I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Bill that I am introducing to the House will establish a legislative framework for commercial vehicle roadworthiness testing, or CVR, in the State. It will see the functions of local authorities on CVR being assumed by the Road Safety Authority, RSA. It will also provide for a change to the administrative arrangements associated with the processing of driver licences and the management of the driving licensing service. Again, this function is transferring from the local authorities and will be centralised with the designation of the RSA as the licensing authority under Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1961. The provisions relating to the two areas will bring about significant and positive changes to the way in which each is operated and managed. That will result in major service improvements for all users. In relation to CVR, the Bill will provide for a new licensing or authorisation system in respect of test centres and authorised testers, as well as greater powers of enforcement through targeted roadside inspections and inspections of commercial operators' premises in respect of vehicle maintenance and roadworthiness.
The administrative change to driver licences will also provide the necessary support for the introduction of a plastic card driving licence in Ireland at the beginning of 2013. The reforms being delivered on foot of the Bill will result in significant savings and a more efficient and focused service to the public. These initiatives are important elements of the Department's action plan under the Croke Park agreement. I commend the leadership and commitment shown by all those involved in delivering the reforms, particularly the local authorities and the RSA. These are challenging times and we must recognise all those who are working to deliver the types of service change that underpin the Bill.
Before I get into the detail of the Bill, I wish to explain the background from which these proposals emerged. A number of years ago the nation's attention was grabbed by the occurrence of a number of high profile collisions involving commercial vehicles, some with tragic consequences. The Kentstown bus crash, when five young school girls lost their lives, shone a light on certain issues, including the condition of commercial vehicles using the roads and that collision, in particular, acted as a trigger for the development of the current CVR reform programme which is based on recommendations that emerged from a comprehensive review undertaken by independent consultants on behalf of the RSA. The review was initiated at the request of the former Minister for Transport, Mr. Noel Dempsey, and the recommendations were subsequently approved by the Department.
The recommendations involved, primarily, two courses of action that would seek to raise the overall standard of commercial vehicle testing across the country on a permanent basis. The first was to undertake a complete overhaul of the CVR testing system. In order to do this successfully, a three-strand approach was recommended that, first and foremost, would address the testing process to ensure roadworthiness tests were conducted impartially and correctly at all times. It was also recommended that this approach would encompass a programme of roadside inspections to ensure continuous compliance with roadworthiness standards and, most importantly, introduce operator premises checks and intelligence led targeting of operators based on risk.
The second course of action was the transfer of responsibility for the management and operation of the commercial vehicle testing system from local authorities to the Road Safety Authority. Currently, commercial vehicles undergo an annual roadworthiness test at authorised testing centres which are privately operated garages and the local authorities authorise and supervise these centres within their areas.
The two elements of the reform are inextricably linked and necessary if we are to meet the overall objective of the transformation programme which will make a step change in the quality of commercial vehicles using Irish roads. In meeting that objective we can also expect to improve road safety, reduce congestion, ensure fair competition, develop a much greater awareness of road safety issues and promote a culture of safety within the transport industry in respect of the use and maintenance of commercial vehicles, including trailers.
Many in the industry have claimed that commercial pressures have led to some operators cutting corners in terms of vehicle maintenance and compliance with required vehicle standards, thus providing such operators with an unfair commercial advantage. This is not hearsay and the claims are supported by RSA-Garda enforcement activity and reports from enforcement authorities in other EU member states on the defects found in Irish commercial vehicles.
A failure to act would perpetuate this problem to the detriment of operators who take a more responsible attitude. In the current economic climate it is even more important to take all necessary steps to ensure the roadworthiness and quality of the national vehicle fleet does not deteriorate further. In fact, allowing vehicle owners and operators to cut corners is both anti-competitive and dangerous.
In terms of safety, an estimated 17.5% of fatalities on Irish roads arose from collisions involving commercial vehicles and an improvement in the roadworthiness of those vehicles will save lives. Such improvements could also result in substantial savings to the State.
