Road Traffic Bill 2009: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Before the debate was interrupted, I was speaking on the payment of fixed charges. Where fixed charge offences proceed to court, other amendments have been included in the Bill to improve the effectiveness of the overall fixed charge system. Section 34 sets out certain presumptions in relation to prosecutions for fixed charge offences, in particular, the presumption that a notice has been served where there is proof of posting or delivery of the notice.

Sections 44 to 46, inclusive, of Part 4 address penalty points. Any penalty points or driver disqualifications arising from paid fixed charge notices or court convictions must be applied to the driver through the driver licence record held on the national vehicle and driver file, NVDF, in Shannon. To make the system more effective and make the best use of available resources, it is necessary to maximise the payment of fixed charge notices and minimise the numbers proceeding to court. In addition, it is critical that the correct driver details are recorded at all stages of the process to enable the effective integration of driver information, penalty points and disqualifications on the driver record.

The main provision in the Bill on penalty points is under section 44. This section provides for amendments to facilitate the endorsement of penalty points where a licence record does not exist or has not been identified or where the person is the holder of a foreign driving licence. It also provides for the transfer of any penalty points accumulated from such a record to a pre-existing record, which is later identified.

Recent media attention focused on the endorsement of penalty points following a conviction in the courts for such an offence. The 2002 Road Traffic Act provides that a person who is alleged to have committed an offence under the Road Traffic Acts must produce his or her driving licence to the court on the first day he or she is due to appear before the court or on a subsequent date at the discretion of the presiding judge. The Act also provides that the court shall record whether the licence has been produced. The purpose of the requirement is to enable the court to record the driving licence details to facilitate endorsing penalty points on the licence record of drivers convicted of such offences.

Issues arising relating to the application of these provisions were identified during the extensive discussions that preceded the drafting of the Bill. Consequently, section 51 establishes a requirement to produce both a driver licence and a copy of the licence to the District Court clerk on the first day of the court hearing. This will further assist administrative procedures in the courts and the application of the penalty points to the appropriate driver licence record.

Sections 47 to 51, inclusive, of Part 5 deal with driver licences. It is vital that the driving licence system is robust from an enforcement perspective. Accordingly, the Bill has established a new requirement that will further validate the identification process of licence applicants. Section 48 specifies that licence applications, including renewals, must include a personal public service number, PPSN. In addition, section 49 provides for the offence of applying for a driving licence or learner permit while disqualified for holding a licence.

Increasing travel, migration and movement of goods in recent years has meant there are many more holders of non-Irish driving licences on our roads than in earlier years. It goes without saying that compliance with road traffic legislation is important for all road users, both for their own safety and for the safety of others. The introduction of mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between this country and the United Kingdom on 28 January this year marks a significant road safety measure because it aims to target some of the most dangerous drivers on our roads. It is a good example of the co-operation that exists between the jurisdictions and, separately, our joint determination to save lives and reduce injuries on our roads.

Part 5 also provides for amendments to the definition of a "driving licence" to bring foreign driving licence holders into the scope of the application of sanctions for road traffic offences, including a disqualification for holding a driving licence. This matter has been raised in the House on several occasions. Section 52 will also ensure that a person who is in receipt of a disqualification order stands disqualified for holding a driving licence, whether that person holds an Irish or a foreign driving licence.

The Bill includes a number of miscellaneous provisions. In addition to addressing the major policy issues I have outlined, it provides for a number of necessary initiatives which will help to bring clarity to a number of areas, with particular attention being paid to deterrents.

Section 61 provides for making current third party motor insurance data available as soon as possible for the purposes of enforcing the requirements of the principal Act and to meet the information needs of the fourth and fifth motor insurance EU directives in providing insurance and ownership details to the victims of motor accidents by means of an information centre operated by the Motor Insurers' Bureau of Ireland.

Section 62 repeals section 21 of the Act of 2002, section 15 of the Act of 2004 and section 17 of the Act of 2006, restates the provisions in respect of evidence on speeding and certain other offences and clarifies those relating to the development, production and viewing of records produced by safety cameras by Garda civilian personnel designated by the Garda Commissioner under section 19 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. Section 63 provides for the ordering by the court of costs of prosecutions incurred by the court in the investigation, detection and prosecution of offences under the Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 2009.

Section 70 provides for the amendment of section 35 of the Act of 1994 to allow regulations made under the section to specify the manner in which permits issued by a local authority must be displayed on the vehicle concerned.

In addition to the new and amended provisions described, I have taken the opportunity in the Bill to consolidate the intoxicated driving provisions from a number of earlier Road Traffic Acts in a clearer format and with consequent repeals. This means all intoxicated driving provisions will be together in one part of the Act.

The key determinant of road safety performance is the behaviour of road users. Consequently, the primary focus of our road safety strategy is to positively influence behaviour. This can be attained through initiatives across a range of areas, including the enactment and enforcement of laws that promote good road user behaviour. Such laws must be also underpinned and supported by the application of fines, prison sentences and driving disqualifications as well as the necessary technological resources.

In that context, the finalisation of the safety camera contract in 2009 by my colleagues, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and Garda Commissioner Murphy is most welcome. Reducing excessive and inappropriate speed on our roads is another key road safety component for all road users. The safety camera initiative and introduction of new drink driving limits levels should have a major impact, both in deterrence and enforcement, in the advancement of the overall road safety programme.

This Bill is yet another element of that programme and will, without doubt, build on those achievements of recent years. It will help to deliver additional improvements to the manner in which all drivers interact with our road system. Society expects and requires these improvements, whether in the short, medium or long term.

The establishment of the Road Safety Authority and Garda national traffic corps is testament to the radical approach that has been taken towards the development of road safety policy. This approach is also supported by the separate establishment of a special ministerial committee on road safety, chaired by me, to promote cross-cutting road safety issues at which all of the relevant Ministers are afforded the opportunity to address issues of immediate importance in a collective and systematic way.

The Bill is targeted at some specific areas of driver behaviour. As Deputies will be aware, road traffic legislation is complex and covers a wide range of activities. I have, however, taken the approach in this Bill of concentrating on certain key priority issues. I hope this approach will help to deal with these issues in a more focused and prioritised way. When taken with the institutional changes to which I referred, the Bill marks a significant watershed in the deployment of road safety policy.

I am sure Deputies will make worthwhile suggestions for initiatives in the area of road safety. However, these may not fall within the parameters I have set for this particular Bill. Nonetheless, I can assure the House that any such suggestions will be considered very carefully.

My officials are currently considering a number of amendments to the Bill, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, which I propose to introduce on Committee Stage. For the most part, they will be technical adjustments to existing provisions. However, I will also be proposing amendments to deal with certain issues that have arisen since the Bill's publication. That includes provisions to address the role of the Garda in enforcing advanced driving instructor requirements, changes to the detention period under section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1994 and further changes to the requirements provided under section 51 of the Bill relating to the production of driving licences in court. We are also giving consideration, in consultation with the relevant stakeholders, to proposals submitted by the Road Safety Authority for the introduction of a deposit scheme to address the issue of breaches of certain offences for non-resident drivers under the Road Traffic and Transport Acts.

