legislative changes, particularly with regard to drink driving, complement the technological advances so we can reduce the number of road deaths. It is unacceptable the Government is breaking its promise to introduce mandatory testing for alcohol and drugs for all motorists involved in accidents that cause death or injury. To suggest that compulsory testing could jeopardise the survival of motorists is nonsense. It is important drivers are tested after accidents.

While technological improvements in the area of drug testing are not yet good enough, drug driving is a major problem. A garda must still obtain a blood sample if he is to test a driver for drug use, which is very different from the position regarding testing for alcohol. Advances in this area are needed to deal with the growing drug problem while driving on our roads, particularly given the success of the implementation of random breath testing for alcohol.

I am delighted the Minister and the Taoiseach have settled their differences with regard to compulsory testing. It is our job, as legislators, to introduce compulsory alcohol testing on the roads without further delay. Too many families have been destroyed as a result of fatal road accidents. It is important that we act immediately to reduce the number of deaths on our roads.

I wish to share time with Deputy Crawford.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Over the winter, the Minister, with the Minister for Education and Science, should put in place a targeted road safety education campaign in our schools. As the mornings get darker, I notice youngsters walking or cycling to school without wearing armbands or high visibility jackets. It is an accident waiting to happen. A directive should be sent to the gardaí associated with school liaison so they redouble their efforts as winter approaches to ensure children are properly prepared for the roads.

There should be a major road safety campaign in every school. There are times when road safety becomes a major issue and campaigns are introduced but these wane after a time. Such campaigns need to be continuously reinforced and reviewed as to their effectiveness. In any case, a directive should issue that armbands, which children no longer wear, and high visibility jackets should be worn.

While it is good to see people, particularly women, taking exercise on our roads, at this time of year they should be advised to wear high visibility jackets, which is not happening at present. It is not so serious an issue when people are walking on footpaths in towns but walking in the country can be highly dangerous, particularly on winding roads or roads with overgrown hedgerows and so on.

Reference was made to the role of local authorities. Poor road signage and markings, the failure to indicate dangerous humpback bridges and bad bends, and excessive speed are factors that contribute to accidents. Clear directives should be sent to local authorities that they should pay particular attention to road markings across county areas. This is a simple matter which should be addressed.

There should be much more co-operation between local authorities, the Garda and other agencies. The term "joined-up thinking" is very much in vogue. There is no reason local authorities should not take a lead role on road safety issues, with the Garda, the education authorities and even the health authorities to ensure there is joined-up thinking in this regard.

Speed cameras were to have been rolled out this year. I understand the contract negotiations are now with two particular parties. I am certain that when cameras are placed throughout the country and moved from location to location, drivers will slow down and by doing so reduce the number of fatalities on our roads. No matter how unpopular their introduction is at the time, it is vital these cameras are put in place as soon as possible and that there are no further delays.

I thank Deputy Fergus O'Dowd for tabling the motion and thank the Minister for agreeing to its main proposal. The 35% increase in road deaths in the past two months is frightening and unacceptable. It is vital that gardaí are given the tools to deal with the situation, particularly through the provision of compulsory alcohol testing for drivers involved in accidents causing injury, whether it be at the accident site or in hospital.

There is an urgency that the procedures agreed between the Governments north and south of the Border to impose penalty points should be rushed through. From my experience of driving on the M1 motorway, it is clear Northern and other non-national drivers have no anxiety about or interest in abiding by the laws.

In the few minutes available to me I must place on record my anxiety and that of many others regarding the newly constructed bypass between Castleblayney, Annyalla and Clontibret, which will replace a section of the N2. I understand the Minister will officially open the road on 5 November. It is a design and build project, about which many questions arise. Sections of the road have been constructed as a three-lane highway but many sections have no hard shoulder of any kind and will not be able to facilitate a broken down lorry or a car with a simple puncture, etc. Imagine what could happen on a foggy morning if a vehicle were to break down. Unfortunately, we saw the results of a similar incident recently. The steel ropes erected in the centre of the road in places could also cause problems.

The new bypass is the first road of its kind in Ireland and I hope it will be the last. When my Fine Gael Party colleagues on the local council raised questions about the design during the consultation process, they were assured it was a tried and trusted system on the Continent. I understand the National Roads Authority does not intend to proceed with any further projects of this nature. The Taoiseach has stated that a dual carriageway will run from Dublin to Derry. The sooner this undertaking is realised, the better, because it will require the reconstruction of the Castleblayney bypass, which is a mess. As one who fought extremely hard to have bypasses constructed at Carrickmacross, Monaghan and Castleblayney, I have been badly let down by all those involved in this so-called new and modern structure. It is vital that proper roadside and overhead signage is put in place to ensure further fatalities do not occur.

