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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 5 Oct 2011

Vol. 742 No. 3

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

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

The next speaker is Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor. She is sharing time with Deputies Dara Murphy, Tony McLoughlin and Áine Collins.

I fully support the measures in this Bill to reduce the legal blood-alcohol limit while driving from 80 mg to 50 mg per 100 ml of blood and to provide for a reduced rate of 20 mg per 100 ml of blood for learner and professional drivers. These measures had cross-party support when they were introduced in the Road Traffic Act 2010.

For too long drink driving was the scourge of our society and our nation's roads. Road safety statistics show that 2010 was the safest year on our roads on record. I commend the work of the Road Safety Authority in this regard. In the Seanad last week, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport mentioned a striking statistic, that in 1972 a total of 640 people died on Irish roads. This equates to more than 50 deaths per month. A total of 212 people were killed in 2010. While that is still far too many, it represents the lowest figure since records began in 1959. Drink driving incidents fell by 14% between 2009 and 2010. However, we cannot become complacent. Any death that occurs on our roads owing to the consumption of alcohol is one death too many.

An Automobile Association, AA, survey published in August showed that 87% of motorists believed that drink driving is shameful. This is clearly a positive trend, but what worried me about this survey is that while many people would not drink and drive, more than one in four young people say they have taken a lift from someone they knew to be over the drink driving limit. What does this say about our behaviour and the risks we are willing to take? Does it mean it is the fear of being caught that is reducing drink driving incidents rather than a concern for health and safety? Reducing the legal blood-alcohol limits to such a low level will reinforce in the minds of drivers that any level of alcohol consumed affects the ability to drive. It puts the driver, their passengers and everyone else on the road at risk.

The same AA survey revealed that more than half of 17 to 24 year olds say they have driven the morning after a night's drinking while unsure if the alcohol they consumed had cleared from their system. The new levels will also make drivers more aware of their ability to drive the morning after a great deal of alcohol has been consumed. The timing of the introduction of this new lower limit is very important. I am pleased the legislation will come into force in time for the October bank holiday weekend. It sends a strong message and one hopes we will no longer hear bank holiday news headlines reporting high numbers of road tragedies.

I support the provision for mandatory testing but I wonder if we can take it further. Will the Minister consider the introduction of mandatory drug testing? A two-pronged approach is necessary to tackle this problem, legislation requiring mandatory testing for drugs and an increased focus by the Road Safety Authority on the dangers of driving while under the influence of drugs. The Minister said in the Seanad that there is as yet no reliable technology to provide for roadside testing for drugs. He also said that where someone has taken drugs, they will probably also be drunk, so we can catch them for one offence if not the other. I am concerned that this might not always be the case and I hope the Minister will seek to address that.

I commend the measures in the Bill. I congratulate the Road Safety Authority on the improving statistics.

Like my colleague, I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. Obviously, we are discussing lowering the limits and endorsing the mandatory testing system at accidents involving injuries. I especially welcome the provisions in the Bill for dealing differently with young people. Driving is already a difficult part of growing up and life.

It is something we all must learn and gain experience in. It is already difficult enough without introducing the scourge of alcohol into the mix. Perhaps this is the first step in how we, as a society, address the issue of alcohol consumption among young people. We have seen a significant change in how people, in particular young people, engage in alcohol consumption. There has been a move away from beverages with a lower alcohol content such as beers to those with a higher alcohol content such as spirits. As a society, it is time we engaged in a debate on how people of a relatively young age — those aged 18 years to those in their early 20s — are able to purchase and consume spirits and alcopops without any limits. We are effectively introducing a zero alcohol limit for drivers. Perhaps our society will now be willing to engage in a debate on introducing people to alcohol which can be consumed in an enjoyable and a responsible fashion at a slower pace. Many people drive for a living, while many others spend many hours behind the wheel, particularly in driving young people and or in public service vehicles. The limit for such drivers should be reduced to zero.

We must acknowledge that there has been significant societal and cross-party support for many of the measures introduced. The Minister noted that in 1972 there was the extraordinary number of 640 road deaths, while last year there were 212. It is difficult to celebrate the reduction to 212, but in 2010 more than 400 people were alive than there would have been in 1972. When one multiplies this figure, it shows there has been a significant improvement.

Society can engage in many ways to prevent deaths and the Government has a big role to play in that regard. The ending of the Troubles resulted in a reduced number of unwanted deaths in the North and this country. Maximising the effectiveness of the health servic, as well as social, education and justice and policing services, has helped to reduce the numbers of drug deaths, murders and so on. The two main issues in which society is most engaged are deaths by suicide and road deaths, an entirely preventable scourge. There are two ways to reduce them. What must run in parallel with legislation is training in schools, as well as further improvements in education in the driving test system. I compliment the work recently done by the Road Safety Authority. At the recent National Ploughing Championships yellow high visibility vests were given out at many stalls. I encourage schools and teachers to engage with young people as the days get shorter. My children frequently have their lunch boxes checked to ensure they do not have crisps and other unwanted and unhealthy foods in them. Teachers could ensure every child has a yellow high visibility vest or an armband when he or she comes to school because they unquestionably work.

There is no doubt the issues being addressed and the new levels being provided for by the Minister will discommode people but so too did the wearing of seats belts, the penalty points system, the camera network and many other measures. They caused them minor difficulties and inconvenience. However, we must focus on the fact that gardaí have called to many thousands of families at night to bring them the bad news of the loss of life as a result of alcohol consumption. These measures will deny them that experience and this is the reason the legislation is being brought forward. I compliment those responsible on the great progress that has been made in this regard. We must continue to try to reduce the number of people who die on the roads.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to this Bill and would like to concentrate on two measures which will have the effect of reducing the numbers of road deaths and serious injuries as a result of driving under the influence of alcohol. Section 3 refers to the offence of knowingly driving a dangerous and defective vehicle, an offence applicable to the driver and the owner of the vehicle. I warmly welcome this measure. People who have driven vehicles which were not fit for purpose and in a dangerous condition have often offered the defence that they were not the owners of the vehicle. However, the Bill will give the power to the Garda to prosecute the driver as well as the owner of such vehicles. This will help to deter some young drivers from buying vehicles which were only fit for scrappage for sums of money in the region of €100 or less and then taking to the roads, often ending up involved in serious accidents. We have seen evidence of this where the condition of a vehicle resulted in serious injuries to the driver and passengers. Vehicles have been shown to have defective tyres, suspension system, steering and chassis which, if involved in an accident, would literally disintegrate on impact. It is important to get the message out that people must be responsible when they dispose of such vehicles and ensure they are properly scrapped at the designated centres in every county and local authority area.

The measures in the Bill will no longer allow drivers to get away without being prosecuted when their names are not on the vehicle ownership form. As legislators, we must send a warning to parents who have children of 17 and 18 years who desire to purchase a vehicle to ensure the necessary checks are made and that, at a minimum, vehicles have an up-to-date NCT certificate.

Alcohol consumption in Ireland continues to be significant in comparison with other EU countries. For many years this was reflected in the driving habits of the nation and included driving while under the influence. Successive Governments have identified this as a major cause of accidents and because of measures introduced, Ireland has seen a significant fall in the numbers of road deaths and injures. Up to last week, 138 people, unfortunately, had died in road accidents this year. That is down by 13 for the same period last year. The number of collisions has also been reduced. We have seen a steady fall since 2003 which, whether it is a coincidence, is in line with the steady reduction in the blood alcohol level during the years. In 2003 it was estimated that 37% of all road deaths were alcohol-related. That figure was reduced to 31% by 2005.

Two out of three accidents occur between 10 p.m. on a Friday and 8 a.m. on a Monday, which tells its own story. I advocate increased vigilance by the traffic corps of the Garda Síochána between these times. The accidents mostly involve young men. I am glad to state the vast majority of young people believe that if one goes out to drink and party, one should arrange transport as part of one's plan. That is a sea change in attitudes from the 1970s and 1980s. However, the boy racer culture is a source of concern in many areas. If we are to reduce the number of road deaths, measures to tackle speed, dangerous driving and, in many cases, drink and drug driving must be considered by the Government in any future road traffic Bill.

Will the Minister consider further measures to deal with drivers who drive under the influence of drugs? Considerable thought and research must go into tackling this problem. It is estimated that two out of five deaths of 25 to 40 year olds between 2000 and 2007 were drug-related. In Canada one in three road deaths is attributed to drug use. Further study by the Government is warranted. Section 7 deals with testing drivers in hospital. The Bill provides for mandatory testing of a driver involved in a serious traffic collision resulting in death or serious industry. Over the years, victims of drunk drivers have expressed their frustration that the drivers were able to escape convictions because of the inability of gardaí to test for blood-alcohol levels. This has been an anomaly and I welcome this section of the Bill.

