Deputy Colm Brophy was in possession.
Road Traffic Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)
Before the debate adjourned I spoke about my key view that, in welcoming the Bill, I support the concept that the final decision making on the introduction of speed limits for an area should be vested in the members of the local authority. It is devolving decision making down to the level which is most accurate and beneficial for making such a decision. There is an aspect to the introduction of a 20 km/h speed limit in residential areas which we could explore. I do not know if it is possible but I would certainly recommend it. There are a number of problems with parking in residential areas, including long-term, persistent or illegal parking near to junctions and corners of roads. It is an incredible contributing factor, particularly to accidents involving young children, when vehicles are parked in that way. When children are emerging from their houses or drives, be they walking, on bicycles or whatever, there is the potential for them to emerge directly out into the line of the car. Slowing the speed of cars is a welcome contribution, but in areas which have been designated as 20 kp/h areas we should consider introducing additional controls to address that issue. I am not advocating for a curtailment of people's right to park outside their house - everybody has that right - but with regard to parking that is deliberately done in an illegal way, such as on a bend or at the entrance to an estate. If it is a 20 km/h area, we are recognising that it is a high risk area which deserves special attention so we should examine vehicle parking in the area.
The other aspect to that, in the context of fixed notices being issued, is the placing of notices on such vehicles in a way that is visible and acts as a deterrent. It is something the Garda has not been doing for many years so even when people are persistently breaking the law, others driving by do not see that what is taking place has a cost to it and that a fine is being issued. If we are trying to adjust people's behaviour and the manner in which they break the law by parking illegally, a visible deterrent by means of a notice attached to a vehicle works extremely well. I conclude with that point.
Like my colleagues, I welcome the Bill. One aspect of it that I wish to discuss is the provision relating to road safety measures and speed limits, as the previous speaker has discussed. I come from a council background and I understand the origin of this provision in Jake's law. I have read a great deal about it. We were seeking to have the 20 km/h limit established in residential areas. However, the establishment of it and working with the council, which is something the Minister might examine, is quite cumbersome.
The installation of traffic calming measures such as speed ramps, roundabouts and chicanes is quite difficult for local authorities due to low manpower, costs and so forth. It took us more than 18 months to introduce traffic calming in four housing estates in Portumna. It is still not properly introduced. In certain estates we sought to have speed ramps installed. Councils are quite wary about introducing speed ramps because of liability. If water lodges on one side of the ramp and causes flooding or if it freezes, there is a liability involved. People appear to walk away from it when, in fact, we should be considering the health and safety of the residents living in the area. The 20 km/h is incredibly welcome in the estates in which it has been introduced and has gone a long way towards addressing the issue but it has not gone the extra distance to address the health and safety issue and the comfort of parents in the homes. They are looking for speed ramps or chicanes, something to slow traffic down. They are not saying they need them all over the estate but definitely at the entrance or even half way through it to ensure that drivers are aware that children are at play.
I should thank the Minister because Deputy Cannon announced this evening that a traffic calming measure will be installed on the N65 in Portumna. It is something I have canvassed the Minister about for the last number of months and it is welcome. However, the 20 km/h speed limit must also be established near schools and crèches, not just in estates. We must look at the areas that are densely populated by young people, because they are the people who need protection and their parents need comforting. On a wet morning outside schools one sees people driving up as close as possible to the school. We need signage and ramps and the speed limits to be reduced. I differ with one of the Deputies who said earlier that the council enforces this. The Garda enforces all of this. That is the reason it must be made law. The Garda cannot do anything until the law is passed. Its hands are tied. One can ring the gardaí as many times as one wishes but there is nothing for them to enforce. The quicker it is introduced, the better.
Where are we going in the context of unfinished estates? Many have not been taken in charge. Have we a plan for such estates? For every one that is taken in charge, there is another that is not. It is a significant problem because council staff do not come down the front road of unfinished estates at all. The estates are populated and the residents are very worried. In an unfinished estate, one cannot even get a 20 km/h speed limit sign put up. Is there any way we can consider the position regarding unfinished estates across the board, particularly we are examining health and safety? For what it is worth, the section of the Bill on speed limits is fantastic but it will only serve half the community if it does not account for the people in unfinished estates.
We must consider the location of nursing homes and facilities for the aged and those with disabilities. Bearing built-up residential areas in mind, have the councils the manpower to deliver what we desire? Perhaps it is better if it comes from a Department, Transport Infrastructure Ireland or another body that could assist the councils with delivery. I fear this could left to sit for a long period. However, there are people who have been seeking for it to be addressed for quite some time. There are people living on stretches of roads where motorists drive far too quickly. I refer to the outskirts of towns where developments have taken place. Motorists drive at 80 km/h through these areas although there are people living on either side of the road. This is not acceptable.
I hope that when the legislation is passed, there will be funding for the delivery of the signs and the implementation of traffic-calming measures. It would be useful if we could work with local councils on delivery to the estates that have not been taken in charge. Then we would have heeded Jake's law, which was the real requirement at the very beginning, and there would be very many happy parents.
I suggest that if we are introducing traffic-calming infrastructure in estates, it does not have to be set in stone. One can buy a rumble strip for €175 and have it installed. It can be taken up again. It is not about preventing people from entering an estate but about getting them to slow down and change their approach.
I am sharing time with Deputy McDonald.