I look forward to the debate and the continued constructive approach Members on all sides of the House have adopted to road safety matters.

I thank my senior colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, for giving me the opportunity to address this issue first.

I will start as the Minister did by referring to the past ten years and conclude by looking forward to the next ten years. In the past ten years between 3,500 and 4,000 people — I do not have the exact figures — were killed on our roads. The purpose of this Bill, and our job today, is to ensure that within the next ten years that number is reduced to the minimum. It has taken a long time for us to get to the position we are in now, and I congratulate the Minister on the efforts he has made since becoming Minister to make things happen somewhat quicker.

Many measures in the Bill can be somewhat controversial in every party. My party has no problem supporting it, however, because in the past ten years speed, bad road conditions, drink driving and drug driving have been the cause of many of the deaths to which I referred. It is my job as road safety spokesperson, a role Deputy Enda Kenny gave me five years ago when I was elected to this House, to address those issues. As the Minister rightly said, and I have always said, it was the Kentstown bus crash that ignited something in everybody to set targets in terms of road deaths. I dedicate my role to the girls who died in the crash.

Drink driving has been a massive problem in this country. One could look forward to the next ten years 40 different ways but I have listened to our young people. They are the people whom our road safety officers have addressed in schools. Those young people want everybody to be in a position where they can be driven to or collected from a pub without having to worry about drinking and driving. That is the way forward. It is not the main issue in regard to the demise of the pub trade, and I stand over that statement. It has to do with drink being sold at 90 cent a bottle and when the people involved finish drinking at home, they go out on the roads. That is the problem we will have to address.

The other issue we must address is the question of head shops. I am convinced of that since attending a meeting last night at which all the parties were involved. I am delighted the head shop issue is out in the open. Sergeant John O'Dwyer spoke to the people in attendance last night and told it like it was, so to speak. What he said was frightening.

This is an issue I will put at the top of my campaign. The Minister said Ireland is in fifth position internationally in terms of road deaths but I believe we are up in the top two at this stage. We must aim to be number one.

Drug driving is a massive problem. In Kells last night we were told there are runners in these head shops, which means if someone can get an order in to the shop, a runner is employed in the town to deliver these substances to homes, where there is no control over them. Everybody knows that drugs have become a massive issue. Those people use these substances and then get into their cars.

I ask the Minister, on behalf of every parent in the country, to take the lead over any other European country on this issue but before we proceed any further, the Garda needs more power. We should do what is being done in some states and if it costs a few euro extra, so be it. It could be taken from another budget. We must ensure that, first, these shops are not open here and, second, that we tackle the drugs issue. I see it in every parish. People take drugs in conjunction with alcohol which they can buy for 80 cent or 90 cent a bottle. They then go out in their cars at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. and are killed.

An issue that arises in the lowering of the drink driving limits is rural transport. The control of that is in our own hands and in the hands of the Minister in terms of flexibuses and so on. It is crucial that money is ring-fenced for those flexibus systems. I am aware they are known by a different name in other areas but it is a fantastic service. Some say it is only for the senior citizens but that is not the case. I am aware of young people's clubs that use it to go to the cinema and so on. We have asked our Deputies to come forward with ideas which we will put to the Minister. I ask the Minister to examine that issue in particular.

Speed cameras are long overdue. I do not understand the reason for the delay in introducing them. I do not want to dwell on that but they should be up and running. They are far more mobile in England and can twist and turn. I asked the Minister this morning about them and I am happy to hear they are being moved around because it is a fact that 73% of people are killed on rural roads. Those are the roads over which the Minister must have control, and he only has to do it once. It is like trying to sort out the problem of parking outside the school. Once the garda is put in place, they are not long about moving. Do it once and people know about it, and we conform.

As I said earlier, approximately 4,000 people were killed on our roads in the past ten years. Everybody in this House knows somebody who was killed on our roads. I know what it is like to be sitting with a girl when she died, and I saw a child being killed when I was two years of age. That never leaves one. We have a fantastic opportunity to do something about this problem now. Money is tight but I know the Minister will do his best in that regard. I will push him on it, and he knows that. This is one issue we will not fight over because it affects us all.

The 30 km/h speed limit in the city is an issue that must be addressed. I tried to drive at that speed and it cannot be done. If someone is crossing the street, by the time one moves off the lights have changed again. It must be addressed. A 40 km/h limit in O'Connell Street might be a happy medium. I am not a city driver but some of our Deputies who are say that 50 km/h might be too fast but one cannot handle a car at 30 km/h. I tried it last week and the person who is walking on the street is in more danger.

The question of penalty points will arise more frequently when the speed cameras are in place. The Garda Síochána say it is not out to penalise people but to save lives.

An issue that must be addressed, and I will ask the Minister about it later, is the fact that many fines are not being imposed because people say they no longer live at the address on the fine. They go to court and win their cases. We must come up with some other system. If a person is caught speeding, they must pay the fine and that is the end of the matter. I ask the Minister to examine that issue. Our party will do so and perhaps we can come to some agreement. The Minister said legislation is required but there are issues that we in Fine Gael, the Labour Party and other parties can bring forward and would like to see in this legislation.

The final issue I want to raise is one about which I am very concerned but about which the Minister can do a great deal. It concerns road conditions. The problem of drink driving was at the top of the list, road conditions was in the middle and speed may have been at the bottom, but speed has gone to the top of the list. That point was proved in the recent bad weather. I accept the number of people killed was small. The families of those who died are left to mourn and can do nothing to bring their loved ones back. These tragedies proved that speed is the greatest killer. All steps taken by the Minister in respect of speed cameras, support for the Garda Síochána, licences for drivers from outside the jurisdiction, cross-Border co-operation and so on are welcome. One of my first assignments was to attend a meeting in Stormont on cross-Border solutions to road traffic accidents. It is good that progress is beginning to take place and we look forward to further developments in this regard.

Road conditions are a matter of significant concern. Every councillor and Deputy receives telephone calls every day about the poor conditions of specific roads in their constituency. No sooner is one problem solved but there is a telephone call from somebody else asking why the road near his or her home cannot be fixed when improvements were made a short distance away. One can never satisfy all the people. I used to be afraid driving home to my village of Nobber every weekend because of the poor condition of the roads. I made representations on the issue and action has since been taken to improve the situation. We all look after our own in whatever way we can.

In general, however, the road network throughout the State is disintegrating. The Minister referred to improvements to various major roads, including the N3 and so on. However, it is on rural roads that people are being killed. I do not accept, and nor does the public, that we cannot fix the problems with these roads sooner than envisaged by the Government. At the rate we are going, by the time we get around to the last pothole it will have doubled in size. Local authority engineers and other staff are working hard but they cannot do what is necessary with the resources available to them. We must come to some re-budgeting arrangement that will allow those works to be undertaken. County managers throughout the State are adamant that existing funding allocations are inadequate. I am aware of one road where a pothole has expanded across its entire breadth. Drivers are forced to negotiate this route because there is no alternative.

