Road Traffic Bill 2009: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill, which affords us an opportunity to discuss many of the issues relating to road safety issues and to consider the Government's priorities in this area. Most of the focus in regard to this Bill has been on blood alcohol limits. There is no doubt that the consumption of alcohol impairs driving and is a direct contributor to road accidents. However, I intend to question the proportionality of the proposals before us, an issue that is being ignored in the debate. I have no doubt that a reduction in the blood alcohol limit will have an impact in terms of road safety, but I would question whether we are using a sledge hammer to crack a nut and diverting limited resources from the real causes of road accidents.

Any measure that saves lives must be given serious consideration by everybody in this House. However, the Government seems to be of the view that it has overall ownership of the issue of road safety, despite its own unimpressive record in this area. The recent decision to downgrade motorway public lighting specifications in order to save a few euro is a case in point. While the issue of costs is pressing in every area of expenditure, a decision to save a few euro on the operation of public lighting on motorway junctions, where vehicles are travelling at 70 mph, is of doubtful merit. Nothing has been done to address the decision by the former Minister for Transport, the late Séamus Brennan, to increase the speed limit outside some of the busiest schools in the State. During the severe weather after Christmas, salt was not available for gritting roads, which caused numerous accidents and marooned many people.

In the debate to date, certain figures have been thrown out as facts. The reality is that figures can be twisted in a particular manner to support a particular agenda. We have had lies, damned lies and statistics. Statistics can be and are used to support any argument whatsoever. The latest figures that have been published by State agencies and are publicly available show that in 2008, seven out of ten samples tested by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety were over the legal blood alcohol limit. Of these, 85% pertained to the old limit of 100 milligrams per 100 millilitres. The legislation before us will do nothing to deal with that particular figure, which has been ignored. Moreover, one in six of those found to be over the legal limit was two and half times over the limit. This legislation will have absolutely no impact in this regard. Given a conviction rate of 52% in 2008, there was a 50:50 chance of getting away with having a blood alcohol level of more than 100 milligrams per 100 millilitres, as was the case in 85% of those found to be over the limit.

This issue is being shoved aside because it is a question of putting the resources in place to ensure prosecutions are secured in the case of motorists identified as being far in excess of the legal limit. When the former Garda Assistant Commissioner, Mr. Eddie Rock, attended a meeting of the joint Oireachtas committee, he pointed out that gardaí spend between 40 and 100 hours preparing a drink driving file for court. Yet after all that time and effort in the context of limited Garda resources, half of the infringements detected do not result in prosecutions. This scandal is being ignored because it reflects poorly on the Government.

We hear much about the causes of accidents. It was interesting recently to hear Mr. Noel Brett make the point that road conditions are the cause of 3% of accidents. He is not able to provide figures on accidents caused by blood alcohol levels. He will say that alcohol is a contributing factor for a percentage of accidents. When he wants to airbrush out the issue of road conditions, he will use one set of figures, yet when he wants to steer an argument in another direction, he will use another set of figures. The problem is that we do not have proper figures on the cause of road accidents in this country.

We are awaiting the first report of the Garda forensic collision investigation unit. I would like to see the exact causes of accidents in this country. The reports are being complied by the 42 forensic crash investigators into fatal accidents or crashes causing serious injury that have occurred on our roads. They will give us for the first time a clear record of the causes of accidents in Ireland.

There has not even been an acknowledgement by the Government or the Road Safety Authority that the global accident risk exists. This is the baseline for road accidents, because once somebody sits into a car and turns on the ignition and moves the vehicle, there is a statistical probability that he or she will be involved in an accident. We have never calculated that figure here. That will give us a baseline on which we can develop our road safety policies. Why have we not done this? How big a factor is tiredness, listening to the radio, using a mobile telephone, driving a car with children on board, or driving on medication? We do not have figures for these factors. We do not even have an accurate estimate on the potential rate of accidents on those factors.

Research has been carried out in this area in the UK, and the police there have been investigating road accidents for years with the type of thoroughness that the road accident investigation unit of the Garda Síochána has recently been using. The British police examined 2,613 fatal accidents that occurred in 2005 in that country. According to its research, 66% of road accidents were due to driver error or incorrect driver reaction to a certain situation. Behaviour and inexperience were the main factors in 25% of accidents. The road environment was the main contributing factor in 15% of accidents. Pedestrians contributed to 13% of accidents by not looking properly. Alcohol, surprisingly, caused only 5% of deaths on UK roads. The figures for alcohol related deaths in this jurisdiction may or may not be lower than 5%, but the figures show that alcohol is not a big factor in the UK.

The argument in favour of reducing the blood alcohol level here has been based on the road accident statistics for 2003. That research was provided to us by the Road Safety Authority. It states that there has been no assessment of the implications of alcohol since random breath testing was introduced in this country. Surely we should be assessing the impact of random breath testing. I have no doubt that this form of testing had a huge impact on alcohol consumption by drivers when it was introduced. We know that the resources given to the Garda to enforce this since its introduction have fallen dramatically, but if we were to highlight that, it would lead to a bad reflection on the Government and it is far easier to bring forward another Bill than deal with the issue of resources.

The HSE report in 2006 based on road accident statistics in 2003 showed that 5% of fatalities involved drivers with a blood alcohol reading of 20-80 milligrams. Of those involved, 24% were over the legal limit — this will not be addressed by the Bill — and 7% involved pedestrians who are over the legal limit. Alcohol was a factor in 36.5% of fatal crashes, two thirds of which involved those who were over the current legal limit. The mean blood alcohol level based on that study was 99.2 milligrams per 100 millilitres, which is 25% over the current legal limit. The mean blood alcohol level for males at 107 milligrams per 100 millilitres was 34% over the legal limit.

Mr. Noel Brett was quoted in the Sunday Independent in November, when he gave an interview to the newspaper as chief executive of the Road Safety Authority. I have a high regard for Mr. Brett. He has done a great job as the head of the RSA, and the authority has brought the issue of road safety to the fore in this country. However, he states in the article that “It is time to provide people with the facts . . . It is estimated that alcohol is a contributing factor in one in three fatal collisions. That is a fact”. My problem with the Bill is that we are using estimates and quoting them as facts. I am not just highlighting this now. I have made several contributions on road safety over the years and I have constantly highlighted this issue and stated that we must provide the accurate data to support the case being put forward.

A case is being made for the alcohol factor. There is no doubt that any amount of alcohol will impair drivers, but I question the level of that impairment and the amount of resources put on it. For anybody involved in a road traffic accident with a level of alcohol in the blood, alcohol will be considered as a contributing factor in that accident. However, there was a case last year of a young man who left a suicide note and drove his car into a lake. He had drink taken, so alcohol was considered to be a contributing factor in the statistics. In an another case, an elderly driver had a heart attack at the wheel of his car and ploughed into a group of men who were smoking outside a pub. Drink driving had nothing to do with the accident, but it is considered to be an alcohol related accident if one of those individuals is killed.

Another piece of research was carried out on single vehicle collisions in County Kildare by Dr. Cliona McGovern and Professor Denis Cusack in November 2006. It makes for very interesting reading. It examined the issue of single vehicle accidents, so does not deal with pedestrians or other drivers. I believe that it provides a more accurate reflection of the impact of alcohol on road traffic accidents. These results clearly show that the majority of driver fatalities in single vehicle accidents are well in excess of the legal limit, with the greater number being twice or three times over the legal limit. This is consistent with the Medical Bureau of Road Safety's annual reports, which continually highlight the large volumes of alcohol that people have consumed prior to being involved in a road accident. I would question the real potential benefit to be gained from reducing the blood alcohol limit to 50mg.

In 2002, the Canadian Traffic Injury Research Foundation examined this specific issue. The report's conclusions stated:

Our critical review of the evaluation of the research literature failed to support strong, consistent and unqualified support for the lowering of blood alcohol limits. At best, the results were mixed and the methodological weaknesses in the studies questioned the robustness and veracity of the evidence. There is little evidence that lowering the blood alcohol limit from 80mg to 50mg will in, or of, itself result in fewer alcohol-related deaths.

According to the Canadian estimates, implementing and enforcing a 50 mg limit would double the amount of arrests with few, if any, savings of lives to be shown for it.

