Deputy Broughan had the floor. There are 17 minutes remaining in this slot. I understand he is sharing time with Deputy Pringle. Is that correct?
Road Traffic Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I wish to make a couple of points to the Minister on the Bill as there are some important issues that it does not address. I refer specifically to section 19, which relates to the amendment of section 78A of the principal Act, namely, to ensure the motor insurance industry gives both clarity and full information details to An Garda Síochána on driver insurance policies. The details specified include the name and address of the policyholder; the period of cover; any limitations as to the use of a vehicle; the persons or the classes of persons insured; the vehicle itself and the names of any driver or the class of driver who is covered under the policy. It has been put to me by the PARC road safety organisation that the Minister should also have included the driving licence number of the policyholder and the named drivers. In view of the appalling increase in insurance, more and more young people are being put on policies as named drivers. I urge the Minister to look again at section 19.
It is intended to commence the amended provisions, of which the Bill is virtually entirely composed, when necessary administrative supports have been agreed with the insurance industry and put in place. It is expected that more robust and targeted enforcement of uninsured driving can take place. It is very important that the full details of the driver linked to the licence specified in that section of the legislation.
It is a cause of much frustration among people who are very committed to road safety that licence numbers of those disqualified in court are not accurately recorded and forwarded quickly enough by the courts to the Road Safety Authority, within days of conviction, as is the procedure in Northern Ireland. Currently, it seems to take the Courts Service three months to forward the information to the RSA. The identification of disqualified drivers is a significant problem if they decide to continue to drive. According to data received by the PARC organisation, a total of 96% of drivers disqualified in court do not surrender their licences to the RSA via the post office box number in Cork. Is that something the Minister could address? I accept that issues relating to the Courts Service and enforcement by An Garda Síochána are the responsibility of the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, but they are matters that must be urgently addressed.
In one of the first Question Time appearances of the Minister he said the Department is committed to the consolidation of the Road Traffic Acts. It is striking how much of the Bill is virtually composed of a series of amendments to the Act of 2010 and all the Acts going back to 1961. Surely, the promised consolidation must be put out to tender without delay. Could it not be considered in stages, while giving priority to drink and drug driving, penalty points, driving licences and disqualification? The Minister's predecessor, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, replied to a parliamentary question a year and a half ago that the work will commence this year, which was 2015. Could the Minister comment on the matter in his reply? One could ask what is a reasonable amount of time to allow for the consolidation to be completed. Part of the problem in terms of adequate enforcement is due to the complexity of traffic law.
Another outstanding problem which has already been raised with both the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Justice and Equality, is the wording on the summonses for the Garda to prosecute drivers who fail to present their licence in court. As the Minister is aware, Judge Marie Keane dismissed all 21 cases taken by the Garda in November 2015 for this offence due to the wording not appearing on the summonses as well. She ruled that the summonses were "fundamentally flawed", because a person who comes before the court is entitled to know the consequences that flow from not having produced his or her licence. What has the Minister or his colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, done to correct the wording on the summonses so the Garda can begin to prosecute again?
Recommendation 2.10 of the 2014 Garda Inspectorate Report is that a system would be introduced immediately to ensure that all penalty points are endorsed on driving licences. A parliamentary question I tabled in 2013 revealed that only 40% of defendants convicted of penalty point offences had their licence numbers recorded. Although the inspectorate considered that was an urgent matter in February 2014, another question I tabled in April 2016 revealed that more than half of those convicted in court for speeding offences in the past 27 months did not have points applied to their licence. What solutions, if any, has the Criminal Justice Working Group arrived at, and what has been the contribution of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in that regard?
Late last year I was informed by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, that the Courts Service has advised that there is no project under way to electronically record the non-production of a licence in court, yet we know that the manual recording of licence numbers does not happen most of the time. Figures supplied to me by way of reply to parliamentary questions showed that in the case of drink driving convictions and disqualifications between January 2013 and March 2015, just 20% of licence numbers were recorded and in the case of speeding convictions just 42% of licence numbers were recorded. What is the Minister's intention in that regard?
What progress has been made on the proposed master licence record project, an initiative to link driver licence details with vehicle registration details which was to cost just over €4 million and take three years to implement? I asked the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Donohoe, about the matter as well.
A further issue concerning the application of road safety laws is the continuing use of the court poor box for penalty point offences. A reply I received in April 2016 to a parliamentary question revealed that almost 2,000 drivers avoided points in that way over a 27-month period. That was despite a High Court judgment by Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan in February 2014 which confirmed that section 55 of the Road Traffic Act 2010 precluded District Court judges from allowing offenders to make donations to the poor box to avoid incurring points for road traffic offences. That is another reason for the judicial council Bill to be introduced as quickly as possible.
I understand that a future project is to be introduced to furnish the Garda with roadside IT devices. Will they be similar to the devices used by the PSNI which are linked to an accessible central database? Has the Minister asked his officials to examine the potential use of the new driving licence which could be used to electronically record penalty point convictions and disqualification?