I welcome the Bill but I suggest to the Minister that he should take account of the views expressed in devising future measures to enhance road safety.

I thank the Minister for bringing this Bill before the House and welcome the opportunity to speak on it. It will add much needed clarity to road traffic law and bring Ireland's regulation of drinking and driving in line with the vast majority of countries in the EU and the developed world. It clarifies outstanding elements of the Road Traffic Act 2010, which allows for mandatory testing of alcohol at lower limits. The equipment needed to record lower blood-alcohol levels was not in place when the 2010 Act was introduced but it has since become available to the Garda.

The Bill enables the policy decisions already taken under the Road Traffic Acts 2010 to 2011. Under the previous legislation, mandatory testing was for higher levels of blood-alcohol but the Bill provides for lower thresholds. It will allow gardaí to administer tests in cases where they have good reason to suspect that a driver has consumed alcohol having been involved in a collision in which someone has died or incurred an injury requiring medical attention. This is a welcome development.

There is considerable evidence to demonstrate that even low levels of alcohol consumption can seriously affect an individual's ability to drive safely. That road fatalities have dropped substantially here as a result of lower acceptable alcohol limits lends further support to this argument. The decrease in fatalities is due in no small part to the Road Traffic Act 2006, which reduced the acceptable amount of blood-alcohol in drivers from 100 mg to 80 mg. In 1998, 448 people were killed on our roads but that figure had dropped to 299 by 2006. While this was partly due to road safety campaigns and increased vigilance over road speeds, reduced alcohol levels also played an important part.

Drink driving is an emotive subject for many people on this island. Many families and communities have been devastated by the tragic loss of young and old alike. Drivers need to be aware of the danger involved in getting behind the wheel of a car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

In October 2011, the Road Safety Authority held a conference on the effect of drugs on driving. Much of the evidence presented at the conference came from Canada but we can identify a number of similarities with that country's experience of drink driving and drug driving. The Canadian research indicated that drug driving mainly occurs at weekends. Between 2000 and 2007, drug driving was found to be a contributory factor in one third of driver deaths. While there is an absence of empirical evidence from Ireland, I suspect we will record similar results. I urge the Minister to strengthen the legislation on drug driving and bring clarity on the drug driving testing methods open to the Garda.

As a rural Deputy from Cork North-West I am acutely aware of the impact the further reduction in blood-alcohol limits will have on those who enjoy driving to their local pubs for a pint or two. The limits create difficulties for those who do not have access to public transport or alternative options for travelling to their local pubs, which are in many cases their only social outlets. I recognise the impact the Bill will have on their socialising habits but there is no easy answer. I ask the Minister to look favourably on the communities and publicans who, I am sure, will show an entrepreneurial spirit in setting up small local taxi or minibus services to provide affordable transport. An incentive scheme, such as reduced insurance premiums, could be put in place for those who provide rural public transport services.

While the decrease in the alcohol limit will impact on rural communities and their socialising habits, the loss of life caused by drink driving has done untold damage to families and communities alike. These accidents also impact negatively on emergency services, including the Garda, ambulance staff, doctors and nurses. Road deaths cause countless ripples within our communities and all efforts to reduce their number are to be commended. The Bill clarifies breath testing laws, brings Ireland in line with best practice throughout the developed world and will have the welcome effect of reducing road deaths and injuries. For these reasons, I commend it to the House.

I congratulate the Minister for bringing the Bill before the House. I welcome in particular the provisions that deal with the accepted norm that one can drink and then drive. There is no need for me to rehearse the statistics on the numbers of individuals and families who have been damaged by drink driving.

However, concerns arise in regard to section 7 which provides for mandatory testing of drivers in hospital. Perhaps the Minister can provide further clarification on the section in his concluding remarks. Has the section been tested in terms of civil liberties? It would, for example, be traumatic enough for an elderly couple to be taken to an emergency department after an accident without being asked by a garda to provide a blood or urine sample. As gardaí and other front line services will attest, many emergency departments experience exceptional levels of violence on Saturday nights. A garda would have to visit an emergency department in which 60 or 70 patients are being treated to demand a blood or urine sample from an individual who had been involved in an accident. This will give rise to difficulties for the staff of the department, the gardaí tasked with administering the test and the individuals being treated for injuries. If the test has to be administered, perhaps it could be done in a separate room. Many of those involved in accidents suffer injuries that are not serious in nature and they may only require stitches or treatment for bruises. My interpretation of the Bill is that gardaí will have to come into emergency departments.

I am also concerned that the Bill does not require testing where the garda is of the opinion that the individual concerned should be arrested. This measure needs further clarification. Will the garda make a decision in the hospital that an individual is under the influence? For the sake of the garda who must go to the emergency department, the staff who work there and the individuals who may be involved in an accident through no fault of their own, we must proceed carefully in this area. It is unacceptable that an individual who is over the limit could get away with an accident by presenting to an emergency department but perhaps we need to tighten the wording of the section in regard to dealing with patients.

The number of cars that are not in road worthy condition is increasing. Another Deputy alluded to that in the House yesterday. We should remember that where there is a car on the road we help the economy through tax, buying petrol and the purchase of the car. In the present economic circumstances therefore it is in our interest for people to buy cars and keep them on the road.

Does the Minister accept that many people find it extremely difficult to keep a car on the road at present? Cars are essential for people to bring children to school and to go to work. Perhaps we should consider making it obligatory for local authorities and insurance companies to allow people to pay tax and insurance every week or month. If it were easier to pay, people might not be in arrears or break the law. Nobody should break the law but people are under severe pressure. Statistics indicate that many people drive without insurance and tax, which they should not do. We cannot deny the statistics. Many people need and want cars but they cannot afford them. Perhaps the Minister could consider the introduction of legislation that would allow people to pay tax on a weekly basis rather than a three monthly basis. I do not know whether one can pay car tax on a monthly basis but we must make it easy for people to pay so that they will not be outside the law. I am not sure whether insurance companies accept a monthly payment but the Minister's office could make a recommendation to make it easy for people to pay who are outside the law, who do not wish to be, but are because of economic circumstances. One might well say they should not drive but we need people to drive cars and buy second-hand cars as it helps the Exchequer and helps the economy to grow.

We should consider making it obligatory for schools to include an educational programme on driving because of the number of people who have been caught drink driving and all those who have drugs in their system while driving which we are not currently able to detect. I refer in particular to students in leaving certificate year as an education programme for those who are about to leave school and may wish to buy a car might not go astray. It could help to further reduce the impact of those driving with drink and drugs.

It is not often that I compliment the Government but I compliment the Minister on what he has done. I know he is sincere in his attempts to ensure that everyone drives a properly functioning car without faults and to tackle those who feel it is the norm to drive while under the influence of drink or drugs.

I too am delighted to comment on the Bill. I made many points previously in the Dáil on road traffic legislation, some of which were elaborated on when reported in the media. I do not condone drink driving and never did. Contrary to the message that went out during the debate on a previous Bill I still have concerns on the matter.

I welcome the Minister's appointment, his introduction of the Bill and his engagement. However, I have concerns about sections of the Bill and the Bill in general. Will the Minister indicate when mandatory testing will be introduced for those suspected of driving under the influence of drugs? That is a problem. The laws we pass must be fair and cover all types of offence and be seen to be fair to every citizen.

There was much debate prior to the passage of the Road Traffic Act 2011. Various comments and promises were made. I speak from a rural perspective as I live in a rural constituency. It is difficult to get taxis, buses or any form of transport in rural areas. I am disappointed that nothing is included in the Bill or the forthcoming budget to provide incentives to publicans, business people or taxi owners to buy seven-seater vehicles. If they could get VRT back or reductions were in place it would allow people to continue in business. In many villages and rural areas the public house is the only venue in which people can have meetings, functions, provide refreshments after funerals or hold fundraising events for the local school or charity. It is difficult and expensive to get taxis, but one cannot get them in the first place as they are not available.

If young people go to a disco in the local town they cannot get a taxi home to a rural area for a number of hours after an event finishes because it is more lucrative to do, for example, six local journeys around a town rather than go ten miles out into the country. One cannot blame taxi drivers. I have heard horror stories about young people being let out when they were only half way home as the taxi driver decided the destination was too far and he could not finish the journey. People have been let out of taxis in rural villages five or six miles away from their destination. The person who lives furthest away often has difficulty getting home. I do not wish to condemn the taxi service but people should be entitled to reasonable access to alternative transport.