This Bill is a welcome addition to the work of the House because it tidies up a number of issues that have long been outstanding. These issues have been raised by Sinn Féin and others for many years. I wish to speak primarily about the provision relating to driving under the influence of drugs but I would first like to address the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between Ireland and Britain. The inclusion of this in the Bill is to address the British Government's opting out of the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, CJEU, so the mutual recognition of disqualifications can continue. We should have expanded on this mutual recognition, especially in regard to the all-Ireland economy, as there is a raft of issues in respect of which consistency between the North and South is very important. Such issues include speed limits, signage, penalty points, haulage laws and other safety measures. This harmonisation is not only essential but simply common sense. It would make our roads safer and go part of the way towards easing financial insecurity for commercial, private and regulatory bodies in a post-Brexit Ireland.
With regard to road safety, I welcome the idea of drug tests and the plans outlined by the Ministers. I have a few questions on the mechanics of drug testing. It is very evident when someone who has consumed alcohol is over the limit. One can see the physical effects of some drugs very easily but this is not the case with certain other substances. Some do not stay in a person's system for very long.
In reply to a question I asked during a debate on the general scheme of the Road Traffic Bill 2015 at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, Professor Denis Cusack stated on behalf of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety that this is a complex area because drugs fall into different classes. He referred to sedative-like, hallucinogen-like and stimulant-like drugs. These are different family types. The active components of some remain in the body only for short periods while others can last much longer. Therefore, each must be taken on its own merit. Is this why we have classified in this Bill only a number of drugs to be tested? The study stated that the most common drugs for which Irish drivers test positive are cannabis and benzodiazepines, known as "benzos". This Bill stipulates the three in respect of which people will be tested, namely, cannabis, heroin and cocaine, but there are other dangerous drugs. English police can test for drugs such as lorazepam, methadone, morphine, methamphetamine and others. The Minister has not included these. There might be little evidence for people driving under the influence of these drugs but if their classification saved one life, it would be worth considering. Could the Minister examine this in light of what we are attempting to do?
We can pass the best laws and have all the legislative power available to prosecute wrongdoers but, in the absence of proper resources, the law can be ignored. The problem arises in policing. Our roads are not just safer because of a system of penalty points or laws but because of the diligent and dedicated work of the Garda, which is tasked with ensuring the laws are obeyed on the road every day. It is difficult to see how the Garda can implement these laws when its resources and supports have been savagely cut by the Government. We are seeing stations close or shut their doors earlier and there are cuts across the board to the operational capacity of the Garda. This seriously draws into question whether these laws can be fully enforced, despite the Garda's best efforts. Therefore, it is important that the drive for road safety does not just stop when this Bill is passed; it should be in the Government's thinking when allocating resources to the Garda.
Jake's law, in respect of which Deputy McDonald and I introduced a Bill a short time ago, was shot down by the Minister's predecessor. I am glad the current Minister has taken on board and is allowing local authorities the option of imposing 20 km/h speed limits in housing estates. That is a victory for common sense. I praise Jake's mother for the work she has done on pushing this. She was a Trojan worker in getting this message across. Her work was very worthwhile.
A key to stopping illegal dumping is sanctions on driving licences. We need to examine this because everyone needs a licence. People are driving around in cars and vans and dumping all sorts of stuff. If the Minister gets an opportunity to consider this aspect, he might do so.
I warmly welcome the introduction of this legislation. In particular, I welcome the provision allowing for the creation of a new special speed limit of 20 km/h. Last year, I, along with Deputy Ellis, introduced the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, known as Jake's law. It was introduced in memory of Jake Brennan, who was knocked down outside his home in Kilkenny on 12 June 2014. Six year old Jake died tragically in his mother's arms on the street where he grew up and where he should have been safe. This tragedy led his family to embark on a campaign to reduce speed limits in estates and residential areas. The family did not want any other family to go through a parent's worst living nightmare. It is a nightmare they live to this day. The family's resolute determination and perseverance, and particularly that of Jake's mother, Roseann, who went so far as to participate in a three-night sleep-out outside the Dáil, were an inspiration and the driving force behind the legislation we introduced. I would like to believe the family is the driving force and inspiration for the provision on speed limits in the Minister's legislation. I warmly welcome that provision.
When we introduced Jake's law initially, the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe, accepted the principle of our proposal for a mandatory speed limit of 20 km/h in residential areas. However, it was his view that this limit should be optional, leaving the determination of speed limits in estates in residential areas to local authorities and councillors.
That is where the problem lies. It is a problem to leave it to the discretion of local authorities. It is much less likely that the 20 km/h speed limit will be imposed if it is viewed as discretionary and more so if our local authorities do not have the resources or funding available to allow them to put in place signage for those lower speed limits. It is imperative that sufficient funding is made available to local authorities to ensure that they simply cannot set aside their discretion because of financial constraints.
I reflect on the fact that €2 million was previously made available for local authorities to implement the 30 km/h speed limit and much more will be required if the 20km/h limit is to be imposed and observed. My fear is that having done the right thing, this provision, as it stands in the Bill, is in danger of becoming a toothless tiger. I ask the Minister to reflect on that.
Unfortunately, Jake was not the only child to lose his or her life or be injured close to his or her home on the streets where he or she played. For example, 262 children under the age of 14 lost their lives on roads in the years between 1997 and 2012. In the same period, 1,115 children were seriously injured. Some 57% of child injuries occurred in built-up areas. I hear the message around vulnerable citizens generally and the point is very well made. My focus, in particular in Jake's law, was firmly fixed on our child citizens.
