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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 4 Oct 2011

Vol. 742 No. 2

Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2011 [Seanad]: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Bill I am introducing today will act as another key element in the transformation of road user culture in Ireland. It is more than 50 years since the first road death statistics were compiled here and, in that period, we have witnessed huge social, political and cultural change. Road safety has not been isolated in this regard. We have taken on new practices and made them inherent in our daily lives. The majority of us now wear seat-belts, we put children into car seats and we ensure our vehicles are roadworthy. We continue to accept and endorse the measures that keep us and our families safe.

Such willingness to change has provided certain rewards. While it is hard to celebrate statistics that relate to death, it must be recognised there has been considerable progress in such terms, particularly in the past ten years. This must be considered against the backdrop of unprecedented numbers of vehicles on the roads. Vehicle numbers have increased by 44% in the past ten years, with more than 2.4 million registered vehicles now using our roads whereas, in that period, the number of people dying on our roads has fallen by 48%. Last year had the lowest recorded number of deaths — 212 — since records began back in 1959 and we are on target to improve further on these figures in 2011.

However, we cannot become complacent and we need that transformation in the culture of driving to continue. In the Seanad last week, Senator Barrett stated that if we were starting from scratch and knew that an activity would entail the death of 200 people every year, we might not proceed with its introduction. In that context, I find it somewhat surreal to talk about 200 fatalities in a positive sense. However, put in a historical context, this is a good news story. In 1972, an incredible 640 people died on our roads, an average of some 50 deaths a month, many more than died in the Troubles that year. By 2001, ten years ago, the numbers dying were still significant at 411. Major changes in many areas have, thankfully, helped in halving that figure over the past decade.

What, therefore, are the factors that contributed to this reduction? First, the standard of vehicles being produced is far higher and far safer than before. Items such as seat-belts, air bags and improved braking systems have ensured that even when collisions occur, the chances of death or serious injury is reduced. We have also introduced the NCT system that carries out regular checks on vehicles to make sure they are fit for use. The road network has been upgraded and motorway and dual carriageway driving has been proven to enhance safety. We have seen the introduction of deterrents such as penalty points, fixed penalty notices and charges and, most recently, the GoSafe safety camera network.

The Garda Traffic Corps was established and has played its part in making our roads safer and, in 2006, the Road Safety Authority began its work. The dedication and commitment of the board, CEO and staff of the RSA has played a huge part in raising public awareness of the everyday dangers that motorists, cyclists and pedestrians face and the strategies it has pursued have led to a safer environment for all road users.

Perhaps the most important change that has taken place over those ten years has been the attitude of the general public to road safety matters. We have witnessed a significant culture change. No longer is it acceptable to a majority to drink and drive, the wearing of seat-belts has become the norm, both in the back and the front of cars, there is greater awareness of the dangers and consequences of speeding, and responsible people do not use hand-held mobile phones while driving.

While the last Government gets a great deal of criticism for its management of the economy, which is well deserved, it is important to recognise that it made a priority of road safety and that many of the measures it introduced have saved thousands of lives. At the same time, it is also important to recognise that this was done with cross-party Oireachtas support. The Oireachtas too has been instrumental in adopting legislation to put in place greater safeguards and penalties in regard to the continued threats to life and limb on the roads. Over the years, road safety measures and initiatives have been one of the few areas that has enjoyed all-party support in this House, and I am sure this will continue.

A major contribution to road safety in recent years has been the enactment of robust road safety legislation that has concentrated on delivering targeted road safety measures. Last year, we made considerable changes to the intoxicated driving legislation under the provisions of the Road Traffic Act 2010 and this year those provisions relating to mandatory breath testing were strengthened under the Road Traffic Act 2011, the first legislation enacted under the new Government.

This No. 2 Bill is the eighth legislative initiative that has been taken on traffic law in the past decade, which truly reflects the commitment by all parties and stakeholders to road safety. While the provisions in the Bill are not new, they will allow us to implement and strengthen the initiatives we have already agreed through the passing of the Road Traffic Acts 2010 and 2011. The 2010 Act provides for the lowering of the current drink driving limits for all drivers, with a particular focus on learner, novice and professional drivers. While the new limits have been subject to much media debate, there is now a general awareness and acceptance that these measures will be, and should be, implemented without delay.

The necessary breath testing instruments for the lower limits are being provided and the administrative and operational systems to support the measures are being finalised. The Bill will make key amendments to strengthen and improve the related legislative provisions before the new limits come into force. The Road Traffic Act 2011, which was enacted earlier this year, amended the mandatory alcohol testing provision of the 2010Act and was commenced in June. The commencement of that provision made breath testing of drivers for alcohol mandatory in situations where a person has been injured in a collision, or where a driver is suspected of consuming alcohol when driving or being in charge of a vehicle. My commitment to endorsing mandatory breath testing is again being represented in this Bill where the same mandatory testing provisions will now be applied at the new lower drink driving limits. The Bill reflects the changes made in the 2011 Act and further clarifies some of the related intoxicated driving provisions of the 2010 Act. In essence, this Bill will bring greater cohesiveness and strength to the intoxicated driving legislation, thus making it more resistant to legal challenge and more effective as a deterrent to bad driving choices.