I commend young people who in fairness to them have a positive and safe attitude towards drink driving. The culture is changing. It took a long time to change it but it is changing, albeit slowly. One death is one death too many. We have had several deaths. I was interested to hear yesterday on the radio that a new group has been formed to consider medical negligence. It was revealed that as many people die every year from medical malpractice as are killed on the roads. I was shocked to hear that. We have focused heavily on road safety.

Since I came to Dublin to work in this House four years ago I have never seen a checkpoint. I have never been stopped or breathalysed in the metropolis of Dublin but one could see them any night in Tipperary. I do not say they should not be there but I wonder whether we have one law for the country and one law for the city. Perhaps there are not checkpoints in the city because of the volume of traffic. I have never been stopped in the city either while driving or in a taxi.

Section 3 deals with dangerous and defective vehicles. It is an important change. Commercial vehicles must be certified by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and cars must get an NCT. One would expect those tests to have eliminated many dangerous vehicles. A dangerous vehicle could cause pandemonium and have severe consequences. Therefore, I welcome that aspect of the Bill.

I hope the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport or the Minister for Finance might introduce a scheme in the budget to provide for a greater availability of taxis in the countryside. To be fair to publicans, 99% of them are scrupulous, honest and hardworking. They are businesspeople who pay rates, taxes and for heating and staff. Pubs are being closed down at an alarming rate and road traffic legislation has an impact on them. People must have an alternative. We cannot allow rural isolation to occur. We are dealing with it in the context of the phenomenally high rate of suicide. Road traffic legislation has a significant impact on rural isolation. That was where I was coming from anytime I made any comments in that regard. I know rural areas and how lonely they can be. When people drink at home there are no measures or control involved. Neither is there any company if people live alone. The situation can be more serious if people who live alone are drinking.

I fought hard with the previous Minister, Mr. Noel Dempsey, to introduce a scheme to allow people to have recourse to transport. I am involved in rural transport in the Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary area. The scheme is known as Ring A Link. It is a successful scheme and could be a flagship project for rural transport. It is faced with cutbacks this year. Eighteen months ago the project was threatened with closure. We tried to expand the service to include night transport but for various reasons it did not work out. Many publicans drive customers home and make arrangements to have them collected in the morning. They are entitled to have some recompense or support. I am not looking for something for nothing. I seek fair play for rural people. A Member can come out of here at night and get a taxi, bus, DART, Luas or whatever. Most cities have plenty of services. Even though they would not have Luas or DART, they have plenty of taxis. Rural people are entitled to their rights as well. We cannot ban them all into oblivion and tell them to stay at home at night and that once it gets dark in the evening, they should close their doors and not go anywhere. It is very unfairly balanced.

I am also concerned about drug testing. We were promised by the previous Government that drug testing would be introduced in September last and we would have some indication of its availability. It cannot be beyond the bounds of possibility. Following any accident with a train or on the rail track, it is mandatory that the drivers are tested for alcohol and drugs and the Garda should be able to have this equipment also.

Schools play an important role here. A previous speaker mentioned the leaving certificate. I mention transition year, which is a good programme that covers many areas. Most of the students, boys and girls aged 16 and 17, are thinking about driving and that is the area on which the Minister should focus. It should be mandatory as part of the transition year project, or some other project like it, that students would undertake this training. They should do their textbook training in school and then go out on field trips to venues, for instance, where motorways are built and old roads are being by-passed there are plenty of areas available for training. The venues are ready made and only needing to be made accessible, to have the trainers there and to have it co-ordinated. It would not cost a great deal, but it is necessary that we would educate people in safe driving practices. There should be meaningful set-ups with trained instructors and which can be speed restricted where students can go to learn how to drive. First, they would understand, from the textbook, that drinking alcohol is out and drug use is out, and all of the other rules of the road must be learnt comprehensively. Perhaps all we need is to develop one place in each province. Part of the transition year programme in schools could be to visit such areas twice during the year for a day to physically get into the vehicle, understanding the white line and the yellow lines, the braking distances and all of the challenges that face any young driver. It is expensive on parents to pay for lessons and the test for young people, but I encourage them all to take lessons. Instructors are available and willing. Many skilled instructors have retired and are available to become involved. Maybe the Minister could look at an intern scheme in this area. We must be imaginative here. We must work, especially on skilling the young people who will take the wheel to drive in all kinds of conditions. In this country, conditions can change so much from summer to winter and it is important that they would have experience driving in all conditions. It is also important that they would understand the sheer danger of the impact of a car with a ditch or an oncoming vehicle.

The position on driver testing is still quite difficult. It is still quite arduous to get a test and there are long delays. If a person turns up on a foggy morning, the tester may decide not to take him or her up, and the final decision is the tester's. The applicant must go back to the queue then and wait a long period, perhaps several weeks or even months, to get a re-test. That is unfair. A tester may be out ill or whatever; anything can happen. There should be quicker redress in such a situation so that the person can take a test within ten days of that happening. They should be allowed to come back into the system much quicker to take a test and, hopefully, pass it, and if the applicant does not pass, he or she must face the consequences.

There are some difficulties with the theory test. Let us be honest, we all are not experts; we all were not born in the era of computers. There are those in my constituency who fail who have difficulty with the theory test, not because they are not smart but merely because they are not used to those kinds of tests. The more some do it, the more difficult it gets. They are mainly in late middle age. They might not be too computer literate and they are not able to deal with that situation. There is help available. It is an area where we must cater for all citizens, no matter what their background or from where they come. There are people who merely cannot get around the theory test. I have anecdotal evidence of a number of cases where the more times they do it, the worse they do. That is unfortunate because then they cannot get any sort of licence, even to drive a tractor or any other kind of vehicle that they could use in rural areas. They all might not be from rural areas either.

I ask the Minister to consider those aspects. I ask him to seriously consider in the forthcoming budget, in spite of budgetary constraints, introducing some form of equity into the system where rural publicans or entrepreneurs who want to set up in business would be able to avail of incentives to provide safe modes of transport in rural areas.

The next speaker is Deputy Eoghan Murphy who, I understand, is sharing time.

That is correct, with Deputies Coffey, O'Donovan and McHugh.

I very much welcome this Bill and I congratulate the Minister on bringing it forward. I also congratulate him on all of the work that he has done since assuming office. It is encouraging for a new Deputy.

I have three issues under the heading of transport safety, the first being speed limits. We need consistency in speed limits. The speed limits given for some of the roads are completely unacceptable and dangerous. It should not be acceptable that the speed at which one is permitted to drive is unsafe. On other roads, and even sections of motorway, to drive as slow as one is forced to do is dangerous as well. With the co-operation of local authorities throughout the country, the Minister might, if he has the time, look at this and get people to report back on where the speed limits need to be decreased or, in some cases, increased so that there is greater consistency across the road network when we move from national primary roads, to secondary roads and further down the list, and greater safety as a result.

The second matter I want to raise under the issue of safety is creative engineering solutions to shared spaces. In some of our European partner countries there are interesting ideas as to how to manage people, cars, buses, bikes and motorbikes existing in the same space, say, in a city or village environment, and some of them are quite innovative and could have application here. Recently I noted when road repairs were happening on the N11 dual-carriageway coming through Donnybrook, where they had torn up the road and resurfaced it, and no markings had been put down but there were a couple of signs stating, "No markings in place, please drive carefully", because there was not a dedicated cycle lane, because there was not a dedicated bus lane and because there was only a small marking indicating the separation between the traffic, people drove more safely. They paid attention to what they were doing. They did not merely drive down the road blindly expecting everything to be fine. It was interesting that the lack of all of these signs, lampposts, markings on the road and everything else made people more responsible. Other cities have looked at this and have created spaces. Kensington, in London, did this. It removed much of its signage and clutter, and its markings, and found that people drove more carefully. It bears consideration on our part.

The third element under safety I want to raise is car clamping. The Minister might think this does not relate to issues of road safety, and I do not think it does. What I am hearing from local businesses in my constituency is that people are coming, they are parking and they are paying for their tickets, and they are coming late back and getting clamped. On one incident in Rathgar where a number of cars were clamped, I went to get to the bottom of it to find out what exactly was going on and when they came to me they stated it was an issue of road safety. Where a car is parked perfectly safely within the lines, with someone not having a ticket or running out of time on a ticket, that has nothing to do with safety. It is an excuse on the part of the officials. This might seem like a small or local issue. In fact, it strikes to how we interpret and implement the laws but also how we care about the local domestic economy.