It is fair to say that the new speed limit, apart from saving children's lives, would have ecological benefits. It would result in less noise pollution and greater fuel efficiency. We do not want any other child to become a statistic and I do not suggest for a moment that any of us would regard any fatality, much less the loss of a child, as a statistic, but that is why the 20 km/h speed limit is so essential in residential areas and estates. It should be the mandatory speed limit in housing estates, public or private, across the land.
Roseanne campaigned for change. While the provision as it now stands is welcome, it does not fully represent the change that she and her family campaigned for or offer the protection for residents or children in housing estates that it would otherwise offer if lower limits were mandatory rather than discretionary. Roseanne campaigned for change so that no other family would go through the heartbreak she went through and through which she still lives.
Our housing estates where our children are growing up should be places where they can play safely, kick a ball about and run to their friends' houses without fear. Lower speed limits, in conjunction with proper traffic calming measures, will make our housing estates safer environments for our precious children. It is basic logic that the lower the speed, the greater chance a child has of surviving an accident. I dread the prospect of revisiting this issue in the future after another tragedy. We do not want a version of Jake's law. Rather, in order to keep our children safe we now need a mandatory speed limit applicable to housing estates, and it should be 20 km/h.
Every night on social media, Roseanne Brennan posts a message to her son Jake. I am sure at this stage all of us are on social media. If we want to look in to the soul and importance of this issue, we should read those posts because they say more, and say it far more eloquently, than any of us in the Chamber could. I have just received a text message - that is probably prohibited under some rule or other in the House - from Roseanne Brennan. She has expressed her great happiness that this provision is contained in the Bill. I think I can speak for her, when I urge the Minister, not just on our behalf but also on her behalf, to take this to the next level. When Jake's law is recalled, it might be recalled that the Minister, Deputy Ross, was the Cabinet Member who ensured that it became the safety protection measure that it is meant to be.
The Minister has received a nice little compliment. I am sure he will like that. Deputies Tom Neville, Fergus O'Dowd and Peter Fitzpatrick are sharing time.
I want to echo the sentiments of many speakers on the issue of speed limits in housing estates. It is an issue which has arisen through the years. In my time as a member of Limerick city and county council, we considered rolling out programmes in council housing estates, but the issue broadened over the course of the boom to private estates. It is a major problem.
I want to highlight an issue in my area where, because of what is going on, there may be no people. I refer to Croagh in County Limerick. The Foynes-Limerick motorway, which is welcome, is being built and will bypass the town. For some reason TII, in conjunction with Limerick city and county council, is bypassing the town rather than building a spur road to the village. It will sound the death knell for the village. We have had public meetings and have received submissions but that has fallen on deaf ears. The village has a state-of-the-art school of music, a garden centre, shops, pubs, school and a substantial nursing home.
Money has been allocated for the Foynes-Limerick motorway route. I have heard reports that the cost of building a spur road to Croagh would be too great. However, in the initial documents Croagh was left out and the scheme included Askeaton, Rathkeale and Adare, which were to be junctions on the new route corridor. On behalf of the people of Croagh and the surrounding area, I want to take this opportunity to speak to the TII. I never seem to get the chance to speak to it directly, even as a councillor. This may be a parish pump matter but it is the system. I cannot speak to representatives of TII. We are looking for a spear spur road for Croagh. It is required.
A short-sighted approach to the southern ring-road in Limerick was taken a number of years ago, where in Ballysimon an intersection, which was not a spaghetti junction, was built and millions of euro had to be spent afterwards to install traffic lights. The junction has been a mishmash since. Some forward thinking is needed. I am taking this opportunity to speak on behalf of the people of Croagh. A spur road should be built and it should not be bypassed and left behind. It is a registered village and it should remain so.
This is a very important Bill which is welcomed by everybody in the House. Unfortunately, the figures speak for themselves. On this date last year, the number of people killed on our roads was 118, but today the figure stands at 138. So far this year, there have been 20 more road deaths than last year. One individual is an appalling statistic but those figures clearly show that we need to do a lot more to prevent deaths and this Bill will significantly address issues, in particular drug driving, substance abuse and lower speed limits in residential areas.
The Road Safety Authority should be praised for its campaign and the significance of its input. I met its representatives recently about a different matter and urge them to communicate with all Members of the Oireachtas on the reasons why more people are dying on our roads and what we need to do about it on a cross-party basis. One of the key issues is speed and people driving recklessly.
There are problems with drivers driving with abandon, driving without due care and attention and so forth.
I will now turn to another problem. I bet that my colleague, Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick, and I will agree on at least one thing. Tonight when he is driving home, he will be passed by a car breaking the speed limit and which will have a Northern Ireland registration. That happens to me every day and every night when I am on the M1. This is a really serious problem. It is very significant that in the South nine out of ten drivers driving at much faster speeds than they ought to have a Northern Ireland registered car. No doubt that is probably reciprocated by southern-registered drivers who drive in the North. There is still a difficulty with regard to speeding offences in the South if one is driving a northern-registered car. Perhaps the Minister will follow this up if I submit a parliamentary question. It is not acceptable, it is highly dangerous behaviour and it is not good enough.