For the sake of six, nine or 12 months' hard work, these problems could be solved. Sometimes it is necessary to throw caution to the wind and forget about budgets. All businesses must make allowance for what can go wrong. In such cases, the bank manager must be approached for assistance because the business is otherwise unworkable. That is the role of the Minister and it is our job to push him. The state of rural roads is entirely unacceptable and will inevitably lead to deaths. We are almost at the start of the busiest time of the year, with St. Patrick's Day approaching. I expect many people to take their holidays at home this year. If sterling continues on the same path we will undoubtedly have many visitors from the United Kingdom. The reality is that our roads are not fit to take those types of traffic volumes.

A visitor to Leinster House commented to one of my colleagues earlier today that high-speed tractors are being imported into the State which can reach speeds of 50 km/h. There are some concerns about the braking abilities of these vehicles. Will the Minister's officials investigate whether they are safe?

Roads and drugs will be my two gripes for as long as I am in this position, and I will treat both issues with the same urgency. Up to 60 people attended last night's meeting and we were left open-mouthed when Sergeant John O'Dwyer said it like it is in terms of the products available for sale in head shops. That type of honesty is invaluable. The availability of these substances will undoubtedly lead to deaths. It is almost as easy to obtain a substance that will produce a high as it is to order pizza for delivery. I have no problem in taking on the owners and operators of head shops. Burning them out is not the answer, as happened last week in Dublin. I may have to retract this in due course but it is my view that a drugs war is going on in Dublin and that certain people may be displeased that their patch has been taken. Perhaps I am wrong in this, in which case I will take it back.

The way to tackle this problem is through legislation. I understand the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, has given undertakings in this regard. I urge her to meet without delay my party's health spokesman to discuss some of his proposals. It may be time to close these shops immediately and worry about the legislation later. They are doing harm and there is no doubt that there will be deaths as a result of the consumption of their produce.

Fine Gael supports this Bill in general and will offer amendments for consideration by the Minister. I hope that in ten years' time we will consistently achieve the best figure in the European Union in terms of road deaths. Every life saved is worth all our efforts.

On behalf of the Labour Party I welcome the resumed debate on the Road Traffic Bill 2009. I am grateful for the opportunity to join in the discussion on this important legislation. It is long overdue and the delays in its publication and introduction into the House have been particularly disappointing given the many critical road safety issues involved. The role played by the valiant Donegal-based national road safety campaign, Public against Road Carnage, PARK, led by Ms Susan Gray, Ms Donna Pierce, Ms Ann Fogarty and Ms Mary O'Dowd, in raising awareness of this issue must be warmly recognised. I understand from Part 1 of the Bill that it will come into operation through ministerial order. In light of the delays we are already expecting on the reduced drink driving limit because of the debacle over the breathalyser equipment, will the Minister indicate when he intends to bring forward orders to give legislative effect to the Bill and its various Parts and sections? It will be disappointing if key measures in the Bill are not implemented as a matter of urgency.

The Labour Party has always had a strong commitment to road safety, and the Bill was welcomed by us on publication. The Minister acknowledged the efforts by the Opposition — and I pay tribute to my Fine Gael colleague, Deputy McEntee, in this regard — to take road safety issues out of the political arena. In respect of all issues that have arisen since mid-2007, we have kept the debate focused on safety issues and did not seek to make political points. Protection of the public is paramount and must be our number one priority. In that regard, some of the measures in the Bill, on mandatory testing and drug driving, should have been much stronger. It is also inexplicable that the Minister did not take this legislative opportunity to address a range of outstanding road safety issues, including the national speed camera roll-out, speed limits and signage, the condition of many regional and local roads, enforcement of legislation and the graduated driver licence scheme for which we have been waiting for three years. I will introduce amendments relating to many of these issues on Committee Stage.

The main thrust of the Bill is clearly the enhancement of road safety. Improvements in road safety in recent years have been commendable. For example, whereas 411 people tragically lost their lives on our roads in 2001, 2009 saw one of the lowest levels of road fatalities ever recorded, with 239 road deaths. That said, as Deputy McEntee mentioned, we look back to the start of the new century and find that well more than 3,000 have tragically lost their lives. That is completely unacceptable. We have also seen the introduction of important initiatives such as random breath-testing and the penalty points system. Much of this work has been due to the outstanding leadership of Mr. Gay Byrne and Mr. Noel Brett of the Road Safety Authority and all of their staff. I also acknowledge the commitment of the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, in the past three years to road safety and his perseverance in introducing this Bill despite the obstruction of such persons as his Fianna Fáil colleague who should now perhaps be referred to as Deputy Mattie "U-turn" McGrath.

One road death is one too many and an annual road death toll of 239 is an unacceptable level of carnage. If we had 250 deaths a year on the rail or bus network, people would rightly find that extraordinary and absolutely intolerable. Behind the figure of 239 road deaths in 2009 are the hundreds of families and friends left devastated and destroyed by these events. Tens of thousands of families across Ireland have been prematurely bereaved over the past three decades due to road traffic accidents. What is too often forgotten is the hundreds of horrific non-fatal but serious injuries that also occur each year. We have all seen the heartbreaking advertisements run by the RSA, with young men and women who have been struck down in their prime and will spend the rest of their lives fully or partially paralysed after being horrifically injured in a road collision.

Apart from the unquantifiable human cost of road collisions there is a significant economic and social cost to the Irish economy each year. In 2008, for example, the estimated cost of the total fatal and injury road collisions recorded by the Garda Síochána was €1.2 billion. Going back over the past ten years, costs would amount to more than €7.5 billion.

Clearly we have come a long way on road safety, finally approaching a safer road system for the country. A key element of any ongoing successful drive to decrease and eliminate road fatalities and serious injuries is that there must be no room for complacency. There were significant decreases in road deaths and injuries after the introduction of major new initiatives such as penalty points and random breath testing. This, however, can be a temporary dip if enforcement measures and continual safety enhancements are not introduced. Immediately after the introduction of random breath testing, many drivers were on a high state of alert and were breath tested numerous times over a very short period of time. However, the campaign had to be reinvigorated, especially during periods like Christmas and bank holidays. Three years ago the figures showed a rise, as we slipped backwards.

The Labour Party believes that Ireland should strive to be the best in the world for road safety. Being number five in certain tables is welcome but why not be the best? To achieve this we must greatly strengthen the legislation before us and make Ireland the world leader in road safety.