While it may seem insensitive to discuss the financial cost of fatalities, it is a reality. For example, in 2010 there were 27,085 collisions on the roads at an estimated cost to the State of €850 million, an astonishing amount. The avoidance of four fatal collisions or 25 serious injury collisions per year, in incidents involving commercial vehicles, would more than cover the operational cost of the reform being proposed. Undoubtedly, it is avoidance of loss and pain for the families involved that will prove to be the ultimate gain.
Another major contribution of this reform is to reduce congestion caused by breakdowns of commercial vehicles. It is estimated that up to 10% of total congestion on primary roads is caused by such incidents. Vehicles not compliant with the roadworthiness testing system are considered to be a significant contributory factor. Based on UK estimates of the economic impact of such incidents, the cost to Ireland would be in the range of €1 billion to €2 billion. It is clear that avoiding even a small number of these incidents, for example, on the M50 or the port tunnel, would have considerable economic benefit.
Other indirect benefits from a reformed system include increased business for the vehicle maintenance and testing industry, increased revenue to the Exchequer from fines for non-compliance and a restoration of and improvement in the reputation of the transport industry. The measures will support compliant operators in their business through more effective enforcement of non-compliance provisions. The measures will also support a system which reduces the administrative burden on operators, including, for example, the need for a visit to a motor tax office to obtain a certificate of roadworthiness and online motor tax for commercial vehicle owners.
Following approval of the proposals, the RSA developed a transformation roadmap which outlined a phased approach to establishing a reform programme for the commercial vehicle roadworthiness testing system. Preparations are well advanced for implementing the many elements of this roadmap and the requisite numbers of staff have been transferred from local authorities.
With the legal support of the provisions in the Bill, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the RSA will proceed immediately to the drafting of the necessary secondary legislation to enable the RSA to take the final steps to put in place the revised structure for CVR. Subject to the appropriate legal provisions being in place, it is envisaged that the testing function will transfer to the RSA by the end of the year. Furthermore, the new system of managing and supervising the performance of test centres to ensure a minimum consistent standard of testing across the country will be in place by the end of the year. The other measures will be in place in the first half of next year.
The other area to which the provisions of the Bill relate is the transfer of the driver licensing function from local authorities to the RSA. The current Irish driver licence system came into being in 1964 and has a number of strands. Local authorities, operating from motor tax offices, are responsible for processing applications and delivering licences; budgetary responsibility for the licence service rests with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has responsibility for policy oversight and the driver licence database which is managed by the National Vehicle Driver File in Shannon. Operational oversight at national level and certain elements of policy guidance rests with the RSA.
The change being undertaken was triggered by the need to introduce the plastic card driving licence to Ireland in 2013. Under EU Licensing Directive 2006/126, all member states are required to introduce a plastic card driver licence in January 2013. The introduction of this new form of licence presented an opportunity to review the licence issuing system as a whole and examine whether greater efficiencies could be achieved by a change of approach. The review, conducted on behalf of the RSA, concluded that, while the existing licensing delivery system had some advantages, the distributed nature of motor tax offices gave rise to variable practices, inefficiencies and an inability to benefit from economies of scale.
For reasons of security, efficiencies and economy of scale, the review suggested the actual plastic card should be produced by an outsourced provider. Apart from other considerations, it would not be economically feasible to site plastic card production facilities at multiple locations.
The main recommendation from the review was that a centralised model for dealing with all aspects of the plastic card driver licence be proceeded with. The advantages flowing from such an approach cover identity features, security, customer service, efficiency and value for money. Having examined the review, the Minister considered various State bodies and concluded that the RSA was best positioned to undertake responsibility for centralised processing and production of driver licences. The authority already holds responsibility for the driver theory test and driver testing. The extension of its functions to include licence processing and production brings a synchronicity to this area and provides the customer with a one-stop-shop approach to driver licensing.
Having set out the context, I will outline the major provisions of the Bill. First, I should clarify that while the Bill vests all of the powers and functions in the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, it is intended to confer these powers on the RSA. This is provided under section 37.
Part 2 of the Bill provides the new legislative framework for CVR testing in the State. This Part of the Bill will cover all aspects of CVR from a regulatory perspective and provides significant powers for various statutory officers to support the reform of the system.