I wish to bring to the Minister's attention the roadside sale of cars. I am sure it will be the second thing that Deputy Fitzpatrick and I will agree on. In his town and in mine, we find a significant number of cars for sale at the side of the road, maybe near a supermarket or on a roundabout, with "for sale" signs on them. People are selling these cars in a commercial manner. Sometimes at weekends, I see seven or eight cars in a row with "for sale" signs and advertising an 086 or 087 phone number. I have called them to find out more about these cars and I generally end up talking to some guy in Dublin, or who has a Dublin accent. I ask about the standards the cars meet, road safety certificates and road tests, etc. We need to be more proactive with regard to the roadside sale of cars when we do not know who is selling them and there is no control over the practice. Many of these cars may, in fact, have been crashed. It is a serious and significant issue.
I will now turn to the question of speed limits. I agree with Louth County Council's recent decision to enforce the 30 km/h speed limit in 44 housing estates in the county. When that information went online, people were obviously very happy that their estates were included but other estates could not understand why they were not included. I propose that there could be a default position. In estates, and I am defining estates as an area separate from a main road or a through road, the speed limit should, by default, be 20 km/h, full stop. That should be our national law. People also raise the issue of speed limits near schools with me. No matter where a school is located, there should be significantly reduced speed limits for at least 1 km on either side of the school, depending on the road type. I know rural schools can be on a road with a speed limit of 80 km/h or 100 km/h but we need to define clearly the significant need to reduce speeds adjacent to schools.
Questions must be asked about what the councils are doing about this situation. They tell me there is going to be a speed limit in a housing estate and there is a lovely map so we know where the speed limit signs are going to go. However, what is going to happen after they go up? We need enforcement but we know the gardaí do have not have the time to go into every single housing estate in the country. Other speakers also addressed the need for other engineering solutions to speeding cars in housing estates. Deputy Rabbitte referred to chicanes and the narrowing of roads to make it more difficult for people to drive through at speed. The Deputy made a very good point that a rumble strip costs €175. I would like to say that to my county council engineer who needs to know that. I do not see any rumble strips in any of our housing estates right now. Let us get real. Perhaps, as part of the Minister's initiative and being the great and good Minister that he knows he is, he could bring in the local authorities' county managers. He was well used to addressing them through the medium of print. I respectfully suggest that he brings them in for discussions, with their chief road engineers or whoever the appropriate and significant player is in the county council, to see what is being done and what aid the local authorities need. It amazes me when council officials tell me they want to install speed ramps but they do not have any money. I do not know where the money is going because every household is now paying their property tax. Local authorities are not getting value for money. The taxpayer who is paying is not getting value for money from our county councils and a significant dose of realism needs to be injected by the Ministers, whomever they may be.
One of the problems we suffer as Members of the Dáil and the Seanad is that we cannot attend county council meetings. The reality is that councils are not doing their job and are saying that they do not have the resources but I believe they have the resources. This is not acceptable. My Facebook page has 45 comments from people in a number of housing estates, all saying the same thing. They want enforcement and they want it now. I very much welcome this legislation but it is very important the Minister engages - it may be something he is already doing or has just not done yet - with the local authorities about this very important issue and pushes them. If local authorities need extra funding, or if they want to buy 10,000 rumble strips at €175 each, then let us provide them and put them into the housing estates. It is not acceptable that Deputy Rabbitte and I do not see the strips anywhere.
I thank Deputy O'Dowd. Now from one Louth man to another. I call on Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick. You are both doing well for the "wee county".
And they are very united.
Yes, and close to each other.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. I very much welcome this Bill and the changes it proposes to legislation. Despite the differences that exist in this House, one thing on which we all agree is that the safety of road users has to be a priority. I have no doubt that each and every one of us has been affected at some stage as a result of a road traffic accident. Since 1997 the trend has been towards lower numbers of deaths on the roads but I am worried that in recent years, we have seen the trend rise. This is worrying and we must took at it in greater detail. We must find out what is the cause of the rise in road deaths in recent years. This year alone the number of road deaths stands at 138 while the number of road deaths for the same period last year was 115. As a member of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have consistently raised the issue of the poor state of the road networks.
I especially want to raise the issue of the state of the local roads and laneways. For the last two years, Louth County Council has had a policy of not repairing local roads. This is a mistake and I would urge Louth County Council to reconsider this policy. The poor state of the roads is a factor in least some road traffic accidents. There is no point in having a state-of-the-art car with all the safety features if the roads on which it travels are in a poor state. An immediate solution to this problem would be for the local county council to reactivate the community involvement scheme. I brought this to the Minister's attention at the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport meeting last week. In the past, the schemes have proven very successful in keeping local roads maintained and have received great support from local people. I call on the Minister to urge local councils to make these schemes available as soon as possible.
Coming from a Border area, this legislation is particularly relevant. In Dundalk and surrounding areas, a large percentage of the road users are actually drivers and cars from Northern Ireland. While I fully accept that the vast majority of these road users are law abiding and respect our rules of the road, there are, unfortunately, a small minority who do not have any respect for the rules of the road. This legislation will once and for all tackle the age-old problem of Northern Ireland drivers who up to now did not have to abide by the rules of the road while driving south of the Border. The current situation is that a driver who is disqualified in the EU member state which issued their licence is then automatically barred from driving abroad due to the fact that they do not have a valid Iicence. However, if a driver from one EU member state is disqualified from driving in another member state, the ban will only apply in the country that imposes the ban. For example, a driver from Northern Ireland who is disqualified from driving in the Republic of Ireland can still hold a valid licence for Northern Ireland.