It has been estimated that excessive alcohol is a contributory factor in around 36% of fatal collisions but one of the most controversial aspects of the Road Traffic Bill has been the proposal in Chapter 2 to reform the intoxicated driving offences and specifically to reduce the blood alcohol limit from 80 mg to 50 mg, and 20 mg for professional and novice drivers. The RSA has provided very strong evidence from a range of international experience, including the Australian states, that the reduction in the drink driving limit will save lives on our roads. Research by the Transport Accident Commission in the Australian state of Victoria describes how drivers with a 0.05 to 0.08 BAC have a reduced ability to judge distances and "sensitivity to red lights is impaired, reactions are slower, and concentration span is shorter. At the 0.08 limit, BAC drivers are five times more likely to have an accident than before they started drinking." In the Australian state of Queensland, there was an 18% drop in fatal collisions and a 14% reduction in serious collisions after the BAG was dropped from 80 mg to 50 mg in 1983. In Austria there was a 9.4% drop when the limit was reduced to 50 mg.

This move will also bring us into line with best international practice and all of our EU partner states, excluding Britain and Malta, as well as Australia, Israel, South Africa, and Turkey. Norway, Russia, and Sweden have a limit of .02 BAC and Poland has adopted .03 BAC.

There have been some concerns raised about the introduction of a 20 mg for novice and professional drivers and whether it is equitable to have different regulations for different categories of drivers. Any driver who is driving in a professional capacity and potentially carrying other passengers must be subject to the strictest safety regulations. A recent report, "Drink Driving in Commercial Transport", highlights that in a June 2009 European Traffic Police Network enforcement operation, Ireland had a 3% level of drink driving in commercial vehicles. This placed Ireland as one of the poorer performers in this regard across the EU.

It is also striking how there has been a significant cultural change in attitudes towards drink driving. Many of our young drivers must be strongly commended on their vehement opposition to driving with any level of alcohol in their system. The introduction of the 20 mg limit for novice drivers will surely advance this welcome trend even further and encourage all new drivers to get into the habit of drinking little or nothing if they are driving. We are coming to an era when drinking and driving are not compatible and we must end this practice.

I accept the significant changes that have been introduced to road traffic law in Part 3 of the Bill for the use of a fixed administrative system of penalties for those found over the limit. The Minister has provided that drivers with a full license and two years experience found between the 50 mg and 80 mg limit, as outlined in section 26(7), can opt for an administrative penalty of two penalty points endorsement and €200 fixed penalty charge. The Minister did this to provide some flexibility for a driver who may be caught for the first time slightly over the 50 mg limit but below the current 80 mg cut-off point. Clearly this will provide a chance for a first time offender but any subsequent transgressions by a driver in terms of drink driving should then be harshly dealt with.

Many people living in rural areas have expressed their genuine concerns that a reduced drink driving limit may further contribute to rural isolation and social exclusion especially for seniors who live alone and other vulnerable citizens. As Irish Rural Link has argued, however, a reduced drink driving limit should not put the maintenance of sustainable rural communities at risk if, for example, a proper rural and community transport infrastructure is in place, something for which the Labour Party has consistently campaigned.

The outstanding rural transport programme finally received confirmation that its paltry €10 million funding for 2010 would be allocated but this was after a ferocious battle on behalf of its leaders including Jack Roche from Duhallow, Damien Tobin from Avondhu Blackwater, Brian Bonham from Laois Trip and Alan Kerry from OK in Offaly and Kildare in the aftermath of the appalling recommendation in the an bord snip nua report to axe this vital service. We were all in favour of not just maintaining but expanding the rural transport service. This is what we must do if we are to make these drink driving limits credible.

A few months ago the Minister for Transport's handling of the drink driving law appeared to be turning into another debacle. I was astonished that, given the agonised public debate over reducing the drink driving limit, the legislation, if passed, will not be implemented until mid-2011 at the earliest. The Minister and I had an exchange of views on this issue on "Drivetime" one evening because all of the breathalysers will have to be changed at a cost of at least €800,000.

In a parliamentary question in July 2008, I raised with the Minister the issue of the evidential breath testing machines. At that stage, the Minister told me that "the recalibration or replacement and subsequent recertification of the EBT machines" would be necessary. The Minister told me in July 2008 that this process would "take to the end of 2009/early 2010 to complete." Why has this 2009/2010 deadline now been pushed back to mid-2011? Was this done to mollify Fianna Fáil backbenchers. Why when the Road Traffic Bill 2009 was being prepared did the Minister not first ensure that all of the necessary infrastructure and facilities for implementing the proposed new laws were in place?

PARC has also raised the very important issue of the Intoxilyser machines that are in use in Ireland. Is it the case that the machines in operation have a 17.5% in-built deduction in the readings, which means that the evidential reading used in court could be 20-25% lower than the actual BAC at the time of testing? Why are these deductions allowed and will this be permitted in the new recaliberated machines?

The 2006 Road Traffic Act introduced the power for the Garda Síochána to conduct random breath tests at Garda checkpoints. Will the Minister involve an amendment to extend this power and to allow the gardaí to randomly stop and breathalyse a driver suspected of being under the influence outside of a checkpoint?

I recently asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform about action 119 of the road safety stratagem, which suggests alternative correction-rehabilitation programmes to target high risk offenders for a range of traffic offences. There is not a word about this in the Bill, while most of our EU partner states have correctional and rehabilitation programmes.

A new and worrying trend which the Minister is unfortunately doing too little to address is that of drug driving. The new CSO figures record that in the last quarter of 2004 there were just 16 recorded offences of driving a vehicle under the influence of drugs. In contrast, by the last quarter of 2008 there were 238 recorded incidents of drug driving and 253 incidents in the first quarter of 2009. A July 2009 CSO survey showed an 81% drug driving increase on the previous year. The number of specimens tested for the presence of a drug or drugs by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety increased from 569 in 2004, 747 in 2005, 879 in 2006, 1,555 in 2007 to 1,900 in 2008. Due to the lack of a random roadside drug enforcement and testing regime, however, these figures probably represent only a fraction of drug drivers. For example, a 2008 investigation by the insurance company Hibernian Aviva found that more than 20% of drivers under the age of 35 had driven while under the influence of drugs.

Chapter 3 of the Road Traffic Bill 2009 includes measures for the introduction of preliminary impairment testing for drug driving. This is a welcome first step but why has the Minister done little or nothing to examine the suitability of random roadside drug testing programmes? Innovative programmes are already in place in the Australian states of New South Wales, Tasmania and Queensland. I have in my possession pictures and data relating to saliva-testing machines, which are easily obtainable from the Internet having been put there by the state governments in Australia. The data provided by these machines is utilised as evidence in the Australian courts. The Australian authorities appear to have been successful in their efforts in respect of this matter.

Since the introduction in 2007 of a random roadside drug testing programme in the Australian state of New South Wales, 757 motorists have tested positive for drug use while driving. Nearly 600 of these have since been prosecuted and most have been convicted. Other Australian states such as Tasmania and Queensland have also introduced random drug driver testing schemes.