Chapter 1 provides for the making of regulations on commercial vehicle testing and certificates of roadworthiness. It includes relevant offences for using a vehicle without such a certificate and provides that both the person using the vehicle and the owner can be guilty of an offence if they are not the same person.
Under section 7, a member of An Garda Síochána will also have the power to demand a certificate of roadworthiness from the driver or the owner of a vehicle within one month of an occasion where the member has reasonable grounds for believing the CVR vehicle was being used in a public place.
Chapter 2 contains perhaps the most significant provisions in terms of the reform programme. It establishes a new regulatory regime for authorised testers who are responsible for operating the test centres, carrying out the tests and issuing pass statements for CVR vehicles. The Bill provides for replacing the term "authorised tester" with "CVR test operator". The new regime, on commencement of these provisions, will apply to existing authorised testers and the necessary transitional provision for this is provided under section 10. The existing authorised testers will be required to apply for a renewal of their authorisation within 18 months of the commencement of section 10. Any application to become an authorised tester that was being processed but not determined prior to the commencement of the legislation will also be covered by this section.
The Bill sets out the detailed requirements that will be imposed on persons applying to be CVR test operators. The provisions in this chapter will raise and strengthen the required standards necessary for authorisation. Not only will conditions attaching to the authorisation deal with a number of areas, including categories of vehicles to be tested, the type of tests to be carried out and the requirements for testing centres and testers, it will also provide for other criteria against which an application may be considered. These considerations include the need for the competent delivery of commercial vehicle roadworthiness testing, a well functioning, well maintained, accessible, competitive, integrated and safe network of CVR testing centres, and appropriate equipment, facilities and premises for testing.
In addition to the above authorisations, section 17 provides for the authorisation of CVR testers, that is, those persons who physically carry out the tests on vehicles at the test centres. This section provides a transitional provision for testers who are already registered for this purpose and provides that a register of authorised CVR testers may be established and maintained. Similarly, there is a provision under section 29 that the Road Safety Authority shall establish and maintain a register of CVR test operators and that this register will be made available to all, both online and at the headquarters of the authority. All aspects of authorisation in respect of both CVR test operators and CVR testers are overhauled by the Bill, with the new standards to be enforced by provisions to suspend and revoke authorisations when needed. Sections 18 to 22, inclusive, provide for such suspensions and revocations in order that any non-compliance with the standards, conditions or directions prescribed in the legislation will have serious implications for authorised CVR test operators, as well as CVR testers. Provision has also been made for the details of such suspensions or revocations under sections 18 and 19, respectively, to be made available, as appropriate, on the registers of CVR test operators and testers.
The key to raising the national standard of commercial vehicle roadworthiness will be enforcement. The Bill will allow for greater powers of enforcement through targeted roadside inspections and inspections of commercial operators' premises and CVR test centres. These powers are being channelled through various statutory officers, namely, authorised officers, CVR inspectors and members of An Garda Síochána. Sections 24 and 25 provide for the appointment of authorised officers and the powers of these officers in CVR testing. Authorised officers will have the power, subject to section 26, to enter a CVR testing centre or any other premises where he or she believes CVR tests are being carried out and inspect the premises, equipment and facilities, as well as enter and inspect CVR vehicles. The authorised officer will also be able to observe and supervise testing in progress and inspect or remove any documentation related to the maintenance and testing of vehicles. Authorised officers will have the power to issue directions to a CVR test operator where tests are not being carried out as required. Failure to comply with the requirements or directions prescribed will result in an offence being committed by the CVR test operators. The full extent of the authorised officer's remit in CVR testing is clearly set out in section 25.
In Chapter 3, section 31 provides authorised officers with additional powers in respect of CVR maintenance obligations. They will have similar powers to those mentioned, but under this provision, these powers will allow the officer to enter any premises where he or she believes CVR vehicles, or information on CVR vehicles, are being kept. The section provides that an authorised officer can search premises to locate a vehicle and inspect such vehicles or any equipment being used to maintain the CVR vehicles. He or she can also make a requirement of an owner or a person in charge to provide any documentation or information related to the maintenance of the vehicle. The officer may inspect and take extracts or copies of such documentation. These powers are extensive and should provide a very effective means of ensuring compliance with the standard of testing.