The chairman of the Irish Road Safety Authority, Gay Byrne, has said in the past that he would be in favour of enforcing the existing law. There is a strong case to be made for enforcing the existing law, which is being ignored to a great extent.

Random breath testing has brought down the monthly averages of people caught for drink-driving. It has also contributed to bringing down road death rates to the lowest levels since records began. Those figures are based on research by the Garda Síochána and the Road Safety Authority. However, we are basing our argument for a reduction in the drink-driving limit based on 2003 figures, which pre-date the introduction of random breath testing.

In the first full year since random breath testing was introduced in 2007, there was a 9% reduction in the number of people caught over the legal limit. In 2008, the second full year of random breath testing, there was a 23% reduction in the number of such offences. It is clear, therefore, that random breath testing is working. We should be giving gardaí the resources to enforce these measures because there is substantial evidence to support this approach.

The thesis being used to reduce the blood-alcohol limit is flawed. If the Minister has figures on this matter I will be happy to accept them, but having gone thorough a lot of the research I have yet to see these figures. By reducing the limit from 80 mg to 50 mg, I am afraid we will be diverting limited resources from serious offenders who are blatantly ignoring the law. They are putting the lives of all road users at risk. It also diverts us from the scandalous situation whereby we are failing to secure convictions. Even if someone is two or three times over the legal limit, there is only a 50% chance of their being caught. We are air-brushing that out of the whole debate, however.

We are also ignoring the issue of drug use and abuse by drivers. Some 76% of specimens analysed by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety in 2008 were certified for the presence of drugs. They were not just illegal drugs, as there is a significant problem concerning people who have prescribed drugs in the blood stream, which is having an impact on the standard of driving in this country. Those issues are being ignored, however. We are putting far too much focus on one particular aspect without putting resources where they are needed.

Many of those who have contributed to this debate raised the issue of rural transport and rural isolation. The lack of rural transport is a bigger issue for people during the day than at night. The CSO's research shows that 50% of rural families have difficulty accessing public transport. In recent months, we have seen services being curtailed; some 100 Bus Éireann services have been withdrawn. For example, the last bus to Westport, taking in Athlone, Roscommon and Castlebar, leaves Dublin at 2 p.m. That is supposed to be a public transport service, but in reality we are seeing a clawback of resources for any type of public transport. The Minister pays lip-service to that issue, while at the same time allowing Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus to curtail their level of services dramatically. That is a disgraceful situation and should not be accepted.

Táim fíor bhuíoch don Cheann Comhairle as an seans seo a thabhairt dom labhairt ar an mBille tábhachtach seo. Tá níos mó le déanamh againn sa tír seo chun básanna ar na bóithre a laghdú. Tá aithne maith agam ar go leor clainn a chaill mac nó iníon, deirfiúr nó deartháir, athair nó máthair ar na bóithre. Chaill siad duine i dtimpiste bhóthair. Déanann an bás uafásach sin an-dochar don chlann fágtha ina dhiaidh.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this legislation. Unfortunately, we have all witnessed, either personally or through friends, the devastation caused by road traffic accidents. My number one priority, and that of every Member of this House, is to protect people from death or injury on the roads. If one life is saved by enacting this legislation, then we will have done a good day's work. I would not want the hurt and devastation of a road accident to be visited on any other families if I could prevent it in some way.

We cannot have an à la carte approach to road safety, picking and choosing what we like, while ignoring what we do not like. We cannot decide to be a little bit safe. In recent years, there have been many accidents on the roads. I have been to too many funerals as a result of road accidents involving friends, past pupils and others I knew well. Some of these accidents occurred as a result of speed or were drink-related, while others happened through no fault of the road accident victim.

It is also important to recognise that not all road accidents result in fatalities. We have all seen the television advertisements which depict the disastrous and life-changing effects of road accidents. We must surely do everything in our power to reduce those statistics even more.

I welcome the Bill's provision that people who drive for a living will be subject to a blood-alcohol limit of 20mg. Bus and taxi drivers have a duty of care to their passengers. Such drivers should have a zero alcohol limit, but I understand that this is not practical because there are certain substances, like mouth-washes, that may contain a small amount of alcohol. This would make it difficult to enforce a zero limit. Professional drivers who are responsible for the safety of others on the roads need to be doubly responsible.

We all have a duty to ensure that we drive safely. Despite the imposition of penalty points, it horrifies me to see drivers still using mobile telephones. Despite all the warnings and regulations, they continue to engage in this practice. One cannot give the road one's full concentration if one has a telephone to one's ear. In some cases — I have also witnessed this — people attempt to write text messages while driving. This is a dreadful practice and it needs to be stopped.

Deaths on our roads have been reduced but, as I said before, one death is one too many. We need to keep up the momentum and keep repeating the message. We must encourage people not to drive if they take a drink. The message is getting out there. I do not think anyone in this House would condone drinking and driving. If one wants to drink, one should appoint a designated driver. People should not use their mobile telephones and should certainly reduce their speed. We have all seen, in towns and villages throughout the country, the boy racers who continue to drive at excessive speeds on our roads. As the saying goes, it is better to arrive late than dead on time.

More than 40% of road accidents are due to excessive speed. We need to ensure our young people are well prepared before they take to the roads. Young people often think they are invincible and a car gives them a sense of power. However, they must be responsible, because a car is a dangerous weapon. We have all witnessed the bad driver, the person out to impress, the show-off, the erratic driver, or the one who overtakes a line of cars at speed or on a dangerous bend. We must redouble our efforts to ensure these people are caught, as they pose a danger to themselves and to other sensible and responsible road users.

What about pedestrians? Are they not entitled to walk on our roads? They are, but they also need to exercise caution. How many times on a dark winter's evening have we come across pedestrians with no reflective jackets or lights, perhaps wearing dark clothes? They too have a duty to be responsible when they take to the roads.

I welcome the mandatory alcohol testing of drivers involved in road traffic accidents. This is necessary as it enables verification at the scene of the driver's blood alcohol level and clears the innocent driver straight away. I welcome the fact that this Bill gives the Garda the power to form an opinion on whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs and to carry out tests in this regard. Unfortunately, people are using drugs and driving, and this must be dealt with in order to improve road safety.

Many people have mentioned rural isolation. I agree with Deputy Naughten that rural isolation is a major issue, but it is more of an issue during the day than at night. Rural transport is a also major issue, and I commend the Minister on ensuring the rural transport scheme remains in place. Much good has been done throughout the country due to the provision of services by Irish Rural Link.

However, we are not achieving value for money. School buses might do two runs in the morning, perhaps to a secondary school and a primary school, and the same in the evening, but during the day they are not being used. Like my colleagues, I believe we could obtain greater efficiency by using these buses to better effect, particularly in rural Ireland.

All transport issues should come under the Department of Transport, including school transport and HSE transport. If one Department was responsible for everything, we would have a better service and achieve greater efficiency. At present the service is fragmented. We need a system that ensures those who are isolated are able to obtain transport.

In my constituency we are lucky to have the Balti bus service and the Cavan rural link service. These provide a valuable lifeline to rural communities. They provide an opportunity for people to go to town with their neighbours and friends, to carry out their business and to have social interaction, which is important. I am delighted, as I said, that the Minister has committed to continuing his support for these services, as they are the only transport services in many areas.

Public transport does not exist in rural Ireland. Now that Bus Éireann is seeking to reduce services, these transport services are even more important and deserve to be supported and enhanced. Rural isolation is a major issue and one about which I am concerned, as are many Members of the House. It is not, however, solely related to alcohol or to visiting the local pub.

Coming from a Border constituency, I am concerned about many aspects of road safety, particularly the practice of anti-social driving behaviour on the main Clones to Cavan road, the N54. I raised this issue with the Garda Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, at the recent British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Cavan, and I have had ongoing discussions with his office in this regard. This stretch of road is being used irresponsibly by some drivers. The practice is highly dangerous and poses a considerable threat to other road users. There is a 3km stretch of the road that crosses north of the Border on two occasions before coming back into the South, so there are issues regarding the jurisdiction under which the road falls. However, this fact is being blatantly abused by reckless drivers who are performing stunts for the amusement of others, thereby endangering themselves and oncoming traffic. It is particularly worrying given that this is the main road to Cavan, and to Cavan General Hospital, for many people in the area. An alarming development in recent times is that a text message goes out to young people to say this is going to happen at a particular time, and they all congregate there for amusement. It is a dangerous practice and it must be stopped before somebody is fatally injured.