I welcome the general thrust of the Bill and I am pleased it is before the House. It will be another step on the way to making the roads that bit safer. I urge the Minister to consider the points I have made on the amendments. One of the difficulties with road traffic law is that very close interaction is required with the Department of Justice and Equality. There are many examples of where there is one line Department but in the road traffic area the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport must liaise closely with the Department of Justice and Equality and they must speak with a united voice. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has responsibility for road safety and the Road Safety Authority. I urge him to follow up on those issues.
The legislation sets out the enactment of the so-called Jake's law on speed limits in housing estates, drug driving and also the mutual recognition of offences across the Border in the Six Counties.
I will concentrate mainly on my county of Donegal and some of the very serious issues we have faced in recent years.
While a significant hike in the number of road deaths this year is being experienced in Cork, according to the Road Safety Authority, Donegal is consistently found to have one of the highest road fatality rates in the country and it is still above the average. The statistics clearly show that the last two years have seen a continuation of the trend, with Donegal having a higher than average road death rate. The last comprehensive study of the subject conducted by the Road Safety Authority in 2013 revealed that Donegal had the third highest fatality rate in the country. It's rate of 81 deaths per million population was twice the national average of 41. What has been remarkable during the years is the large number of multiple fatalities in single accidents, which has also made the county stand out. The research also found that while there had been a reduction of 41% in the number of road deaths in County Donegal between 2007 and 2013, it still lagged behind the rate of decrease nationally.
Speeding drivers are cited as being a particular problem in the county, with excessive speed deemed to have been a factor in 8.4% of all collisions between 2008 and 2012, a higher proportion than anywhere else in the country. An RSA report concluded that most speed-related crashes in the county occurred on regional roads in 80 km/h zones or national roads such as the N13. It is safe to say we have a problem with antisocial driving, of which speeding is an aspect. The most common profile of an antisocial driver is a young male who has consumed alcohol. However, if one looks closely at the causes of young men engaging in dangerous driving, there is a connection between antisocial driving and marginalisation. The persistent marginalisation experienced by young people can contribute to the actions of the mainly young men who engage in antisocial driving. I can safely say this is an aspect of the high rates of road collisions in County Donegal and the number of young men found on roads driving dangerously. This connection must be looked at and considered alongside the Bill. The fact that young men compel themselves to engage in dangerous activity, use a car as a dangerous experiment, disregard safety mechanisms such as the wearing of seat belts and abuse substances while driving tells us a lot about the value system young men have. Clearly, the value they put on their own lives and those of others is very little and a consequence of the lack of engagement with society as a whole. Marginalisation severs a person's relationship with society and creates a deep sense of worthlessness which leads to this disengagement.
I will talk a little about an innovative programme devised to address the causes of antisocial driving in County Donegal. It is called the Pro-Social Drivers Programme, a road safety initiative which was started in 2012 by a group of volunteers and which seeks to improve the driving behaviour of some of the higher risk groups of drivers. Candidates for the course are initially identified through the courts system and the legal system and commit to completing a course consisting of four three-hour lectures and classes. It has been found that it is personal factors that are the main causes of riskier behaviour in driving. For this reason there is a focus within the course on social responsibility, emotional control, driving under the influence and the consequences of antisocial driving behaviour. Those involved with the programme even work with reputable international experts in the areas of criminal recidivism and driver rehabilitation to further develop the course and advise on overall content and delivery. Pro-Social Ireland won the 2015 Social Entrepreneurs Ireland impact award for its work on the Pro-Social Drivers Programme and has also been honoured with an award from the Irish Road Victims Association for its work in road danger reduction. Programmes such as this are successful because they believe in rehabilitation, working with those who have previously engaged in dangerous driving. The programme has been so successful that it is being rolled out in some of the Border counties, which is important. We should look at rolling it out across the country. I think there are extremely low - practically zero - recidivism rates for participants in the course. Figures I saw late last year showed that out of more than 100 participants not one had appeared back before the courts for any driving offence. That is very important.
We need to look also at the greater context and consider the fact that there has been a reduction in the number of gardaí in the traffic corps. The number posted to it dropped by 5% in the 18 months to May this year. There were 711 officers assigned to it in May compared to 749 at the end of 2014. The RSA has repeatedly called in recent years for the Garda traffic corps to be strengthened in order to deter dangerous driving. The decrease is due to continuous budget cuts imposed on An Garda Síochána. The budget to be announced in October must seriously redress this issue and reverse the trend.
This week the Donegal road safety plan for the period 2016 to 2021 was launched. I welcome the report which was a collaborative effort by the Donegal road safety working group, an inter-agency group consisting of Donegal County Council, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, An Garda Síochána, the Road Safety Authority, Donegal Youth Service, Donegal Education and Training Board, the Pro-Social Drivers Programme and the National Ambulance Service. I hope this collaborative effort will help to reduce the number deaths on roads in the county, with similar efforts being made across the country.
