Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2013: Second Stage

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

I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to introduce the Bill. It will build on the record of improvement in safety on our roads over the past decade and introduce measures that will further contribute to road safety in the years to come. We have witnessed a dramatic reduction in the number of deaths from 415 in 2001 to 161 in 2012. This did not happen by chance; it was achieved against a backdrop of increasing numbers of vehicles in the country. We have discussed previously the measures that led to the improvement in road safety statistics in recent years. The establishment of the Road Safety Authority, RSA, the introduction of the fixed charge and penalty points systems, random breath testing for alcohol and lower permissible limits, the enactment of targeted legislation, the establishment of a dedicated Garda traffic corps and the introduction of safety cameras are some of the contributors to the reduction in fatalities and the positive change in driver behaviour.

Crucially, there has been broad all-party support for road safety measures in recent years. That was important and I hope it will continue. The first legislation passed by this Dáil related to road safety. I would like to acknowledge the essential work done by the Garda in enforcing the law on our roads. In addition, we should remember the vital role of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety in the battle against intoxicated driving. Finally, the RSA has played a central role in the many improvements in road safety in the past seven years since its foundation. I would like to acknowledge, in particular, the enormous contribution made by Mr. Noel Brett, the first chief executive officer, who will soon move on from the authority. The RSA has grown in stature and effectiveness under his leadership. The public owe him and the staff of the authority a great debt of gratitude. Few State agencies can measure their success in terms of lives saved and the dramatic decline in road deaths in the past seven years is something in which Mr. Brett and his staff can rightly take pride. The RSA will continue to build in the coming years on the work done under his leadership.

All stakeholders have played a part in bringing the safety message to road users and in stressing, above all, the importance of personal responsibility for drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians who all share our roads. The record low in road fatalities last year of 161 was testament to the work and commitment of a number of individuals and agencies but, most important, it was an indication that the public is heeding the message and amending its habits and behaviour for the good of all. Unfortunately, it looks as though fatalities in 2013 will show an increase on 2012. As of today, 145 people have died on our roads this year. This is 18 higher than at the same date last year. The reasons are not immediately clear. The average monthly death figure has increased to 16, as against 13 in 2012 and statistics show that the increases apply to almost all parts of the country. The two main agencies involved, the RSA and the Garda, meet regularly to discuss the causes of collisions and the steps necessary to address the issues arising. We must all redouble our efforts in this area to try to keep the number of fatalities to the minimum possible for the remainder of this year and to revert to the downward trend of previous years. We must continue to ensure that our cars and vehicles are safe, that road users are educated about how to use our roads safely and, as we move into winter and the days get darker, wetter and icier, that enforcement is stepped up.

The Bill introduces measures that will better prepare learner drivers for dealing with the conditions they will face on our roads and by aiding the Garda in its fight against traffic offences. With a view to building on the success of previous years, I launched, in March of this year, the Road Safety Strategy 2013-2020. The new strategy identifies 144 actions to be implemented by key partners in the eight-year period that will lead to a further significant reduction in fatalities. The strategy also highlights, perhaps for the first time, the need to devote attention to serious injuries caused by traffic collisions. We will not lose our focus on reducing road deaths but we will expand that focus to embrace reductions in serious injuries as well. This is the first road safety strategy to set targets for reducing serious injuries as well as fatalities.

The first step taken on this issue was a conference held in Dublin Castle during the Irish presidency of the EU earlier this year when experts from a number of countries provided insightful input into how the matter of serious injuries should be addressed and why it is important to do so. The main causes of road crashes are excessive and inappropriate speed, intoxication, fatigue and distraction. Initiatives and measures are being taken on an ongoing basis to address all of these. Speed is perhaps the issue that requires greatest attention. I am informed that excessive speed is a factor in the vast majority of road collisions that result in fatalities or serious injuries. As a nation of drivers, we drive too fast and without due care for road or prevailing weather conditions. I established a speed limits review group last year to examine this issue, which comprises representatives of my Department, the RSA, the Garda, the National Roads Authority, the County and City Managers Association, local authorities and the Automobile Association. The group is finalising its report and I expect to publish it in the next few weeks.

Driving under the influence of intoxicants has been a serious problem on our roads for a long time. In recent years, the Oireachtas passed legislation to discourage the consumption of alcohol by drivers. We have reduced blood alcohol concentration levels for all drivers and made mandatory the testing of all drivers involved in collisions where injury has occurred. I am taking a further step in this Bill by providing for the testing for alcohol of drivers left incapacitated or unconscious and removed to hospital following collisions. In recent times, there has been a reduction in the number of drivers detected with alcohol in their systems and while drink driving remains a significant driver behavioural issue, it is timely that we strengthen road traffic legislation in regard to drug driving. Unfortunately, it will not be as straightforward as the approach taken to alcohol detection. Alcohol is a chemical and its presence in the body and levels involved can be measured reliably and scientifically by the devices that have been developed and improved over a number of years. Drugs are not as easily detected and no device can provide evidence of the presence of all drugs.