In terms of the timescale involved, Members will be aware that it was necessary to procure new evidential breath testing instruments to measure the lower blood alcohol concentration levels. The Medical Bureau of Road Safety is well advanced in the testing and installation of these instruments and a detailed training programme for An Garda Síochána in the use of the instruments has been provided by the bureau. All stakeholders are on schedule for commencing the new limits in the coming weeks. As Members can appreciate, I want this legislation in place as quickly as possible in order that drivers will receive a strong message before the October bank holiday and the Christmas period that drink driving is not an option and cannot be tolerated. When operational, drivers can expect to be tested in more circumstances than before with more stringent limits being applied. For learner, novice and professional drivers, the lower limits will effectively mean a policy of zero tolerance.

In line with the Government's new proposals relating to the introduction of legislation, I held preliminary discussions on the general scheme of the Bill with members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht. I found the engagement very useful and its Chairman has since written to me with the joint committee's proposals and recommendations, to which I will give careful consideration. Following discussion with the joint committee and the Attorney General, I decided to divide the provisions of the general scheme into two separate Bills. I seek to introduce mandatory breath testing at the lower limits as quickly as possible and consequently this No. 2 Bill is concentrated in the main on these provisions. I intend to publish another Bill before the end of the year to address the other issues discussed with the joint committee.

At this juncture, I wish to provide more detail on the provisions of this Bill. Most of the amendments proposed in this Bill are technical and some are minor. The Bill is largely a tidying-up exercise with a view to bringing greater cohesiveness to intoxicated driving legislation. The aim of the amendments in section 2 is simply to bring clarity to the type of information a garda can demand from a person who does not produce a driving licence. A garda can ask for a person's name, address and date of birth and failure to provide any or all of this information will be viewed as an offence. This level of information is vital to following up on an offence and for obtaining successful prosecutions. The 2010 Act already allows the Garda to ask for this information but the amendments in section 2 will make the provisions easier to interpret and should minimise any confusion when commenced.

Section 3, which was inserted following the agreement of the Seanad, makes similar amendments to section 107 of the Principal Act relating to the duties of a person to give certain information on demand by a member of the Garda Síochána. Again, this section is a clarifying provision. Section 4 restates through substitution certain sections of the principal Act. However, amendments also are being made to bring clarity to the offence of knowingly driving a dangerously defective vehicle. I do not want there to be any doubt about who could be prosecuted for an offence under section 54. The amended wording more closely resembles the original wording in the principal Act.

One of the more significant amendments arises in section 6 and relates to failure or refusal to produce a driving licence. While the overall policy remains the same as in the 2010 Act, the wording in this section has been altered substantially. The amendments are on foot of legal advice relating to the 2010 Act and recommendations by the Attorney General's office. Section 6 amends, by substitution, section 8 of the Road Traffic Act 2010 to bring clarity to the obligations related to the production of a driving licence where a person is required to provide a specimen under sections 9, 10, 12 or 14 of the 2010 Act. This section was amended in the Seanad to include sections 12 and 14. If a person fails or refuses to produce a licence, it shall be presumed that the person does not hold a licence until the contrary is shown and he or she can prove otherwise. As it currently stands, the legislation immediately designated the person to be a "specified person" in the same circumstances, and it is this designation that was considered to require legal enhancement. A specified person is a learner, novice or professional driver. Section 6 also inserts a new section 8A into the 2010 Act to bring clarity to the options available to the courts with regard to offences.

Section 7 amends the Road Traffic Act 2010 by substituting section 9 to reflect the obligations on drivers to provide a preliminary breath test as set out in the Road Traffic Act 2011. Section 9, as amended, provides for the mandatory preliminary breath testing of drivers where a member of the Garda Síochána is of the opinion that a driver has consumed alcohol or where a driver has been involved in a collision in which a death or injury that requires medical attention has occurred. The reference to "death" in the section is a new provision simply to ensure there are no loopholes in the mandatory testing element.

Section 8 amends the 2010 Act by substituting section 14 to reflect the adjusted policy of the Road Traffic Act 2011. The section provides for an obligation on a driver to provide a blood or urine specimen while in hospital when that person has been involved in a road traffic collision and appears or claims to have been injured. There is nothing new in this section, which simply combines existing legislation into a more appropriate legal location.

Section 9 provides for a number of technical and minor amendments to the Road Traffic Act 2010. There are a couple of amendments under this section, however, that I wish to highlight. Section 9(a) substitutes new text for the definition of “specified person” in section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 2010. Section 3 is being amended to provide that a person who does not hold a current licence for the vehicle concerned will be categorised as a specified person when prosecuting for intoxicated driving. This amendment reflects and reinforces existing legislation that all drivers must hold a current licence at all times. Section 9(d) amends section 12 of the Act to provide that a person can also be tested at a hospital subsequent to arrest and not just at a Garda station.

In essence, that summarises the Bill. While Members are aware that road traffic legislation is complicated, convoluted and heavily litigated, I hope I have explained the provisions clearly and look forward to hearing their contributions.