On the larger and more complex nature of social exclusion and marginalisation, we need a targeted effort and greater political will to invest in programmes such as the Pro-Social Drivers Programme and repeat its success across a number of fronts. There have been many reports carried out on the marginalisation of men in Border counties. It is well established that young men suffer from marginalisation in rural counties, particularly along the Border. The Irish Central Border Area Network produced a report in 2008 entitled, Men's Health in Ireland, which referenced the issues affecting socially isolated men in rural communities - educational disadvantage, social isolation, weak employment opportunities and a lack of access to health care. It clearly stipulated the strategies needed to target this specific cohort. However, austerity has exacerbated the problem further and prevented vital projects from reaching out to more young men at risk.
Although the Bill addresses the policing elements of road safety, provides for the mechanics of how they can be implemented and increases offences and their reporting, they all happen after the fact. We should target the young people who feel marginalised and provide a programme for them to build their sense of social responsibility and take them back into society in order that they will not feel they are outside it. They should not view driving and the way they behave in cars fatalistically. If they offend, they should expect something to happen as a consequence. They should have a sense of their own value and the value they have in society. That would go a long way towards addressing many of the road safety issues that need to be dealt with.
The contributors for the Rural Allliance are Deputies Michael Healy-Rae, Michael Harty and Danny Healy-Rae. Are the Deputies sharing time?
I will start, if that is okay.
I am sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, we are not members of the Rural Alliance but of the Rural Independent Group.
Mea maxima culpa. I am very sorry.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to contribute to the debate. The Road Traffic Bill provides for a number of reforms which are worthy of support. They include the introduction of a new offence of being in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of certain drugs, including cannabis, cocaine and heroin. The Bill also provides for preliminary testing of oral fluids for drugs by gardaí at the roadside or in Garda stations. It is also welcome that the Bill will give effect to the agreement with the United Kingdom on the mutual recognition of driver disqualifications which was signed in October 2015.
Additionally, the Bill creates a new option for local authorities to impose a speed limit of 20 km/h in built-up areas, in addition to existing possible speed limits of 50, 40 and 30 km/h. A speed of 20 km/h is very slow and while I am sure there may be good and valid reasons for introducing such a restriction, it would be a pointless exercise if it could not be enforced. For the most part, a 20 km/h restriction will depend for its success on the civic spirit of drivers rather than hard-pressed gardaí who are overstretched. If a new law is not enforced, it is brought into disrepute and ignored by the public. Of course, we need new laws to meet changing societal needs and situations, but they should obviously be in the public good, sensible and enforceable. The 20 km/h restriction has the capacity to be honoured more in the breach than the observance. How and where it will be applied needs to be considered carefully.
On the other side of the coin, communities that want to reduce speed limits under existing legislation find that the system is intensely bureaucratic, time-consuming and generally fails to answer an urgent need. I will give the House an example from my constituency. There is a beautiful but a potentially dangerous road in the Burren between Corkscrew Hill and Ballyvaughan. I am sure it is a road with which Deputy Eamon Ryan is very familiar as he has spent a lot of time on his holidays in north Clare. It is a beautiful, scenic road along which people stop to take photographs across the Burren and Galway Bay.
Residents and community interests have been campaigning to have the 100 km/h speed limit on this section of the N67 reduced in the interests of safety. The situation is very serious and there are reports of injuries to pedestrians walking from Burren College of Art into Ballyvaughan from local bed and breakfasts and there are numerous traffic accidents on this road. It is not a new story; public representatives at national and local levels have campaigned on this issue in the past.
Despite extensive support from the AA, the Garda and the Road Safety Authority and the speed limit review initiated in 2013, the statutory speed limit on the N67 stands at 100 km/h. I have driven on this road on many occasions and it is impossible to drive at 100 km/h. One cannot exceed 60 km/h for safety reasons and yet the 100 km/h signs remain.
This road carries a huge amount of traffic, as it is a main access route from the Burren to the Wild Atlantic Way, coming from Lisdoonvarna down into Ballyvaughan. Hundreds of accidents have taken place over the 5 km stretch north of Ballyvaughan and this will continue unless the speed limit is changed. I fail to understand why the TII and Clare County Council are reluctant to act promptly in spite of the knowledge that the infrastructure has barely carried the existing volume of traffic in the past.
This section of the road has brought an increased volume of traffic since the very successful introduction of the Wild Atlantic Way. It is the main access route to the Wild Atlantic Way from Ballyvaughan. Officials in Clare County Council agree that a 100 km/h speed limit along this section of the N67 is not realistic and that the route is not reasonably driveable at this speed. However, the process of endeavouring to effect speed limit change is complex and convoluted and can take up to two years to complete in accordance with procedures set out in the guidelines for setting and managing speed limits.
I understand that a process is under way at present with a view to development of a countywide speed limit scheme to facilitate speed limit change where deemed appropriate. The process involves developing a draft scheme, consulting with the Garda, consulting with elected local authority members and in particular consulting with the general public.
Transport Infrastructure Ireland is a key consultee for national roads. In fact, Transport Infrastructure Ireland is currently carrying out its own assessment of speed limits on the national route network. I understand there is movement in the Corkscrew Hill, Ballyvaughan case. The public consultation element of the process will be advertised in the local press later this year. Ultimately, a reduction in the speed limit will have to be approved by the elected members of Clare County Council. Pending the completion of this process, is it possible to introduce a temporary reduction of speed to 60 km/h on this road, as I do not believe there is any disagreement on the need to reduce the speed limit? The current system to effect speed limit change is too long and too inefficient; it costs money in terms of officials' time and ultimately does not meet the citizens' needs in a timely fashion. I urge the Minister to examine this area with a view to accelerating the process.