Car clamping was brought in to free congestion in city streets, to make it easier to move through the city streets and to stop illegal car-parking practices. It was never intended as a revenue raising measure. In fact, it does not work as a revenue raising measure. In Dublin city, it costs more to run the clamping service than the service brings in, and yet in the view of the people living and working in the city, those enforcing clamping are trying to raise money. I think, because there is a shortfall, that is exactly what they are doing. They are not looking for cars that are blocking major streets or roads. They are going to small villages and small roads where there is no through traffic on quiet Sunday afternoons when people are doing a bit of local shopping, and they are clamping them. That is not fair. In fact, it makes a mockery of the system as a whole. It is very detrimental to local businesses that are struggling at the moment. The domestic economy is suffering and needs our help. The owners of these businesses feel that Dublin City Council is out to get them and is purposefully targeting them. If a person goes to a local shop to do €30 worth of business, but it ends up costing them €110, they will not go back. This matter needs to be studied seriously not as a road safety issue but as a question of proper policy. We need to ensure our laws are implemented and enforced in a fair way.

I ask the Minister to consider this final point. Local councillors, the city council and other public representatives are hammered when this issue flares up in the media every couple of months. It is an example of a law not being fairly enforced. It needs to be examined. We can come up with a better way of keeping our streets free of congestion and making sure cars are parked in an orderly and legal fashion. We need to ensure the council does not lose money by providing such a system. It is ridiculous that the service being run by the council is not at least cost-neutral. It does not make any sense to me. The system that is put in place needs to be fair to the people who use it — those who live in this city and want to use their cars to shop locally and support local businesses.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to this important debate on road traffic safety. I welcome the Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2011, which brings clarity to many areas. It relates to the production of a licence when a request is made by a garda and deals with the matter of mandatory breath testing. As many Deputies have spoken in detail on those matters, I intend to focus on some other areas.

I would like to reinforce the request made by many Deputies that some research be conducted on testing for drug-driving. Other countries have found there is a connection between the incidence of drug-driving and the number of road collisions and fatalities. I suspect that the incidence of drug-driving is increasing in this country. It needs to be tackled at an early stage.

I acknowledge that Irish road deaths fell to the lowest level on record in 2010. We are doing something right. There has been a major cultural shift throughout the country. Legislation can only do so much. We need to bring the general public with us and change mind sets. Improvements have been made in the wearing of seat belts, the use of child seats and the condition of cars. The advances made in safety technology in new cars have certainly helped.

I refer to the condition of our local, primary, secondary and national roads. Our national primary network has been improved significantly by the opening of new motorways. A great deal remains to be done, however. I raised the question of driver fatigue, which is the cause of one in five fatal collisions, with the Minister on a previous occasion. This country's motorway network does not have enough rest areas and service stations. There is no service station on the M9 between Waterford and Dublin, which I use regularly. This issue has to be addressed. Bus and lorry drivers and business people constantly complain that there is nowhere to pull in on that motorway. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the National Roads Authority say that drivers should go offline, but they will not do so because they prefer to drive directly from A to B, often with the assistance of satellite navigation systems. Drivers need somewhere to pull over for a rest before continuing their journey.

The issue of speed has been addressed by previous speakers. It is important that appropriate speed limits are set on our roads. Local authorities have a role to play in this respect. The new dual-carriageway ring-road that was built in Waterford city some years ago has a speed limit of 60 km/h. The narrow and windy rural roads that are adjacent to the ring-road and feed into it have speed limits of 80 km/h. The unfortunate perception that this is a revenue-collecting exercise is reinforced when people see Gatso vans on the ring-road. There needs to be some consistency in this regard. More appropriate speed limits need to be set.

I will speak about young drivers. I note the presence of many students in the Gallery. It is good that they are witnessing a debate on this issue. I commend St. Declan's community college in my constituency of Waterford. The school recently undertook a research project, at its own initiative, aimed at educating young drivers and addressing the peer pressure with regard to speed. The project has been recognised by the Road Safety Authority and the Aviva insurance company. The school has received national awards for its research in this area. I would like other schools to adopt similar initiatives. Peer pressure can cause young people to drive at excessive speeds. Research has shown that excessive speed causes one in three fatal collisions here. Equally, alcohol is the cause of one in three fatal collisions. I am not sure where drugs come into it. A significant improvement is needed in this regard.

I refer to the state of our roads. I have spoken about our motorways. We need to continue to invest in local and secondary roads. I would like improvements in the upkeep and maintenance of such roads. As overseers leave our local authorities, we lose a great deal of expertise and local knowledge about dangerous bends, dykes and gullies, and so on. The local authorities are managing our roads inconsistently. Our roads constitute a national asset. I would like an asset management system, like that used by ESB Networks, to be used as part of the management of our roads network. Every road should be given a value, based on its pros and cons; for example, how recently it last had maintenance work done on it. That value would be properly registered on an electronic database which could be accessed by any new overseer or engineer at the press of a button. The database would give him or her details of the full history of the road and its upkeep, maintenance and accident record. Such a system should be rolled out across the country. I urge the Minister to investigate the possibility of establishing such a project on a pilot basis.. It would lead to significant improvements in the safety of local roads and would represent a more efficient way of responding to maintenance demands.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I wish the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport well. The issue of road safety can be considered under the three headings of enforcement, engineering and education. We are dealing with the question of enforcement today. Deputies from all sides of the House have spoken eloquently about the changes proposed in this legislation.

I take this opportunity to ask the Minister to consider two elements of road safety that can be lost in the haze and the noise for budgetary and administrative reasons. The first element is engineering. There is no doubt that we have a very good interurban road network. As Deputy Coffey said the locations where 212 people lost their lives last year are predominantly to be found beyond our motorway and national road network. Most of them died on our secondary, regional, tertiary and local roads. I represent a community that has been ravaged by road carnage in recent years. I appreciate that the same problem is being experienced in other counties. I am not suggesting that any case is worse than the next.

In the part of the country I represent, there have been multiple fatalities on a particular stretch of the N21, which is the road between Limerick and Tralee. Over the past eight years, a life a year has been lost, on average, on a stretch of road that is less than three miles long. That is a frightening statistic for those who use the road. Most of those who died were young people from the locality. I appreciate that the National Roads Authority and the local authorities face particular constraints at the moment. In the aftermath of the Meath bus crash, I did not imagine we would allow our national road infrastructure to deteriorate to the point where more cars are being put on to dangerous roads.

The reality is that accidents do not generally happen on motorways because traffic is segregated. They predominantly happen on small roads in isolated rural areas at weekends. I am not trying to dilute the fact that alcohol plays a huge part in such accidents. The same is probably true of drugs. The reality is that the condition of many roads has been allowed to deteriorate. Nobody maintains the roads or the drains. The surfaces of our roads are being destroyed by the water that is allowed to flow along them. One has to engage in a "dodge the pothole" exercise in some instances. As a result, people are having to drive dangerously and thereby increasing their chances of having an accident.

Without labouring the point made by Deputy Coffey, I should mention that if one drives from Killarney to the Ring of Kerry, one might encounter sheep or rocks or anything. One will also find signposts saying that one can legally drive at 100 km/h. By contrast, if one drives from Dublin to Limerick one will encounter speed limits of 80 km/h and 100 km/h on certain parts of the motorway that are capable of being upgraded to 120 km/h. Like many users of the road, I think the existence of these lesser speed limits is a revenue-generating exercise. The perception that exists is that people are sitting on the hard shoulder and collecting cash.

I welcome the work the Road Safety Authority has done. Although I should not name people in the Dáil, I pay tribute to the chief executive of the RSA, Mr. Noel Brett. As I said previously to the Minister, he has been an exceptional public servant, with his team, in terms of driving home the message on road safety issues. One need only look at the recent advertising campaigns to see this.

It must be an awful experience for the local emergency services, priests, ministers and doctors to have to go to a house to give the bad news that a son or daughter will not be coming home that night because they have been killed in a road accident. Anything we in the House can do must be welcomed. I encourage the Minister, with his colleagues, the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, to examine at Cabinet sub-committee level the issue of road safety. It is not a single Department issue but a multifaceted issue which involves the local authorities, education and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I hope the Minister will take this suggestion on board and not just consider enforcement but also the concerns raised here in regard to engineering. The priority is that local councils deliver a safe road infrastructure for people to use.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I am already on record in both Houses on a number of occasions with regard to the whole idea of mandatory alcohol testing. Anything that promotes better safety and the saving of lives must be welcomed.