Despite many difficulties, I am pleased that, along with the UK authorities, we have negotiated a new bilateral agreement which is outside of the EU convention and was signed in October 2015. The agreement will not be affected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU. It will take effect once this legislation is passed. We will then have a situation whereby Irish drivers who are disqualified in the UK will also be disqualified here and UK licence holders who are disqualified here will also be disqualified in the UK.
I would also like to say a few words in regard to the new proposed special speed limit of 20 km/h. I am in support of it and also support the fact that the local authorities will be given the powers to implement it. I would also like to put on record the efforts of the Jake’s Legacy campaign which has been instrumental in advocating reduced speed limits in housing estates.
I welcome this comprehensive legislation. There is no doubt that the drug-driving provisions will tackle the ever increasing problem of people driving while under the influence of drugs. The new option of the 20 km/h speed limit will make our built-up areas and housing estates a safer place. I look forward to seeing the reduced speed limit applied to many areas in Dundalk, including Lennonstown Manor. The residents there have been very active in their quest to reduce speed limits and I have no doubt they will be delighted with this new legislation.
I am also delighted to see that drivers from both Northern Ireland and the Republic will finally be bound by the law of both jurisdictions and that it will now be enforceable. This has been a particular problem in the border areas, including Dundalk. Finally, I welcome the fact that we will now start to address the question of written-off vehicles and introduce a proper system of recording when a vehicle is written off.
There are no more speakers offering. Before I hand over to the Minister, I have to say that, since I came in this evening, the constructive debate that is taking place is good to see and watch. I thank all Members for their contributions and the way they were made. The Minister must be smiling with all of the compliments he has received over the past two hours or so. This is clearly a very important issue for all Members and I am sure that the Minister has taken into account the many contributions that have been made from every side of the House. I now ask the Minister to address the House and the various comments that have been made.
I hope the bus strike is resolved or the compliments might turn into you-know-what.
They have been flying already, especially from the direction of Deputy Troy. I cannot expect the same response.
I thank the Acting Chairman for what he had to say and I must say that in a former life, not so long ago, if I had seen unanimity around the Chamber as I have seen here in the last two days, I would have been very suspicious and probably would have taken a completely different point of view. Therefore, it is an uncomfortable position to be in to be introducing legislation which has received such applause.
This was obviously not originally my own legislation. I inherited a great deal of it, though not all. It has been a long time coming. Nevertheless, I believe it has been improved in the last few weeks and months and I hope that it will have an early passage to the Statute Book.
There is one note of discord that I might raise. It is not discord from what is being said but it is something I should point out. Although this measure has been so warmly welcomed, and it is wonderful that it has been, there is no room for complacency in addressing the underlying problem. We do not want to now begin to bask in that warmth and suggest that everything is all right. Everything is not all right. All speakers, particularly Deputy O'Dowd who reiterated it just now, pointed out that the trend in road deaths is in going in the wrong direction and has been, bar last year, since 2013 and 2014. They were bad years, 2015 was a good year and this year has been a chronically bad year. We have cause for worry, not for complacency. This Bill, if we are honest about it, was formulated and introduced at a time before we saw the bad trend of this year. We cannot indulge in any sort of self-praise or complacency.
Indeed, there is probably room for criticism, not just of ourselves as politicians, but for the State agencies and the Road Safety Authority, and room for examination of those bodies that are responsible for road safety in this country to ask how we have gone so wrong. In my speech introducing the Bill to the House, I asked the question of whether we have succeeded - I do not believe we have - in addressing the problem of drunken driving at this stage. Far from, the trend is upwards in those terms. The trend is also upwards in the number of young people getting involved in drunken driving. That is a matter of great concern. However, I hope the Bill will address those problems and reduce the figures because we do not know how many people are dying as a result of drug-driving at the moment.
That is something I ought to say before I respond to what has been said by all speakers yesterday and today, most of which has been in support of the Bill. I reiterate what the Acting Chairman has said in that all have been very constructive. As I said before, we will consider very carefully any suggested amendments. Some will not work for obvious reasons. However, I know that the spirit in which the amendments were suggested is a serious one and we will take them in the spirit in which they were given. As I said at the outset, road traffic legislation is a matter on which there is broad agreement on our goal, which is ultimately the safety of all road users. At the same time, I welcome the fact that there have been many and varied contributions and I would like to emphasise once again that I am happy to consider the issues raised.
Deputy Troy asked if I would confirm the Government’s commitment to road safety, both as a matter of law and in terms of resourcing. I am happy to confirm that we are committed to road safety, as I believe all Governments have been and will be. There is surely no higher duty of a Government than the safety of its citizens. In terms of resources, I cannot comment at this stage on the forthcoming budget, but I can say that I agree that proper resourcing in a number of areas is essential to promoting safety on our roads. Deputy Troy, along with Deputies Munster, Broughan and Pringle raised in particular the numbers of the Garda traffic corps. The Garda, as we all know, was subject to a bar on recruitment for some time during the austerity years and the effects of this are still being felt. We are in the fortunate position, as the economy improves and revenues increase, that Garda recruitment has recommenced and this should benefit all areas of law enforcement, including road traffic law. For more specific details, I would refer Deputies to my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality.
Resourcing for roads was also mentioned by Deputies Cullinane and Troy. Capital funding for roads infrastructure is not, strictly speaking, a part of road traffic legislation but, as both Deputies rightly emphasised, it is an essential part of road safety. Ireland has just under 100,000 km of road in its network and the maintenance and improvement of national, regional and local roads places a substantial financial burden on local authorities and on the Exchequer. Given the state of the national finances, the focus has had to be on maintenance and renewal rather than major new improvement schemes.