I am glad to get the opportunity to raise a number of points about safety on our roads. I hope some of the things I will mention will be considered in the Road Traffic Bill we are discussing.
Safety on our roads has been compromised by a number of things, including the lack of proper speed limits. I highlight the example of the N22 going into Killarney. For several years, we have raised this issue with Kerry County Council and have asked that the speed limit be reduced going through Glenflesk where the people go to Mass at 7 o'clock. On a winter's evening it is very dangerous. They park at the side of the road and have to cross to the church but the maximum speed limit applies here. For years we have been asking for this to be reduced, as it is in Lissarda, County Cork, over the hill from us. It is the same N22 road. The request has fallen on deaf ears. The people of Kerry are entitled to the same treatment and their lives are as important as those of the people in Cork.
The same applies at Lissivigeen where the speed limit is reduced to 60 km/h just to go through the roundabout. After going through the roundabout the speed limit again increases to the maximum 100 km/h for about 900 m. In between there is a junction where many people have been badly hurt and maimed going up to Coolcaslagh. I was there one night when people were cutting the roof off a car and the young man inside was as pale as the sheet of paper in my hand. He said to me, "Danny, can you get me out of here?" I have not forgotten that yet. All it takes is to have the sign changed. I was not alone in raising this in Kerry County Council. If we are to talk about enhancing safety on our roads, these are the kinds of issues the RSA should be considering.
A number of years ago the speed limit on local roads was changed to 80 km/h. On some of these roads a driver can do no more than 25 km/h or 30 km/h - that is the ambient speed. However, it gives the right to someone to go mad and drive up to 80 km/h on these roads. People are terrified trying to access the roads from their homes. In some cases children are just inside the walls scared of their lives. These roads need to be assessed with a view to applying proper speed limits.
We also need to recognise the increased volume of traffic. We are talking about safety. Approaching Killarney, there are about six junctions, including one at Woodlands Road and one at the top of the Lewis Road where there have been many crashes with people badly hurt. No recognition has been given to any elected representative who raised this previously. Lewis Road on the bypass is a newly constructed road - constructed in the past 20 years. There is another one at the Madam's Hill. They are all on the national primary road. At Farranfore village people turn left for Dingle - the whole world is going that way - and that is also a very dangerous route. We asked for a mini-roundabout to make that safe until the bypass is built but no one is listening.
I have another issue with the bodies regulating lorries and buses on our roads. I understand we have four of them. First, there is the CVRT and the Department that deals with that. We all agree that vehicles must be in a proper condition to go on the road. In case it might be mentioned later, let me say that I own buses and lorries but I am not talking for myself. I am talking about all the bus operators and hauliers. For the CVRT to test a lorry or a bus here, it costs €330 but it only costs £90 in Britain or the North of Ireland. That anomaly should be addressed to give fair play to Irish operators. It costs €114 for an agricultural jeep in Ireland but only £31 in Britain or the North of Ireland.
Along with the CVRT, we have to deal with the RSA. A lorry driver could have his lorry tested one day and go out on the road. Two days later the RSA might stop him for whatever it might find and could put him off the road for a week or a month even though the lorry has passed the district CVRT and complied with everything.
Another agency, the Freight Transport Association, FTA, a UK body, can do the same. One operator told me that the FTA told him he was required to keep a hammer in the vehicle to break the glass in an emergency. His PSV officer told him he was not required to keep a hammer in the vehicle as that was only required under English law. The level of over-regulation and cross-regulation in this area is hurting operators.
Another serious issue is the overgrowth of hedges and bushes on our roads. This is dangerous to people using our local roads, in terms of their almost having their eyes picked out, and it is the cause of many serious accidents on other roads. Last winter, I was driving behind a lorry that knocked a branch off a tree which landed on the road in front of my car. If that branch had hit a school bus it could have forced the bus driver off the road and resulted in children being injured or killed. Drivers are being exposed to great danger on our roads. According to environmentalists we cannot cut hedges at a particular time of the year even though that is the time of year they most need to be cut. As I said on many occasions in Kerry County Council Chamber birds are not so foolish as to make their nests outside a ditch on a busy road or on the branch of a tree overhanging the road because if they did they would be blown to smithereens or their feathers would be blown all over the road leaving them naked. The birds are not that foolish. The cutting of hedges, bushes and trees should be permitted all year round for the safety of the people. While the level of regulation on drivers and vehicles is ever increasing our roads are not safe. I hope I am getting the message across to the Minister.