Despite the Australian experience, the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, continues to insist that there "is no feasible basis as yet in Ireland or in Europe for the introduction of a preliminary roadside test for drugs". In contrast to the Australian example, the non-technological field impairment testing, FIT, method the Garda can, under this legislation, use to make a preliminary assessment regarding the possible presence of drugs is simply not strong enough to tackle this pernicious problem. I hope colleagues will join me in trying to amend the Bill so that some of the measures to which I refer might be introduced.

The issue of mandatory testing was one of the most critical new elements proposed for the updated road traffic legislation. One item of Dr. Declan Bedford's research on alcohol-related fatal crashes in Ireland indicates that only approximately 8% of surviving drivers from fatal road collisions are tested. Incredibly, 65% of drivers killed as a result of such collisions are tested. Why is there such an anomaly in terms of testing in respect of these collisions? I have received reports with regard to a number of tragic incidents where people who were killed in road crashes tested negative for alcohol, whereas the drivers of the other vehicles who allegedly caused these crashes were not tested at the scene. It could then never be determined or proved in court that the surviving driver had been either negligent or over the limit.

Many road safety campaigners are unhappy that this legislation appears to introduce compulsory testing only in limited and curtailed circumstances. Chapter 3, section 8 sets out that a motorist may be obliged to provide a preliminary breath specimen if he or she has been involved in a collision. However, this is premised on section 8(1)(a) where a member of the Garda Síochána “is of opinion that a person in charge of a vehicle in a public place ...”.

Chapter 4, sections 11(1) and 13(1) contain provisions relating to providing a specimen after arrest or while in hospital. In both cases the opinion of the Garda of intoxication at the scene is also required. Why not just simply mandate that all drivers involved in collisions to which gardaí are called be tested? A driver's intoxication through alcohol or drugs may not always be clearly apparent to another person, particularly if individuals are injured or if the crash scene is chaotic. I have been informed by Public Against Road Carnage, PARC, that it was informed the stipulation on gardaí "forming an opinion" would be dropped. I understand the Minister consulted representatives from PARC when the Bill was being drafted. Was the commitment to which I refer given to PARC, a group which does outstanding work? If it was, why has the stipulation not been dropped? Why is the legislation not clearer with regard to the specific testing powers gardaí will have at the scene of a collision? Such powers are clearly set down in respect of the Police Service of Northern Ireland?

Police in the UK are under instruction to test all drivers at collision scenes for alcohol. A range of states, including France, Poland and Australia, have mandatory testing. A report of the European Commission in 2008 recommended giving police unrestricted powers to breath test. The Labour Party is intent on amending and strengthening the Bill in this regard.

Chapter 6, in sections 23 to 25, inclusive, lays out the functions of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, MBRS, which plays a key role in testing for alcohol and drugs. I warmly welcome this development. I have already highlighted the massive increase in detected cases of drug driving which is probably just the tip of the iceberg. At present, the MBRS only tests a sample for drugs when the Garda specifically requests it. Previous research by the MBRS indicates that one in three drivers who test negative for alcohol subsequently test positive for drugs. This highlights the relatively small number of drugs tests that are currently being carried out. Has the Minister put the resources in place to allow Professor Denis Cusack, the director, and his staff at this vital facility in UCD to carry out their work? The MBRS indicated that any move to test all samples for both alcohol and drugs would require a significant increase in funding from the Government. What has been the response to this proposal? I did not notice a significant increase in the Estimates in this regard. Approximately €4.4 million was allocated to the MBRS for 2009. Does the Minister intend to introduce a Supplementary Estimate in respect of it in 2010? As with breathalysers, it is pointless bringing in new legislation and promising mandatory testing and other new measures if the testing infrastructure is not put in place and if support is not provided for those carrying out the tests.

I welcome Part 4 and the new measures to enhance the penalty points system. Everyone agrees that the current system, which was only introduced in 2001, is in a complete mess. Earlier in the month we learned that almost 18,000 reckless drivers have got away without a single penalty point being applied to their licences as a result of the fact that they arrived in court without those licences. This is a serious problem. I was presented with information relating to one incident where a driver accused of speeding offences did not have his licence endorsed for this reason and who went on to be involved in a fatal collision where the other driver was killed.

Section 51 finally and clearly mandates drivers to produce their licences if appearing in court charged with an offence under the Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 2009 and provide copies of their licences or learners permits to the court at the time. Under the Bill, what penalty will apply if someone fails to produce his or her licence? Are the Minister and his colleagues addressing the serious capacity and administrative issues in the Courts Service that have been contributing to the problems with the penalty points system? I am aware that attempts have been made to address these problems in other ways, particularly in the context of the imposition of fixed penalties.

Last year 192,686 drivers, or 31%, did not have their licences endorsed for committing offences. Many of these drivers are holders of foreign driving licences. I have asked the Minister on numerous occasions — on virtually every occasion on which he has taken Question Time — to examine the use of the national vehicle driver file, NVDF, to record and address all motoring misdemeanours committed by drivers on Irish roads. The Minister indicated that he will try to address the question of foreign drivers by means of introducing amendments to the legislation. Most people would state that this is not before time.

Section 44(2) will allow the Minister to decide, by regulations, the form of record to be kept in respect of misdemeanours by foreign driving licence holders and unlicensed drivers. It also provides powers with regard to awarding penalty points. How will the system of awarding penalty points to foreign licence holders work and will it be the subject of major amendments? Will it involve an unnecessary duplication of resources to create a new and separate record of drivers who do not hold Irish driving licences when the NVDF is already in existence? Does the Minister have any plans to quickly move ahead and establish a register of foreign licence holders and disqualified drivers? The entire penalty points system and, by extension, road safety law are being brought into disrepute by the failure of the Minister to resolve this mess. It is disappointing that he appears to have made little progress at EU level on the mutual recognition of penalty points across the Union.

Section 61 sets out a requirement for vehicle insurers to provide details of new motor insurance policies issued and existing motor insurance policies cancelled, in so far as they relate to third party cover. I hope this will prove to be a useful provision.

I previously noted the new administrative fixed-penalty measure that has been introduced in respect of drink driving. However, the Courts Service is already under intense pressure in this regard. In the first six months of 2007, 88,000 summonses in respect of fixed-charge offences came before the courts. At that stage, the Garda reported that only 50% to 60% of traffic fines were being paid. Is the Minister reviewing any of the proposals by the Courts Service in respect of the collection of fines? I realise that he has changed the nature of some of the penalties and he referred to the seven-day rule with regard to cases going to court. Has he taken cognisance of the suggestions from the Courts Service in respect of alternative methods for the collection of fines for motoring offences, including the use of private debt collection agencies or, as the Law Reform Commission proposed, obliging motorists to pay fines when paying their annual motor tax charges?

I hope the Minister will consider reforming the imposition of traffic fines in order to — as is the case in Germany, France, Austria, the Nordic countries and Switzerland — take income and wealth levels into account. In many European states, sliding scales apply in respect of traffic fines. Under these, wealthy offenders are expected to pay more. A foreigner who drove recklessly through a large part of Switzerland was recently fined $300,000. A maximum fine of $1 million applies in that country, while the maximum fine in Germany is $16 million. Perhaps consideration might be given to introducing a sliding scale of fines here.