While I welcome the Government's commitment to introduce the legislation called for in the Fine Gael motion, the process of planning road structures must be re-assessed because the exit from the bypass at the Ballybay-Carrickmacross end of the Carrickmacross bypass is badly designed and has already resulted in several accidents.

A report by the European Transport Safety Council published on 10 October spells out the serious difficulties in which Ireland finds itself in the area of road safety. It is time for action.

I move amendment No. 1:

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

"—notes that Ireland has improved its road safety standing in Europe according to a new report published by the European Transport Safety Council by climbing four places in the last year to become the 12th lowest country for road deaths per million population of the 29 EU countries surveyed;

acknowledges that the report shows that road deaths in Ireland have dropped by 11% since 2001;

notes that the downward trend in road deaths has continued in 2007 and recognises that in the 12 months since the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing there has been a 25% reduction in road deaths compared to the previous 12 months;

commends the Government on the sustained implementation of road safety measures such as the establishment of the Road Safety Authority, the roll-out of the Garda traffic corps, the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing, the doubling of penalties for drink driving offences, the computerisation of penalty points and the introduction of penalty points for mobile phone offences;

notes that the RSA has prepared and submitted to the Minister for Transport a new road safety strategy for the period 2007-2012 in order to further reduce road deaths and injuries;

acknowledges that the Garda authorities have issued directions to the effect that it is expected that all drivers involved in serious road traffic collisions are breath tested unless there are overriding medical circumstances; and

notes that the Department of Transport proposes to engage with the Office of the Attorney General to establish how the current legislation can be amended to achieve roadside testing of drivers involved in serious accidents subject to overriding medical circumstances."

While I am glad we are using Dáil time for a discussion on road safety, I am somewhat disappointed, albeit not surprised, that the Fine Gael Party has tabled a motion which attempts to make a party political football of the issue by using carefully selected and distorted statistics.

The Minister has distorted the position and done a complete U-turn.

I will deal with facts. The European Transport Safety Council, ETSC, report, covering 29 states, including all European Union member states, was published last week and evaluates the progress made towards achieving the EU target of halving road deaths by 2010. The report is based on data provided by member states for the period 2001-06. It measures performance in two ways, namely, road deaths per million population in 2006 and the percentage decrease or increase in road deaths over the five-year period between 2001 and 2006. Using the first measure, the number of road deaths per million population, Ireland is ranked 12th from the top and thus in the top half of the table. This is hardly, as Fine Gael claims, one of the worst in Europe. Nevertheless, our ranking is still too low and we will try in the next road safety strategy to further improve our position.

Using the second measure, Luxembourg tops the table on improvements in road safety performance, followed by France, Portugal and Switzerland, while Lithuania is ranked 29th and is classified as the worst performer. In this table, Ireland is ranked 20th overall or 18th among EU member states.

The Fine Gael motion cites an increase of 35% in road fatalities in the past two months compared with the same period last year as proof of a negative trend. While any road fatality is a death too many, it is wrong to distort figures in this way.

The Minister does not like facts.

The ETSC report acknowledges that road fatalities in Ireland fell by 10.9% between 2001 and 2006. More important, however, it does not reflect the fact that there has been a 25% reduction in road fatalities over the past 12 months and this downward annual trend is continuing.

Since the late 1990s, Government has adopted a strategic approach to road safety policy, with the implementation of two national road safety strategies between 1998 and 2006 and the development by the Road Safety Authority of a third national road safety strategy to cover the period from 2007 to 2012. Reviews of the previous two road safety strategies confirm the necessity of a continued integrated strategic approach to advance road safety. The primary target to reduce deaths and injuries on our roads by achieving substantial progress in the areas of speeding, drink driving and seat belt wearing is in line with best EU and international practice. The increase in the number of lives saved since 1998 can be attributed to this approach.

Significant initiatives realised over the lifetime of the two previous strategies and, in particular, in the past two years included, the extension of penalty points and fixed charges, stronger legislation, mandatory roadside alcohol testing, greater levels of enforcement and the establishment of the Road Safety Authority. The number of fatalities as a result of road traffic collisions in 2006, at 368, was the second lowest rate in 40 years.