Although this Bill is not about amending the drink driving limits, I anticipate that some of the debate will revolve around these limits, given that the provisions in the Bill relate to intoxicated driving. I reiterate that the issue of the limits was dealt with adequately in the Road Traffic Act 2010 and the levels set out are appropriate. In determining what the limits should be, in the context of the 2010 Act, advice and expertise were sought from the Road Safety Authority. This advice was informed by a number of issues, including known driver behaviour, past offending rates, enforcement practicality, best international practice and research, as well as analysis of data held by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety.

The message not to drink and drive is clear and lower limits undoubtedly will strengthen that message. People no longer tolerate drink driving, as was evident in a recent study conducted by the Automobile Association. This study found that 87% of motorists in Ireland believe that drink driving is shameful. This viewpoint may seem harsh but statistics show that alcohol plays a contributory role in one out of every three fatal accidents. It is important, therefore, that we reach the remaining cohort of people, that is, the 13% who do not share these strong views. Perhaps these drivers think the risk is worth taking but Members of this House do not. The measures being implemented over the coming months will reflect what the majority believes about intoxicated driving. Hopefully, a more stringent regulatory regime will convince those who still engage in drink driving to reconsider and evaluate their choices. A car, in certain circumstances, can be a lethal weapon. If used without due care and responsibility, it can cause untold devastation for families and communities. I look forward to Members' co-operation in facilitating the passage of this Bill and commend it to the House.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill which gives effect to policy decisions taken in the Road Traffic Acts of 2010 and 2011. Although the previous Government was responsible for them, I acknowledge that a strong cross-party approach was taken on all sides of the House and across the political divide. The Minister may rest assured that from my perspective, this will continue while he continues to introduce appropriate legislation to continue the efforts to save lives on the roads. I share with the Minister the sense that it is not acceptable that 200 people still die on the roads. However, in an historical context, the performance over the past ten years has been exceptional when one takes into account the increased number of vehicles on the road, as well as some of the challenges encountered on foot of the influx during that period of drivers from outside the region in which people are familiar with driving on the left side of the road. This posed a challenge and certainly was responsible for some of the patterns of death on the road. Nevertheless, the numbers have borne up well and continue to move in the right direction.

We cannot be and the Minister will not be complacent. This process certainly will become more difficult because as with any aspect of life, the principle of a diminishing return for the investment one makes holds true. Consequently, it will be harder to achieve further incremental reductions in the number of road deaths and will take much greater effort and a more sustained approach right across the various different heads.

The Minister has set out clearly the measures, both legislative and in terms of investment, that have taken place over the past ten years. As I believe they have been supported by virtually all Members, I will not go back over them. However, we need to continue our work on the motorway network, an issue I have raised in the House in the past. There is a deficiency in terms of the rest stops, which I have discussed with the NRA. We will need to be more imaginative in how we can develop the truck and car rest stops along motorways. There is evidence that people's habits require them to keep moving to the next point at which they can stop, effectively at a service stop on the road. People show resistance to exiting the motorway even though the services are available 50 yards beyond the end of the off-ramp. Unfortunately we need to work on driver behaviour to convince people that if they are tired or feeling slightly sleepy they should take the appropriate stop. Some of the work has been done. Since we raised it here before, we have seen some of the rest areas without services that are now available and open but sadly we need to do much more to ensure services and facilities are available. It does not need to be the full gambit of services and does not need to be a €3 million facility but something very small that can provide coffee and tea, and an appropriate rest area with the appropriate lighting so that people feel secure and safe particularly at night if they decide to come off the motorway.

Obviously there will be great challenges in terms of the Minister's capacity to invest in the road network. He spoke about the economic situation in which he finds himself, for which I have some sympathy. We all would have liked to have seen the road network developed in line with the National Roads Authority projections, but that will not happen and will impact on the Minister's ability to continue the effort to reduce death on the road. It will be necessary to take that into account when decisions are taken regarding resolving some particularly bad stretches of road. Priority should be given to the ones that have the best chance of delivering a reduction of deaths on the road.

It is important not to be complacent. I regard the three pillars of road safety policy being legislation, enforcement and education — notwithstanding investment in the road network. It will become more difficult to identify legislative matters that will require primary legislation. Obviously some of that will be dictated depending on how challenges appear in court. As we are reaching a point where enough legislation will be in place, we need to look at the other two areas. Enforcement is critical and it is obviously a challenge particularly following the Government's decision to reduce the number of gardaí by up to 2,000 which will impact on the capacity to enforce existing legislation. I hope the Minister uses his good offices to put pressure on bringing Garda numbers back to where they were because without that level of staffing it will not be possible to enforce the legislation we pass here and ensure offenders do not avoid detection. The threat or risk of getting caught is a far greater incentive than the knowledge that a driver is breaking the law. Some people will still take a chance regardless if they feel they will not get caught. On the one hand the Minister is doing good work by adding to the volume of legislation, but on the other hand if it is obvious to the patron of the local establishment that he or she can get away at night or whenever without detection we are sending out the wrong message and will not be helpful in the quest to reduce deaths on the road.