A number of countries in Europe, including Ireland, are liaising on developments that are taking place in identifying suitable devices. I have asked the Medical Bureau of Road Safety to address this issue as a matter of priority. The focus of the bureau's studies is on oral fluid based roadside screening devices and the implementation group, established under the chairmanship of the bureau, is currently examining the specifications of the required device as part of a future tender process. It is hoped to publish the invitation to tender early next year. In the meantime, while the work of the group is proceeding, I am introducing provisions in this Bill that will assist the Garda in determining if a driver is under the influence of an intoxicant. When I am assured that devices have been developed to permit roadside testing, I will introduce appropriate legislation to allow for their use at that time.

The legislation builds on the work done in recent years and focuses on strengthening the law in three particular areas. These are driver licensing, penalty points, and testing of drivers for intoxication. There are also a number of miscellaneous measures, which I will explain later. The changes proposed in this Bill will contribute to a better quality of driving on our roads and to greater deterrence of intoxicated driving. All the major elements of this Bill have been discussed in advance with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. In the course of drafting, it became clear that it is possible to deal with a number of proposals through secondary legislation which were included in the heads of the Bill that were sent to the committee. These relate to proposals originally made by Deputy Eoghan Murphy in a private members' Bill. Regulations to allow road authorities to provide on-street spaces for car clubs and recharging of electric vehicles have been prepared. In response to input from the joint Oireachtas committee, regulations to prohibit texting with hands-free devices while driving have also been prepared. These are currently being drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and I intend to bring them into force as soon as possible.

In recent weeks, there has been much talk of Dáil reform and the need to include committees and backbenchers in the legislative process in a more meaningful way. This is a debate worth having and many have made valid and interesting contributions to it. Sadly, however, some contributors are not as well informed as they might be and do not seem to have noticed the changes that have already taken place; whether it is requiring the chairpersons of State boards to appear before a committee prior to appointment, Friday sittings to enable backbenchers to have their own legislation discussed or the new practice of sending Bills to committee at heads of Bill stage, the pre-legislative stage, for early input and political-proofing by members. The two statutory instruments I will sign into law in the coming weeks are a direct result and concrete outcome of those Dáil reforms. I am accepting the smarter travel Bill proposed by Deputy Murphy and will enact it through secondary legislation and I am doing the same regarding proposals made by the committee at pre-legislative stage relating to mobile phones. Furthermore, a number of other Members have proposed private members' legislation in the broad area of road safety, including Deputies Dooley, Ellis and Lawlor. In so far as amendments are practical and work within the existing policy framework, I am keen to facilitate them and, therefore, I ask that they advise my office as early as possible of the amendments they are tabling in order that I can provide appropriate assistance with a view to accepting them, if possible. Some might find the legislative work done by Deputies and Senators on their own or in committee to be boring or "not newsworthy" but it is important and the changes being made to the way the Dáil operates are opening up opportunities for them to make law.

I refer to the main provisions of the Bill. Part 2 will make important reforms to driver licensing. Since 2010, Ireland has been committed to introducing a graduated driver licensing system, GDLS. The system is a phased approach to driver learning designed to enhance the learning process and contribute to greater road safety. There is no internationally agreed template for a GDLS. The elements which go into the system vary from country to country depending on what is most appropriate to national circumstances. In Ireland, following an extensive consultation process, the RSA developed nine proposals which form a GDLS appropriate to Irish circumstances and these were published in 2010. The RSA's proposals included mandatory tuition, minimum hours of experience of accompanied driving and a period of restricted driving after passing a driving test.

The RSA decided not to recommend some GDLS elements used in other jurisdictions such as a curfew on learner drivers or restrictions on the number of passengers a learner may carry, as they would not be appropriate in an Irish context, particularly in rural communities. Of the nine GDLS measures, three have now been introduced - compulsory basic training with an approved driving instructor; lower alcohol levels for learners; and the reconfiguration of the driver theory test.

The Bill will introduce three more GDLS measures. Sections 3 and 4 will create a new category of novice driver, defined as a driver in the first two years of holding a full licence, and require the display of an N-plate. A person will be a novice driver only once - if he or she holds a full licence in one category, he or she will not revert to being a novice if he or she later qualifies in any other category. The countdown of the two year novice period will be frozen during any period when the driver is disqualified.

I will also provide in section 8 for learners and novices to have a disqualification threshold under the penalty points system of six points, as opposed to the normal 12 point threshold. Section 5 will allow vehicle insurers access to endorsements on a person's entry in the national vehicle and driver file, subject to certain conditions.

Section 6 provides that people taking the driving test must first complete a minimum amount of accompanied driving. The amount of experience required will be set out in regulations. The intention behind this change is twofold. At an obvious level, it is aimed at ensuring a minimum of experience before drivers take the test. More fundamentally, I also intend to promote a culture change in attitudes towards accompanying drivers. In Ireland we still have a tendency to see the need for learners to be accompanied as something of a nuisance or just a technicality. International experience shows, however, that accompanying drivers can and should play an important role in the learning process. Each of the nine GDLS measures is beneficial on its own. However, the more measures we introduce, the greater the cumulative effect of the whole system in enhancing the driver learning experience and, ultimately, improving safety on the roads.