I propose to outline some of the key measures the Government has implemented to date to achieve the reduction in deaths. The Road Safety Strategy 2004-2006 committed the Government to the introduction of a form of roadside breath testing which would address, in a positive way, the problem of drink driving. The introduction of a scheme was the subject of extensive consultation and legal advice. Legislation was introduced in the Road Traffic Act 2006 to provide for an appropriate form of roadside mandatory alcohol testing, thus providing for an increased deterrent effect. The Garda has successfully operated mandatory alcohol testing checkpoints since July 2006. The increased deterrent effect is now reflected in the increase in the number of lives saved and the fall in collision rates since August 2006. In the 12 months since the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing there have been 90 fewer road deaths compared with the previous 12-month period.

The establishment of the traffic corps was announced by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in 2004. A dedicated management structure under an assistant commissioner ensures traffic enforcement matters feature at the highest management levels in the Garda. More than 800 officers currently serve in the corps and the planned staffing complement for the corps of 1,200 officers will be realised by the end of 2008.

The penalty points system was extended with effect from 3 April 2006. It features 35 separate offences, with the offence of using a mobile telephone while driving added from September 2006. Fixed charges now apply to almost 60 offences. The focus of the penalty points system is on driver behaviour. It highlights safety issues such as dangerous overtaking, failure to obey traffic lights and "Stop" and "Yield" signs and vehicles crossing centre white lines on roads.

Speed, in addition to drink driving, continues to be a major contributory factor in causing deaths and injuries on our roads. The best way to ensure greater levels of compliance with speed limits is a wider deployment of speed cameras. In this context, a much more widespread deployment of speed cameras than at present has been endorsed by the Government. Speed enforcement is suited to the use of cameras and other facilities which do not depend on the immediate presence of members of the Garda. For that reason, the road safety strategy commits the Government to the engagement of private sector interests in the operation of speed cameras.

To permit what hitherto has been a Garda activity, the Road Traffic Act 2006 contained provisions to support the operation of privately operated cameras. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is responsible for the tendering process, which is under way. In this context, the request for tender to deploy and privatise the operation of safety cameras was issued, with six companies being short-listed. They are being examined with a view to selecting the contractor by the end of this month. The national roll-out of safety cameras will commence early next year. Decisions on the locations at which cameras will be provided will be taken by the Garda in co-operation with the relevant authorities and will reflect both experience of speed related collisions and evidence of a history of speeding.

A high level group on road safety with representatives from various Departments and Government agencies has been working for some time to promote full co-operation on cross-cutting issues and an integrated approach in the development of the road safety strategy and its monitoring and implementation. In a signal that road safety is at the top of the political agenda, the Government replaced the officials' high level group in 2006 with a ministerial committee on road safety under the chairmanship of the then Minister for Transport and including the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Finance, Health and Children and Education and Science and the Attorney General. The committee has met a number of times to pursue an integrated approach on all cross-cutting issues.

The Road Safety Authority was established on 1 September 2006 with responsibility for a wide range of functions with a bearing on road safety, including driver licensing and testing, road safety advertising and education, road safety research and the regulation of driver instruction. This provides a focus for a range of road safety related matters that were previously spread across the Department of Transport, the National Safety Council and the National Roads Authority.

The new authority enables a more integrated approach to road safety with one agency responsible for a range of road safety issues, including the development of a new road safety strategy. In this context, the RSA has prepared and submitted to me a new six-year road safety strategy to cover the period 2007 to 2012. With the RSA, I intend to launch this strategy in the coming weeks, at which time a range of new initiatives will be unveiled. I look forward to the support of all sides of the House in the implementation of the strategy's recommendations, even those that will be unpopular.

The effects of these measures are evident. The introduction of mandatory alcohol testing in July, the roll-out of additional penalty point offences, greater safety awareness and educational campaigns and increased enforcement have led to a decrease in the overall number of deaths on our roads, that is, a reduction from 396 road deaths in 2005 to 368 in 2006, the second lowest figure in 40 years. More than 90 lives were saved on our roads by the end of July 2007 compared to the same period to the end of July 2006. It is inappropriate to base trends on two months' statistics.

While I am conscious that the EU target of cutting road deaths by 50% over a ten-year period will be difficult to achieve, we are committed to and working towards that target and progress has been made in this respect. Since 1998, Ireland has seen an overall reduction of 20% in road fatalities despite a 51% increase in the number of vehicles. The number of licensed drivers is increasing, with 2.45 million licensed drivers at the end of 2006. There were more than 400,000 additional licenceholders on our roads in the five-year period from 2001.

The Road Traffic Acts provide that a member of the Garda Síochána may require a person in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle to provide a preliminary breath specimen where the vehicle is involved in a road collision. Garda discretion in the use of preliminary roadside tests in such circumstances exists, having regard to possible injuries sustained. Evidence of alcohol consumption is not a requirement in order for the Garda to use the powers available to it.