I welcome the recent measures announced with the aim of tackling the evasion of tolls and parking tickets by cross-Border drivers. I commend the Minister on his ongoing work with his Northern colleagues on the establishment of a data exchange project that will allow authorities on both sides of the Border to pursue motorists who have not paid tolls or parking fines across the Border. Why should they get away with it? I am aware this is a pilot project but I look forward to its being operated on a permanent basis. It must be pointed out that offending motorists were always obliged to pay the fines, but the difference is that now they can be pursued. It is grossly unfair for those people who obey the law that others are evading payment.

There is a need to continue to educate our young people in road safety and driving practice. When a parent buys a bicycle for a small child, he or she makes sure the child has a helmet and keeps the stabilisers on until they are no longer needed. A parent would not let a child out on the road unless he or she was present and it was safe to do so. It is important that we ensure our young people are competent to go on the road before they are allowed to do so. A car is a powerful and dangerous weapon and people, particularly young people, must be well educated in the rules of the road and the use of a car before they take to the road.

I welcome the fact that many schools have introduced a road safety module as part of their transition year programmes. I commend the teachers involved in delivering the programme, and the management of the schools on their vision and foresight in including this module. Transition year should prepare young people for life outside school. Driving will be a fact of life for almost everybody once they leave school, and they need to be educated and prepared for it.

I welcome the Bill. We all have a duty as legislators and road users to do what we can to make our roads safer. Drinking and driving cannot be condoned. We must re-educate people, young and old. Surprisingly, when one meets young people out socially, one finds that many of them would never dream of drinking and driving. It is an alien concept to them. They organise themselves to go out in groups, and people take it in turns to be the designated driver. That is being responsible. We need to continue to educate people about driving habits and attitudes to drinking and driving. I am thankful that the concept of "one for the road" is not acceptable any more and that nobody would agree with it.

I welcome the continuous ad campaigns encouraging people to be designated drivers or to exercise care on the roads. Unfortunately, some of the advertisements are very distressing, particularly those showing the results of accidents. It gets a very powerful message across and we must continue the good work to ensure we reduce fatalities on our road and make those who drive engage in best practice and be sensible in their driving habits. I commend the Bill to the House.

I am glad to have the opportunity to say a few words on this Bill. The reduction of the blood-alcohol concentration limit for drivers has considerably reduced the numbers of people killed on our roads. It is fair to say that legislation which has reduced the blood-alcohol concentration limits has been generally successful.

Irrespective of the legislation in place, if people are taking the chance, there must be more random breath testing. Like all politicians, I do much travelling of the roads by day and especially by night, when the problem would be more acute. It has been months since I was stopped on the road or saw a random police checkpoint. Resources must be provided for gardaí to have more random checkpoints. That is the most effective way of ensuring that people will not abuse alcohol when driving.

Garda statistics show that the numbers of such checkpoints have increased but visibility is very important. If people are not reminded that there is random testing on a continuous basis, they may take a chance. I agree with the previous speaker, Deputy Conlon, in that people are far more responsible now and there are very few people taking the chance of drinking and driving. If people want to go out while driving, they would drink water or have a non-alcoholic drink. Very few people indulge in alcohol — even one drink — if they are driving. They do not want to take a chance because their lives and livelihoods, and those of others, are at stake if they drink too much.

As a nation we have had different problems. At times we had the problem of drinking and driving and there are other major problems, such as obesity. This is one problem we have addressed to some extent. Statistics have shown that under existing blood-alcohol concentration limits, 24% of fatal crashes have involved a driver above the legal limit. Alcohol is still a factor but this legislation, supported by all parties in the House, will have an effect.

There will also be an adverse effect on rural life. Those of us living in rural constituencies are aware that the rural pub — the pub at the crossroads or a small village — is the local community centre. It is where people congregate over the winter to play cards or partake in a quiz. It is part of social life, and not just for people living on their own but everybody in a rural area. The legislation will affect some people who drive. There may be one car in the house and such people may live on their own or with families. The reduced limits will have an effect and it is up to us as the providers of transport to act.

Those who are in a position to provide rural transport, whether through public or private means, should be encouraged. We will have to address this aspect of rural life more seriously because people who would normally drive to pubs but are rarely involved in accidents will not do so any more because of this Bill and the reduction in blood-alcohol concentration limits. People may have taken the chance before of having two drinks but with this reduction, they will not take the chance even of going for one drink.

The legislation will pose a difficulty and it is very important that the issue of rural isolation be seen as a problem. There are other reasons to consider and we should try to facilitate the people who want to use their local public house as a community centre throughout the year but especially in the dark nights of winter, which can be very lonely and depressing for some living in rural areas. A number of speakers have mentioned rural transport, which is something that must be addressed. The point has been made fairly strongly.

I have a serious concern about speeding. A large percentage of accidents are speed-related. I do not have the exact statistics and it may be very hard to prove that speed was the cause of an accident. However, speeding must be addressed in a major way in this country. Young people are very responsible in many cases with regard to driving and alcohol — they pool cars and take minibuses and so on — but they may not be as responsible when it comes to speed. The concept of boy-racing and having souped-up cars and engines is popular and leads to accidents. I have seen young people wiped out because of speed.

I hope the speed cameras will be rolled out shortly and have an effect. I understand that there could be up to 60 speed cameras around the country, although somebody mentioned they would only be operating for 6,000 hours, which is inadequate. They should cover the country and make a bigger impact, so the time allocation should be greater. Speed cameras will have a major impact when they are in operation.

It is some time since the contract for the cameras was awarded, and I was delighted when it went to a company in Listowel. That company beat off much international competition, which goes to show that a small company can have the competence for such contracts. It has international partners in France and Australia but it showed that an Irish company can compete successfully on the international market to get a contract. Will the Minister tell us the number of cameras involved, the time they will be in use and if there are any proposals to extend the length of time the cameras will be out there?

In places like British Columbia, there was a major reaction when the cameras were rolled out first because people did not know about them and were being prosecuted. It cost that government a term in office because people were so annoyed.

It is extremely important that people should be informed when these cameras are going to be put in place. They should be aware that such cameras can be placed in any location. I accept that they will be installed in certain designated locations. However, they must be also placed in random locations because, otherwise, people will drive at speed on the roads on which there are no cameras. There should be a campaign on television and radio and in local newspapers to advertise the fact that these cameras are going to be in operation and to warn people that if they are caught speeding, there will be consequences.

I accept that the installation of speed cameras will give rise to a great deal of inconvenience for everyone. I recall Deputy Ring making the case that politicians who are obliged to attend four or five funerals on the same evening must speed from one place to another. When these cameras are put in place, people will be obliged to become extremely disciplined in the context of how they drive. However, if these cameras help to save one life their installation will have been worth it. I am of the view that they will assist in saving many lives.

Major difficulties are going to arise in the summer months as a result of the state of local roads. Some 73% of all road deaths occur on local rural roads. Great progress was made on improving our local road infrastructure during the past ten years. Funding for upgrading these roads was increased by successive Administrations, including that in which the Leas-Cheann Comhairle served as Minister for the Environment. I recall that he introduced a three-year programme which proved quite successful. His work was continued by successive Governments and proved to be extremely effective. I cycle a great deal on our roads and I am of the view that one could choose any road and indicate how it had been improved.

Since the bad weather at Christmas, however, the surfaces on many roads have been destroyed. I do not believe the roads, many of which are pitted with extremely deep potholes, have been ever in a more dangerous condition. The reason our roads have been damaged to such an extent relates to a combination of high levels of rainfall followed by a number of very hard frosts. The resultant freeze-thaw action meant that the surfaces on many roads simply cracked. I accept that an issue may arise in the context of the composition of the material used on these roads. In general, however, the surfaces on many good roads have just fallen apart.