Part 3 of the Bill deals with penalty points. The system of penalty points was first introduced in the Road Traffic Act 2002. The main goal of the system is not to penalise people but to make them more aware of unsafe driving behaviour and encourage greater caution and awareness in driving. The system is always open to change: times and practices change and what might have been a serious problem at one time might not be as great an issue at another. Equally, new problems might arise. For example, few could have realised 20 years ago the issues that might arise from people using mobile phones while driving. The year 2012 marked the tenth anniversary of the penalty points system. While there have been additions and changes to the system over the decade, I decided that this milestone provided an appropriate point at which to conduct a comprehensive review of the entire system and identify any change necessary.

The review of the penalty points system which my Department conducted made recommendations for the introduction of new penalty point offences and changes to the number of penalty points to be applied to certain road traffic offences. When it was completed, I forwarded the review to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications for consideration. As part of its deliberations, the committee met the Road Safety Authority, AA Ireland and the Irish Insurance Federation. I received the views of the committee on 28 September 2012. I am pleased to say the committee was broadly supportive of the changes proposed in the review. We are all agreed on the great importance of reducing the number of road traffic cases that come before the courts. At the same time the committee made a number of very helpful suggestions which have fed into the preparation of the Bill.

The committee also made some very useful recommendations not directly related to the current Bill. For example, it recommended a general review of speed limits which, as I mentioned, is under way. A further suggestion was to provide for routine examination of mobile phone records of drivers involved in serious road traffic collisions. I discussed the matter with An Garda Síochána which has informed me that it does, in fact, have the necessary powers already. The powers in question come from wider justice legislation, rather than road traffic legislation.

In finalising my proposals for changes to the penalty points regime I considered carefully the recommendations contained in the review and the views expressed by the joint committee. I was also conscious of the GDLS proposals to reduce the penalty point threshold for disqualification from driving for learner and novice drivers and the need to keep the path open to harmonising practices here and in Northern Ireland, with a view to mutually recognising penalty points North and South at a later stage. The penalty points proposals in the Bill, therefore, represent the product of a considerable amount of examination and consideration of the issues and input on the part of a wide variety of people and organisations.

Section 7 will repeal section 53 of the Road Traffic Act 2010. That section was designed to introduce a process for recording and accumulating penalty points where an individual was not a licence holder, or where a licence record could not be identified or where the driver held a foreign driving licence. The need for such a provision arose from the Department's national vehicle and driver file having a significant number of such records. In many instances, there was a high confidence in the ability to match such points with known driver records and facilitate the accumulation of points. However, it was also recognised that the Department required additional legal power to carry out this work and, accordingly, the provisions of section 53 were included in the 2010 Road Traffic Act. Subsequently and following receipt of legal advice, it became clear that these provisions were not sufficiently robust to permit such matching. I, therefore, intend to repeal section 53 and replace it with a revised procedure. A number of minor matters also addressed in section 53 will be restated in the Bill.

Section 8 which provides for the new penalty point disqualification threshold for learner and novice drivers also provides for the definition of endorsement of penalty points in cases where a second record relating to the same individual is identified or created.

The principal purpose of Part 3 is to amend the penalty points regime in the light of the Department's review. This involves a significant amount of detail which will be examined further on Committee Stage. At this point, however, I shall give an overview. The changes proposed involve: 11 new penalty point offences; the introduction of the option of paying a fixed charge and receiving lower penalty points rather than going to court for three offences, including driving without an NCT certificate; increases in penalty points on payment of a fixed charge in respect of 17 offences; and increases in penalty points on conviction in respect of 15 offences. The offences where penalty points are being increased include speeding, driving while holding a mobile phone, dangerous overtaking and failure to obey traffic. New penalty point offences include non-display of an L or N-plate, contravention of rules on mini-roundabouts and a failure to respect a Stop sign.

Intoxicated driving issues are addressed in Part 4 of the Bill. In section 11 I will provide for intoxication impairment testing which involves non-technological cognitive tests such as walking in a straight line or touching one's nose. It was originally provided for in legislation in 2010 which has not been commenced. The 2010 provisions are already obsolete. The new provisions which will replace them will allow a member of the Garda Síochána to require a person to undergo such tests, with the details of the tests to be prescribed in regulations. The results of the tests may be used in support of the Garda forming an opinion that the person is intoxicated and will be admissible as evidence in court. The Garda has already received instruction from the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, MBRS, on the operation of impairment testing.