The Acts place an obligation on a person to provide a blood or urine sample in a hospital. This applies where an event involving a vehicle occurs and results in a person being injured, claiming or appearing to have been injured or where the person is admitted to or attends a hospital and a member of the Garda is of the opinion that, at the time of the event, the person had consumed an intoxicant. An intoxicant includes alcohol, drugs or any combination thereof.

Current legislation makes it clear that a garda may require a driver involved in a collision to provide a preliminary breath specimen. The discretion is provided in acknowledgement of the fact that urgent medical attention for seriously injured victims must take precedence over breathtesting. The Department is aware that the Garda has issued directions to the effect that it is expected that all drivers involved in serious road traffic collisions are tested unless there are overriding medical circumstances.

In recent months, a commitment has been given to the Public Against Road Carnage organisation to make it compulsory that all drivers involved in serious collisions undergo roadside preliminary testing for alcohol. My Department proposes to engage with the Office of the Attorney General to establish how the legislation can be amended to achieve roadside testing of drivers involved in serious accidents subject to overriding medical circumstances.

Why do we need new legislation?

The Department will keep under review the development of technology internationally for roadside testing for drugs, as there is no reliable equipment available for that purpose. When suitable technology becomes available, any measures applied to the roadside testing of drivers for alcohol will also be applied in respect of drugs. How much time have I left?

The Minister has 15 minutes remaining.

The implementation of road safety measures has had a significant impact on the level of road deaths in recent years, but such measures will not work alone. Road users must take responsibility for driving behaviour and each of us can help to reduce the level of road deaths and injuries. The RSA and many other Departments will implement a range of road safety initiatives as part of the next road safety strategy for the 2007 to 2012 period, which should see Ireland approaching the best practice levels of the best performing countries in Europe.

We intend to publish the strategy during the next three weeks and I look forward to the support of all Deputies. While we make political points and attack one another at times, I do not want to call into question the sincerity of all Deputies in terms of this issue. I would have preferred it had Fine Gael approached me to table a motion on which we could all have agreed to send a clear signal of the——

The Minister had a choice.

He refused to accept the motion when he was asked. The Taoiseach gave him a little slap, a disciplinary report.

——support of all Deputies. While I listened to Deputy O'Dowd's contribution, I did not hear a positive suggestion.

I will give the Minister one now — he should resign. It would be the best thing he could do. He should take his arrogance somewhere else because it is not fit for this debate. We are discussing people dying on our roads. The Minister's problem is that he is arrogant.

I would like to acknowledge the positive suggestions——

The Minister has been in power for too long. That is what is wrong with him.

The Minister without interruption. That is how it works.

The Minister was rude.

There is a degree of envy in the Deputy's remarks.

I am not envious of the Minister.

The Deputy accuses me of arrogance, but he is the one trying to shout me down.

I would not dare. I am speaking to the Minister in a quiet voice.

I acknowledge the positive suggestions made by Deputies McHugh, Mitchell and Deenihan in their contributions. They have been noted and I will pursue them.

We will pursue the Minister.

The Minister wishes to share time with Deputy Áine Brady.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this road safety motion and I thank the Minister for sharing time. Road safety affects our lives on a daily basis. Whether we are bringing our children to school, commuting to work, driving to a social event or walking to our local shop, it is an issue that is rightly granted a high importance. In recent years, many road safety measures have been introduced and, despite the increased number of vehicles on our roads, we are making progress on reducing road deaths.

The Road Safety Authority, RSA, which is tasked with improving safety on roads and reducing deaths and injuries resulting from road collisions, came into existence in September 2006. On 10 October, the RSA stated that Ireland had improved its road safety standing in Europe. An objective of the RSA is to bring Ireland's road safety record into line with best practice of other countries throughout the world. This will only be achieved by co-operation with the many stakeholders working in the area of road safety, including the Garda, the education and health sectors, local authorities, the National Roads Authority, the media and the general public.

We are making progress. Since the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing, the doubling of penalties for drink driving offences, the computerisation of penalty points, the introduction of penalty points for mobile telephone offences and the establishment of the RSA there has been a 25% drop in deaths, which translates into 100 lives saved on our roads. To date this year 19 fewer fatalities occurred on our roads compared to the same date last year.

The national roads programme currently being rolled out by the National Roads Authority will bring significant benefits from a road safety perspective. The dual carriageway road design, which minimises the number of road intersection and crossovers, is a safer engineering design than the traditional single carriageway road design. When this road network is complete, further road safety benefits will emerge. However, while this is welcome news, we must also focus on other issues that help to improve our road safety culture. The inquest into the tragic death of the young mother, Kate Moyles, who worked in Sallins, noted that an improved warning system using variable message systems would add significantly to road safety.