The Minister has seen the statistics and knows the phenomenal cost of each death on the road, not just in monetary terms but also to individual families' lives and the pressure it puts on the health service, which also has challenges as a result of the economic situation in which we find ourselves. We need a more aggressive approach to enforcement, which is not to suggest that the gardaí are not doing their jobs — they certainly are. However, with reduced numbers we have a problem.

The third pillar is the education of drivers. The Road Safety Authority is doing much more to ensure that young people start by understanding that driving is a privilege that brings with it responsibilities and the necessity to understand the destruction that can be caused if they decide to drink and drive. While relatively good work is being done in that regard, I am not sure we are communicating in the way we did in the past. The national broadcaster was very helpful at a stage when on a monthly basis it produced the statistics of those who had died during that month. That was at a time when approximately 30 people were dying per month. That was very chilling and was very helpful. Surveys at the time indicated it assisted people in taking the decision not to drink and drive. Anything that can be done in that education and communication area will back up the body of legislation.

As the focus shifts from legislation and as the pressure comes on enforcement there is a greater requirement to put more effort into educating and communicating the message, not just in terms of driver behaviour and culture, but bringing home to people that they are putting their own lives at risk. Many people do not see it that way and the Minister can make considerable progress even in a financially constrained environment.

The next item is the elephant in the room to a certain extent. While we all want to share in the positive progress made in reducing deaths on the road, there is a rural dimension to this which has been echoed by people in the Minister's party and mine during debates on previous Bills which made it more difficult for certain people in rural areas who believe very much part of their social existence is the capacity to drink a pint or two and be able to get home. It is not about driving, but about being able to get home. It is about being able to have that social interaction in a rural environment where there is not access to public transport, footpaths and lighting which would be available to those living in an urban setting. I know discussions took place under the previous Government, led by the former Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, who had responsibility for rural development. I ask the Minister to give further consideration to the rural transport initiative to find a way to give support to communities through expanding the existing transport network through the RTI which represents very good value for money.

Failing that, some particularly responsible publicans have made efforts to purchase vehicles and have set up schemes to assist them in maintaining their business by providing that service. While I am not sure what further measures could be taken, perhaps some taxation changes could be made in the budget. The Minister might consider introducing appropriate assistance by way of either tax deduction or changes to allow such people to provide that transport service. The bigger ones clearly can do so because they have the turnover and see it as an investment in the community. In the more isolated rural areas it is more difficult to provide such a facility to get people home.

I assure the Minister of our continued support for his work. I wish him well with this legislation which we will not oppose and we will not delay its passage. While we look forward to its introduction, I ask the Minister to consider introducing appropriate measures to assist those in rural areas to have access to the social engagement to which they have become accustomed and which is very much part of their lives.

We all know people who have lost someone on our country's roads. We have come a long way, but the reminder of the huge loss of life is on the sides of the road in every county, on the crosses which dot the State due to road deaths. One of the few positive aspects of the previous Government's record over the past ten to 15 years is that there was success in reducing the number of road fatalities. This was done through a mix of public awareness, education, and adjustments to enforcement and licensing. The number of road deaths has fallen dramatically as a result of these measures, which brought home the realities to people of the potential danger of car travel and the responsibility of all people to keep safe and to be considerate towards others.

Road safety advertisements are vivid and graphic, but they have caused people to rethink actions and attitudes to driving, taking in drink driving, driving while on a phone call, or the recent phenomenon of texting while driving. Those advertisements have increased awareness, in spite of being very graphic. They represent the horrible reality to which we must all face up when we turn the key in the ignition. Driving is dangerous, and caution and care are essential.

I welcome the Bill. It promotes road safety in a sensible and proper manner. I particularly welcome recent proposals by a Minister in the North, Mr. Alex Attwood, MLA, that there will be harmonising of limits across the island, which is common sense policy and which will aid drivers, pedestrians and law enforcement officials in keeping the roads as safe as possible. This is critical for communities along the Border. A good next step would be for the Minister to work through the North-South Ministerial Council to develop a harmonised road safety policy and enforcement across the whole island to ensure the safety of pedestrians and motorists North and South. I encourage the Minister to continue this work.

In welcoming the Bill, I draw attention to the fact that early figures for 2011 show a slight spike in deaths. I hope this will not become a trend. I am concerned about a possible contradiction between this Bill to enhance road safety and other Government policies and actions that result from budget cuts. Planned and already implemented cuts to public services are very likely to have a direct impact on front line services. It would be wrong for budget cuts to have an impact on the ability of the Garda to enforce this Bill. It would also be wrong if budget cuts had an impact on the ability of the Garda to reduce the number of intoxicated and dangerous drivers on our roads, and remove unsafe vehicles. It would be wrong for such cuts to affect the ability of emergency services to respond to accidents and the ability of accident and emergency units to deal with major road traffic trauma. There is a possibility that the good work of this Bill could be undone by spending cuts.

Drink driving is a major issue and it clearly impairs drivers. There has been a massive cultural shift in how people view drink driving, and great work has been done to discourage people from engaging in this grossly irresponsible behaviour, but additional measures must be explored. Examples include providing options for rural areas which do not have public transport and which have already faced cuts to the rural transport programme.