Section 12 will allow a specimen of blood to be taken from an incapacitated driver following a road traffic collision, subject to medical consent. The testing of drivers for intoxication, whether through alcohol or other substances, is an essential part of ensuring safety on the roads. It is our policy that all drivers should be tested for alcohol and drugs following serious collisions. The law, as it stands, leaves a gap - drivers must give consent to provide a blood or urine sample and so drivers who are unconscious or otherwise incapacitated cannot be tested. The current Bill will close that loophole. In developing the proposed new system for testing incapacitated drivers my Department held extensive discussions with An Garda Síochána, the MBRS, the Irish Medical Organisation, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association and the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine. This involved a considerable amount of work in order to devise a procedure which would be both practicable and legally permissible. Under the proposed procedure, a specimen of blood can be taken from an incapacitated driver but only in a hospital and only subject to medical consent. Where a specimen is taken, it will be split in two and both parts forwarded to the MBRS. The existing procedure, with conscious drivers, is that the specimen is split into two parts and one is offered to the driver. I understand it is common for drivers to refuse, in which case both parts are sent to the MBRS. The MBRS will conduct the necessary analysis of a specimen from an incapacitated driver in exactly the same way as a specimen is treated under the current system. This involves tests to determine the presence and concentration of alcohol or the presence of a drug or drugs in the specimen. The result will be retained on file by the MBRS until the driver regains capacity. If and when the driver regains capacity, he or she will be asked to consent to the use of the test result in evidence. Refusal will constitute an offence equivalent to that of a driver with capacity refusing to provide a specimen. If the driver gives permission for the use of the test result in evidence, the MBRS will issue a completed certificate of analysis and offer the second part of the sample to the driver. The taking of a specimen from an incapacitated driver could be a basis for future prosecution of the driver, if he or she were found to be intoxicated. Equally, it could provide exonerating evidence, if he or she were proved not to be intoxicated. The public good, as well as the justice system, will be served by closing this loophole. I have included several consequential amendments which follow from the testing of intoxicated drivers.

In Part 5 of the Bill I address a range of other road traffic issues.

Fianna Fáil broadly welcomes the Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill and will support its provisions. It will also bring forward amendments to strengthen road traffic legislation even further. Our amendments would crack down on hit and run drivers by introducing tougher penalties and extending the powers of arrest of gardaí. I will outline these provisions on Committee Stage. They will be in line with a Bill that I published previously and which the Minister mentioned in his opening remarks. I will happily engage with some officials in his Department at the earliest possible opportunity to try to ensure we do not go through a period of rejection rather than acceptance of the provisions. Like the Minister, I agree fully with the principle that road traffic safety is not the preserve of any one Government or party. In the past ten years this has probably been one of the areas on which all sides of the House have been able to co-operate in a manner beneficial to the country. This approach saved lives and prevented critical injury on the roads.

We can be proud of the dramatic reduction in the numbers of road deaths in the past seven years. From 2001 to 2011 the then Government introduced a road traffic policy and massively expanded the motorway network. That was supported by the main parties in opposition at the time and largely welcomed. It resulted in an almost 50% reduction in the number of deaths on the roads and this achievement was hard won by investing in first-class roads, increasing enforcement efforts and establishing the Road Safety Authority, to which the Minister gave due recognition. The past seven years have seen a continuous and sustained reduction in the numbers of deaths on the roads. The figures for the past five years point to record low fatality numbers. Ireland is now the sixth safest country in Europe in terms of road safety. That is welcome, but it is not enough and I know the Minister agrees. We must continue to update our legislative framework to ensure we continue to make significant achievements. There is still much more work to do. In 2012 there were 162 fatalities, as the Minister said. This was 162 too many. The outgoing chief executive of the Road Safety Authority, Mr. Noel Brett, stated these were not accidents and that each death could have been prevented. He was right. We need to work harder to prevent fatalities.

I recognise the tremendous work of Mr. Brett. He was a shining example of a public servant who put his job ahead of his personality. He appeared regularly before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, of which I have been a member for seven or eight years. He had a no-nonsense approach and his challenge to Governments, regardless of hue, was inspirational and a breath of fresh air. The way in which he took on his job, advised the Government and worked in the authority played a very significant part in reaching the kinds of targets we have reached. It is often the case that public servants are subjected to the wrath of certain sections of the media and the public. Mr. Brett, however, is a shining example of somebody who did a fantastic job without fear and who did not seek favour in return. He is a significant loss to the State sector.

We should not forget that there were 485 people seriously injured in traffic accidents last year. These accidents often left people with life-shattering illnesses and injuries that had a devastating impact on them, their families, wider communities and workplaces. A reduction in the number of collisions, in addition to a reduction in the number of fatalities, must be pursued. This will be brought about only by ensuring resources are in place to enforce the current rules of the road. Roads that are not of a high standard but which have a high volume of traffic must be upgraded continually. I am not suggesting this is necessarily easy in the current climate. It is a challenge for the Minister to ensure he has the appropriate budget to continue with the care and maintenance of the road network. There always was and will continue to be a stream of funding required to remove accident black spots. The placement of speed cameras is an important part of the strategy.