A major issue is going to arise in the context of fatalities and the number of crashes on the roads this summer. Many tourism attractions are accessed by means of local roads such as those to which I refer. Thankfully, it appears the number of tourists from America and other markets due to visit our shores this summer is set to increase. Such tourists normally rent cars and drive around the country. There will be a problem in that regard this year because the number of self-drive cars available has dropped from 28,000 to 10,000. However, there will be tourists driving on many of our local roads and they will have to be warned about the condition of those roads.

Money has been allocated to local authorities in respect of upgrading, repairing and strengthening road surfaces. If, however, other moneys can be found, they should be allocated in respect of the extensive repairs that must be carried out between now and June. The programme of upgrading, repairing and strengthening road surfaces should be completed by July. We must ensure that roads are made safe for local motorists as well as for the domestic and international tourists who will use them during the summer months. I appeal to the Minister to give careful consideration to that matter.

I welcome the legislation. The House has taken an extremely responsible approach to this matter. It would have been a populist move to oppose this Bill, particularly in light of the campaign organised by the Irish Vintners Federation, etc. Those involved in that campaign put forward strong arguments but we are doing the responsible thing. I hope this Bill represents just the first of a whole series of actions.

I wish to refer to the other causes of car accidents. In that context, people should not drive — neither should they be encouraged to do so — when they are tired. Many of the accidents that happen — even those which occur in the middle of the day — are the result of people nodding off at the wheel. This has happened to everyone at some point or another. Politicians operate in a pressurised arena and they may sleep for only four or five hours at night. As a result, they may be tired and in no condition to drive. People should act responsibly. If they feel tired while driving — either during the day or at night — they should pull over and take a nap.

Another cause of accidents relates to drug driving. Provision is made in the Bill to test drivers to discover whether they are under the influence of drugs. A similar provision in the state of Victoria in Australia proved to be extremely effective. Young people may not drink but they may take drugs. Some of them may be of the view that because it is difficult to detect certain drugs they will not be caught. It is important to get the message across to them that they will, in fact, be caught.

It is vital that the Garda presence on the roads must be increased. If the law is to be enforced in an effective manner, then more random tests must be carried out. It goes without saying that there is a need to educate people and to engage in advertising campaigns. The advertisements that have been broadcast on television in recent years have proven to be very effective. I accept that some of them might be extremely disturbing but they certainly get across the message.

The level of signage in the areas around accident black spots should be increased. Where roads are in bad condition and pitted with potholes, local authorities should erect signs warning people to slow down. Whether they are electronic signs or just those of the ordinary kind, warning people to slow down because a road is in a dangerous condition can be of assistance. Due to the way in which certain roads were repaired over the years, some stretches may have been strengthened while others might be still in a perilous state. As a result, one can find oneself on a bad stretch before one knows it. Proper signage is, therefore, extremely important because it can prevent serious accidents. Some drivers who have come off a bad stretch of road often flash their headlights in warning at those travelling in the opposite direction. If people slow down, the likelihood of their having accidents on bad stretches of road certainly will be reduced.

I will end on a sober note. It is estimated that the cost of each death on our roads is approximately €2.2 million. In that context, the total cost relating to fatalities on our roads last year was €613.8 million. The more we can reduce the number of fatalities, the less grief families will experience. In addition, a great deal of money will be saved.

I oppose the main provisions and the detail of this Bill. The Minister has been driven around for far too long and he no longer has his feet on the ground. I hope he has retained his driving licence because he is going to need it before long. The sooner he requires it, the better it will be as far as I am concerned. I remind the Minister that there are now 22 ex-Ministers supporting the Government. I am not here to represent the publicans or drink-drivers but to represent common sense and to be the voice for my constituents in Cork South-West to oppose the Government's usual policy of reaching the lowest common denominator.

The Minister is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut in this case by reducing the permitted blood alcohol from 80 mg to 50 mg and further to 20 mg in some cases. The Minister is going further than what safety organisations of world renown have sought. He is claiming this as a major road safety issue but the statistics produced by the HSE do not support him. A HSE study of road deaths in the period from 2003 to 2005 produced figures which showed that in accidents involving road deaths 165 drivers had consumed no alcohol whatsoever; 18 drivers were between 50 mg and 80 mg; and 103 drivers were between 80 mg and 160 mg.

We are bringing forward this legislation because of the behaviour of an average of six drivers a year. Moreover, the HSE reported that 65% of all road deaths between 1990 and 2006 were unrelated to alcohol, and we have no knowledge of the other factors involved in these road deaths. We have no knowledge of the driver's age or experience; the type of vehicle of the driver; the weather conditions at the time; whether the deaths happened during daylight hours or in darkness at night; whether the road was wet or dry; or even which month it was. How can we make these new laws with such a dearth of information?

The Minister thinks he knows best and because he has the numbers in this House he thinks he can bulldoze the Bill through. However, the Minister must prove his case and I have a few questions I hope he will address. I am sorry he is not here but the Minister of State will convey them to him. While most of Europe may have reduced to the proposed limit most of the English speaking world, that is the UK, the USA and Canada, and ourselves up to now have not reduced the present limit. Might I also state that most of the beer drinking world has a limit of 80 mg while the majority of wine consuming nations have chosen to reduce the limit to 50 mg? This might be due to daytime drinking among the wine nations of Europe which may continue into the evening as opposed to countries which have more of a habit of night-time drinking. If the Minister's primary intention is the reduction of road deaths and injuries then there are a number of other actions he could have taken prior to introducing this rushed and ill-considered legislation a year before he can provide for its enforcement. I ask the Minister to withdraw the Bill until he can provide for its implementation.

Why has he not rolled out the speed cameras which for years have been provided for in legislation? Is it another case of premature legislation? Why has he not rolled out the full penalty points scheme? Why has he not brought forward legislation forcing cars to have their dipped headlights on at all times, or at least, as in the practice in some parts of the United States, that if one's wipers are on then at least one's dipped headlights must also be on?

I was intrigued to read the recent audit of local authorities which mentioned water wastage, staff absenteeism and other issues but made no mention whatsoever of road safety measures or the role of local authorities in providing safer roads and the removal of well-known accident black spots. Where is the joined up thinking? Do I need to mention the Slane Bridge which has cost many more lives that this measure will ever save?

The National Roads Authority report for 2009 issued last week claimed that 373 road safety remedial schemes which have been completed showed an overall reduction of 97 fatal collisions, 73 serious collisions, and 253 minor injury collisions. This means that for 373 improvements we have a reduction of 423 collisions. I could mention 500 locations in my constituency that could benefit from such works. If the Minister really wanted to save lives he would be putting his efforts into these schemes rather than going for the quick cheap solution. This legislation will not remove one of these black spots.

I also wish to discuss the comments by Garda Chief Superintendent Gabriel McIntyre of the Garda traffic corps who stated that an average of almost five people have lost their lives on the State's roads on every October bank holiday weekend over the past nine years. Last year, Chief Superintendent McIntyre stated a predicted sudden end to a warm spell, switching to wet roads and early morning mist or fog could have lethal consequences for unprepared drivers. He appealed to drivers to be especially vigilant when the clocks went back that Sunday, as it would get darker earlier in the evening. Over the past nine years, 43 people lost their lives on roads during the October bank holiday weekend and almost one third of them were vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. As that is approximately the same number that this legislation is supposed to protect, why do we not we abolish the October bank holiday? It would make as much sense as this legislation because it does not take into account the other factors which Chief Superintendent outlined.

What is the Minister doing to improve road safety over the October bank holiday weekend? Is the Minister aware that according to latest Hibernian Aviva safety report on motor accidents involving its clients that December is the most dangerous month of the year and December 20 is the most dangerous day, with 223 accidents reported to the company on that day? Does the Minister know that 92% of pedestrians involved in accidents between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. were intoxicated? The fact that this period covers the darkest wettest days of the year and that the peak accident date for many years coincides with the shortest day of the year is not a statistic that can be ignored. What is the Minister doing to improve road safety during the month of December? For many years, we have had more Garda checkpoints during the month of December than the rest of the year put together but we still have more accidents in December. Will the Minister tell me that his policies up to now are working? That more accidents happen on one of the shortest days of the year has to be examined in greater detail. Will the Minister consider, in the interests of road safety, that we move to central European time so that we can have an extra hour of daylight every evening of the winter from October to the end of March? This measure would be welcomed by everyone in the country and would probably save ten times more lives than the Bill would ever claim to do.