Part 5 introduces a series of long-overdue measures to address current loopholes in driving licence regulations, including prohibitions on applying for an Irish driving licence or learner permit in circumstances where someone has been disqualified. It also contains a facility to allow the Garda to seize licences in certain circumstances. I welcome the strengthening of the law in this regard. If the Minister really wanted to overhaul the driving licence system, however, why are measures to give full legislative effect to the long promised graduated driver licensing system — as mandated under action 72 of the road safety strategy 2007-2012, with a target completion date of the third quarter of 2008 — not included? The Minister will recall that I used to ask him and the Taoiseach about the legislation relating to this matter on a daily basis. The Minister stated that we do need additional legislation in respect of graduated driver licensing system. Why, therefore, is such a system not being legislated for in this Bill?

A critical road safety issue that is not explicitly addressed in the Bill is that of tachographs and the monitoring of professional drivers. The Road Safety Authority, RSA, and Britain's Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, VOSA, have consistently registered a high percentage of defective Irish HGVs. For example, a survey carried out by VOSA in 2007 revealed that 1,110 out of 2,000 Irish-registered trucks — between 55% and 60% — that were tested on UK roads had serious technical faults. In 2007 the RSA reported that nearly one third of all HGV vehicles tested by its inspectors were not up to the required minimum standards.

It is clear there are grave implications for road safety on foot of these statistics. In one tragic case on which I have been briefed, the family of a young man killed in collision with a HGV in 2006 discovered that at that stage only two gardaí in the entire country were qualified to read tachographs. Has this improved in recent years since Deputy Dempsey became Minister? The tachograph of the HGV driver involved in that fatal collision allegedly showed that at the time of impact he was driving at 90 km/h and had worked a 12 hour driving shift. However, this issue is not even mentioned in the Bill.

Why were penalties not introduced for HGV-related road traffic offences as was favoured by the RSA? Will the Minister consider including a new section on proper HGV driving behaviour? Do gardaí check tachographs in HGVs at collision scenes for speed, rest periods and hours worked? Is the European working time directive as it relates to HGVs being enforced? The Health and Safety Authority tried to get involved in this issue at the time of the tragic crash in County Meath involving a school bus, and a tug of war began between the agencies.

The safety of all road passengers and working drivers should be paramount. Has the RSA begun to compile a risk-rating register to monitor rogue HGV operators who have been found to have committed an offence? Has the Department of Transport ever rescinded any HGV driver's licence following a fatal collision? A few months ago, the Minister told me he rescinded four licences of people who turned out to be gangsters. On behalf of the Labour Party I will table amendments on Committee Stage to greatly strengthen the law with regard to HGVs.

One of the most appalling and ongoing road safety failures of the Minister and the Government has been the failure to roll out the national speed camera programme. It is astonishing that it was launched by former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, almost 12 years ago. Under action No. 26 of the Road Safety Strategy 2007-2012 this programme should have been rolled out by the second quarter of 2008. It is appalling that the chairman of the Road Safety Authority, Mr. Gay Byrne, has had to make numerous public pleas on this, including at one stage threatening to resign if the Ministers, Deputy Dempsey and Deputy Dermot Ahern, did not get their act together and begin to roll out the cameras. The country has been severely criticised by the European Transport Safety Council because we do not have the cameras in place.

It is well over a year since the Government indicated that the company GoSafe had been chosen as the preferred bidder to operate the programme of 6,000 hours per month and we spoke about this earlier today. However, there still seems to be little movement on rolling out the speed cameras. In his reply to the debate will the Minister tell us when we will see it? It is an integral part of enforcement of the Bill before us.

The key to a consistently successful road safety strategy is enforcement. Speed cameras are one critical element of this jigsaw. The other vital matter is Garda enforcement. The importance of enforcement can be seen on bank holiday weekends when the Garda and the RSA mount a massive road safety campaign and road deaths are significantly reduced or eliminated. We have had one or two of those great weekends where everybody on our roads were safe. In his reply, will the Minister report on the current personnel allocation of the Garda traffic corps? I also hope the Minister will consider liaising with his colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to review proposals for the establishment of an operationally separate traffic corps. I and the Labour Party believe that to have a proper system of enforcement we should have an independent and operationally separate distinct traffic corps.

I greatly welcomed the introduction of forensic collision investigators at fatal crash sites since 2007. Are there still only 43 gardaí who are trained or in training for this role? How many fully trained investigators do we have? Is it mandatory for all serious and fatal collisions to be investigated by a forensic collision investigator? Given the important nature of this role for understanding road collision trends, the Minister should mandate that a forensic collision investigator examines and reports on each serious collision. He will remember that I have made this point previously. It should be in the Bill and we will try to add it.

One of the salient recent transport issues in light of Dublin City Council's new 30 km/h limit has been speed and signage and we discussed this last week. I acknowledged the appalling ongoing problem of speeding drivers. However, I also recognise the serious difficulties that have been raised by motorists and workers who must travel across the city with the 30 km/h limit in the Dublin City core. When my former colleagues in Dublin City Council were considering limits, they had no option of introducing a 40 km/h limit. I will table an amendment to insert a 40 km/h limit and I hope the Minister will support this. He might argue that this is the wrong Bill for it but that would mean a further wait and the 900 councillors throughout the country would like to have the facility to vary limits and have the option of a 45 km/h or 55 km/h if it suited a particular area. I first proposed a 25 mph default speed limit for residential estates in 1993.

It is also incredible that the wider problems of speeding motorists are simply not a priority in the Bill. Last week, I highlighted some of those problems. We need to get the sign manual, on which the Minister has been working for years, published. We also need to give local councillors scope for various types of signage so that no driver would not know the default speed limit in a particular urban area.

On behalf of the Labour Party I broadly welcome the Road Traffic Bill. There is no playing politics with road safety. We are all on the same team on this. I look forward to the Minister's positive response to all of the issues I have raised. I have often been highly critical of the Minister but I commend him for his work in this field. I hope the Minister will outline what plans he has and what work he has already done for the national road safety strategy post-2012.

I will share time with Deputy Michael Kitt.

I welcome the Road Traffic Bill as making an important contribution to road safety and I commend the Minister for introducing it. If we go back to the beginning of the last decade, when I came into electoral politics in 2002, the unacceptably high number of road casualties was a very definite issue, along with the high cost not only of road insurance but of insurance generally. These were matters the Government was expected to tackle and deal with. Much progress has been made and we are moving in the right direction, although nobody would consider the present situation as satisfactory. In his speech, the Minister pointed out that we have moved up from 16th in EU countries in 2005 to sixth and that instead of having routinely more than 400 people dying a year, it was reduced last year to 239. That is satisfactory in terms of moving in the right direction.