There has recently been growing concern in the Road Safety Authority that the Government is wavering in its commitment to road safety. I am not concerned about the Minister and compliment him on the continuation of the bipartisan approach and bringing forward a range of measures. Fianna Fail is seriously concerned, however, that road safety is not a priority of the Government. It is not just our concern. In August the chairman of the Road Safety Authority, Mr. Gay Byrne, stated the Government, particularly the Minister for Justice and Equality, whom he singled out for particular criticism, had about as much interest in road safety as he had in snipe shooting. These words are quite telling. I read in my research that Mr. Byrne had recognised the Minister's considerable interest in road safety. He received particular support from Mr. Byrne. That is welcome from the Minister's perspective, but the challenge is trying to ensure the Department of Justice and Equality will play its part in providing the appropriate funding for An Garda Síochána to ensure an appropriate enforcement regime is in place that will ensure the legislation enacted in this House acts as a deterrent and ultimately saves lives. Many of the dramatic improvements in road safety in recent years will be set at naught or reversed unless we ensure there is no slippage in the area of enforcement.

The context of the comments made by the chairman of the Road Safety Authority is central to understanding the difficulties present as a result of Government policy in this area. Mr. Byrne was speaking in the wake of the resignation of the former chief executive of the authority, Mr. Brett, who had left the authority to take up a role with the Irish Banking Federation. While Mr. Brett did not want to be drawn on the reasons for his departure, he did say he was looking forward to getting away from some of the frustrations, as he put it, within the public sector. He singled out employment control as one of the frustrations. I do not want to second-guess the areas about which Mr. Brett was talking but must state he alluded, both at committee meetings and in other fora, to the necessity of maintaining a rigorous approach to enforcement. I can only assume that when he was talking about employment controls, he was talking about the continued reduction in Garda numbers that had been countenanced and put into effect by the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an mBille seo. I welcome this Bill as it clearly intends to deal in new ways with the issue of road safety, a very important matter to many people on this island. Due to the small close-knit nature of our country, there are few people who have not lost someone on our roads or know someone who has.

I will make much use of the word “responsibility”. It is crucial to how we look at road use. To get into a car and sit behind the wheel is to take on a responsibility. Cars have the potential to be fantastic, individually liberating machines but they also have the potential to be very dangerous under the control or lack of control of an irresponsible person who drives intoxicated, drives too fast or does not obey the rules of the road or take note of fellow road users or pedestrians. The law should protect the responsible from the irresponsible and punish those who take no care for the life and safety of others. It also must engender responsibility in those who seek to use the roads.

There are inherent dangers in operating a motor vehicle on a public road. It will never, save for a massive leap in technology, be a completely safe endeavour. While one death or injury will always be too much, especially for family and friends, years of dedication to tackling road safety by successive Governments, local authorities, the Road Safety Authority, media outlets, community groups and, of course, the Garda has led to a dramatic drop. The well-used term "carnage on our roads" is in this era leaning towards hyperbole. We should be glad of this. It is to our credit as a society, but we should not rest on our laurels.

The operation of a vehicle on public roads is a serious undertaking which should be done responsibly and should only be open to those who treat it as such. This is where the Government’s role is most crucial in ensuring those who should not be on the road are not, those who need to be more responsible are corrected, those guilty of irresponsibility are reprimanded and those who seek to use the roads are suitably trained and monitored in their progress to fully fledged and certified drivers. Any further changes that can be made which would improve safety, while not negatively affecting the public's ability to get from A to B responsibly, are welcome.

The introduction of an N-plate is a good step. Reports from the use of this system, known as graduated driver licensing, are positive, showing improvements in driver skill and a reduction in road fatalities. The system means that a new driver will for two years after successful completion of his or her driving test have to display a N-plate or tabard similar to the one displayed during the learning period, with “N” standing for novice. Novice drivers will be under closer scrutiny and will have fewer opportunities to make mistakes and carry on driving than other drivers. This probationary period means that new drivers will have to remember their lessons and the formal rules of the road much better for a longer time, allowing them to become better drivers and giving time for proper road use to be fully ingrained in how they behave. This system will clearly weed out drivers who are not yet suitable while providing encouragement to newly licensed drivers to continue to improve and not to think that, now that they are fully licensed, they can drive with reckless abandon.

I have concerns about plans in the future for a requirement that applicants for a driving test must have a certain amount of accompanied driving experience that can be certified. Proper professional training for something as serious as road use is essential and I am happy that future drivers will have this. However, it presents a financial barrier to many in a time of great difficulty. Being able to drive is not only a skill that opens up a number of careers; it is also a skill that allows people to access employment in different geographical locations and to widen their search for employment. If someone who is currently unemployed wanted to learn how to drive, the expense of paying for lessons could easily be out of their reach. I am aware of individual cases in which people on social welfare were supported in getting driving lessons, but some formal entitlement to those who would benefit from these skills should be part of the social welfare training programme. Will the Minister consider this and raise it with the Minister for Social Protection?

This point is also relevant to young people, especially from communities with long-running problems with joblessness and educational disadvantage. Schools should be equipped to provide some driving-skills training and young adults who would be disadvantaged by the cost of meeting new licensing requirements should be accommodated. If a young man or woman wants to access employment but cannot because he or she cannot afford to get the skills necessary, then the blame falls at the door of the Government, which has a responsibility to ensure access to training needed by the public for economic prosperity.