I was intrigued when SuperFreakonomics received publicity for its claim that statistics proved one would be safer driving home drunk than walking home drunk. However, we now have Irish statistics that 92% of pedestrians involved in accidents between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. were intoxicated. This is an alarming statistic. This Bill will drive more pedestrians on to dark unlit country roads with no footpaths in the middle of the night. Has the Minister considered that this Bill may actually kill more people in my constituency of Cork South-West than the lives he claims it might save? Do I need to mention the absence of dual carriageways in my constituency and not a single kilometre, not even a metre, of motorway? Does the Minister know the effect this legislation will have on a constituency like Cork South-West, which is full of dark country roads with no public lighting and which lacks public transport of any description?

The Minister might be too young to remember the legal notion of a bona fide house, in that those who had travelled more than three miles had the right to purchase drink until a later hour. This legal principle was abolished by the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1960, which was long before I entered this House. Perhaps this notion should be revisited and the principle reversed by allowing those travelling less than three miles to be permitted a higher blood alcohol level than those travelling more that three miles from their homes. The Minister has indicated that all the breathalyser machines in the country will require replacement and I ask that the replacements be digitally calibrated to show motorists the exact reading when they are tested to ascertain whether they have consumed alcohol. At present, breathalysers will give a zero, pass or fail result but not the reading itself.

I will give the example of two Members of this House who consumed similar amounts of alcohol according to themselves. However, one was fractionally over, while the other was fractionally under, the limit. If the Minister wishes to educate drivers, he must play fair. In the aforementioned two cases, analysis of the samples revealed that one was over and the other was under the limit although the same amount of drink was consumed. The Minister also should inform the House as to the exact level to which breathalysers are set at present and what degree of tolerance is allowed. In addition, the Minister also should state the percentage of persons who, having failed the breathalyser test, were found to be under the limit when their sample was examined at the Garda station or by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety.

I wish to take up the issue that taxpayers' moneys are being used for propaganda. The Government for years has spent taxpayers' moneys on trying to curtail consumption of alcohol and tobacco. In another example of the Government throwing away the taxpayers' money, these sums have been wasted as this direct objective has not led to a reduction by a single iota of a single percentage point in the consumption of alcohol or tobacco. The most recent surveys have shown a significant increase in tobacco and alcohol consumption in Ireland. I stated that this constituted propaganda, which I believe to be the case in that it is being used to allow the Government to remove resistance, even among its backbenchers, to even more restrictive legislation on every occasion it wishes. I wonder what would be the Supreme Court's verdict, were a case put before it on similar grounds to those stated in the McKenna judgment that restricted the Government's ability to use public money to advocate its own case in referendums.

While the present advertisement for one of the road safety bodies states that one can never drink and drive, I know of no law that allows for a zero level of alcohol. Does this not constitute another example of propaganda softening up public opinion before lowering the limit from 80 mg to 50 mg? Is this the reason the mighty mouths on the other side of the House now appear to be punch drunk and are quietly supporting this Bill while assuring their publican friends that they would oppose it to the hilt? I also advise the Minister to proceed with caution on this issue. I am aware of at least three cases in which a judge, who had heard cases involving drink-driving, had his rulings appealed on the basis of the legality of his appointment. The appellant won and the judge retired. I am not aware that such steps have been taken by those convicted of murder or any other crime.

According to the Drinkaware website in the United Kingdom, as many as 33,000 people there die from alcohol-related causes each year, which is ten times the number of people who die on their roads annually. I presume a similar ratio would apply here. Where is the Government's policy on education of alcohol abuse that kills ten times more people than are killed on our roads, drunk or sober? The Minister has caused massive confusion throughout the driving public by creating the term, "professional driver". While this does not exist in law, the Minister has tried to legislate for it by specifying certain categories of driving licences. However, life is more complicated than that. To which limit is a driver who is driving his company van home from Mass on a Sunday morning to be tested?

I now wish to consider the detail of this Bill, in which the Minister has proposed a new lower limit of 20 mg for first-time drivers, as well as taxi and other professional drivers. I presume, having carried out extensive research before introducing this Bill before the House, the Minister for Transport is aware that the limit he proposes of 20 mg is half that set for airline pilots carrying 300 passengers across the Atlantic in a €40 million aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, sets a limit of 40 mg. In other words, the Minister is setting a limit that is half that for a pilot flying a commercial jet with 300 passengers across the Atlantic trying to land on a runway one quarter the width of his or her aircraft at 180 mph. Has the Minister gone off the rails completely, is his head in the clouds or is he lost at sea? Under the FAA's rules for pilots, Federal Aviation Regulation 91.17, which deals with alcohol and drugs, states "no person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft ... While having an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater in a blood or breath specimen". Given his lack of research, the Minister should outline how he knows so much better than a body such as the FAA. It is the largest safety organisation in the world with a budget of $9,336 million, which is approximately 160 times what the Minister wasted on another item of premature legislation, namely, electronic voting. This safety organisation is charged with the safe transit in the air of more than 4.5 million passengers every day. This organisation's mission statement states its mission is to provide the safest and most efficient aerospace system in the world. However, this Minister knows better, albeit with very little research and a head bigger than a balloon full of hot air. Can the Minister explain the reason drivers who drive home bingo buses and who can barely go above 40 km/h because of the potholes in the nation's county roads must adhere to restrictions twice the standard of the commercial pilot flying overhead with hundreds of lives in his control?

One minute remains to the Deputy.

According to experts, many factors make up the alcohol concentration in a blood, breath or urine sample such as one's weight or gender as men tend to process alcohol faster than women. Similarly, it can be affected by one's metabolism, current stress levels, whether one has eaten recently or one's age as younger people tend to process alcohol more slowly. This varies from person to person. I note that one of the aforementioned factors is that younger people tend to process alcohol slower. Consequently, as most of those in the first two years of their driving licence will be younger people, the Minister will be doling out a double whammy to them. Moreover, I am told that in the scientific world, 0.02% is the lowest possible limit that it is possible to accurately determine and some even question the accuracy of measurements at this level.

When travellers set off a metal detector, they are not arrested and convicted of gun smuggling or terrorism. While everyone with a gun will set off the metal detector, most people who set off the metal detector do not have a gun. The Minister must understand that not everyone who has had a drink is going to have an accident or injury or kill someone. The Minister should try to discover other more accurate methods of accident prevention, rather than punishing everyone for the sins of a few. The Minister is racing to the lowest common denominator again.

The Deputy should conclude.

There is not a great demand on the part of Members to speak. If a juggernaut ran into a school playground and caused ten fatalities, one would not ban juggernauts because doing so would not make any sense. However, is this not what the irrational Green Party Government is doing because a deer ran into a school playground? In lowering the alcohol limits, the Minister is using the same principle but not taking all the other factors into account. He is using some statistics to back up a flawed case. The sure way to deter drink-driving is to increase enforcement, not lower the blood alcohol limit.

If the Minister is telling the House that a driver who provides a sample of 0.021g is more dangerous than the airline pilot overhead with 300 passengers who is legally permitted a sample of 0.039g, it is time for common sense and I urge him to withdraw the Bill. I want him to tear it up as I now propose to do or rewrite it with common sense in mind. If he wants to lower the limits, then he should lower them to 50mg for new drivers and professional drivers, just above the limit set for an airline pilot, and leave the current limit as it is at 80mg for all other drivers. To cite someone else, it is time to get out his peann luaidhe and everywhere in this Bill he sees see "50", he should cross it out and make it "80", and everywhere he sees "20", he should cross it out and make it "50".

I must call the next Deputy.

I will only take half a minute. Under the Constitution, we are to cherish people equally irrespective of whether they live in Ballydehob or Ballsbridge. Everyone in the latter can avail of Dublin Bus, Luas and taxi services to drink until closing time and get home safely, but we have given rural Ireland nothing. What public services exist in rural areas? Rural minibus services during the evening and night have been withdrawn.

The Deputy must bring his remarks to a conclusion.

It is rural isolation. The onus is on the Minister to provide rural transport to combat that isolation. There should be no discrimination between the inhabitants of my outpost, the Cork South-West constituency, and inner Dublin, who can enjoy Luas, bus, taxi and hackney services every night.