Anyone who has met or known people who lost sons, daughters or close friends in traffic accidents knows how traumatic it is. In some ways it ruins, or at least adversely affects, the rest of their lives. This is also the case if people are badly and permanently injured. It deserves much attention. The Minister made the point correctly that many factors are involved. Road investment and improvements have been made over the past ten years, in particular the modern barriers separating carriageways that make it virtually impossible to cross from one side of the motorway to another motorway, which in the past was a cause of accidents. In general, the safety record is high. While I appreciate that we will not have the same amount of money to invest once the motorway network is complete as we had before, we should, albeit at a lower level, continue the programme of road investment and improvement.

As we all know, a great deal remains to be done not only in regard to the long distance strategic network, such as along the western corridor or the Limerick-Waterford road, but also on the roads between important neighbouring towns in every county. Stretches along many of these roads are in very bad condition. The Thurles end of the Tipperary-Thurles road is one such example, although I note that the Thurles bypass has been mentioned in dispatches.

Driver and vehicle testing also make an important contribution. Any number of old bangers could be seen on our roads 20 years ago but there are much fewer these days. Road maintenance is also important. Despite the considerable damage done to both minor roads and parts of the national network by the recent ice and frost, county councils have begun to prioritise repairs and I am glad to say that a great deal has already been put right.

I welcome the establishment in the past decade of the Garda traffic corps. This innovative unit has high visibility and if one travels at night along any decently frequented road, one will run a considerable risk of encountering a checkpoint.

The centrepiece of the Bill is the reduction of alcohol limits from 80 mg to 50 mg for the general driver and a lower level for professional and learner drivers. This is appropriate because the killing capacity of a bus, lorry or other large vehicle is even greater than that of a car. Considerable debate was devoted to this subject within my party and elsewhere but I believe the correct balance has been achieved. I had a conversation recently with the former Minister for the Environment, Michael Smith, who faced the same arguments when he reduced the limit from 100 mg to 80 mg in the early 1990s.

The difficulties faced by licensed premises are probably at least as much the result of the recession as the enforcement of drink driving legislation. If one goes to a pub for social purposes, it is quite possible to limit one's alcohol consumption by drinking tea, coffee or a mineral. It is much better to impose on oneself the rule of drinking no alcohol if one is driving. I would apply the same rule to public speaking. One is unwise to drink alcohol because one needs one's wits about one, particularly if answering questions. I always leave the alcohol consumption until afterwards.

Public support is needed when a new regime is introduced. That was the case with the smoking ban and the plastic bag tax, which was another of the Minister's innovations. If public support exists, enforcement is less difficult because people are prepared to adjust to the system.

I welcome the further development of drug testing. This relatively new dimension deserves to be refined and put into operation. Since 1949, a free travel area has been in place between the UK and Ireland and it is entirely logical that disqualifications should be mutually recognised. Judicial loopholes are a cause of frustration but the Bill includes measures to close them.

I receive a considerable number of representations concerning noisy exhausts, which I suspect are mostly connected with boy racers. I am sure legislation is already in place to prohibit excessive noise but the issue needs to be better enforced.

Finally, while we all welcome the greater use of bicycles, is it not the case that cyclists are also bound by the rules of the road? This should be drawn to their attention because they seem to ignore traffic lights and one-way streets.

I welcome the Bill and thank the Minister for the priority he has given to road safety. This Bill implements many of the measures he has advocated since taking up office.

Early January brought particularly dangerous conditions to our roads. We must be particularly aware of vulnerable road users, such as school children and pedestrians. As motorists, we have a collective responsibility to take care. I am thinking in particular of the death of four young students north of Milltown in County Galway.

The €34 billion invested in roads under Transport 21 has brought major benefits not only for road quality, but also balanced regional development. The opening by the Minister of the last leg of the Dublin-Galway motorway was most welcome in this regard. With Dublin as the hub, good roads now lead towards Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Belfast. Transport 21 also provides for the Atlantic and Border road corridors.

I commend the Road Safety Authority on its work. Deputy McEntee spoke about the representatives from the authority who go into schools to teach transition year students about road safety.

Speed cameras have been effective but an open and transparent system is needed. Difficulties have arisen in regard to readings by automated cameras. We have often heard similar complaints about electronic tolling.

We would like to have speed limits at schools. In general, there has been a delay in providing speed limits. Endless committees are involved, including the NRA. I hope we will get quicker decisions on the extension of speed limits. One still has speed limits of 80 km/h on small country roads. With a speed limit of 120 km/h on motorways, it can be difficult when one has to quickly reduce to 80 km/h or 60 km/h. That is one of the areas where there are anomalies and inconsistencies.

Much debate has taken place about a reduction in blood alcohol levels. The Road Safety Authority came up with the current proposals that have been the subject of much debate in rural areas. Among the transport issues that were raised, the rural transport scheme was mooted as a possible solution. That was a good suggestion but it was ridiculed in many organs of the media. There is no doubt more taxis are needed in rural areas, and that is starting to happen. I commend the publicans who have taken steps to provide transport for their customers. I look forward to further improvements because the overall objective is to reduce road deaths and serious injuries. Driver behaviour must be changed. It is important that information is provided for transition year students. They should be informed about road safety.

The Minister and the RSA outlined that the authorities in Northern Ireland were advocating a reduction in the blood alcohol limit from 80 mg to 50 mg. It is important that the same blood alcohol limit applies on both sides of the Border.

The Bill refers to foreign driving licences. I welcome the transfer of penalty points to one's country of origin. Foreign licences should become every bit as accessible to the Garda as an Irish licence. When penalty points are awarded I hope they apply immediately for a three-year period. I hear complaints from constituents that it is several months before the points are applied.

Another issue that arises relates to journeys from Galway city to Dublin Airport, where three toll charges are involved on each leg of the journey. I hope we can put a package together to reduce the cost to drivers on that route. Some of the companies involved might be examining the matter. The Minister referred to alternative routes. I accept that collecting a toll electronically is expensive. The motorist pays the piper. Initially it was difficult to get one's tokens for the M50 toll. Many businesses have extended the number of outlets providing them. Signs near Athlone and Ballinasloe refer to it being one's last opportunity to buy petrol or diesel before getting on the motorway. I hope they also provide an opportunity to pay the toll on the M50 because if one does not pay within 48 hours the charge doubles and over a longer period the charge can rise to more than €100. It is important that the situation is sorted out and that notification is sent to people in good time so that there is no delay in receiving the demand for payment. Consideration should be given to people who have to travel on long journeys involving many toll bridges. I am pleased that no toll bridges were proposed by the Minister for the public private partnership arrangement on the road from Gort to Tuam, taking in Oranmore and Claregalway. I very much welcome that.

It is important to have service stations along motorways. I am pleased to hear the matter will be addressed in the not too distant future. We need places to stop. Tiredness is a problem for motorists. I hope service stations will be provided.