I support the use of stiffer penalty points for some offences. Road use is a serious business and those who cannot behave with the responsibility required for safe road use should not be tolerated, whether that means the corrective influence of points, fines or suspension, or the last resort of disqualification.

I propose to share time with Deputy Mattie McGrath.

As the other Deputies have said, road safety is an enormously important issue. The purpose is clearly to set up a system under which we can reduce fatalities as much as possible, and there are many different cogs in the wheel. The system must be absolutely transparent, and it feeds into many aspects other Deputies have touched on. I will not repeat points but I will deal with some of the issues the Minister is attempting to address.

The issue of young drivers needs careful attention. In many ways, like the benefits that accrue to young people who engage in sporting activities, I am all in favour of young people having a car because it can teach them to be more responsible and careful if it is done properly. Experience in other countries shows that part of that education should be provided through the school curriculum. While I appreciate the Minister's intention in introducing a requirement for people to acquire a minimum amount of logged accompanied driving experience, that means extra cost. It would have a far greater impact if road safety were taught in schools, and if a certain amount of driving experience were included in the school curriculum it could help people to be more responsible.

Regarding intoxicated drivers and the changes in the testing regime that the Minister proposes, I have sympathy with a number of Deputy Ellis's points. When we get into the realm of non-technological, cognitive tests we must rely on the evidence of maybe one or two gardaí against the witness. Where is the corroboration if, for example, a garda has an agenda against a person whom he or she stops? If the garda carries out a test, mar dhea, it may not be a technological test, with the evidence there for all to see, but may be based on the garda's arbitrary, visual assessment of the situation. That could be discriminatory against the person who is stopped. There are areas in which that could be misused by gardaí, and I am quite worried about that.

Commercial vehicle roadworthiness is incredibly important because it is not just driver activity but vehicle roadworthiness that dictates whether road safety will be enhanced. This area has been riddled with inaccuracies with regard to types of vehicle. For example, we have changes in the taxi regulations whereby a taxi driver can carry a maximum of four or five people, and where a taxi over the age of 15 years must be taken off the road, but a bus over the age of 15 years is fine. Age on its own is not a determinant of whether a vehicle is safe. The testing should be able to stand up regardless of the age of the vehicle.

I am worried because I have had dealings with people who operate commercial vehicles. One resident who was in touch with me had purchased a vehicle which had a full roadworthiness certificate attached to it. He bought the vehicle, brought it back and noticed a number of problems with it even on a visual inspection. He commissioned a private test and it found that the vehicle failed on a number of counts. On his behalf we have taken up that issue with the RSA and others to determine how this reputable centre could have certified this vehicle as roadworthy when two subsequent organisations said it clearly was not and could not have been at that time. The RSA has not been hugely helpful on that. It carried out a very casual inspection. The person did not receive a written report or anything like that. I wonder if this will be addressed in the new regulations. How can we really say the vehicle roadworthiness issue has been addressed without doing that? It is very important that we examine this.

My main point is with regard to penalty points. There is no point in adding a plethora of other offences to be covered by penalty points if the system we have has a big question mark over it. The dogs on the street know it has. Perhaps it was a verbal error on the part of Deputy Ellis when he said 4,000 tickets were terminated.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. With hindsight and experience regarding penalty points from the different situations and evolving campaigns for safer roads over past years, we should now be in a position to bring in legislation that has been well thought out. It is important also that it is drafted well by the Departments concerned. Much of the legislation we introduce is not assessed with regard to the impact it has on the public.

The main intention behind this legislation is to have safer roads, fewer fatalities and better driver behaviour. However, we in this House seem to deal with issues in isolation, rather than think of the wider picture and the impact of the legislation we introduce. I will never forget driving home from here one Thursday evening after only two years or so in this House and hearing Gay Byrne or Noel Brett announce that from a date three weeks hence no driver on a provisional licence could drive without being accompanied by a fully qualified driver. That was the first I heard of that and my office was overrun with calls. That announcement caused mayhem. People on provisional licences needed to get to work or college and even people in their 50s and 60s were on L-plates. All of a sudden these provisional drivers were going to be blamed for everything and were going to be banished to hell or to Connacht. This proposal was worked out through the system and common sense dawned, because everyone's office was inundated with queries about it. For various reasons, people could not get up to date with the legislation instantly.

We had a similar situation this week.

Last May we passed legislation on off-road vehicles. I spoke on it, as did other Members of the House, and it was passed by the Government with its large majority. Again, no effort whatsoever was made to educate the public on the fact it was happening. People were affected for many reasons, such as vintage car owners, those no longer in jobs whose cars were parked up, others who had emigrated and others who could not afford to keep the car on the road. There has been mayhem in recent weeks. People have been unable to get their machines or cars passed and local authority officials have been put under pressure. I salute the officials in Tipperary and other places throughout the country for the effort they made. In many places gardaí had to be called, not because people were violent but because they were frustrated and the crowds were so big. We cannot introduce knee-jerk legislation without having an overall assessment of what is needed.