Similarly, significant powers have been provided for CVR inspectors in Chapter 4 which deals with roadside inspections. A CVR inspector will be a member of An Garda Síochána or a person appointed as an inspector under section 33. Section 34 sets out the powers of a CVR inspector and provides that where he or she is a member of An Garda Síochána or accompanied by a member of the force, powers are provided to stop a vehicle and keep it stationary for a period that is reasonable for the purposes of carrying out an inspection. Once a vehicle has been stopped by a member of An Garda Síochána, the CVR inspector will also have the powers to require the driver to produce a certificate of roadworthiness, seek information that assists in the inspection and drive a vehicle for a reasonable time and distance. The CVR inspector will also have the power to carry out any tests or make any requirements deemed reasonable by the inspector for the purposes of inspecting the vehicle. The provisions in regard to CVR inspectors go beyond this brief description, but it should give Deputies an indication of the types of powers that will be given to these statutory officers for the purposes of enforcement.
Chapter 6 provides for the conferral of functions related to CVR on the Road Safety Authority which will take responsibility for the oversight, management and direct control of the CVR function and be central to implementing a robust testing regime. The proposed overhaul of the CVR system involves the use of a risk register for systematic targeting of non-compliant operators and test centres, as set out in section 39. Currently, most inspections are carried out on a random basis. This largely random approach leads to compliant operators being inconvenienced as much as non-compliant or higher risk operators. The current approach is also anti-competitive as non-compliant operators are being rewarded with commercial advantage due to incurring fewer maintenance and testing costs. The risk assessment system is intended to be a fair system that is evidence based and which treats each operator consistently based on the information available. Operators who adhere to good practices, hold appropriate records and consistently maintain their vehicles to the required standards will reap the benefits as compliance and enforcement activities are focused to a greater degree on higher risk operators.
There was a good deal of debate in the Seanad about section 39. Risk-based enforcement is consistent with the Government's programme to streamline enforcement activities. Many of the existing regulatory agencies have already undertaken enforcement on a risk basis such as the Foods Standards Authority of Ireland, the Revenue Commissioners and the Environmental Protection Agency. It is vital that available resources are effectively deployed to influence and maximise road safety outcomes. The State cannot afford the resources necessary to control non-compliance by way of traditional deterrent-based enforcement. Such an approach is inefficient and goes against the practice being adopted internationally.
The CVR reform programme includes an integrated information technology system which will assist the Road Safety Authority in ensuring vehicle testing is carried out to a common standard. This system is provided for in section 28. The information and risk rating systems will be central to developing a modern and internationally recognised system of roadworthiness in Ireland. The Bill will underpin everything envisaged and is testament to the work that has been done and will continue to be done by all parties in a very challenging environment.
Chapter 8 deals with miscellaneous amendments to the Road Traffic Acts, some of which arise from the main provisions of the Bill. These are not substantive amendments and are primarily technical in nature. Part 3 deals with the transfer of the licensing function from local authorities to the Road Safety Authority. As I mentioned, we will move to a plastic card licence next year and, as part of a review to determine the best means for introducing this new type of licence, a centralised model in respect of driver licensing provision was recommended. This will be vested in the Road Safety Authority which will become the licensing authority for the purposes of processing, managing and issuing driver licences. Section 49 amends section 4 of the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 to provide the authority with the functions of a licensing authority within the meaning of section 21 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. Sections 50 to 55, inclusive, deal with all necessary amendments to the Road Traffic Acts and the Finance Acts to reflect this change in function.
In summary, the objective of the Bill is, on the one hand, to introduce a reform programme that will improve the roadworthiness and safety of commercial vehicles and, on the other, to provide for the introduction of a plastic card driving licence with more efficient and effective management arrangements. I hope Deputies will support, as always, the development of further road safety legislation. I look forward to hearing their views on the proposals contained in the Bill.