In the short time available to me, I wish to focus on a few areas which are different to those on which I normally contribute. We have good inter-urban connectivity and infrastructure, in particular the motorways. Many hauliers would refer to our motorways as the safest in Europe, and we have statistics to back that up. Given this, we should reconsider the 80 km/h limit for trucks. We should consider the possibility of at least having a conversation with the representatives of the industry, given what is happening at European level where some countries have limits of 100 km/h. Road safety should not just be seen as a restriction. If we have a record of making good progress in some areas, we should reward good practice. This issue needs to be considered.

In the context of inter-urban connectivity between the major centres, my key concern is the linkage between Dublin and Derry city and on to the north west. We need only look at traffic congestion and the consequent road rage in the primitive corridor that runs through the north west. I am delighted the Government has a continued commitment to working on that stretch of road, and the particular commitment of the Taoiseach and the Minister are welcome because there are serious road safety issues.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy referred to sharing space. Sometimes on my way home to Donegal through the North, not alone am I met by traffic congestion but the road space must be shared with agricultural vehicles. I suggest to the Minister that if there are fears among the farming community in the North, and I accept this would be a prerogative of the North, we should facilitate the farming community with regard to tunnels and so on where farms could potentially be broken up, and try to find a manageable way to deal with the issue.

With regard to tachograph legislation, we must ensure a degree of consistency and common sense with all legislation and regulations. Tachograph regulation is necessary and the RSA is enforcing regulations on a daily basis. We need to be aware of the increase in the number of non-compliant hauliers. I am not talking about unwashed diesel but about unlicensed, non-compliant hauliers who are exempt from these inspections, which is a safety concern.

With regard to the sea bridge from the Continent, the Minister will be aware there is an issue of interrupted breaks where the time period extends from nine hours to 11.5 hours. For example, if one is coming from London through Holyhead to Dublin with a delivery in Santry, the interrupted break means the driver will have to wait 11.5 hours before even driving to the service station in Lusk. The Minister should have his officials examine this specific issue as it is an anomaly in the system.

Since the introduction of speed cameras, drivers are becoming more aware and more conscious of their own driver behaviour patterns. They are slowing down and fewer people are dying on the roads. The argument against speed cameras is a difficult one. However, perception is sometimes reality and the perception remains for a large proportion of the community that the introduction of speed cameras has a revenue raising aspect in some instances. We must ensure this perception is not the reality governing where cameras are located, for example, outside 30 km/h zones or in areas which are not accident black spots. If possible, although he does not need to employ a consultancy company, the Minister should undertake an internal review of the location of cameras to find whether these are consistent with where they were originally supposed to have been located.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this important Bill, which follows on from the Road Traffic Act 2010 and also the Road Traffic Act 2011, which the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, introduced earlier this year. This Bill brings into play many of the measures which were incorporated in the 2010 Act. I commend the Minister for his work on this issue to date and also for bringing forward the 2011 Act, which facilitated the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing at the previous higher limit while waiting for the equipment to become available to allow testing to take place at the lower levels, which will soon happen.

This is the second piece of road traffic legislation to be introduced in this Dáil, which reflects the importance of the issue. In the last decade alone, the Oireachtas has passed eight major pieces of traffic law, which is a reflection of the level of commitment and support throughout society, including the Oireachtas and the political system, for improving road safety standards. The last ten years have seen the introduction of the fixed charge and penalty points systems, a new structure of speed limits based on metric values, the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing checkpoints and the establishment of the Road Safety Authority. More recently, we have seen the roll-out of a network of privately operated safety cameras.

The success achieved in regard to reducing road deaths in the past ten years, during which the number of deaths has reduced by 45% from the level at the turn of the millennium, is a reflection of the power of public policy, when it is done right and when a real, coherent and united effort is made to tackle an issue. Since records began in the early 1970s, and indeed long before that when incidents were not recorded, road traffic accidents and fatalities and injuries resulting from collisions have brought immeasurable misery to every parish and county, and to many family networks across the country.

Let us consider, as an example, the level of effort, time and political will put into ensuring a resolution was brought to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. While it was very different, it also had horrendous levels of injuries and deaths on an annual basis for many years throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Much political will went towards bringing about a resolution, but at the very same time there were even more fatalities and injuries each year as a result of road traffic accidents. This demonstrates how a society can become desensitised to the dangers posed by cars and travelling in vehicles. I note that when the Minister introduced the Bill yesterday, he referred to comments made by Senator Barrett in the Seanad who had observed it would be extremely hard to introduce to Ireland the ability to drive motor vehicles for the first time in the knowledge that so doing would involve such a level of injury and fatality. Nevertheless, it is a fact of life.

This legislation attempts to reduce the impact of alcohol in road traffic accidents and collisions. As for the impact of alcohol in collisions in recent years, I note Alcohol Action Ireland has estimated that almost one in three deaths in Ireland is alcohol-related. Moreover, the latest available statistics show that an average of 120 people, comprising drivers, passengers and pedestrians, are killed in alcohol-related crashes each year. These figures reinforce the critical nature of this legislation and, unfortunately, the true scale of the problem is unknown. According to Alcohol Action Ireland, nine out of ten drivers who had survived crashes in which someone had died had not been tested for alcohol, while more than one third of drivers killed in crashes had not been tested for alcohol either. The European Commission has estimated that alcohol can be attributed as a cause in at least one quarter of road deaths, while the World Health Organization estimates the role of alcohol in road deaths to be even greater again.

The political will and drive to address this issue and lower further the limits of blood alcohol tests have been commendable. In this context, I pay tribute to the previous Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, for driving this issue in the 2010 Act and the current Minister, Deputy Varadkar, for pushing it forward. I also commend the work of the Road Safety Authority, its staff and chairperson, Mr. Gay Byrne, for their efforts to increase awareness of road safety issues and their contribution to the current level of road deaths, which stands at 132 deaths thus far this year. I hope Ireland is on course to record an annual total of fewer than 200 road deaths this year for the first time. While this constitutes a massive toll and level of misery, it is an improvement on what one had come to expect in previous years. Moreover, it has come about as a direct result of the efforts made politically and by those organisations which have been operating in this field. In this context, I particularly wish to highlight and commend an organisation in my native county of Donegal, namely, the PARC Road Safety Group, as well as the efforts of Ms Susan Gray in pushing and advocating for the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing. She has done fine work in this regard and can take some of the credit for the development of this legislation in recent years.

I wish to touch on a couple of directly-related matters that could be incorporated into road traffic legislation. One is a suggestion I raised before the summer during the debate on the Road Traffic Act 2011 on the possibility of introducing further restrictions in respect of the types of cars and engine sizes younger drivers may drive. I have seen at first hand, as I am sure have other Members elsewhere, the car and speeding culture among young, predominately male drivers in particular and the dangers to which this leads. Recent national road death statistics show that approximately 30% of road deaths are of people aged between 18 and 25 years, which is exceptionally disproportionate and relates directly both to inexperience and the excess of youth and to the car culture and speeding evident nationwide. Many repeat offenders often come before the courts for particular offences pertaining to speeding or pulling stunts and receive penalty points and fines. Nevertheless, within a few months or even the day after a fine is paid, they are able to return to the same high powered vehicle to resume the same carry-on with enhanced street credibility. The existing disincentives or punishments certainly are not working for this category of driver and the manner in which this issue is addressed must be reassessed.

I acknowledge that recent legislation has made provision for enhanced learner measures for drivers who are learning for the first time, as well as enhanced penalty points and reduced blood alcohol limits for young drivers, as well as professional drivers. While this is well and good, it does not address the car or speed culture that obtains among male drivers, in particular. During the debate on the Road Traffic Act 2011 I suggested the Minister consider the idea of empowering judges to restrict offenders — repeat offenders in particular — to cars with small engines to prevent them from returning the next day to their high powered vehicles, on which they have often spent much money and to which they are very attached, to resume their activities. Such a measure which could put a young driver out of his or her normal car while at the same time not restricting him or her from driving altogether would constitute a far bigger disincentive than would a fine of €250 or €400. Moreover, a person would not be put off the road entirely or refused the right to drive, which would be particularly useful in a rural context. However, were someone who was used to buzzing around in a souped-up car with a 2.5 litre engine restricted to a 1 litre Micra or Punto, they certainly would not feel so powerful while nipping around the local town or pulling stunts. However nice a car a Micra may be, being faced with the prospect of driving around in one for four or five years might put manners on people in a way that a rap on the knuckles and a scolding by a judge certainly never would. I ask the Minister to consider this proposal. The proposed restriction of engine size has been discussed previously, but whatever measure is put in place, it certainly would enhance the available penalties and could have a real impact on the culture that obtains among younger drivers, in particular.