Notwithstanding the fact that some would try to portray the Bill as being the panacea for road accidents and road fatalities, I must disagree with some of my colleague's points. The Bill is part of a larger picture that must be seen in the context of what it can or cannot achieve. For the record, it is important that I lay out the purposes of the Road Traffic Bill. It provides for the reduction of the blood alcohol limit from 80mg to 20mg in respect of professional drivers and to 50mg in respect of all other drivers. It revises the associated penalties, including driver disqualification. It provides for the mandatory alcohol testing of all drivers of mechanically propelled vehicles involved in road collisions. It clarifies the minimum disqualification period that must be served before a driver may apply to the courts for restoration of his or her licence. It provides powers to assist gardaí in a crucial matter, namely, forming an opinion as to whether a driver is under the influence of an intoxicant, be it drink, drugs or a combination thereof, and allow them to carry out preliminary tests like coherency tests, etc. It consolidates and restates the provisions of previous Road Traffic Acts on intoxicated drivers and amends certain fixed charges and other minor issues.

Road safety comprises three main points, the first being better detection and enforcement of rules. This relates to speeding, alcohol excess, drug excess and general road manners and the enforcement of proper driving, pedestrian and cyclist codes. As many Deputies have mentioned, particularly those from outside urban areas, it is important that we provide road users with suitable alternatives. On the one hand, taxi drivers complain that there are too many taxis in this and other cities while, on the other, there is a dearth of alternatives to the car in many isolated areas, villages and smaller towns.

The third point is the provision of safe roads. When one delves into the statistics, accident black spots are undoubtedly not accident black spots purely because people who have drunk an excessive amount of alcohol decide to drive on them. Generally speaking, it is down to a combination of factors. Black spots are dangerous by their nature. They are located in isolated areas and tend to be at the end of faster, better roads. County Donegal's black spots have been well documented. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle presumably knows from commuting to Leinster House for a long number of years, work on sections of the N11 in County Wicklow from the Beehive to Jack White's Cross, as it is called, was put on the long finger several times by the Minister for Transport's predecessor, the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Martin Cullen, when other roads saw fruition. One part of the N11 only opened yesterday.

All of these issues are relevant in our discussion on reducing the number of road accidents. Everyone is aware of the devastation caused by drink-driving. It is important to state that ours is not a country in which people developed overnight a love of going to the pub. In rural areas, it is ironic that one used to be required to live at least three miles from a pub to get a drink after hours. I could never understand the logic of this. It was before I was of an age at which I was allowed to drink.

It was to allow one to build up a thirst.

If one had been required to eat food as well, as was the case with discos, it would have made sense, but this law was applied for some reason. This shows how far our mindset has needed to come to return to the point at which we do not drink and drive. I have two sons younger than 21 years of age who have full licences. They would not dream of going out unless some member of their group was not drinking. Otherwise, they would hire a taxi. This is how far we have come. Mine are not perfect children, but they are typical of their cohort, although there are notable exceptions.

We must consider other factors. There are cars with "For Sale" signs on lay-bys that show contact numbers for racing clubs or whatever they are called. Convoys of these drivers travel up our national routes seeking beach areas or large public car parks in which to perform their doughnuts and so on, normally under the cover of darkness. They have probably not consumed any alcohol, although they may have consumed other intoxicants. Their groups are led by peer pressure. In the legislation of some American states, a clause states that one can only drive between the hours of sunset and morning with a member of one's family and no one else. One cannot bring a buddy or girlfriend on whom one wants to make a big impression. Even without the "assistance", if one wants to call it that, of alcohol, people get led into doing things they would otherwise not do.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan touched on a matter. Goodbody's has estimated that the cost of road deaths and serious injuries between 1990 and 2006 was €14.9 billion. It is an horrendous figure. No life can be measured in terms of cost and an event which causes devastation to a family cannot be assessed in monetary terms. Nevertheless, €14.9 billion is a huge cost for a country of 4 million people to bear. Anything we can do to improve matters must be considered.

We must try to be responsible. We cannot ignore the fact that alcohol is a factor in road accidents. I do not think we can quantify the numbers of people with a blood alcohol level of between 50 mg and 80 mg who have been involved in or caused serious road accidents. Some of the provisions in the Bill which allow for mandatory testing will determine that. The Bill, if it is enacted, will allow us to determine it more accurately. We may have a more reasoned and sane debate on this issue when the Bill had been applied and properly enforced.

Reference has been made to the number of hours spent on traffic monitoring and to the use of speed cameras and testing. Any effort to reduce the number of road deaths is worthwhile. Awareness campaigns, improvements to roads, the identification of accident black spots will all contribute to that reduction. When we have taken the measures provided in the Bill we should assess their effectiveness. I do not think its effects will be as bad as some predict or as good as others claim. It gives us a chance to make things better and improve conditions.

Most people drink alcohol when socialising. The effective implementation of drink-driving measures has reduced the number of people socialising in public houses at night. It is also said that greater enforcement of licensing hours and the ban on smoking in pubs have contributed to this decline. It is not a coincidence that this reduction has taken place at a time when Monday morning absenteeism has become unacceptable. Sunday evening from 6 p.m. to closing time used to be the busiest night in rural pubs. Saturday night is now the busiest night of the week. Others go to public houses to watch sport on television and do not drink much. This has all contributed to a decline in drinking. Between 2007 and 2009 in County Wicklow, 17 public house licences were not renewed.

Notwithstanding all of that, we must consider the issue of isolation. We must strengthen the rural partnership transport scheme. I compliment the outgoing Minister of State, Deputy John Curran, who, despite coming from an urban constituency, saw the value of the scheme and made efforts to restore it. However, it must be developed further rather than reduced or curtailed.

Damaged roads and accident black spots must be dealt with. A good driving and pedestrian environment must be provided. Many developments on the edges of town have not been completed, footpaths and public lighting have not been provided and speed limits have not been reviewed. I was in west Cork last weekend on my way to a certain function in Killarney. I saw a road in Clondrohid which leads to the birthplace of Bishop Felim O'Shea. Deputy Sheehan knows the road well. It is dirt track on which one could hardly ride a bicycle yet it has a speed limit of 80 km/h. I took a photograph because it is so ridiculous.

It is a forgotten part of the country.

That is why it is so beautiful.

One would need the stomach of a steeplechase jockey to survive on the road yet one is within one's rights to drive on it at 80 km/h. The 30 km/h and 50 km/h zones must also be reviewed. When we changed from miles to kilometres per hour we had an opportunity to look at this matter but we did not take it. We should not close our minds to the possibility of speed limits of 45 km/h and 79 km/h. This would give speed limits which are realistically enforceable and sensible. Likewise, there are roads which have an 80 km/h limit where one could not possibly drive near that speed. I accept that speed limits are a maximum but many people see them as the acceptable, almost compulsory, driving speed.

I have referred to accident black spots on the N11. Weather conditions after Christmas left many roads in a seriously diminished state. I have informed the Minister for Transport about an area of south Wicklow, north Wexford and north-east Carlow where roads have been devastated by weather damage. School buses are no longer prepared to collect children on some roads which have become totally impassable. Other roads are less damaged but have been seriously undermined by potholes and poor surfaces which cannot be seen in wet weather or in the dark. Neglect of these roads will cause accidents. I ask the Minister to send officials of his Department to examine these roads. The director of roads in Wicklow estimates that it will cost €14 million to restore roads damaged by winter weather. The annual allocation for all road works in County Wicklow is just over €9 million, which is a 32% reduction on the previous allocation. This fund was only introduced in 2009. We must invest in road repairs to make driving conditions safer. This will save money in the long run. It will also provide work. Several companies employed people in road building and this work is no longer available. Well maintained roads will prevent the deterioration of cars and make them safer. I have seen owners of brand new cars having to replace entire wheels because of damage from poor road surfaces. Under-carriages, brakes and lights are all challenged by poor road conditions.

The Medical Bureau of Road Safety surveyed 1,000 drivers who were over the legal alcohol limit and 1,000 who were under the limit. Of the 1,000 drivers under the alcohol limit, 331 had taken drugs compared with 142 of the 1,000 who were over the limit. More than twice as many of those who were under the legal blood alcohol level of 80 mg had consumed some form of drug. Some 48.7% of the drivers under the legal alcohol limit were under the age of 25 and more than 90% were male.