The transport element of the capital plan published in September 2015 is based on a gradual build-up in capital funding for the road network from the current relatively low base towards the levels needed to support maintenance and improvement works. Funding for maintenance will continue to be tight for the coming years, with a significant increase from 2020. Under a decision by the previous Government, €96 million is provided in 2016 for repairs and preventative works arising from severe weather damage on the road network, of which €8 million has been allocated to national roads.
The core of the Bill is undoubtedly the collection of measures to deal with drug driving and Deputies have, understandably, raised several points of interest. Deputies Robert Troy and Catherine Murphy suggested the list of drugs addressed in the proposals for the new offence - in essence, cannabis, cocaine and heroin - is small. They are correct that a vast range of substances can have an impairing effect on drivers. The three substances were chosen after detailed consultation with the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, MBRS, on the basis that they are the most commonly detected illicit substances in specimens tested by the bureau. The legislation represents a new step, one which places these drugs on the same level as alcohol in the sense that being over a certain limit will, in itself, be an offence.
With regard to the roll-out of drug testing devices, I advise Deputy Catherine Murphy that this is a national programme, which will be implemented by the Garda. It is proposed that a drug testing device be available in each of the 86 Garda stations which currently hold an evidential breath testing instrument. In addition, 50 devices will be made available to mobile units nationwide and the number of devices required will be kept under review with the Garda after the devices have been rolled out. The cost of the devices will be borne by the MBRS from its voted allocation.
I acknowledge that drug testing is expensive relative to alcohol testing. Therefore, although mandatory drug testing is envisaged at a mandatory intoxicant testing checkpoint, unlike at a mandatory alcohol testing checkpoint, not all drivers may be asked to provide a drug test sample at a mandatory intoxicant testing checkpoint as this would not be practical or cost effective. We should also be mindful that alcohol tests only test for the presence of one drug, namely, alcohol, whereas the drug testing device tests for four classes of drugs, namely, cannabis, cocaine, benzodiazepines and opiates.
There is also a capacity to add additional drugs to the devices for testing. With regard to Deputy Murphy's question regarding testing for what is known as crystal meth, although it cannot be tested for at the roadside, I understand the Medical Bureau of Bureau Safety can test for methamphetamine in the blood and urine samples sent to the bureau for confirmatory tests by the Garda.
Concerns were raised by Deputy Frank O'Rourke about the possible impact of the new proposals on people who are taking prescription medications. Deputy Troy asked about the misuse of legally prescribed drugs and Deputy Gino Kenny suggested the new law would criminalise people for having drugs in their system. In answer to both of these points, I propose to clarify exactly what the law does and does not do. First, it is already an offence under the Road Traffic Act 2010 to drive while under the influence of an intoxicant to such an extent as to be incapable of controlling a vehicle. An intoxicant in this case can be legal or illegal, prescribed or non-prescribed. Second, the new offence of driving with the presence of cannabis, cocaine or heroin above a specified level is exactly like the offence we have for alcohol. It does not have any impact on prescription drugs except in the case of Sativex where, as I indicated in my opening speech, there will be a medical exemption from the new offence. Third and perhaps most important, road traffic legislation is about safety. When it comes to intoxicants this means that road traffic legislation is about what affects driving, irrespective of whether the substances are legal.
What these points mean is that the new legislation will not have an impact on prescribed drugs. As ever with medication, if someone is prescribed medication, he or she should take it but if he or she suffers side effects which could impair driving, he or she should wait until these effects pass before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. A person who is impaired due to legally available drugs, irrespective of whether they have been prescribed, is already liable to prosecution under existing road traffic legislation.
We are not aiming to criminalise people but acting to try to improve road safety. While I look forward to seeing the detail of the amendments Deputy Gino Kenny stated he would propose, it sounds very much as if the three tier approach he suggested is what we are doing. We already have an offence of being under the influence of intoxicants to the point of incapacity and we are introducing an offence of being over a certain level of three of the most common drugs found by the MBRS when analysing specimens sent to the bureau for testing by the Garda. It will not be an offence to be under that level. In any case, I will be happy to discuss this matter further with Deputy Gino Kenny as the Bill progresses. Deputy Gino Kenny may wish to note that oral fluid drug testing is a screening test only. The screening system will detect recent cannabis use for up to approximately six hours. In the case of a positive roadside result the driver will be arrested and have an evidential blood sample taken in the Garda station.
On a specific point, Deputy Troy stated the underlying basis for the drug driving proposals in the Bill was a report dating from 16 years ago. In fact, the starting point was a report by the MBRS which was published in 2012 and there have been ongoing discussions with the MBRS and the Garda during the preparation of the Bill. I am, therefore, satisfied that the proposals are based on a more up-to-date understanding of the issues.
Deputy Tommy Broughan questioned the length of time it has taken for us to introduce roadside drug testing. I am advised that DRUID, a multinational European project commenced in 2006, reported in Cologne in 2011 that it was still the case that there had not been a satisfactory preliminary drug screening device developed and available at that time. Australia was using an earlier and more limited technology which was not applicable here. Following on from DRUID, the MBRS report of 2012 recommended the implementation of roadside testing. The then Minister accepted this recommendation and there followed drawing up of specification, tendering, testing and procurement for the preliminary drug testing device. This process was completed in 2014 and is ready to be implemented once this legislation has been enacted.