With regard to road safety, the three prongs of enforcement, visibility and education are necessary. We must start with education in our schools. For years I have been calling for the transition year to be used. My daughter is in a transition year programme at present and it is fabulous. My other children also took part and did many very interesting and good things. It is a vital area and we should go into the schools with a programme for teachers. Roads which were national roads until recently could be used because vast areas are just turning into halting sites. They are adjacent to towns and should be used by schools with the Road Safety Authority and gardaí involved in training people on proper driving behaviour. The Civil Defence and the fire brigade could also be involved, as could others who must deal with the horrible casualties of a serious road accident. Young people in particular should be educated. Many people my age and older have bad habits and we must live with them and pay the price of penalty points. We should be trying to improve, but it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks. It is certainly necessary to examine this issue.

I support the Bill with regard to many areas. Young drivers aged between 21 and 25 remain the group with the largest number of road deaths. For years I have stated that we must examine a deeper issue in this regard, which is suicide. Many incidents are not accidents; they are deliberate acts. People are desperate for many reasons. There are single-car accidents unexplained by the coroner's report.

The majority of fatal collisions, approximately 63%, occur on local and regional roads outside built-up areas. This must be examined. A number of years ago we reviewed the speed limits and changed every sign in the country from miles to kilometres, and now every boreen and cul-de-sac has a speed limit of 80 km/h. This is pure daft because one could not cycle up many of them. We cannot have road signage without having an impact on wildlife services. I do not know how to put sense in their heads to insist that the hedgerows along all roads be cut. Representatives of farm contractors are in the Visitors' Gallery. They have been lobbying on safety for a number of years. The Minister and the Acting Chairman know that someone building a house must have visibility of 70 metres on a road with a speed limit of 80 km/h and 140 metres on a road with a speed limit of 100 km/h. However, a number of roads are closed in. We have legislation whereby every farmer can receive a hedge notice to cut the hedgerow. My late father was prosecuted in the 1950s. It should be used. It is pointless having Noel Brett and Gay Byrne on road safety advertisements if we neglect this simple issue. Wildlife people cannot insist that we not cut the hedgerows in a month without an "r". This is ridiculous. Surely road safety and one life is more important than any wildlife specimen. I support wildlife totally and I salute the work done by gun clubs, wildlife clubs and fishing clubs, but we must be sensible. We must have common sense. We should put the quangos in a room and knock heads together to tell them this is nonsensical. It would be a basic tool to insist every farmer cut his or her hedges and allow and force every local authority to cut back hedges. Large machines have longer bonnets and one cannot see anything when coming onto a road. It is lethal. I appeal to the Minister to consider this aspect. If road safety is considered with regard to planning permission, why not have it considered in this most vital area to save people's lives?

The speed limit of 80 km/h on minor roads should be addressed. It is a nonsense. I do not disagree with the speed vans which are everywhere, but they were supposed to be in places where fatalities had occurred. I see them in many places doing nothing but being a moneymaking machine. Sometimes they are in places where fatalities have occurred, but I have seen them in places in my county that I know well where I never heard of accidents occurring. They are like machines hauling in money. I salute the traffic corps, but it has been depleted due to a lack of transport and equipment since before the Government came to power. They did not even have cars in my area a year ago. I acknowledge the fact they have some now, but how are they to do the job without the tools of the trade?

This year we had good weather. During the harvest I saw a member of the traffic corps apprehending a combine harvester with no tax. The tax was out for three months. It was apprehended when it was crossing the road. The Garda decided the vehicle had to be impounded and sent to Dublin for a lorry. After hours of waiting the lorry arrived, but they were not able to put the combine harvester on it. The Garda insisted the combine harvester be driven to the pound in Dublin. Two days' harvest were lost and huge fines had to be paid to get the combine harvester back. This is nonsensical. Combine harvesters and silage harvesters are on the road for only 20 days, or perhaps a month, each year and should be taxed accordingly. The new law does not acknowledge this. A leisure boat is something different, but these machines are bread and butter for Harvest 2020. The incident was very frustrating. The man could have overlooked it. Anything could have happened. On many other occasions road vehicles that should have been seized were not, such as defective vehicles and those driven by people with several convictions. I have evidence on this which I will present to the Minister. In Monaghan a young boy was killed two years ago by a car that had been stopped an hour earlier. It had no road tax. The drugs squad stopped it looking for drugs. The driver was not fit to drive the car but the drugs squad made an assessment. I welcome the fact that we can now test for drugs. The gentleman, a foreign national, had 40 charges North and South. He killed a young Monaghan man. He mowed over him, drove off and left the scene. He went home to his wife and told her he had knocked down somebody, but by the time he was tested it was too late. The law is not administered fairly.

I will not discuss penalty points like the previous speaker. They are needed in many cases and we must deal with it. We must be pragmatic and have some common sense. We should start with our roads. Visitors from other countries cannot believe the road safety issue. The roads have been closed in. For his own sake, the Minister should be aware that roads that can dry out with the wind and sun will last much longer than a road that stays damp, because when the frost comes it erodes the surface.