I take this opportunity to highlight briefly an issue raised by Senator Kathryn Reilly, namely, emergency responses. Ambulances have to be first at the scene of an accident, and if the fire brigade is required, it will be sent out. This could lead to problems if a car goes on fire, as the fire brigade will not be at hand as a first response to deal with the fire. There are many cases across the State where an ambulance was helpless until the fire brigade arrived. The idea of an automatic call to the fire service as well as the ambulance service must be examined.

My party supports the measures in the Bill to ensure continued safety on our roads, with the objective of continuing to lower the number of road deaths. We cannot afford to cut the front line services or driver testing services. The Garda needs to be adequately funded to deal with this problem, including the provision of new breath testing equipment, as well as equipment to deal with drug testing, which I believe the Minister is examining. We cannot undo the good work of this Bill by under funding other vital aspects of road safety.

I welcome the Bill and I cannot imagine there will be any resistance to it passing swiftly through the Dáil. It adds to the already large body of legislation that has been enacted over the years. There has been such a cultural shift in the past 30 years. I remember car parks outside pubs that were absolutely choc-a-block 20 or 30 years ago. I am thinking of The Hitching Post in Leixlip, which is now a supermarket. There used to be cars parked out on the road because the pub's very large car park was full. There has been such a change in culture and attitude since then, and we need to continue that.

I welcome the clarity that has been brought to the Bill in respect of categories such as a person with a driving permit and a professional driver. I would have thought it was a given that somebody who was involved in a serious vehicle accident would have been tested, but it is welcome that this Bill makes that very clear. There are provisos to that whereby it will not be done if it is injurious to the individual.

The Road Safety Authority has done some excellent work on the road safety strategy, but I do not think we should look exclusively at fatalities. A programme was recently broadcast about rehabilitation and the life changing injuries that are just as significant when we consider how to factor in the importance of continuing to change that culture and make sure that there is compliance.

There are different elements to road safety, and one of those is the issue of penalty points. I did a bit of analysis on penalty points about 18 months ago. My own constituency had the highest penalty point count, yet the number of fatalities and accidents did not warrant that. I got a big print out from the Department of Transport, and I was able to narrow it down to the locations where more than 100 penalty points had been issued. I found 56 such hot spots and obviously the people who got those points could be from any part of the country. However, when I examined it further, there was one location where 3,269 penalty points were issued since the penalty points system began. Ironically, that location is the widest and safest road in the country. It is a three lane carriageway — a segregated road — between the Red Cow roundabout and the Kildare county boundary. I remember being at council meetings in Kildare when officials argued that segregating traffic creates a much safer environment, yet that was the location where the largest number of penalty points were issued. I intend to look at these figures again because I know the regime has changed, but this is about shooting fish in a barrel rather than road safety.

We must be serious about placing Garda and other speed checks at appropriate locations. It is interesting to note there is insufficient space for a speed check vehicle at some of the most dangerous locations on the roads. People know full well there will not be a speed check on windy roads because in many cases there is insufficient space for a speed check vehicle to pull in. I could draw attention to a number of specific locations where there is a high accident rate and one does not see speed checks. The figures in this regard need to be closely scrutinised.

Section 3 deals with persons who knowingly drive a dangerous vehicle. I presume, perhaps wrongly, that the inclusion of this section may have been influenced by a "Prime Time" programme broadcast a number of months ago. It is unacceptable for a person who decides to leave his or her car at home to discover that the taxi in which he or she is travelling is unsafe. I have doubts about the roadworthiness of some vehicles on the road, including some of the taxis in which I have travelled in recent months. The Taxi Regulator and the Garda Síochána must ensure enforcement is tight in this area.

While road design and upkeep are important factors, speeding is a very serious aspect of road safety. It is essential that regulations on drink driving, speeding and other aspects of road safety are enforced because without enforcement, it is pointless to enact legislation.

Since my re-election to the Dáil, I have continually raised with the Minister for Justice and Equality the issue of the distribution of Garda personnel. It is clear that the gardaí in training in Templemore will be the last recruits for some time. There is no doubt that no new gardaí will be recruited to augment Garda numbers in areas in which numbers are low relative to the size of the population. As a result, areas that are weak in terms of Garda numbers will pay a price for the lack of recruitment. The worst county in terms of Garda personnel relative to the size of the population is Kildare. Other counties with low numbers of gardaí include Meath, Wexford, Kilkenny, Carlow, Laois and Offaly. The Kildare Garda division had 328 gardaí serving a population of 209,000 in September 2010, despite the county having the fourth highest population in the State, having overtaken, in population terms, the county and city of Limerick in the census before last. This means each garda in the county is responsible for 640 people. The position at other locations is dramatically different. For example, the Sligo-Leitrim Garda division has 331 gardaí serving a population of 97,000. In other words, counties Sligo and Leitrim, with a population 110,000 lower than that of County Kildare, have more gardaí.