There is an unfairness in terms of the way in which the law regarding the cutting of bushes and hedges is being interpreted. I have been travelling to and from Dublin for many years. The hedges and bushes on our motorways are cut at least twice a year. Not even a briar is allowed to grow on the motorways but local authorities are not even permitted to issue letters to landowners in relation to the cutting of hedges and bushes on local roads until 1 September, which is ridiculous because at that time of the year the leaves, briars and so on disintegrate. At the time when hedges and bushes most need to be cut they are not being cut. I am asking the Minister to raise this issue with the Road Safety Authority, RSA, and to ensure that something is done about it. We are still awaiting promised legislation in this regard. At a meeting two years ago of Kerry County Council we were told that the Minister would be introducing legislation that would provide for an increase in the permitted cutting time by one month. That has not happened. It is important our roads are safe all year round.
In some areas, foresters - I am not speaking specifically about Coillte - are permitted to plant to the edge of a road. That should no longer be permissible. No tree should be within falling distance of a road. Falling trees can kill people as, sadly, has happened in Kerry, leaving a young woman and her children without a husband and father. We must prevent this happening. As I understand it, in France no bush or tree is allowed to be planted within falling distance of the road. I am asking the Minister to review the law in this area, which is unfair on the people travelling our roads.
The volume of traffic on our roads is ever-increasing. If an assessment in that regard is not carried out our roads will become clogged up and unsafe. We need to invest in our roads. There is 4,000 km of road in Kerry. Many of those roads were built two centuries ago. Listry Bridge in Kerry was built 260 years ago. It is located on the main artery between Killarney and Dingle. The Minister will be aware of the large volume of traffic that passes over that bridge every day during the summer. The bridge can be accessed by only one vehicle at a time such that if a driver who is not familiar with the bridge progresses across the bridge while another vehicle is coming in the other direction there could be a crash. There have been several crashes on that bridge. Many of our bridges were built in the 1800s and only some of them have been upgraded slightly since then. Given the volume of traffic on our roads it is important the safety of our roads into the future is addressed.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I am not yet used to seeing Deputy Ross on the Government benches. However, I wish him every good luck in his endeavours.
There are some elements of this Bill that are very welcome, including the change with regard to the speed limit in housing estates. As a Deputy who spends a lot of time meeting people in housing estates who have problems I know first hand the dangers in which young children put themselves. I welcome the proposed reduction in the speed limit in housing estates. If it helps save the life of even one young child it will be great. If this Bill results in the saving of the life of one young boy or girl this debate will have been worthwhile.
In regard to drugs, what is proposed in the Bill is a welcome development. Up to now, the Garda Síochána has not had the wherewithal to deal with this issue properly because of a lack of necessary legislation. I hope what is provided for in this Bill will be of assistance. The regularisation of provisions around traffic offences between North and South is also welcome. They are the positive elements of this Bill. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae highlighted road safety issues that are of concern and need to be discussed during the course of this debate.
I would like to speak to the Minister about the issue of regulation. We were all supportive of the introduction of speeding vans because we felt they would help save lives. Speeding vans were never about revenue raising. Unfortunately, that is what is happening in terms of the placement of speeding vans. This is wrong, unfair and crooked. I will give examples. On the day of the Kerry-Dublin match people returning home on entering County Kerry to get to their houses had to pass five or six speeding vans. These vans were specifically located in areas along the route that would be accessed by the large volume of people returning home from the match, on which routes the speed limit has already been significantly reduced. This meant that a person driving the route at a speed of 65 km/h on his or her way home incurred penalty points. That was never the purpose of the speeding vans. They were to create an awareness among people to slow down. I know that the Minister's response will be that if people adhere strictly to the speed limits they have nothing to fear. In an ideal world that is correct. None of us wants to see any person lose his or her life and we are sorry for people who have lost their lives on our roads, of which, unfortunately, there have been thousands over the years. For me, this is treating people in an unfair manner. Another operation was organised last week to target people travelling to and from the National Ploughing Championship. The way in which these strategies are being devised is in my opinion mean-spirited.
I am not speaking about people doing 120 km/h in a 100 km/h zone but people very marginally over the speed limit in a reduced speed limit area. This is where they targeted large volumes of people going to the ploughing championships.
Is the Minister aware that officers from the National Transport Authority targeted buses on one of the days of the National Ploughing Championships? They boarded the buses and asked for the route licence, which buses are obliged to have in many cases. Many people did not have them because it takes three weeks to get a licence from the NTA. Some of the bus operators were only notified several days in advance that they had a run and they did not have time to get a licence. If the NTA is going to be so strict, it should devise a system whereby the person applying for a licence can get it by return in an e-mail on the day or within 24 hours. People out for hire or out for reward may not get notice of a job or a trip. I thought this was mean-spirited.
Of course we want to increase safety on our roads but at the same time we do not want to treat honest to God people as if they were criminals. People for hire and for reward, such as those operating buses, face over-regulation, and my brother touched on this point earlier. Only those operating buses really realise what is happening. Of course all our buses must be up to a standard and the safety of passengers is of paramount concern but these people are honest-to-God people. Their buses pass the tests they are supposed to pass. At the same time, a bus could pass a test today and next week someone else from a different authority could come into the yard to do another examination. If it is good enough to be passed by one authority, we do not need somebody else to check up on the work. It is crazy. It treats these honest-to-God bus operators and people with lorries as though they are criminals. The Minister knows very well that people in the private sector trying to create a job for themselves or jobs for their neighbours, whether in trucks or buses, have had a hard stand for the past five years, particularly during the crisis. These people soldiered diligently. They sacrificed their own families and money to try to stay in business. I hate to see these people being picked on and victimised in the way they are at present. I meet them all the time and I am continuously told by people doing school runs that what is happening to them is outrageous.