I will mention other aspects I believe will be of benefit. A greater focus by local authorities on traffic calming measures adjacent to schools will provide many parents with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that their children will be in a safe environment. I have noticed in regard to many schools in County Kildare that greater emphasis is now being placed on highlighting road safety measures adjacent to schools. We must continue to improve in this area. I compliment Kildare County Council on the appointment of a full-time road safety officer, who is doing good work in terms of highlighting road safety issues in the county.

We can also improve our road safety culture through education in our schools. Many schools have ensured that road safety is covered in the curriculum to educate our young people on the risks and hazards associated with driving. Local authorities should ensure that driving schools are recognised as vital resources and included in some area development plans so that each county has at least one off-road complex for comprehensive driver training programmes. These driving schools would be an ideal location for transitional year students to get a full, practical and hands-on training in driving as part of a road safety and driving skills module. The schools could also be used to develop the skills of qualified drivers.

The road network is a vital part of our infrastructure and ensures we can move our goods and services and get to our places of work or play but, like many great assets, we must treat our roads with respect and realise that while they can bring much benefit, they can also bring heartache. Collectively, we can continue to make progress and I commend the amended motion to the house.

I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him and Deputy Áine Brady for sharing their time. I support the amendment to the motion. It is important that we continue to highlight the achievements made in road safety and the curtailment of deaths on the road. The more debates we hold in this House and through the media, the higher the issue will remain on the public agenda. Road safety comes from road users exercising due care and attention but that can only be ensured through public debate. Much of the debate on enforcement focuses on passenger cars, which is understandable given that the majority of road users drive cars. The Government's strategy has been focussed on the use of seat belts, reducing speeding and addressing the issue of drink and drug driving.

I welcome the Minister's remarks on mandatory testing at accident sites and the necessity of ensuring that accident victims are not jeopardised medically through the use of invasive testing methods. Some Opposition commentators are following a red herring in this area because if somebody is not deterred by fear of an accident from taking a course of action, he or she is unlikely to be deterred by the threat of mandatory alcohol testing. While it is welcome that we are trying to ensure perpetrators do not evade the law, that will not lead to a reduction in accidents. The biggest deterrent to driving while under the influence of alcohol is the risk of being apprehended by gardaí as part of visible mandatory alcohol testing campaigns. We have to put the matter in perspective.

In regard to enforcement, it is important we consider other vehicles in addition to passenger cars, including heavy goods vehicles. An argument may be made for introducing legislation on speed governors because I am not convinced from my regular travels late at night that HGVs are staying within speed limits. Clearly, the implications for that are significant. Greater enforcement of tachographs is probably also needed.

Penalty points have brought positive results in terms of fostering better compliance on speeding and, alongside enforcement, appear to be bringing a change in culture. We can have all the enforcement we want but without a shift in culture towards safer driving methods, we will be at nothing.

The Departments of Transport and Education and Science might develop a more cohesive approach to dealing with the issue of driver behaviour by ensuring that the next generation of drivers will have a better understanding from an earlier age of the use of the road.

The benefits of a reduction in the number of accidents and deaths on the road are significant for all of us. Deputies regularly discuss the challenges faced by accident and emergency units, many of which arise from needless accidents brought about by driver behaviour, drink driving and downright carelessness. Ensuring safer roads will have positive effects not only on those whose lives are affected by accidents but also on our health service.

We should be careful when analysing statistics. I noted the suggestions made by some in the Opposition that deaths on the road have not been controlled. The issue should be considered between certain pillars and, while there will always be peaks and troughs, it is necessary to examine when people are on the move and whether a single accident causes multiple fatalities. We have to analyse trends over periods of time rather than concentrate on snapshots. The number of road deaths has decreased by 11% since 2001. I have not had the opportunity to study the latest numbers on car usage but I am sure the figures have increased significantly since 2001. Account must be taken of all the parameters rather than merely studying the raw numbers when dealing with statistics.

The Government's investment programme has led to safer roads. However, the better and more technically safe our roads are the more likely people are to speed on them. I have seen areas that were previously accident black spots due to hump back bridges, acute bends and so on where the result of the removal of such dangers has been the creation of a raceway. Boy racer activity and disorderly behaviour at night may take place on such improved roads and this can only be dealt with through enforcement but it is a by-product of Government investment. Speed is a factor in many accidents and must be addressed through enforcement.