The Minister should consider another matter related to road safety, namely, the current national car testing set-up. The recent National Car Test report showed nationwide failure rates of just under 50%, while the failure rate in County Donegal was 48%. This can be compared with a failure rate in Northern Ireland under the MOT car testing system of 22%. In other words, our failure rate is more than twice that of the MOT system, even though the same machines are being used in both jurisdictions and even though the rationale for both tests is the same, to ensure vehicles are roadworthy and safe both for their drivers and others on the road and that no one is able to go out recklessly in a vehicle that is not safe, thereby putting himself or herself and other road users in danger.

Northern Ireland has a strong track record in testing as its MOT predates ours by many years — we only introduced ours in recent years. We have a failure rate of more than twice that for Northern Ireland. Almost one in every two cars presenting for a test needs to return for a recheck on another day. For many this necessitates half a day off work, leading to costs in lost wages and re-test fees. Will the Minister have his officials conduct an assessment of why that is the case? They should consider the requirements in Northern Ireland for the MOT and the basis on which cars there are failed. They should then investigate why almost half of cars here in the Republic are failing. There are some simple differences, including the emissions test which is done differently here.

There are other issues. For example a car presenting with hub-caps on its wheels can lead to a fail in the NCT, which is not sensible. This is a matter that needs the Minister's attention. He should ask his officials to carry out an assessment and provide a report on ways in which we may be able to reduce the NCT failure rate without compromising car and road safety, which are paramount. I am sure there are ways in which we could amend it allowing people to be less discommoded by retests while retaining the same level of safety. In my county, Donegal, 30,782 NCTs were conducted last year, with approximately 16,000 passes and 15,000 failures. Some 15,000 people in one county having to return on a second occasion for a re-test is a very large number. If it was investigated properly, I believe we would find it is not really necessary.

Deputy Coffey from Waterford remarked on driver fatigue, which is as big an issue if not a bigger issue than alcohol in deaths and injuries on the roads. There have been some very effective awareness campaigns recently. However, the issue is not as apparent and is not taken as seriously as it should be by road users. Many of us have a very blasé view of driving when tired. People are not making sufficient effort in advance to ensure they do not end up driving a vehicle at a time when they are suffering from fatigue. We have reached the stage that more of us would know of someone involved in a car accident as a result of fatigue than as a result of alcohol. We need to put the same effort into addressing that as we have in trying to reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents. Obviously it is a much more difficult matter to address because it is not possible to measure or test for it. However, we will need to try to encourage people to take responsibility for it. At our level we need to prioritise it as a public policy issue.

Public transport and good roads along with technological safety improvements in cars have played a key part in improving road safety. In the early 1970s there were in excess of 700 road deaths each year and I hope there will be fewer than 200 this year. Improved car technology and improved roads have played a role in that. When considering where fatalities take place, fewer collisions occur on major roads and motorways. The better the road the safer it is to drive on. As someone representing a Donegal constituency in the north west, I take this opportunity to emphasise to the Minister the importance of keeping the A5 Derry to Aughnacloy cross-Border road project on track. The road from Derry to Aughnacloy is exceptionally poor and its improvement is critical to the north west region and will have a direct impact on road safety.

In the area of public transport, I also ask the Minister to look at the Foyle ferry, which provides a service from Magilligan in County Derry to Greencastle in County Donegal. Last weekend the service stopped for the first time in many years. The service has been funded by Limavady Borough Council and Donegal County Council in recent years since the recession kicked in, in order to keep it operational. It is a true example of cross-Border co-operation but both councils are now finding it very difficult to keep it going and the service has shut down. We need to make every effort we can to get it operational again for the spring. I ask the Minister to get involved with his counterpart in Northern Ireland, and working with Limavady Borough Council and Donegal County Council to make the effort to provide a subvention to keep the ferry service going. It carried 160,000 passengers across the Foyle last year.

The 12 full-time and six part-time employees are now out of work and will need to apply for social welfare as they would find it difficult to get employment at the moment. So one way or another there will be a cost to the State as a result of the closure of that ferry. Instead of the cost to the Exchequer coming through social welfare, the Minister should liaise with his counterpart in Northern Ireland and the two local councils to ensure that public funding is provided to keep the ferry going. Keeping 160,000 crossing the Foyle and keeping the ferry service going is of great value to the local economy. It does not make sense to have those people on the dole at what would be a greater cost to the State than the cost of providing the subvention to the ferry service.

I wish the Minister well with the legislation and urge him to keep the pressure on.

I wish to share time with Deputies Hannigan and Seán Kenny.

Besides the N5, I hope the Minister will not let us down on metro north in a few weeks time. Everybody on the north side of Dublin is counting on him to ensure this project is delivered.

Road traffic legislation is clearly very complex. However, there seems to have been an endless need for "tidying up" legislation, as the Minister has noted, in the aftermath of last year's supposedly landmark Road Traffic Act 2010 which introduced the primary legislative changes for mandatory alcohol testing and the lowering of the drink-drive limit. It is incredible that this is the second amending Bill that has been necessary to address the profound flaws in the 2010 Act introduced by the former Minister for Transport, Mr. Dempsey. In effect, two absolutely critical aspects of the 2010 Act — the lower drink drive limit and mandatory testing — could not be introduced without this extra legislation. The earlier 2011 amending Act, introduced a few months ago, dealt primarily with aspects of the mandatory testing regime and the No. 2 Bill before us relates to some of the drink-driving provisions. It is astonishing to learn from the Minister's helpful note that we will need a further road traffic No. 3 Bill that is intended to cover among other reforms another amendment of the 2010 Act in respect of impairment testing and unconscious drivers. Why did the Minister not address that matter or the graduated driver licensing system, which has been discussed for years, in this Bill or the previous one?

The short Bill before us sets out a serious of amendments in sections 2 to 9 that clarify and tighten road safety measures. Sections 7 and 8 relate to the obligations of drivers to provide a preliminary breath specimen and a blood or urine specimen in hospital.

Colleagues from the last Dáil will remember the legislative agonies that we went through with the Road Traffic Act 2010. I remember the then Minister, former Deputy Noel Dempsey, sending various irate Fianna Fáil Deputies to meet me about that Act. Genuine concerns were raised by many rural Deputies on the impact of the lower drink driving limit, especially on senior citizens who may live in very isolated parts of the country. I am deeply concerned with the problems faced by rural citizens and that is why I hope that in the comprehensive spending review, the Minister will again ensure our impressive rural transport network will not lose any funding, and that Bus Éireann will not lose any funding. These are additional responsibilities for him in the next few weeks.

The Deputy will have to talk to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform as well.

I am talking to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport today. It is rare that I get a chance to talk to him.

The international evidence that was available on best practice and the drink driving limit was simply overwhelming in support of the reduced 50 milligram limit. This included 2002 research which found the chances of being involved in a collision was 18% higher for drivers with 0.04 grams per decilitre than for a driver who had no drink taken; there was a 38% higher risk at 0.05 g/dl; 63% higher at a 0.06 g/dl reading and 109% higher for a driver with a 0.07 g/dl reading. I note from the Minister's helpful briefing notes the list of distinguished countries such as Norway, Sweden, Spain, Romania, Portugal, Latvia, Hungary, Greece, Cyprus and the Czech Republic, which have an even lower basic limit than we are finalising today. Unfortunately, the former Minister, Noel Dempsey, moved to reduce the drink driving limit from 80 mg to 50 mg in the 2010 Act, without having ensured that the evidential breath-testing equipment had been recalibrated to facilitate the new lower limit. This has meant that it is only now that the lower limit can come into force.

Can the Minister confirm that the new 50 mg limit will apply from the October bank holiday weekend? I understand the new machines are currently being tested by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety. Has the testing and Garda training programme finished and are all the machines ready to go? How many new machines have been purchased and are being tested by the MBRS? There have been some suggestions that the MBRS will not have enough breathalysers in place to facilitate the lower drink driving limit from the October bank holiday weekend. Can the Minister tell us the total cost of introducing the recalibrated machines?

Ms Susan Gray and her PARC — Promoting Awareness, Responsibility and Care on our roads — colleagues have consistently complained that when a breathalyser is sent for analysis to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety regarding a particular case, the machine is out of action for weeks on end. There are about 1,000 breathalysers currently in use in the country, but there is never anything like that number actually available to An Garda Síochána at any given time. PARC has also long campaigned against the practice of having a standard deduction of around 17.5% from the actual recorded breath-alcohol reading, and this was also starkly highlighted in the recent RTE programme "Traffic Blues", which followed the work of the Garda traffic corps in a number of different counties. Road safety campaigners contend that the 17.5% inbuilt deduction means that the evidential reading used in court could be 20%-25% lower than the actual BAC at the time of testing. Is the Minister going to address this in the No. 3 Bill?