Deputy Lawless asked where we stand with clamping legislation. The Vehicle Clamping Act was passed in 2015 and when it is commenced it will be the function of the National Transport Authority to regulate clamping activities wherever they take place. The authority requires a period to make and prepare the necessary regulations provided for under the Act, as well as to ensure appropriate training and administrative supports are in place to allow for commencement of regulatory activities. This necessary preparatory work is well under way.
Deputies Troy and Cullinane raised the issue of distracted driving, in particular distractions due to mobile telephones and other electronic devices. When the Bill was initially proposed the general scheme included a number of measures on this issue, which I gather were withdrawn before the legislation was published. There is no question that driver distraction is a highly significant factor in causing collisions and there is general agreement that this is an area where the law needs to be strengthened. I understand the reason it was not included in the Bill, as published by my predecessor, was that it is a very complex area and it was necessary to proceed with certain matters, particularly drug driving and mutual recognition issues. Further work is being done in this area, which I agree will have to be addressed at some future point when we are ready to agree on a way forward, and to provide legislation which is both practicable and enforceable. I gather Deputy Troy may propose amendments in this area. I look forward to seeing his proposals and to discussing them with him in due course.
There were some interesting contributions on the question of written-off vehicles. As I indicated, I will make proposals on this matter on Committee Stage. In the meantime, if Deputies have specific suggestions on this issue, I will be pleased to meet with them for further discussion. I am happy to take guidance on the issue if anyone is interested in offering me advice.
I will say a few words about review of speed limits, an issue raised by Deputies Michael Harty and Imelda Munster. At the time of the issuing of my Department’s updated guidelines for setting and managing speed limits to local authorities to assist them in their statutory responsibilities relating to the application of special speed limits, local authorities were requested to review and update all speed limits in their administrative areas in accordance with these guidelines. This process is ongoing. In the case of national roads, local authorities were requested to undertake this review in conjunction with Transport Infrastructure Ireland. The primary purpose of the review is to improve the consistency of the application of speed limits nationwide so as to contribute to a reduction in speeding, which is a key cause of road collisions and fatalities.
Deputy Broughan stressed the importance of the third payment option for fixed charges. I agree that this option should be implemented as soon as possible. Implementation will require amendments to road traffic legislation, which I will introduce on Committee Stage of this Bill, and amendments to justice legislation. The relevant justice legislation is being progressed by my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality.
In the meantime, work is well advanced between the Garda and the Courts Service on developing and testing the necessary IT supports for the third payment option. I think it is only fair to add a reminder that what we are preparing for is not only the commencement of the third payment option but the commencement of all of Part 3 of the 2010 Act, which will set the entire fixed-charge system on a new basis. I look forward to seeing this come into effect once the Bill and the associated justice legislation have been passed.
Many of the issues raised by Deputy Broughan are being addressed through the work of the criminal justice working group on the fixed-charge processing system, which my Department co-chairs with the Department of Justice and Equality. The group was established as a result of a recommendation in the Garda Síochána Inspectorate report, The Fixed Charge Processing System - A 21st Century Strategy, to the effect that a system be introduced to ensure that all penalty points be endorsed on driving licences. The working group has recommended that association of certain vehicle and driver database components of the national vehicle and driver file system was among solutions which would assist with the more efficient operation of the fixed-charge processing system and optimum allocation of penalty points. The necessary association of these database components is being dealt with by my Department through a master licence record project. The project is expected to take three years to complete at a cost of €4 million.
Deputy Broughan raised the issue of consolidating our road traffic legislation and what the timescale might be in that regard. The Bill before the House is the current priority as far as legislation is concerned. After it is passed, we will begin examining the process of consolidation in what will be a very large project. This will, as a first step, involve a scoping exercise to estimate what is necessary, how much time will be required and what resources will need to be allocated to the project given, as the Deputy is aware, that the legislation in this area has become extremely complex. Consolidation will require more than passage of the legislation as it currently stands in a single Act. It will entail careful review of the legislation being consolidated in order to identify points where it can be clarified, simplified and improved. A project of this kind will require time and resources, and is expected to take a number of years to complete, as, for example, has been the case with the Companies Acts and the Finance Acts previously.
The provisions in the Bill which deal with mutual recognition of driving disqualifications have rightly attracted attention. This is an important measure which will help to keep dangerous drivers off our roads. Having listened to the debate, there are some points I would like to clarify. The agreement with the UK on mutual recognition of driving disqualifications applies to disqualifications in court, not to disqualification due to reaching the limit on penalty points. In an ideal world, it would involve both. However, mutual recognition of penalty points is a rather different and more difficult issue. While the mutual recognition of penalty points has been identified as an important area for co-operation in road safety between ourselves and Northern Ireland, it is an enormously difficult one on which to deliver as there is no agreed international framework dealing with the recognition of penalty points for driving offences. No other European countries have a working system of mutual recognition of penalty points in place between them. Much good work was done by officials from both sides since 2013 but significant issues remain to be resolved. While the work will continue, I do not think we can expect to see mutual recognition of penalty points with the North for some time to come.
There is also the question of whether mutual recognition of driving disqualifications could be arranged with other countries besides the UK. The unfortunate failure of the now defunct 1998 EU Convention on Driving Disqualifications, which I described in my opening speech in this debate, illustrates just how hard it is to reach satisfactory agreements in this area. The relationship we have with UK is unique, given both the land border we share and the numbers of drivers from each jurisdiction who drive in the other jurisdiction. It was certainly right to pursue agreement with the UK as a priority. There is no other case nearly so urgent in this area. The revocation of the EU convention means that, for the time being at least, a convenient framework for arranging mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between Ireland and any other country is no longer in place.