Another insane and ageist law is that people over 70 years of age who want to drive children to school for hire or for reward, or get employment if their neighbour has a bus and they have the relevant licences, cannot do so. I know many people who are over 70 whose minds are perfectly alert and whose bodies are perfect and they would love to do a school run. They would be good people for the safety of the children and they would be very responsible. They are barred from doing it. At the same time, there is no problem in the world with them going from one end of the country to the next with a group of people provided they are not school children. What genius in what Department thinks this is a proper rule? It is crazy beyond belief. We have people over 70 who are debarred. A school run could be a nice occupation for a retired person who would drive the local children to school but they cannot do so if they are over 70. We are not supposed to be ageist. We are supposed to treat people with respect and dignity. What is happening is very wrong and has been bothering me for a long time. I would love to see it changed.
My brother raised other issues to do with safety but he left out one item, which is the number of accidents caused on a daily basis by deer roaming onto the roads late at night and early in the morning. I know of a number of people who have been seriously injured and of a number of accidents because where I am from the deer population has soared in recent years. If people hit a deer and their vehicle is damaged or the driver or passengers are injured and they go to the National Parks and Wildlife Service because the deer came from land under its control, it will tell them it has nothing to do with it. At the same time, this is the body which, if an honest-to-God person goes out at night with a gun and goes shooting a deer, will tell the person he or she cannot do it. Will it make up its mind? If it is responsible for the deer it is responsible for them and if it is not it is not, in which case it is our business what we do with them.
In the past I have called for a 70% cull of the deer population in Ireland. One might think this is a lot but it is very factual and correct. If we are to go back to the figure we should have in Ireland, we should lose 70% of our present deer population because it is outrageous. Farmers are being affected. Their fences are being broken and their grass is being eaten and it is all because of this problem spiralling out of control. The number of people who get seriously injured because of deer roaming onto the roads is enormous. I am aware of one case where two people lost their lives and it was put down to the fact there were deer on the road and they swerved to avoid them and unfortunately lost their lives. Something must be done to address this very serious situation.
To return to the positive elements of the Bill, it is to be welcomed in how it deals with a number of problems we have had. I ask the Minister, whom I wish well with his portfolio, to listen to the common-sense approach we are taking to the debate and some of the issues we have raised. I know he is very diligent about his work and he might be able to use his position to deal with the problems we have brought to his attention. I thank him very much for being here.
I will share time with Deputies Eamon Ryan and Seamus Healy.
The main purpose of the Bill is to improve safety on our roads, which is something everyone, not only in the House but generally, wants to see. There are ways this can be done. One thing we cannot do is pay lip service or give the impression that something is being done or that it is more limited than people will expect when legislation such as this is passed. We must consider the practical application of the law as well as law itself.
If one has a view on drink driving, one must have a view on drug driving because it is about impairment and putting people at risk. It is right that we legislate for it. I note a number of drugs are listed in the legislation, including cannabis, cocaine and heroin. There is an exemption for people with prescriptions for medical cannabis. While the initiative is very welcome, a myriad of other substances exist, such as crystal meth, and I ask the Minister whether the device being purchased to detect these drugs will be suitable for testing other types of drugs or is it specific to the drugs listed? Will it capable of detecting other drugs if they are added to the list? How will other drugs be added?
I have concerns about the practicality of enforcing the law at a time when there is much concern about budgets for the Garda.
The explanatory memorandum, for example, states the devices to test for the presence of drugs are significantly more expensive than those used to test for alcohol. It cost 16 cent to test for alcohol but it costs €15 to test for drugs.
Only 150 of these units will be deployed. What is the methodology for rolling them out? There is a drugs problem in every part of the country and it is worse in some places than others. Will enforcement be carried out exclusively in some areas with no enforcement in others? What is the strategy behind this? Will the Garda be given an increased allocation in the budget to purchase more of these units and to expand enforcement? While I wholeheartedly believe this should be done, cost appears to be a factor in rolling out this measure. The Government could give the impression that something is being done while the reality is that significantly less will be done in practice than people expect.
The practicality of enforcement of the 20 km/h speed limit will be a big issue. The legislation offers local authorities the opportunity to introduce this speed limit on housing estates, if they so wish. I spent years on a local authority and there will be huge demand to have this included in by-laws. By-laws will also have to be amended and there will be a great deal of red tape in addition to erecting signs. However, when it comes down to it, enforcement will be the big issue. The perception will be that local authorities have a responsibility to enforce the speed limit but the Garda traffic corps will be the ones who will be responsible and this will add to their workload. There will be high demand and high expectation and people will be disappointed when enforcement falls short. While I understand the origin of the speed limit and the motivation behind its introduction, more work needs to be done. This speed limit has to be effective in practice and not in theory if it is to mean something.