The Minister is by now well aware of the Trojan work carried out by the Inishowen-based national road safety group PARC, led by Ms. Susan Gray, Ms. Donna Price and Ms. Ann Fogarty. I again pay tribute to these great women, especially for their work in liaising with recent transport Ministers and the members of the transport committees of the last and the current Dáil.

Sections 7 and 8 of the No. 2 Bill deal with aspects of the provision of a preliminary breath specimen by a driver and subsequent obligations on the provision of a urine or blood sample in a hospital by a driver who has been involved in a serious collision. PARC remains particularly concerned about this issue, given the research it cites by the HSE public health medicine specialist, Dr. Declan Bedford, that only 8% of surviving drivers involved in fatal road crashes in Ireland are tested for alcohol. Ms Gray, Ms Price and Ms Fogarty and their colleagues note that "Our loved ones were tested under coroner's law at autopsy. However, in nine out of ten cases, the surviving driver, who may well have caused their death or catastrophic life-altering injury, avoided testing. The legislation has let our families down."

I understand that PARC sent the Minister and the current transport committee a briefing document relating to the system in Northern Ireland, which seems to close any potential loophole on consent of the surviving driver, especially if he or she is in a fragile condition. I am informed that the PSNI can "retain specimens of blood taken from an unconscious driver until the person has regained consciousness. The driver is then asked to consent to the analysis of the specimen. If they refuse, it is an offence."The Irish Times reports today that this loophole cannot be closed in this Bill as primary legislation is necessary, so I presume the Minister will address that in a No.3 Bill, but why did he not do it today? I note that Northern Ireland has had this system since 2002.

I also hope the Minister will examine some of the ongoing problems with drug driving on our roads. We discussed the Australian system before, so why can we not have that? Viewers of RTE's "Traffic Blues" will be vividly aware of the problems that gardaí can face in accessing intoxilyser machines. If a motorist fails a roadside breath test here, the garda must find a station that has a working intoxilyser machine to get a definite reading on the motorist's blood alcohol limit. Viewers will have seen numerous incidents in the programmewhere gardaí where left traipsing from one station to another trying to get their hands on a machine. I understand that traffic police in the UK have mobile intoxilyser machines to breathalyse motorists who are suspected of being over the limit as soon as they are pulled over. As a result of today's Bill, will we now see mobile intoxilyser machines which would greatly facilitate the work of the traffic corps?

I welcome this Bill and any further legislative measures that will enhance road safety. I also commend the director of the Road Safety Authority, Mr. Noel Brett for his outstanding leadership, and its chairperson, Mr. Gay Byrne. We have made major advances over the past decade, with a 48% drop in road fatalities between 2008 and 2010. However, 142 people have been tragically killed so far on our roads this year.

Recent research by Dr. Sheridan and his colleagues at the department of public health of the HSE Dublin north-east region reports that serious injuries on the roads are significantly underestimated in the RSA figures. The Sheridan research records that there are actually five times the number of serious injuries caused by road collisions at 14,861, rather than the 4,263 recorded in the RSA statistics. Astonishingly, the Sheridan study indicates that this is still probably an underestimate, as data from accident and emergency units, GPs and private hospitals are not included. I remember discussing with the Fine Gael transport spokesperson in the last Dáil whether we should introduce a system where a full investigative report on each road collision is produced similar to those of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board. A first step could be to reform the CT68 form used by the Garda. When compared with the PSNI's document of investigation, it seems to be a much more complicated and less informative document.

The 142 deaths so far on the roads in 2011 is still 142 tragedies too many. The figures are mind blowing across the EU. Over 35,000 people die in road accidents each year in the EU, which is a catastrophe. I asked former Deputy Noel Dempsey, both when he was Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and when he was Minister for Transport, if he would look at car technology and look to the major car manufacturers. Why do all cars not have Alcolocks? These allow drivers to know whether they are over the limit. Why do all cars not have potential speed limiters, so when younger people from Donegal or Dublin North-East are using cars, the speed can be limited? The technology is there, so why is it not being used?

I warmly welcome this Bill and I hope it will bring us closer to the situation where drink driving is regarded as totally shameful, socially unacceptable and something that becomes a rare and serious criminal event.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. Over the last 11 years, the country has seen a significant improvement in road safety. There are several reasons for this development. First, our road transport network has dramatically improved and new motorways and bypasses have significantly improved our accident rates. Second, this Government and the previous Administration have taken concerted action by introducing new legislation and seeking to change the national driving culture.

As the only engineer in the village that is the Dáil, I am particularly proud of the role civil engineers and transport planners played in improving the road infrastructure in recent decades. I will meet representatives of Engineers Ireland, of which I am a member, later today to discuss the role engineers can play in further improving transport infrastructure. Despite an increase in traffic volumes in recent years, the number of road traffic accidents has decreased. While transport infrastructure has been a key factor in this reduction, government has also played its part. Credit should be given where credit is due and the previous Government was not slow to act on road safety. It introduced penalty points for traffic violations and mandatory roadside alcohol testing checkpoints. The establishment of the Road Safety Authority in 2006 led to a co-ordinated campaign across the country to promote safe driving. Last year's Road Traffic Act provided for lowering of the drink driving limit from 0.08 mg to 0.05 mg and introduced a 0.02 mg limit for learner drivers. Like Deputy McConalogue, I congratulate the previous Minister, Mr. Noel Dempsey, on the work he did and commend him on sticking with the legislation. While some would argue this was a long time coming, the Minister was under pressure, as all of us would acknowledge, and stuck with the job by having the legislation passed. In the process, he did his country some service.

The reduction in the drink driving limit will have a considerable impact on road safety. Statistics show alcohol is a contributory factor in one in three fatal road accidents. The attitude of Irish people to drink is also maturing considerably, with 90% now of the view that drink driving is shameful. The shame associated with being caught drink driving helped make last year one of the safest years on record on our roads. In 2010, 212 fatalities were recorded which translates into lives having been saved in every county. In County Meath, we had six tragic deaths on the roads in 2010 compared to 30 road traffic fatalities in 2005. This improvement has been achieved through better transport infrastructure, tougher Garda interventions and, perhaps most important, communities in the county working together to reduce the number of deaths on the roads. Meath County Council has also been very active on road safety. In 2007, it hired an official with specific responsibility for road safety and developed a three year plan to address the issue, which included visits to schools, education of children, the provision of high visibility jackets and reflective armbands and cycling training. These activities have helped to ensure road safety has improved and the county council is progressing its 2010 to 2012 road safety plan.

Improvements can also be made at national level. On infrastructure, for example, some have argued that the Minister should prioritise certain public transport schemes. We must be acutely aware that limited funding is available and ensure that any new transport scheme delivers in terms of a cost-benefit analysis. I will cite one local example, namely, the proposed Slane bypass, which will provide better access to the north west for the constituents of Deputies McHugh and McConalogue. The bypass will improve road safety and has a cost-benefit ratio of 3:1 compared to some public transport schemes which have cost-benefit ratios of perhaps 1:1 when realistic calculations are made. While I recognise that the Minister has a difficult role in allocating scarce funds for transport infrastructure, he should bear in mind that Deputies from across the House are realistic about the limitations he faces and they are keen to ensure any investment delivers value for money. We will stand alongside the Minister when he makes his decision.

Better road signage is required to ensure people know where they are going, particularly those who may not be familiar with their surroundings. Action is also required on speed limits. In recent years, the speed limit had been reduced to 60 kph on some national routes which were designed for speeds of up to 100 kph and on which it was safe to travel at that speed. I ask the Minister to commission an audit on all national routes on which the speed limit has been reduced by 30% over the past five years. The audit should address the reasons for the reduction and include an analysis of the purported benefits of the reduction. The decision to reduce speed limits has been counterproductive in some cases because drivers become angry and impatient with the lower and possibly unnecessary speed limits. Some of the decisions need to be re-evaluated. I am pleased to support the legislation and hope it will result in further reductions in road deaths.

The literature on the effects of alcohol on driving is extensive and consistent. Alcohol in almost any amount impairs driving or driving related skills. Statistics show it plays a contributory role in one in three fatal road accidents and all available evidence from research indicates that reducing the legal limit of blood alcohol concentration, BAC, to 0.05 will reduce the incidence of road collisions and consequently save lives and prevent serious injuries. The lower limit is also consistent with best practice in many European countries. When the relevant sections of the 2010 Road Traffic Act are commenced this month the limits will change the permissible blood alcohol concentration limits by providing for a reduction from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 20 milligrams for learner, novice and professional drivers and a reduction from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 50 milligrams for all other drivers. The equivalent levels in urine and breath testing will also apply.