Statistics on driver suicide through single-vehicle accidents do not exist so it is difficult to track this pattern but it is an issue that has been raised and sad as it is the matter must be taken into account. This may be complicated by those who consume alcohol and intend to take their lives in single-vehicle accidents.

The Government cannot take responsibility for all road deaths and significant improvements have been made and will continue. Publicity is an important factor and Charlie Bird presented an important clip on RTE news each month that, in stark terms, set out the age and family circumstances of those who died on the road in the previous month. They also set out the impact of the deaths in communities and the bulletins could only have a positive impact in influencing our behaviour on the road. This is a public service obligation that RTE should continue. Indeed, it may be doing so but I do not have as much time as I had to watch the news.

The Deputy would be alright if he flew to Shannon.

I am spending more time on the road anyway. Our media outlets must continue to highlight deaths on our roads, not as a stick with which to beat the Government, but as a method of educating and creating better driver behaviour.

I understand the Minister's points on drug abuse and drug driving and this is a matter Deputies on the other side of the House have also addressed. The Minister has clearly pointed out that there is not an adequate test for such matters. I am a former member of the Joint Committee on Transport and a number of experts came before us to address the subject. Testing methods are emerging in this regard and when they become available I hope the Minister will give adequate consideration to their implementation.

I wish to share time with Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the critical matter of road safety and I commend the Fine Gael Party and Deputies O'Dowd and McEntee on bringing forward this motion that highlights the ongoing carnage on Irish roads. This motion is timely given the horrific number of road deaths in the past two weeks and the hundreds of deaths and serious injuries on our roads every year. Last week saw one of the worst days in a long time when five people were, tragically, killed. This morning an 83 year old woman was killed in a hit and run incident in Cork and a woman and her three young children are seriously injured in hospital after a collision in Cork last night.

The nation was dismayed yesterday and today at the report of the inquest into the horrific crash on the M7 in March. A young woman, Kate Moyles, tragically died and we all feel desperately sorry for her parents and her sister. It is too commonplace now to read on a daily and weekly basis in local and national media of road collisions that leave people dead or seriously maimed for life with family members plunged into grief. Notwithstanding recent reforms, such as the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing and penalty points reform, mentioned by the Minister in his speech and in the Government amendment, it is clear that greater political leadership is needed if we are to fully tackle the atrocious and unacceptable problem of road deaths and serious injuries.

Luxemburg cut its road death rate by nearly 50% between 2001 and 2006 according to the European Transport Safety Council, ETSC, performance index, PIN. An exceptionally high number of people died on roads in Luxemburg in 2001 but the drop in deaths by 2006 was achieved because the government elected in 2004 made road safety a top priority. As Christian Ginter from the Luxemburg ministry of transport said, "this reduction would not have been possible had road safety not been one of the key elements of our government's strategy". In an interview on "Morning Ireland" last week Mr. Noel Brett, chief executive of the Road Safety Authority, RSA, described how the leadership assumed by the Prime Ministers of Luxemburg and France and by President Sarkozy has been most important in drastically cutting road deaths in those states. It is clear that political leadership is required.

The establishment of the Road Safety Authority on 1 September 2006 was a very positive step and I congratulate the chairperson of the organisation, Mr. Gay Byrne, and its chief executive, Mr. Noel Brett, on the valuable work they have done. In the first year of its existence the RSA has undertaken significant reforms and implemented new measures. It has long been clear that a single agency to drive road safety was necessary to address the long standing problem of a very high level of road deaths and injuries in Ireland. That it took this Government ten years to establish the agency was an ongoing source of concern for Deputies.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Noel Brett last week for a very informative briefing and explanation of the work of the authority. The RSA has been given a long, complex list of tasks and advances have already been made in the past year, especially in the areas of driver testing, the national car test contract and co-ordinating a new road safety strategy. However, the RSA needs more support and commitment from the Minister and the Government because there are many areas in which the authority simply does not have the resources to tackle the problems involved. A clear example is the area of funding for commercial vehicle testing. There are problems relating to the safety of heavy goods vehicles and this is known because Irish HGVs are stopped on Irish roads but we pass the responsibility for testing to the English authorities.

The level of deaths and injuries represents an ongoing catastrophe and it is a sobering reality, as Deputy McHugh recently pointed out, that the number of road deaths from 1996 to 2006, at almost 4,500, significantly exceeds the number of deaths in the Troubles. According to the Garda National Traffic Bureau there were 239 collisions resulting in the deaths of 263 people this year up to 9 a.m. on 12 October. Road death statistics hide thousands of people who have been left horribly injured in collisions.