I note also the huge increase in the number of vehicles on the road. Statistics suggested the number had doubled in the 12 years up to 2006. Given that situation we need car testing. There is much emphasis on older cars. Perhaps the figures have become inflated because some owners of cars more than ten years of age go for the test and then get the specific problem fixed before going back to re-sit the test. That is an area that could be examined.

I welcome the Bill. The Minister has shown his commitment to road safety. He has taken the advice of the RSA. He has an ambitious and comprehensive programme for the current road safety strategy for the period up to 2012. I wish him well with the legislation.

I support the Bill, as my party will support it. There are many good things in it. Likewise, many issues require to be teased out on Committee Stage. We intend to table amendments, as I have no doubt will the Minister. I hope the political context of the debate is a constructive one and that points are made validly on all sides.

I praise Mr. Noel Brett of the Road Safety Authority, Mr. Gay Byrne, PARC and others who campaigned to get the legislation on the books. Meeting them and listening to them and, especially those who have lost family members in road traffic accidents, and feeling their pain made us realise that it was time we did more in this area.

I welcome the reduction in the number of road deaths. Approximately 240 people died on the roads last year, which means that we have been successful in reducing the number of deaths on our roads. I am not being political in saying that we should beware of becoming too confident that things have changed. There are probably fewer cars on the road and therefore there is less potential for accidents. We should not become too complacent. Let us keep up the good work.

Certain aspects of the Bill have caused controversy. I agree with the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, that there has been much debate around the country about the reduction in the level of blood alcohol from 80 mg to 50 mg. There are strong medical grounds in favour of that argument, in that it reduces significantly although not totally one's propensity to have an accident. It also introduces a level playing pitch, for the want of a better term, right across Europe. I understand that once the legislation is passed Malta will be the only country remaining at the higher limit. I welcome the fact that the same limits will apply regardless of where one is in Europe, which is a good thing. There will be no doubt about the issue.

I also welcome the second reduction in blood alcohol limit to 20 mg for learner drivers and professional drivers. It is critical that there would be a higher benchmark for people who drive for a living, be they taxi drivers or bus drivers, and learner drivers. In other words, they can drink practically nothing at all. That is the way it ought to be. From observing trends in Europe, that appears to be the direction in which Europe is going.

Alcohol is the third highest cause of death after heart disease. Alcohol abuse is another issue of concern. I accept that jobs are created by alcohol production, which generates revenue and contributes to the European economy by approximately €9 billion per year. While alcohol has been, and continues to be consumed by many people without causing a problem, a significant proportion of alcohol consumption generates harm for individuals and society. The misuse of alcohol generates high costs to society, which are estimated to be as high as 1.3% of the European GDP (EC 2008), thus, the costs exceed the benefits by more than 17 times.

An analysis of road deaths across Europe was conducted, which found that the consequences of harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption include, amongst others, a considerable number of deaths on EU roads, that driving while under the influence of alcohol contributes annually to approximately 10,000 deaths on European roads and that national data show that typically 15%-25% of deaths are associated with alcohol impairment of an active accident participant. The analysis also found that if the number of alcohol impaired drivers had dropped to zero — which will never happen — some 6,800 lives could have been saved in 2007, representing some 16% of the total number of deaths. That must be our target. We must reduce road deaths.

I refer to the European Transport Safety Council report on commercial driving in Europe. Of the 21 nations that employ roadside testing for alcohol while driving commercial vehicles, Ireland ranks seventh. While generally there is a lower level of alcohol impairment among drivers of commercial vehicles, at 3% Ireland is ranked high in the European league and this issue needs to be tackled. Notwithstanding all the good provisions in the legislation aimed at reducing alcohol limits, all the research in this area highlights that enforcement is an issue. It is all very well reducing the BAC levels but if traffic laws are not enforced, we will continue to have problems, notwithstanding reductions in speeding and alcohol consumption by drivers.

The referral for treatment of those who have been convicted of drink or drug driving is also an issue. We may have to make it mandatory for those convicted of these offences to do a course in alcohol counselling. Together with the penalty of being unable to drive, that should change the mindset of people. Changing the way we think about these issues is what the legislation is about. The research highlights that if one is convicted of drink driving, one will revert to one's old form unless other interventions are put in place. The Minister is nodding and I have no doubt he will take my comments on board. I do not suggest a significant budget would be needed to provide such courses but it should be mandatory for offenders to do them.

Perhaps instead of a fine, those who are convicted could do a course and pay for it.

That would be good because this is about changing behaviour and transforming how we live.

The first time a person exceeds the new BAC level, he or she incurs three penalty points but does not face a mandatory court appearance. He or she will then be put off the road for a second offence and incur a further three penalty points. I do not wish to be misinterpreted but a driver can only be put off the road if he or she has incurred 12 penalty points for other road traffic offences while drivers who are convicted under this legislation will only incur six penalty points before being put off the road. There may be legal issues in this regard. People may not wish to discuss this issue, which may be controversial, but if one is breaks the law by drink-driving, incurring only three penalty points for the offence is questionable. That may not be a popular point of view but this needs to be examined. Ultimately, the courts may be asked to adjudicate on this in a case.

I do not wish to make political points but these are important issues. The word "mandatory" implies something must be done. The weakness in the legislation is that mandatory testing is not provided for in certain cases where a person is brought to a hospital. If someone is involved in an accident, medical attention must be provided immediately and it must be the priority. However, the legislation needs to provide for a higher standard for being unable to give a blood sample. In other words, if I am brought to hospital and I am seriously injured, the most senior medical officer on duty should have to sign off on the reason I am not being tested for suspected alcohol consumption. If an individual is involved in an accident, he or she should be tested and if he or she ends up in hospital, the senior physician on duty should have to say he or she could not be tested because of his or her medical condition. That is the way we must think about this issue. It would make a great deal of sense to do so.

Another weakness in the legislation relates to previously incurred penalty points. I acknowledge that the Minister is attempting to deal with this by giving a person seven days within which he or she can pay a fine rather than go to court. The Irish Independent recently published a report claiming 230,000 penalty points could not been applied to the driving licences of 18,000 people who had been in serious breach of the law by driving dangerous defective vehicles or driving dangerously and so on because the licence number had not been recorded. The penalty point system is in significant disrepute when 230,000 points can never be applied to these licences.

The behaviour of drivers from Northern Ireland is still a significant problem. I experience this every day on the road, particularly on the M1. Notwithstanding the fact that the Ceann Comhairle is being transported in a fine vehicle, I am sure he experiences the same problem. Motorists travel in the fast lane at 160 km/h and nine times out of ten the vehicle is registered in Northern Ireland. The question is how to deal with these offenders. Discussions are ongoing between the Minister, the Northern Ireland Executive and the British Government about this but it remains a serious problem. Disqualification in other jurisdictions is mutually recognised but there is still a significant problem with North of Ireland drivers speeding dangerously in this jurisdiction and with South of Ireland drivers speeding north of the Border. Penalty points need to be brought into line, North and South, for the same offences so that there will be common penalties.

Debate adjourned.