This debate will adjourn in 30 minutes. Deputies Timmy Dooley and Tom Hayes have indicated their intention to contribute and both are entitled to speak for 20 minutes. If each were to speak for 10 minutes the Minister would have ten minutes to reply. If Deputies Dooley and Hayes speak for their full time the debate must resume on another day.

That would be no harm.

I will conclude shortly.

Very good. I am in the hands of the House.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle's proposal is agreeable to me. I will conclude on this point.

That would give the Minister time to consider these matters.

We will have time to do that on Committee Stage.

I thought the Minister came into the Chamber to hear my contribution but he must have thought that Deputy Sheehan had another half hour to speak

I listened to his contribution in my office——

It was too good to miss.

——and I came into the Chamber to hear the Deputy's contribution.

This is a serious issue. We have to address the issue of people who drive under the influence of drugs. In terms of the 50 mg blood-alcohol level, the provision in the Bill that allows a garda to form an opinion and carry out a preliminary test is vital. Alongside that measure, a road safety awareness and continuing education programme is needed. The Road Safety Authority does a wonderful job in raising road safety awareness. Its television campaign is graphic and is in one's face. The awareness campaign is broadcast on the radio and I urge that it be highlighted in clubs and in areas where people congregate. When one is having one's tea at 6 p.m. one might think of going for a drink but it is not the time when having a drink is uppermost on one's mind. It would be worthwhile to highlight the campaign in those areas. To quote the slogan used by another organisation, every little helps. We should persist with such awareness campaigns. The provisions of the Bill when implemented should be reassessed in a year or 18 months.

If the arrangement is agreeable to Deputy Tom Hayes, I will share this 20 minute time slot with him and have 10 minutes each.

In welcoming the opportunity to contribute to this Bill, I recognise the tenacity of the Minister in the efforts he has made to bring this Bill before the House. He has certainly fought a battle at his own end and I recognise his efforts. He and I remonstrated through the early stages of this Bill internally about aspects of it. While I might not have agreed with certain elements of it, I recognise his bona fides in that regard and the tremendous tenacity he has brought to bear in ensuring that this Bill passes through this House.

It must be recognised that the approach by the Road Safety Authority, the Government and all sensible politicians has led to a dramatic improvement in our road safety. There are a number of factors involved, policy is one of them, policy in a number of areas not only on road safety but on the improvement of road surfaces and the quality of our roads. Another factor is the sensible approach that has been taken by many motorists and people within the education sector who have sought to bring about a change in culture in terms of what is acceptable and what is not. We have done that in regard to drink-driving. We still need to do that in regard to driving at speed. I have some issues on that, which I addressed recently.

It is clearly vital that we continue with that process of education and of culture change. The younger cohort in society are no longer prepared to drink and drive as young people did in the past. They are much more focused on ensuring there is a designated driver, that they use public transport or the service of a taxi or others. That is the way forward.

In recognising the huge achievements that have been made, we must be careful in terms of adhering to a belief that we could not fall back or return to the bad old days. While the improvements in the reduction in the number of road deaths have been brought about by good policy and a determined approach to highlight the issue, we should recognise that fewer people are consuming alcohol and there is less activity in the economy because of the recession. The reduction in the number of people killed on our roads is in some way attributable to the recession. Therefore, we should not allow ourselves to fall into a false sense of security and belief that we now have a model that is wholesome and ensures that we will continue on the downward spiral in terms of the reduction in the number of road deaths. We will have to continue to check that. I agree with what Deputy Doyle said that we will need to address this issue at a later stage. It must be addressed on an ongoing basis. It is no different from anything else in life — if one allows something to go off the agenda, one tends to become complacent.

I must compliment RTE on the approach it has taken to the reporting of deaths on our roads. During our more difficult years it introduced a news segment at the end of each month, which Charlie Bird was responsible for reporting prior to his departure to the United States. Now that he is returning, that segment might be reintroduced. It was a rolling report lasting a few minutes that identified individuals who had died on our roads, their family circumstances, age and personal details. It was a shocking portrayal of road deaths at the end of each month. This segment was reported at a time when 30 to 32 people were being killed on our roads. It was a striking image. It certainly had an impact on me as I am sure it had on many other people. It is that type of continuous identification of the scourge of death on our roads that helps to change the culture, to remind people of the scourge it is and helps to ensure that all our behaviour is altered and improved in a way that continues to work towards the reduction of death on our roads.

Deputy Doyle raised an issue, which motivated me in my opposition to some elements of the Bill, particularly the reduction of the blood alcohol level from 80 mg to 50 mg. The Minister's mitigation that a first offence would be addressed through the fixed penalty was a good compromise and I recognise and welcome his move in that regard.

The isolation debate in rural Ireland in vitally important. For an individual living alone in a rural area, having a few pints is a very important part of his or her life.

We must accept that is still an issue and we have to find a way to address that. The rural transport initiative, to which the Minister responded favourably by ensuring that the McCarthy report did not eliminate it, could be and should be expanded in that regard. We must be mindful of that. Some people have sought to use, overuse or abuse the case of the person isolated in a rural area by way of trying to work against the introduction of sensible levels of alcohol tolerance and the use of alcohol as a recreational element in life to the detriment of others. It is an important issue but in some cases it has been utilised by others as a front for not changing the status quo and that was unfair. It is a huge issue that is vitally important but it can be overstated for the wrong reason. That is not to undermine the importance of the issue. We have to work with the Government, stakeholders, publicans, liquor licensing trade and the breweries to ensure there is an adequate and appropriate level of transportation to get people home. It is not beyond the realms of possibility to be able to put that in place to ensure that the environment is much safer for all concerned. There is that gap in the middle as we try to work towards it.

God be good to Fanny O'Dea's egg-flips going back 50 years.

They are still as good as they ever were. I look forward to the Deputy having one on his next visit to County Clare.

I recognise the tremendous efforts that have been made and that we cannot sit on our laurels. We cannot allow ourselves to believe that we have this problem or scourge solved. It must continue to be addressed whether by legislation, statement or highlighting within the media.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to say a few words on what is the most important Bill to come before the House. It is not often that I praise Ministers but the Minister present has had a very strong view on this issue and on what needs to be done. He has held steadfastly to his view in stark contrast to the backbenchers on his side of the House who have been vocal on this issue on every television and radio station for the past few months.

There is a slight degree of cowardice in the way they have behaved. They said they were going to oppose and stop this legislation.

Where are they tonight?

Where are they are? Alas, we are here discussing this Bill. When a Bill is introduced that will affect people's lives, in terms of road safety in this instance, it is important that sufficient time is allocated for consideration of the addressing of the many issues involved.

The biggest issue in regard to rural Ireland is the decrease in the number of people going to pubs and this has raised great concern that jobs will be lost. This is a legitimate concern throughout the country.

Deputy Dooley raised the issue of loneliness, which is a problem. However, having reached a point where people accept that drink-driving is dangerous, we must introduce alternatives which will protect rural areas and help address rural isolation. Some years ago, we were able to have one or two drinks before driving home. This is now illegal, however, and one must abide by the law. The Minister should examine how transport can be provided at night for older people and others who wish to have one or two drinks, meet neighbours or have a game of cards in their local pub. These people need a safe means of travelling home.

Ireland has experienced a rapid cultural change in recent years. People now drink more at home and young people buy vast amounts of imported alcohol to drink at home. This change in culture has not been good. The Government must give serious consideration to finding alternative forms of transport for those in rural areas who wish to visit their local pub. A simple solution would be to provide a tax concession to pub owners who wish to operate a small minibus which would bring seven or eight customers home. Such a measure would change the culture in rural areas. I have observed one or two examples of this practice which is effective. We must protect those, whether young or old, who wish to have a few drinks and a chat in their local pub. The pub adds to the quality of life in Ireland and enables tourists to enjoy a song and dance. We are, however, fast losing this great culture. I ask the Minister to address this issue.

The Minister has strong views on what needs to be done. I have no doubt that when the legislation is enacted, it will affect the rural quality of life many of us want to maintain. One hears a great deal about job creation, the poor state of the economy and the need to pull together. There is a strong case, however, for taking action to protect the quality of life in rural areas.