Drinking and driving is never acceptable. It is particularly abhorrent that some individuals still see fit to get behind the wheel of a car immediately after consuming alcohol. A constituent in Raheny brought to my attention a recent encounter she had with a person who was clearly drunk and unfit to drive. While trying to get into her car the drunk person unknowingly slammed her car door against the car of my constituent twice before driving off in a highly erratic manner. Needless to say the Garda was immediately called by my constituent and it responded immediately.

People who are considering whether to drive on the morning after the night before must be careful to the point of not driving. If a person has a hangover, the chances are that he or she is not fit to drive and should either arrange a lift or use public transport. If these options are not available, I recommend that such persons stay at home as it is better to postpone an appointment or be late for work than to get behind the wheel of a car and risk one's own life and the lives of others. While this course of action may be inconvenient, it is better to be safe than sorry. The best solution for all drivers is that they refrain from drinking alcohol if they will need to drive either soon after taking alcohol, several hours later or on the morning thereafter.

The practice of consuming large amounts of alcohol is ingrained in Irish society and is a facet of our culture that needs to be changed. It is not the done thing in other cultures to "go out on the tear" or "get locked" or whatever other term is applied to heavy drinking. The practice elsewhere is to have no more than a couple of glasses of beer or wine. In the past, it was practically a requirement in our culture to drink alcohol and it was considered that there was something amiss with those who chose not to do so. It is perfectly acceptable nowadays on social occasions to remain alcohol free or to tell friends that because one must drive a vehicle in the near future. It is not acceptable to pressure someone into having just one or to join in with the gang. If a person chooses not to drink, that should be the end of the matter.

A dramatic change in attitudes in the past decade is very much to be welcomed. A recent AA survey found that 87% of motorists consider drink driving to be shameful. We still have some distance to travel to reach the remaining 13%. I welcome the legislation and hope it achieves that objective.

I understand the next speaker is Deputy Healy.

I believe the Deputy on the opposite side wishes to speak.

On a point of order, if Deputy Healy is happy to speak during the afternoon——

If that is the case, it is fine. I call Deputy Dowds, to be followed by Deputy Timmins.

I give my broad support to the Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill. Clearly, it is very important to support a measure that will help to reduce the number of fatalities on Irish roads and bring other improvements.

There are very few ways in which I am happy with the actions of the previous Government but it deserves some credit for the fact that there has been a 48% decline in the number of road deaths between 2001 and 2010, although, at 212 last year, that is still 212 too many. The extent of the anguish, pain and heartbreak for families is difficult to appreciate and the effects last for years. I looked at a report recently from Australia which indicated that going from a level of 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood to 50 mg led to significant reductions in fatal accidents in that country, ranging from 18% in Queensland to 8% in New South Wales. For that reason it is essential to support this proposal.

I support the 20 mg per 100 ml level for learner drivers but I ask the Minister to examine that limit in regard to professional drivers. The same limits should apply to professional drivers as apply to drivers in general. If it is safe for a non-professional driver to have 50 mg in his or her blood, the same should be the case where professional drivers are concerned. If the Minister ends by disagreeing with me on this point, I ask that he goes for a consistent position, even if it means having a general 20 mg limit.

I support this legislation as it relates to dangerously defective vehicles. I sound a note of caution because I am conscious that people who drive defective vehicles often do so owing to poverty. For that reason it is important to keep the costs for such drivers as low as possible, especially if they live in rural areas. Specifically, it is important that the price of the national car test, NCT, be kept as low as possible. It would be helpful if NCT centres brought people back only if something requires to be fixed which would have a definite impact on road safety. Sometimes cars can be brought back for trivial points that do not have such an impact. I fully support the NCT in insisting that a vehicle returns if the matter concerns road safety.

For this legislation to work it is important that two actions are taken. The first is obvious to everyone, namely, Garda enforcement. If that is not done regularly, especially at the beginning, people will take chances and the value and effectiveness of the legislation will be undermined. The second is also important. If the acceptable blood-alcohol limit is to be no more than 50 mg per 100 ml of blood it is vital that people are educated about how much they can safely drink.

I thought I had ten minutes.

I apologise. The Deputy has one minute left.

On that point, it is important there should be advertisements indicating that if a person drinks a pint, it is not safe to drive for an hour, or whatever the appropriate length of time may be. It is really important that an education package should come after the introduction of the legislation in order that people can know how long they need to wait after having a social drink.

We need to think carefully in terms of how we are to organise society given the rightful introduction of legislation such as this. The more people can avail of local pubs that are within walking distance, the better. In cities, therefore, we need to get away from the very large pubs to which people must drive and try to return to a situation where people can walk five or ten minutes to a pub near them. In rural areas, publicans should be encouraged to organise minibuses to bring people out. Drink should not always be involved in social occasions but sometimes it is, and it is important that people can get to their destinations safely.

It is good to see the number of deaths reduced. This has happened for a myriad of reasons — improved roads, vehicle safety and lower volumes of traffic. It is difficult to oppose a reduction in the alcohol level but, as a broad generalisation, I have concerns about legislation that can make life more difficult for the citizen and society. I take Deputy Dowds's point about walking to pubs. Many people are killed walking home from pubs because they are intoxicated, but if they drove home with a small amount of alcohol in their blood they might be safer. I do not mean to be flippant on the matter but are we talking about introducing legislation to prevent people walking if their alcohol intake is over a certain level? Where do we stop? Given that, it is very difficult to go against any measure to reduce alcohol levels but we must be mathematical and analytical rather than populist. Should we make people who go out walking after dusk wear reflective material? I am sure that would assist in reducing the number of deaths. I would like to see statistics on that.

I raise two main interrelated points. Every morning when I wake up I open my curtains. On many mornings when I look across the Slaney valley I see one of the new speed camera vans parked at an entrance to a forest. I am not sure whether this is a blackspot area but to the best of my knowledge the last person killed on that stretch died during the 1800s when a wall fell on him. I have grave concerns about the speed camera approach. I tabled a parliamentary question on this last October but have not yet received any information. I will table a series of questions on the matter today because it is my view that very often speed cameras are located with the intention of obtaining the maximum amount of cash rather than assisting towards road safety. I am not a rebel by nature but when I see the speed camera across the road it makes my blood boil early in the morning. During the week I spoke to a very safe driver who has six penalty points, all accumulated by the person going to Mass early in the morning, not by tearing around the back roads of our country.

Deputy Hannigan mentioned an anomaly which the Minister might address on Committee Stage. If a primary road is bypassed by a motorway its speed limit drops to 80 km/h. There could be stretches of the old N9, for example, which used to be a national primary road, that now have a speed limit of 80 km/h while the N81, an inferior road nearby, has a limit of 100 km/h. My understanding is that the road between the old dual carriageway between Oranmore and Galway should have a limit of 80 km/h unless a derogation has been obtained by the county council. The automatic reduction of a national primary route to an 80 km/h road if it is bypassed by a superior motorway must be addressed. It also gives rise to a great deal of confusion. There is an area outside Carlow on which someone I know got four penalty points in recent weeks, two going in and two coming out, because the road which had a 100 km/h limit now had an 80 km/h limit. There must be cohesion between areas.

The other point I wish to raise with the Minister — I did so last week — is end of route signage. When I leave the airport I see a sign for Westport but for nowhere else. We must examine how we can have hospital signposts and tourist facilities included in road signage.

Regarding old railway bridges and maximum weight, I am concerned there may be an accident at one of them. An audit of these should be carried out.

On clearing roads of snow, I would not like to see the Minister in the Chamber in January or February claiming, as did the previous Government, that he is doing this or that. He should try to have a plan organised beforehand, using local community groups, and put measures in place. I know the Minister likes to spend time late at night looking at statistical information and analysing same. He might analyse a mechanism by which we could evacuate Dublin during bad weather and not have everyone trying to go down the country at the one time between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., coming to roundabouts we cannot get around. There could be a system in place based on one's postal address so that one would leave work between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. or whatever, and in that way we could all get out. During the past two bad occasions I came into Dublin and what I saw coming against me was chaotic. A little bit of forethought and organisation is needed and discipline could assist.

I am not an advocate of burning speed cameras, as has happened on a few occasions, but let us introduce a little bit of pragmatism and reality and allow them do the job they are supposed to do rather than act as a cash cow trying to catch out individuals.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.