RTE News must be commended on its reports on the death toll which roll-call the names of victims and the terrible consequences for families and communities. The Sunday Independent should also be commended on its weekly series that highlights road casualties.

Fine Gael's motion refers to the European Transport Safety Council report that indicated Irish road deaths dropped by just 10.9% between 2001 and 2006. This contrasts with a 47.8% reduction in Luxemburg, a 42.3% reduction in France and a 42% reduction in Portugal. The reduction in Ireland is well below the European average. The report also indicated in its headline report, alarmingly, that the reduction in Ireland may have occurred only by chance because the numbers involved are small when compared to absolute numbers.

The RSA has estimated that random breath testing reduces road collisions by over 20% and may have saved 100 lives per annum so far. Regarding the 2007 figures, I take the point made by Mr. Brett and the Minister that it is common to assess road death statistics in terms of deaths per million of population or in terms of kilometres travelled. Ireland performs better when these scales are applied but, regardless, the headline EU road safety performance index gives the percentage change in terms of the absolute number of road casualties and in those terms I am sure the Minister will agree there is still a great deal to do.

Many factors contribute to road safety, or the lack of it. Driver behaviour is a critical element of road safety and I agree with those who say all drivers must be fully aware of their responsibilities. Deputy McHugh made a point earlier about simply lecturing young drivers. I agree we must go further and adopt innovative measures to combat speeding and strengthen the law.

Governments play a significant role in facilitating a transport environment that maximises the safest possible infrastructural conditions, vehicle and testing standards and introduces education and other enforcement initiatives to positively change driver behaviour. When one looks at the RSA figures so painstakingly collated over the period 1996-2004, it is striking that young men in the 17 to 24 and 25 to 34 age groups are massively over represented in cases of road deaths where excessive speed was a contributory factor. Dangerous driver behaviour can be targeted and reduced by effective, ongoing and properly funded measures, implementation and enforcement. The Minister's predecessor, the Minister, Deputy Cullen, called for a 25% reduction in road fatalities in the 1998 to 2003 period. He said the target should be only 300 deaths per annum. Even that is 300 deaths too many but this target is only coming into view this year.

I welcome the fact that the road safety strategy will be published in the next three weeks. Why does the strategy cover 2007 to 2012 when 2007 is almost over? The Labour Party supports the proposal to breath test all drivers involved in serious collisions. However, the final two paragraphs of the Minister's amendment seem somewhat contradictory. Is new legislation needed for compulsory testing in this area, given that it will be subject to the overriding medical circumstances?

I was the Labour Party shadow spokesman to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, in his previous capacity and now I am the spokesperson on transport in his new Department. I wish him well in the Department, particularly in the area of road safety. I hope the Minister succeeds in reducing the numbers of deaths drastically, over however long the Government lasts. There are many transport issues to be addressed.

I agree with what Deputy O'Dowd said on signage during the Order of Business. Significant work is necessary in that regard. For example, one can enter Dublin, Cork and Galway cities and be unaware of what are the speed limits. We have had a significant debate on this issue. Should we, for example, paint the limits on the roads in front of drivers? The Minister may remember that some six or nine months ago Mr. Charlie Bird drove to Dublin from his home in south Wicklow with a camera team in the back which filmed the many drivers who were definitely breaking the speed limit because they overtook him on the way. In this regard, should the Minister not strengthen the role of the Garda Traffic Corps and ensure we see these gardaí throughout the road network.

I agree with Deputy McEntee's valid point that while the Minister may introduce new measures, he must keep up testing and invigilation. For example, when mandatory breath testing started, these tests were frequently conducted outside Dáil Éireann. Many Deputies leaving work in the evening were stopped during the early months of such testing. However, since then there have been very few such roadblocks. I commend Fine Gael and support its motion.

I listened to the Minister's speech earlier and hope he will pick up on my suggestions on this matter. Motor vehicles become lethal weapons if operated under the influence of alcohol and drugs and drink driving is the main contributory factor to single vehicle collisions and a factor in more than one third of all fatal crashes. The incidence of drug driving has also increased and we need to examine this aspect of road safety. While we need preventative education and strong laws to challenge the widespread culture of impaired driving, these are not enough. It must also become socially unacceptable to drive while impaired. Therefore, we must develop a widespread counter culture of designated intoxicant-free driving. Young people in particular have a leadership role to play in this regard. Older people also have a major responsibility to lead by example.