If Garda numbers are low in terms of the size of the population, it will have an impact on the quality of the service provided, including enforcement. There is no point in having excellent laws in place on drink driving and speeding if it is not possible to carry out Garda checks. Having spoken to the Minister for Justice and Equality about this issue, it is his view that Garda deployment is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. It appears, however, that the approach adopted to deployment is "what one has one holds" and that it is not possible to transfer gardaí between divisions. We have the additional problem of the moratorium on recruitment. These are major issues which will have a significant impact on the ability of the Garda to enforce the legislation before us.

As I stated, some of the initiatives taken in the Bill are very welcome in that they provide for a degree of clarity where there was none previously. The legislation also ensures there will be a better chance of enforcing the law where transgressions are detected and cases brought before the courts. The decision to differentiate between classes of drivers is an important and welcome one. I hope the Bill which I support will contribute to improving road safety.

I will share time with Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick.

I welcome this important Bill. We must send a message regarding the abuse of alcohol in society, whether from a social or cultural point of view or while driving. Ireland, as a nation, has a problem with alcohol which needs to be addressed. Action is required before it is too late and, as law makers, it is our job to legislate for the common good and the safety of all citizens. The culture of alcohol consumption and misuse must change.

I welcome the Minister's comprehensive and enlightened speech. It should be used across our educational establishments in which we are trying to promulgate a message not only of road safety but also of showing care and respect for others and taking responsibility. It is time that we recognised that we have a responsibility when we are behind the wheel of a car. Not only are we going on an excursion, but we are also taking to the public highway and we must share it with and show respect towards other road users.

As the Minister noted, it is no longer acceptable to drink and drive, which is a welcome development. In rural areas people used to go to the pub for one or two social drinks before driving home. However, recent changes in the drink drive limit have had an impact on this practice. I hope the Minister will consider the possibility of working with vintners, rural agencies and others to provide some form of public transport for those affected.

We have engaged in a great process regarding road safety and I compliment the previous Government on its efforts in this regard. We have changed mindsets and driving behaviour and opened people's eyes to the dangers of bad driving and consuming alcohol while driving. We must now do similar work on the taking of illegal drugs while driving. I hope this will be a platform in the future.

The Road Safety Authority deserves great praise for the work it has done in pushing out boundaries by encouraging people to examine their own behaviour. Its road safety advertisements have left a lasting impression. The testimony and narrative of the parents and siblings of people who have died in road traffic accidents resonate because their stories are human. In her very good speech Deputy Catherine Murphy gave us statistics and different representations from throughout the country. We are talking about human lives, the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives of people. If this Bill does nothing else but open the minds of a generation aged between 16 and 35, it will have been worthwhile. This is not about Government or politicians taking on the vintners, the pub trade or the alcohol industry but about human lives being saved and transformed as a consequence of good legislation.

I return to the three E's of education, enforcement, engineering. I agree wholeheartedly with Deputy Catherine Murphy. In some of the areas where we need to have law enforcement such as speed cameras and vans, we have none. In my naivety I cannot comprehend why there can be two or three Garda checkpoints on the Cork-Dublin motorway, on a straight stretch of road capable of accommodating cars at speeds of 120 km/h, when on certain parts of our public highways there is no enforcement. That needs to be examined. There must be joined-up thinking.

I return to the issue of education. It is very important we use the transition year module in secondary schools as a medium for reaching towards young people. Teenagers are impressionable. They are in their formative years and need to be taught. They see some of their peers learning to drive and driving. They see certain behaviour as thrill seeking and try to imitate it. They see some of us, who perhaps drive slowly, as boring. I hope we can have a cross-party approach with the VEC, the Department of Education and Skills and other Departments, and go into schools. In my school in Ballincollig there was a very good driving module as part of transition year which I hope could be used throughout the country. It is important people of that age understand that when they are driving, they have a responsibility to themselves as well as to others on the road. We need to strengthen our educational message and communicate it to that 18-30 age group. I do not know whether they get the message. In spite of the good work being done, we need to reach out more and take a prolonged approach to the subject.

In his remarks the Minister stated that one in three fatal accidents occur as a consequence of alcohol. As one who, as a student, worked as a porter in Cork University Hospital, I saw for myself at first hand the impact of road traffic accidents, some linked to alcohol. I saw at first hand the injuries and fatalities and the impact on the families. It taught me a valuable lesson that our life is precious. It is a gift given to us and we must protect and preserve it as much as we can.

I am also concerned about the use of mobile telephones. Some of us have bought mobile telephone car kits or have had Bluetooth services installed. We stopped the habit of texting because it is illegal and wrong, and we lead by example. We no longer put the handset up to our ear. On my journeys from Cork to Dublin, I look at some of the cars and lorries and see people using their mobile telephones. I cannot comprehend how a driver of an articulated lorry on the bend of a road can have a mobile telephone in one hand and steer the lorry around. I do not intend to pick on articulated lorry drivers because they do a tremendous amount of work and are very skilled drivers. I cannot comprehend how one can manage to drive a car at speed on the Cork-Dublin road while using a mobile telephone. One cannot do it. One cannot be in charge of a car travelling at 115 km/h or 120 km/h and have a mobile telephone to the ear with the radio on too, perhaps at half mast. If we are talking about the culture of alcohol, as we must and as is right, we must also talk about how we can change the culture of the use of mobile telephones in cars. I do not want a prohibition on mobile telephones in cars but we need to get serious. I would love to see the statistics for the enforcement of penalty points on people who use mobile telephones and who text while driving. I cannot comprehend how one can do that.