The size of the Garda traffic corps has been reduced in recent years and with road fatalities increasing, there is potential to stretch its resources thinner. Was a regulatory impact assessment carried out into the additional resources that will be required? Is the Government up for providing them?
I am a fan of self-enforcement and design changes on housing estates. Estates can be designed in such a way as to make it difficult for motorists to drive at speed. Older estates have not benefitted from this but, for example, self-enforcing measures such as traffic calming could be used. This is not necessarily about ramps; chicanes and planting could be used. That needs to be encouraged and greater investment is needed to reduce road speeds. The greatest offenders in respect of driving through estates at speed are the residents themselves in most cases.
I have had concerns about the deployment of the Garda traffic corps and GATSO vans for a long time. Given the limited resources available, they must be put to the best use. GATSO vans are supposed to be deployed at accident blackspots. The RSA plots on a map each fatality and serious injury resulting in someone being taken to hospital. Significant information is, therefore, available regarding accident blackspots. Injuries and fatalities are well documented. The safest roads are segregated, for example, dual carriageways. The Naas Road has three lanes on both sides with a hard shoulder, yet GATSO vans are frequently deployed along it. Some years ago, I conducted an analysis. I obtained documentation but I cannot remember the source. All the speeding fines were listed by road. I spent several days going through it because I wondered was it my imagination or were GATSO vans being inappropriately deployed. Some of the safest roads had the highest numbers of fines. I made the point at the time that this was like shooting fish in a barrel and that this was income generation rather than a road safety exercise. The Garda maintains the reason these roads are safe is the high level of enforcement but I would encourage the RSA to repeat this exercise and to examine hotspots, for example, where more than 100 speeding fines are issued. These hotspots should be matched against accident rates. Are limited road safety resources being deployed inappropriately? The maximum return is being generated in income but not in road safety terms. The RSA would be the appropriate body to examine this.
The enforcement of the 20 km/h speed limit has the potential to create a significant new demand on local authorities. It is not a question of just putting signs up. They have to undertake a detailed process to make or amend by-laws in order that the speed limit will be legally enforceable and motorists can be fined. There could be huge disappointment regarding enforcement. A commitment has to be made to enforcement in addition to providing money.
Various Members have referred to their own constituencies to give examples in the context of the speeding issue and I would like to concentrate on the Minister's constituency rather than my own because we both know it well. According to the Minister's public relations and the media, he occasionally takes the 44 bus home to Enniskerry. Let us take an imaginary journey on that route through Dublin Bay South to the border at the Dodder River. I refer to the estates on both sides as we progress. Whitebeam Road, a residential estate, is on the left. Most people drive through it at 20 mph because there are ramps throughout, which slow motorists down to that speed. St. Columbanus's Road is on the right and it has tank traps for ramps. They probably reduce speeds to 20 km/h. At this stage, after Farrenboley estate, one is almost in the country. I grew up in Frankfort Park and everyone played on the street. The street was dominated by children and not by cars in the 1960s and 1970s. I know exactly how these streets worked before the car became dominant and how they could work again. I ask the Minister to think of Highfield, Sweetmount and the streets around them. No one will suggest that Barton Road East should have a 20 km/h speed limit. Should it be 30 km/h or 50 km/h?
Does the Minister agree that the Ludford and Ailesbury estates, and every estate one passes between here and Enniskerry, are suited to being 20 km/h home zones? Does he think that is an appropriate speed for every one of the estates I have mentioned? Can the Minister nod if I am right?
Welcome back, Deputy.
I know the Minister's constituency and its estates very well. Years ago I was a transport campaigner and was brought to Holland to see all the latest cycling facilities. The most interesting things we saw were woonerf estates, in which the whole street was designed to be safe for all users. In these residential streets, 20 km/h is the standard default speed and every one of the streets I have mentioned would be perfect as woonerfs. It is an idea that has taken off across the world. In the United States some 400 cities are going with what they call "complete streets". In England they are known as "home zones" and that is what we should call them because that is what we have to design them for.
This legislation has to look to the future and we have to think about where we are going. As an example, what is the most car-based city one could imagine? I would say it is Indianapolis, on account of the Indianapolis 500, but where is Indianapolis going? The mayor of Indianapolis said recently that growing its workforce and attracting new talent required Indianapolis to do everything possible to make the city a place where people can easily walk to amenities in their neighbourhoods and can bike and drive to and from work, and a place where people want to call "home". I am being very local and very south Dublin but our city is great at attracting investment and all the estates I have mentioned would be perfect homes for people who worked in the centre of Dublin and in Sandyford and Cherrywood. This is a successful city but if we are to compete with Montreal, Auckland, Indianapolis and cities around the world as well as Amsterdam and Freiburg, we have to start thinking this way and start planning our streets with a view to creating communities.