Many issues arise in the area of road safety, of which the quality of roads is an important one. It takes a long time to have a bend removed from a country road as there are few means of doing so. Given the large number of farmers involved in the REP scheme, I ask the Minister to ensure his Department co-operates with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to have dangerous bends removed and improve sight distance on roads, for example, by cutting back hedgerows. Co-operation between the Departments would save lives and substantial sums of money. Accidents can occur easily at bends because drivers cannot see large oncoming trucks or drivers travelling at excessive speeds.

It is vital to educate young drivers. As a father of three young men who drive, I am acutely aware of parents' concerns about young people driving cars at night. It is a real worry to have a child who drives a high powered vehicle. Although we knock young people at times, I commend them on choosing not to drink and drive and for sharing cars and bringing friends home. Young people aged 17 or 18 years should receive better driver training, including as part of the transition year programme. They must be educated on the dangers of high powered motor vehicles because many of them do not understand the dangers involved. There is significant scope for providing driver training in transition year and helping young people to become aware of the dangers on our roads.

On speed cameras, I, like every other public representative, travel extensively by road. While I note that drivers are much more aware of speed limits and are less likely to race, one still finds the odd lunatic who will overtake at high speed even when one is driving at the speed limit. Speed cameras are needed to catch and control these fellows, most of whom drive cars which have two protruding exhausts and produce noise levels that would frighten the life out of anybody.

Their cars are jet propelled.

At times one would believe they are jet propelled. Speed cameras need to be installed to catch these drivers.

I recall that efforts were to be made to provide flashing lights outside all rural schools. This has not been done. Flashing lights are highly effective and should be provided outside every school.

The issues I raise are very important and a cause of genuine concern to me. Rural publicans must be protected and the Department should co-operate with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to ensure minor, inexpensive improvements are made to our roads to make them much safer.

I thank Deputy Dooley and Deputies opposite for their co-operation. I am grateful to all 34 Deputies who contributed to the Second Stage debate. The large number of contributions demonstrates the level of interest in this issue.

I also acknowledge the constructive approach most Deputies have taken to the debate. While the legislation has aroused passions on both sides of the argument, I respect the position adopted by some speakers who believe the Bill is not a priority in the greater scheme of things and I should have focused my attention elsewhere. However, when one decides to change blood alcohol content limits, one is told that speed is the problem on the roads and when one decides to change speed limits, one is told the condition of the roads or other factors are the problem. The truth is one cannot solve the problem or reduce deaths and injuries on the roads by a single set of measures. This fact was highlighted repeatedly by Deputies on all sides during the debate.

The Bill acts as something of a book end for the 1994 Road Traffic Act and subsequent legislation. In the period since the 1994 Act entered into force, road deaths have declined by more than 40%. Every piece of legislation in between has been, one might say, a separate chapter in the history, has contributed and been instrumental in reducing injuries and deaths. I wish to acknowledge and recognise, as I did earlier during Question Time, that this is one area of business we do in the House for which there is broad cross-party support, co-operation and a very constructive approach. The legislation we have had as a result is top quality. I wish to assure Members of the House on the Opposition benches and my own party backbenchers that I look forward to Committee Stage and to listening again to any suggestions they may have that will improve the Bill.

No matter what Deputies may say there is no doubt that having any level of alcohol in one's blood diminishes one's ability to drive. The more one drinks the less able one is to drive. That is why over a period we have reduced the level and propose to reduce it further. Some Deputies have asked why we do not go the whole way and have a zero blood alcohol limit but everybody knows the difficulty involved. The drink driving laws are the most litigated pieces of legislation on the books. Trying to get to a zero limit with all the caveats involved, such as medicines and so on, as raised by Deputies, is not practical. However, even though such a measure might not find favour anywhere else in the House I believe we should arrive at a stage where anybody who takes any amount of drink should not drive. I am happy that this is a step in the right direction.

I dealt with the matter of the introduction of the measure during Question Time and shall not return to it in any detail. However, the Medical Bureau of Road Safety is powering ahead with the provision and trying to get the new evidential breath testing, EBT, machines in place. It will have the tendering process complete by the middle of the year and will test the machines over the following six months which will bring us to the end of the year. Over the next six to eight months the MBRS will roll these out to Garda stations. Extra stations, beyond the 64 involved at present, and more gardaí will be trained. Within that kind of timeframe everything will be in place for testing. As Members know, this Bill contains a number of different areas that deal with commencement notices and this is one such. We will commence at that stage.

I reiterate we are conscious of the issue of drugs and driving. I am very conscious that drugs, equally alcohol, can and do affect a person's driving. We are making a move towards introducing impairment tests and the forming of opinion on impairment by gardaí, which is the initial step in that regard. The next piece of road traffic legislation will go much further with regard to drugs and driving. We hope that by the time it is introduced we will have succeeded at EU level in producing kits that will be able to test by the roadside. One way or another, the provisions contained will strengthen the detection of drugs and subsequent action in that regard. We intend to make this even more explicit in future legislation.

Deputy Broughan referred to the mutual recognition of penalty points and questioned the level of progress being made at EU level. There are no specific directives in our proposals to provide for such arrangements between EU countries. It is widely recognised that because of the various technical, legislative and logistic issues associated with that kind of arrangement it would be hugely complex. However, we will support the development of co-operative arrangements with relevant authorities across Europe and will try to advance same between the Republic and Northern Ireland. The experience gained from the operation of the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications, which we introduced on 28 January, will be of benefit to us as we move this issue forward.

The evasion of penalty points through a lack of robust procedures was highlighted during the debate. Again, this is being tackled in the legislation. The new provision under Part 5 of the Bill will assist further with administrative procedures in the courts and the application of penalty points to the appropriate driver licence. Section 51 establishes a requirement to produce both a driver licence and a copy of the licence to the District Court clerk.

Deputy O'Dowd raised a question concerning section 6 and the endorsement of three penalty points on payment of a fixed penalty notice for a first-time drinking offence within specific blood alcohol concentration levels. That option is available only once in a five-year period so for any further offence, irrespective of the detected BAC level, there will be a disqualification. We have adopted what is almost a yellow card approach for a first offence but subsequently the full rigours of the law will follow. I believe that is a reasonable approach at this stage.

Regarding graduated driving licences, the Road Safety Authority has had a consultation period and recently submitted recommendations in that regard. I shall consider those as soon as this Bill passes through the House.

I am agnostic in many respects regarding speed limits and which ones should be put in place. I do not have any fixed view on the matter——

The Minister will not oppose the amendment in that case.

——provided there are not too many on the one stretch of road, or whatever. Flexibility in that area would be useful.

Regarding the plastic driving licences mentioned by a number of speakers, we have set 2012 as the date for their introduction. I want to see this happening more quickly and have asked the RSA to begin work on this matter. In addition, we are engaging with relevant stakeholders to try to advance the issue in the shortest timescale possible. I hope it will be done very quickly.

Deputy O'Dowd referred to the possibility of introducing rehabilitation schemes for certain road traffic offenders. That is provided for and the RSA is working with the Garda in County Donegal and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. When we have the results of that pilot scheme we shall certainly move the measure forward.

Many Deputies raised the issue of road conditions and the fact that they contribute to road accidents or deaths. The figure in question is 3%. However, it is obvious that the condition of roads deteriorated over the winter months and local authorities are now busy trying to restore them. We are assessing the information we have but our point of view is to ask local authorities to do the work, allowing them maximum flexibility and telling them to work within the budgets they have.

I accept the point Deputies make regarding alcohol limits, rural isolation and lack of rural transport. It is important that people in rural parts of Ireland have social contact and that they are able to go to a pub and have a drink. Nobody is saying they should not do so. All we say is that if they have two pints or consume other alcohol they should not drive home and put themselves or anybody else in danger. I note the points Deputies made in regard to the rural transport programme. Once this Bill is passed I am willing to engage with various stakeholders to see whether we can assist in some way but publicans and vintners must also make some contribution.

Again, I thank Members for their contributions. I look forward to a good Committee Stage debate and am willing to take on board any good suggestions.

Question put and agreed to.

I declare the Bill read a Second Time.