I pay tribute to our first responders who do an excellent job. They are the people who go out in the dead of night, when it is wet or cold, and respond to accidents. Along with the Garda, they ensure there is safety on our roads.

I notice that section 3 deals with the issue of defective vehicles. There is now a group of people who, through no fault of their own, are in financial difficulty and are failing to maintain their cars, perhaps the wipers or the tyres, or perhaps do not have their car insured or taxed. They are a danger to themselves and to others on the road. I very much hope we will go after some of these people and, if necessary, reach a payment plan with them regarding car insurance and car tax. There was a series of television programmes about the NCT test and we must change our mindset about it in order that it can continue to be a proper car test. It is about car roadworthiness.

This is very important legislation because it deals with human lives and preserving and protecting fellow road users. All of us use cars. Some of us do not have the luxury of having a driver in a ministerial or a Leas-Cheann Comhairle's car but we——

The Deputy will one day.

Please God. We must ensure that when we use the roads, we all play a part in ensuring the safety of our fellow road users. This Bill goes a way towards achieving that. There must be a joined-up approach between Departments, the Road Safety Authority and the vintners to ensure there is no loss of life on our roads. If only that may happen.

Last year was the safest year since records commenced in 1959, with 212 deaths. Those are still 212 deaths too many. We want to improve on that number this year. Approximately 135 people have died on the roads so far this year, still too many but a big improvement on last year's figure and even greater than on the figure for 2000, when 415 were killed on our roads.

The Road Traffic Act 2010 was introduced in order that the mandatory testing of drivers could be carried out if a garda had a suspicion that a driver was under the influence of intoxicating liquor or for a number of other reasons. Before that Act, a garda could only require a breath sample if he or she was suspicious about a driver at a Garda checkpoint. The 2010 Act also brought in low blood-alcohol levels for all drivers. The legal blood-alcohol level was reduced, from 80 mg per 100 ml of blood to 50 mg for any person who had a full driving licence for more than two years, with a reduction to 20 mg per 100 ml of blood for learners or professional drivers. The equipment needed to record these lower blood-alcohol levels was not available which meant that the provision in regard to the lower levels could not be enacted. Mandatory testing and the lower blood-alcohol level provision was linked in this Act and it would have been difficult to have introduced one without the other.

The Road Traffic Act 2011 was bridging legislation to address the problem in the previous Act. This allowed mandatory testing but at a higher level until the proper equipment to test at lower levels was available. The Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill allows for the mandatory testing of drivers at the lower levels that were set out in the Road Traffic Act 2010. The mandatory alcohol tests at the lower level will be in operation by the end of this month. The legal blood-alcohol limit for those holding a full driving licence for more than two years will be reduced from 80 mg to 50 mg per 100 ml of blood. The legal blood-alcohol limit for learners and professional drivers will reduce to 20 mg per 100 ml of blood. These low rates can now be introduced as the equipment needed to register them will be available from the end of this month. In line with the new lower blood-alcohol levels, we are also introducing graduated penalties.

People's attitudes have changed dramatically during the past decade and this is very welcome. In a recent survey carried out by the Automobile Association, 87% of motorists believed that drink driving is shameful. We have still to reach the remaining 13%. Section 6 amends the 2010 Act by setting out where alcohol testing is mandatory and where it is not. Mandatory breath testing will take place when a garda is of the opinion that a driver has consumed intoxicating liquor or a driver is, or has been, involved in a collision where death or injury that requires medical attention has occurred. The Bill also amends the 2010 Act in order to introduce mandatory testing where a driver is or has been involved in a collision which as resulted in a death occurring. A garda may ask a driver to take a breath test where he or she is of the opinion that the driver is committing or has committed an offence under the Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 2011 or where that driver is or has been with a vehicle involved in a collision.

Section 9 of the 2010 Act, which is being amended, provides for mandatory testing where a driver has been involved in a road traffic collision that has resulted in a death or an injury and is subsequently removed to a hospital. A garda must test that driver in the hospital except in circumstances where he or she, having consulted the attending doctor, is of the view that such a test would be prejudicial to the driver's health. The garda involved will be obliged to require the driver to permit a designated doctor or nurse to take a specimen or his or her blood or a urine sample. This will not be required if the garda is of the view that the driver should be arrested. The officer must consult the attending doctor to ensure that the taking of such samples from the driver would not cause any adverse affect to the driver/patient. If such an effect might occur, then the garda will not request a blood or urine sample. If either the doctor or nurse attending refuse to take a blood or urine sample on medical grounds, then the driver will not be deemed to have committed the offence of refusing to provide a sample. Under section 8 of the Bill, a garda may enter, without warrant, where a person of interest is in order to obtain a sample.