In August 2007, Sinn Féin launched its all-Ireland road safety policy, which set out concrete proposals to end the culture of impaired driving. Our policy proposals include ensuring adequate resources for a random breath testing regime and training of police officers in detecting and improving drug-impaired driving. We also call for more night time public transport options, particularly in rural areas, to reduce the risk of people driving while impaired. We must also have a widespread public education campaign to accurately inform drivers of the effects of alcohol and the length of time required before a person can safely drive a vehicle after consumption of alcohol. We must promote a culture of intoxicant-free driving. We call too for the participation of victims, survivors and families of victims and survivors of impaired drivers in public education programmes.

It is regrettable that we must once again discuss the need for introduction without delay of mandatory alcohol testing for drivers involved in accidents causing injury. This issue could have been resolved in the Road Traffic Bill last year, but, unfortunately, it was omitted for some reason. There seems to be a commitment from the Minister that this will be addressed at some stage. This legislation should be introduced in the House as soon as possible and I am sure it would be accommodated by all sides.

The success of mandatory testing, which was introduced on 21 July last year, is unquestionable. However, the issue of mandatory alcohol and drug testing at the scene of crashes remains unresolved. The current scenario allows drivers who have caused serious harm or death on our roads to emerge untested. It seems logical that the Garda Síochána should be given the power to automatically breathalyse a driver who has been involved in a road traffic collision, without first having to form an opinion that an intoxicant had been consumed. Surely the serious injury or death of a person on our roads should warrant the breathalysing of the driver responsible.

In the Six Counties and most EU states it is required procedure for police officers to automatically test all drivers involved in crashes. Again, there is an inconsistency between both jurisdictions of our island which negatively affects road safety. All drivers involved in road traffic collisions should not only be tested for alcohol, but also for drugs. Partition is a major impediment to improving road safety here because as a result we have two entirely separate systems, with different speed limits, road signs and standards for drivers. The result is that the death rate from road accidents is one third higher in the Border region. It is in the interest of everyone on this island to work together for an all-Ireland approach that will save lives.

The question of resources must also be addressed. Hopefully, the report that there are only 439 breathalysers in use in the State is inaccurate. Some in the field of road safety have argued that all Garda cars and gardaí should be equipped with breathalysers. Only one fifth of gardaí is trained in the use of breathalysers, which is ridiculous. The same case holds with regard to the 64 intoxilyser machines. According to the promoting awareness, responsibility and care on our roads group, if a garda on duty has not been trained in the use of the machine, a doctor must be called to the station to carry out a blood and urine test, which costs taxpayers €200 per call.

It seems a logical step to extend the mandatory alcohol testing introduced over a year ago to accident scenes. It is ludicrous that only individuals who lose their lives in a collision are tested for alcohol and drug intake after the collision, by way of autopsy. Essentially, if a garda fails to form an opinion that a driver involved in a collision is drunk, a preliminary test is not carried out. People may be drunk but hide it well. They may not have bloodshot eyes or slurred speech and they may not stagger but their driving ability will be impaired. If a driver is unconscious it is impossible for a garda to form this opinion. The fact that most collisions involving serious injury and death occur at weekends, the prime time for drinking and socialising, is no coincidence. One part of the solution is new legislation to ensure that all drivers involved in collisions are tested. That can be another deterrent to the scourge of drink and drug driving.

I wish to contribute briefly to the debate. If I had more time I would have made a number of points on the issue.

It is important that we have these opportunities. I know some controversial comments have been made already in this debate and will be said again but it is right that Private Members' time is used to debate day-to-day issues of concern to our communities, and road safety is an issue people are beginning to take seriously.

The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, is taking a particular interest in this matter, despite what was said on the opposite side of the House, although I was glad to hear some kind comments from the Labour Party benches about his work. We all have an interest, as legislators, in dealing with the issues that are of concern. Like everybody else, I have different views. I often wonder why gardaí hide behind lamp posts on good roads. I know the road safety representatives do not like us saying that, and perhaps it is a controversial remark, but I wonder if these issues could be dealt with in a different way.

It is important also that we re-examine, as I am aware the Minister is doing, the methods for testing drivers. My constituency in Tallaght had a first class centre but difficulties arose with regard to accommodation. It should be made as easy as possible for people to take tests. It was brought to my attention recently that a person living near the Wicklow border wanted to do the test locally because it would be better to use the local roads. However, the individual was sent to Naas for the test. I wonder about the logic of that.

I do not want to be radical from the Fianna Fáil benches but we all talk about the problems of trying to get information from various bodies, and the Road Safety Authority is no exception. I often contact the Department to try to get details on issues and I am referred to the Road Safety Authority. We must have some joined-up thinking regarding the way public representatives can access information.

Debate adjourned.