Gardaí go to schools to speak to pupils, but they should be brought out for practical experience to be taught how to drive. I am in favour of dealing with learner drivers when they start out but we are not all geniuses. People in my constituency cannot get past the theory test and cannot get a licence. Some of these people had licences that expired. I am not ashamed to say this. I have represented people who were educated at a different time and may have dyslexia or dyspraxia or they are not computer-literate. One chap I know almost passed it the first time he did it, but has now done it 18 times and gets worse and worse because he gets very nervous and frustrated at the idea of it. We should consider such people when we draft legislation. We must think of those who cannot deal with situations such as this. We must be conscious that we are not all computer-literate whizz kids like the young people.

Changes have been made with regard to taxi regulations. I am all for vehicle roadworthiness tests but I am not in favour of an age limit for cars. We tried it here and put many businesses into debt. We must remember the economy; people cannot afford to change cars. Taxis must pass two tests, namely, the NCT and a measurement test, which is normally done in a hotel.

The test measures the capability of the car to carry people, and I am all for that as well. However, why put them off the road? They have good cars with good life left in them but they are not able to continue their business, which is very difficult. I appeal to the Minister, as I, Deputy Healy-Rae and others did last week and the week before, to ask his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, to intervene in the situation which came to a head yesterday evening. We passed that legislation here months ago but there was no public awareness until three or four weeks ago when the campaign and the advertisements began.

People who want to comply are not able to comply. I have heard of some appalling cases, including that of a 70 year old man travelling to a centre in the country yesterday to collect two combines he had bought. The combines were bought in 1977 off Mahon and McPhillips, which the Acting Chairman might remember and which has long gone out of business. None the less, they insisted he had to have invoices, which of course was not possible. They demanded photographs of the front, rear and both sides of the machines, with the chassis number also identified by photograph, rightly so. However, they then wanted to know the number of hours on the clock. What difference would that make given combines are only used for a month at most and perhaps for only ten days in the year? In any case, most speedometers and clocks on agricultural machines do not work due to dust and dirt, as they are not covered like those in cars. To get a clear photograph of them is impossible.

The legislation is making ridiculous requests. That man could not tax his machines. He called in to me when he came back. He waited ten days for an appointment to go down and then went there yesterday. He had sat up until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. the night before, getting everything ready, then he went down and was just dismissed, literally, because he had not this, that and the other. Where is he going to get an invoice? The company is long since gone, so he is not going to get an invoice from it. These are still working machines, while they would be classified as vintage. I contacted the county council and was told he is going to have to back-tax them to 1977, which will cost thousands.

I know this is a racket to collect money, but it is wrong to be so naked and bullish about it, and to be so intimidating of ordinary business people and farmers, including elderly retired people. Legislation must be sensitive to the people. There must an awareness campaign and, above all, an impact assessment should be carried out in regard to its implications. It is fine to pass legislation here, send it off to the Bills Office and then send it off to the Seanad. We will soon not have a Seanad to find many things. To be fair, it has found 520 or 530 anomalies in legislation in the last two and a half years and sent them back to this House. Most of the time this made no headlines and the Ministers, their advisers and the drafters accepted the changes. That is one benefit of the Seanad. We passed four Bills in this House on the last day before the holidays. How is any Deputy going to be up to speed with that? I believe it is a retrograde step.

Above all, the fact is the public are getting a raw deal from us all the time. We are elected and we then come in here to a kind of bubble. To hell or Connacht was Cromwell's attitude, but for the Ministers, Deputy Varadkar, Deputy Shatter and Big Phil, it is to hell or wherever. It is a case of croppies lie down or peasants lie down. I tell the Minister that they will not lie down. They will be out there. There will be a fine vote next Friday against it, but there will be a worse vote when Ministers come knocking on the doors in the local elections-----

Excuse me, Deputy. It is not in order to refer to a Minister as Big Phil.

Minister Big Phil, I always say. He is a fine big man and he likes to be called Big Phil a lot of the time.

I know the respect Tipperary people have for Kilkenny people.

We have a good healthy respect when it comes to the hurling field. However, I know the jackboot tactics that are happening here and I am appealing to everybody, officials included, to be sensitive. They should understand that we do not have broadband in many parts of rural Ireland. I am not saying we are backward, because we are not. We do not have it. It is not a case of getting a DART, a bus or a taxi. We do not have them in rural Ireland, as the Minister knows better than I do.

Most of this is to collect extra revenue. It is wrong to penalise people who try to comply with legislation that was not properly advertised, although it was passed here, and to try to charge them thousands of euro they do not have.

Another point is the requirement to bring machines to NCT centres, which are only used to dealing with cars and light vans, not machines. I do not want to be disrespectful as they obviously have good, trained fitters. I have no problem with an engineers' report. People have to have roadworthy vehicles and we have to-----

Excuse me, I have to ask the Deputy to move the adjournment of the debate.

Beidh lá eile ag an bPaorach. I move the adjournment.

Debate adjourned.