Section 3 of the Bill deals with the offence of knowingly driving a dangerously defective vehicle. This is an offence which can apply to either the driver or the owner of the vehicle or both. Where the driver is not the owner, the latter may use the defence that someone else was driving the vehicle without his or her permission on a particular occasion. However, the driver of a dangerously defective vehicle cannot use the defence that he or she is just the driver rather than the owner of such a vehicle. The Bill provides that a garda who is of the opinion that a person has committed the offence of driving a dangerously defective vehicle may arrest that individual without a warrant.

Prosecutions in respect of certain offences under the Road Traffic Acts depend on the type of driving licence or permit a person holds because permissible blood alcohol levels are different for those who hold full driving licences than they are for people with driving permits. As a result, section 5 will help to ensure that a mistaken presumption in respect of the type of licence held by a driver will not affect a prosecution relating to a drink driving offence because an alternative verdict will be permissible.

The Bill aims to clarify the existing legislation relating to drink driving and reflects policy decisions already taken during the development of the Road Traffic Acts 2010 and 2011. It also clarifies the position relating to preliminary and mandatory breath-testing requirements and alternative verdicts, as well as dealing with other matters. It will allow for mandatory alcohol testing in respect of drink driving limits which are lower than those set out in the Road Traffic Act 2010. These measures were debated extensively in the context of the legislation approved, with cross-party support, by the previous Dáil. The Bill confirms the Government's commitment to improving Ireland's record on road safety. Almost any amount of alcohol will impair a person's driving or driving-related skills and statistics show that it plays a contributing part in one of every three fatal road accidents. Drink driving is not acceptable.

Will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle indicate how much time is available to me?

The Deputy has 20 minutes.

The Deputy will never last that long.

I thank the Minister for bringing the Bill before the House. I wish Deputy Buttimer all the best in respect of becoming a Minister and obtaining the services of a driver. I am sure that will happen one day.

The Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2011 amends the mandatory alcohol testing provision of the Road Traffic Act 2010 to ensure that mandatory testing will be carried out at the lower drink driving limits when the necessary equipment is introduced later this month. The latter Act, which lowered the drink driving limits and introduced mandatory roadside testing for drivers involved in collisions, is extremely important legislation brought forward by the previous Government. It passed into law in July of last year.

During the past 20 years a great deal of legislation relating to road safety has been introduced. The Road Safety Authority, which was established under one of the relevant Acts, is doing a tremendous job in promoting safe driving and ensuring compliance. Some of the messages the authority is trying to get across are aimed at young people in particular. Part of its campaign involves the broadcasting of a number of television advertisements which are extremely stark in nature but which emphasise to young people the real dangers of speeding, drink driving etc. It is important that the Road Safety Authority should continue to enjoy the Minister's support. It should also continue to receive the financial support it requires in order that it might persevere with its campaigns relating to road safety and education.

Deputy Buttimer and others referred to the importance of education. It is important that the education of young people in respect of road safety should remain a central plank of any enforcement policies into the future. The policy of providing lessons on road use and road safety in schools has lapsed over the years. Perhaps it might be possible to put in place a scheme to promote road safety education either through the vocational system or via ordinary second level schools. Like many others, I am involved with a GAA club. The club of which I am a member has run programmes in respect of drug awareness and suicide awareness. I wonder whether it might be possible to use sporting clubs and organisations to a greater degree in order to highlight the dangers of drink driving and speeding to young people. Perhaps we could encourage the IRFU, the FAI and the GAA to engage, in conjunction with the Road Safety Authority and the Minister, in a promotional campaign to highlight this matter.

In recent years, people have become far more responsible. Many of them leave their cars behind at pubs and clubs if they have consumed alcohol — a few pints, a number of shorts or whatever — and do not take the chance of driving them home. This is a good development.

Insurance companies, the Vintners Federation of Ireland and the alcohol companies are making some contribution but I am of the opinion that they should make a larger financial contribution in the context of the promotion of education on road safety. The Minister has not been in office for very long and I have no intention of criticising him. When he is replying, perhaps he might comment on this matter. Insurance and alcohol companies are making huge profits. This year, the cost of motor and home insurance has gone through the roof and insurance companies will make massive amounts of money as a result. Perhaps the Minister will outline the financial contribution the companies to which I refer are making in the area of promoting road safety. I am of the opinion that their contribution in this regard is not sufficient.

Those of us who represent rural areas have argued the case in respect of a more lenient code of conduct for those who live in such areas. I accept that it would probably be impossible to put such a code in place. As Deputy Calleary will attest, many members and former members of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party engaged in arguments with the previous Minister for Transport, former Deputy Noel Dempsey, regarding the problems that exist in rural areas and the lack of transport for people who live there. This is a matter to which consideration must be given. There are some publicans who provide transport home at night for their customers. However, it is difficult for them to have taxi services on standby because people go home from the pub at different times. Perhaps this matter might be examined in the context of the rural transport initiative. I accept that difficulties could arise if it came to implementing a scheme to have people transported home from pubs at night. I have been informed by some individuals involved in operating the rural transport system that on many occasions their vehicles are not in use late at night. In such circumstances, it might be possible to introduce a scheme which would involve the Department, publicans and rural transport operators in order that people in rural areas might be transported home safely from their local pubs at night.

Debate adjourned.