The question of hedge cutting was raised by Deputy Danny Healy-Rae. This is an issue with obvious road safety implications because in some cases hedges are obscuring essential road signs or forcing pedestrians to the edge of footpaths or onto roads. The responsibility for hedge cutting rests with local authorities. I am not personally acquainted with many members of Kerry County Council but I know a few of the Healy-Raes and I suspect Deputy Danny Healy-Rae may have some friends there. I understand my predecessor wrote to all local authorities reminding them of their responsibility in this area and its importance to road safety. I would be happy to do so again.
Deputies Catherine Murphy and Michael Healy-Rae asked about safety camera vans for speed detection. First, the management of the GoSafe contractor and the deployment of safety cameras is a matter for the Garda. What I would like to advise the two Deputies is that the safety camera system has been hugely successful and has saved many lives in this country. A report by the department of economics in Trinity bears this out and shows that 23 lives are saved and 40 serious crashes are prevented each year as a result of safety camera operations. It also clearly highlights that, contrary to popular belief, safety cameras in this country are not a cash cow for the State. The operational costs of running safety cameras are more than double the income in fines that they generate. However, safety cameras save lives in a cost-effective way and the continued expansion of the safety camera programme is a worthwhile objective. It is also worth stating that independent research shows that the majority of people in this country support the use of safety cameras to reduce the number of speed-related deaths and injuries.
It is also important to stress that speed limits are not guidelines or targets that must be reached and that people cannot adopt an à la carte attitude towards the rules of the road, particularly those relating to such limits. Contrary to Deputy Michael Healy-Rae’s comments that drivers are being done for driving a few kilometres over the speed limit, the facts published by the Garda simply do not support this opinion. According to Garda statistics, the vast majority of detections, 80%, were made in respect of vehicles being driven at speeds between 10 km/h and 29 km/h above the posted limit and 11% of detections were for speeds in excess of 30 km/h above the limit. Just 9% of detections were made in respect of vehicles being driven at speeds between 1 km/h and 9 km/h above the posted limit, which, in a 50 km/h or 60 km/h zone, is the difference between life and death for a cyclist or pedestrian if hit by a car.
Deputy Eamon Ryan asked about the level of funding for cycling and other sustainable travel initiatives. While it is not strictly a road traffic matter, I am happy to comment. Some €23.5 million has been allotted for greenways in the past five years. Separately, under other programmes, including the sustainable transport measures grants programme and the regional cities programme, there has been funding for cycling projects in the greater Dublin area and the regional cities. This year, the NTA is receiving €23.2 million for sustainable transport measures grants and €13.5 million for regional cities, much of which is going towards cycling infrastructure.
I was struck by many of the other proposals and suggestions from colleagues. I was delighted to hear Deputies Ellis and McDonald refer to their own Bill, which they introduced here previously, and by the fact it has been incorporated in the legislation before us. It is right that I should say it proves there are some good things about Sinn Féin, and those should be acknowledged as much by this side of the House as Sinn Féin Deputies should acknowledge there are some good things about the Bill. I thank them for the contribution they have made, which was obviously influential in the drafting of this Bill.
I also want to thank Deputy Rabbitte for her contribution on the limits. While there has been general, and almost uncritical, applause for the 20 km/h limits in housing estates, it is worthwhile looking carefully at her point that it took 18 months to introduce those limits and also that they are highly dependent on further funding, so this is not a panacea without further follow-up. I thank her for that and I will bear it in mind when we come to Committee Stage.
Road safety depends on a great many factors and the legislation to address it is an ever-evolving response to those factors and to changing circumstances. The Bill will represent a major step forward in addressing the dangers associated with people driving under the influence of drugs. It will also improve safety through creating an option of a 20 km/h speed limit in built-up areas and through providing the basis for mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between Ireland and the UK.
I also wish to emphasise again, as I did in my opening statement, the need for individual personal responsibility. Each driver is responsible for his or her behaviour when he or she gets behind the wheel. Drivers are also responsible for deciding not to get behind the wheel if they are not in a fit state to drive. As with so much else in road traffic legislation, I hope, in particular, the drug driving measures I am introducing will highlight dangers and discourage dangerous behaviour. We are not, ultimately, interested in convicting people for driving offences; we would much prefer if people acted responsibly and did not commit the offences in the first place. That said, it does not in any sense reduce or remove the responsibility of the Oireachtas or State agencies to curtail the sort of behaviour we are condemning in the Bill.
Before I conclude, I take the opportunity to remind Deputies that next Monday marks the beginning of Irish Road Safety Awareness Week. Motorcycle safety, tyre safety, driving for work and vulnerable road-user safety are the focus of this year’s Irish road safety week which will see a week of activities taking place nationwide from Monday, 3 October to Sunday, 9 October. We and the RSA urge all road users to play their part and to redouble their efforts so that we might reverse the road fatality trend which we have unfortunately seen so far this year. I look forward to engaging with Deputies during the further Stages of this Bill as it passes through the Oireachtas, and I also look forward to its expeditious and effective implementation. Once again, I thank the House for the opportunity to present this Bill and for the valuable and interesting contributions made by every Member.