I was very disappointed to read in the Minister's speech that 20 km/h would be the exception and would be at the discretion of local authorities. I would much prefer a 20 km/h limit for all the estates in the Minister's own south Dublin constituency. His constituency is mainly estates that are perfect to be created as home zones. Why not tell that to South Dublin County Council? It will be different in south Kerry but in south Dublin and in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, which are all home estates, let us make it the default option. Let us start taking out the ramps as they are not needed if we start designing the streets as complete streets. It will not cost a fortune and it will cost less in lives lost. It will cost less because we will not have to put ramps in. Big, fancy, expensive solutions are not needed. I know these streets and grew up in them without cars and we do not have to do that much to retrofit them to where they were. I grew up walking from Frankfort Park into Dundrum village and by doing this work we will create strong villages and centres around it. It is all doable with a bit of vision and by putting the pedestrian, the child and the cyclist first. We cannot do that if the car goes faster than the bike. Our streets are perfect for this so let us do it. Let us take the Bill but we should not make the 20 km/h the exception; it should be the rule in suburban areas. It is different in a country area but suburbs are made to be homes so we should be much more ambitious to make the changes that are possible by introducing this legislation.
There are three main provisions, one of which is a technical provision around international co-operation, which makes a lot of sense. The second main provision, for drug testing, also makes a lot of sense. In my 50 years in south Dublin I have never seen a policeman stop and apply the five impairment tests such as checking one's pupils, asking a person to walk with one foot in the air for eight seconds or the finger-to-the-nose test. It has never been done. It is dangerous to drive stoned and the saliva test makes sense as marijuana stays in one's system for some 30 days and the test will pick it up within 12 hours, which is the time during which it affects driving capability. It is a sane and rational approach to improving driver safety.
I cannot miss this opportunity to raise a local issue. I raised it in the Select Committee on Budgetary Oversight with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and there was a lot of media commentary on it. Our budget for safety and for cycling and walking is not enough. The Minister recently had to pull investments in the Dodder greenway and Tolka greenway, which would have been a perfect investment in a Dublin setting itself for the future. From the Columbanus and Ludford estates one would have been able to cycle all the way down the greenway to work and home again, safely.
The Dublin cycling campaign held a protest last week and there is another one next Monday and this issue will be going to the Minister's office because it is absolutely unacceptable. We say that our policy is for 10% of all our trips to be by bike but less than 1% of the transport budget goes on walking and cycling. We can pass legislation on the speed limit but Deputy Catherine Murphy is right that, unless we switch to a tenfold increase in the budget for walking and cycling, we cannot be regarded as serious about this. We will fall behind and will fail to realise to potential of this city. I am talking about Dublin but it is the same in Cork, Galway and Limerick, although they are wetter. Dublin is flat and is a perfect cycling city but we will never get there by spending less than 1% of our transport budget on walking and cycling. Let us get the budget right, as well as the 20 km/h zone, and let us apply the latter as the default system rather than the exception to the rule.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Road Traffic Bill 2016 and I welcome most of its provisions. The purpose of the legislation is to improve safety on our roads and reduce fatalities and injuries to road users by introducing several measures. They are the detection of drug driving via mandatory testing; the creation of new offences for driving or being in charge of a vehicle under the influence of specified drugs; the lowering of the speed limit in estates to 20 km/h, which I will come back to; and the agreement between Ireland and the United Kingdom on mutual recognition of driving disqualifications, which is very welcome.
I congratulate the road safety organisation, Promoting Awareness, Responsibility and Care on our Roads, PARC, which was established in 2006 by Susan Gray, who lost her husband in a road traffic accident in Inishowen in County Donegal. The group comprises people who have been affected by road traffic accidents and has been campaigning since 2006 on various road safety issues. It supports families of road traffic victims and has been involved in a series of very successful campaigns, including the mandatory testing of drivers involved in fatal and serious collisions, which was introduced in June 2011. They were also involved in the campaign to test unconscious and incapacitated drivers in fatal and serious collisions and the law was changed in that regard in November 2014. They published a booklet called Finding Your Way, for families affected by road traffic accidents, which is widely available to all stakeholders, including gardaí, and is updated on a regular basis.
I acknowledge the work done by that organisation, particularly by Susan Grey who founded it, and the work of the people working with it throughout the country. They include Mr. Alec Lee from Clonmel in my constituency. I should also mention the good work that Deputy Broughan has been doing in conjunction with PARC for a number of years.
The Minister should have bitten the bullet on the housing estate issue and made the 20 kp/h speed limit mandatory. Young Jake Brennan died at six years of age following a road traffic accident in a housing estate. His family have been campaigning for some time for the introduction of mandatory 20 km/h speed limits. The opportunity to do that in this Bill has been lost. The current position is that local authorities have the option to introduce a speed limit of 30 km/h. The Minister has reduced that to 20 km/h in this legislation but the record of local authorities on the 30 km/h limit is woeful. In fact, few, if any, changes in that regard have come through local authorities over the years. This option has been available to them since 2014 and the guidelines were updated and reintroduced in 2015 but it is all on the basis of it being an option and encouraging local authorities to do it or recommending that it be done. However, it has not happened in the case of the 30 km/h limit and I am certain there will be no hunger to do it, certainly at local authority official level, in the case of the 20 kp/h limit. There is still time for the Minister to change that provision in the Bill and to make the 20 km/h limit mandatory. As mentioned by Deputies Eamon Ryan and Catherine Murphy, the redesign of estates and of traffic within estates together with a mandatory 20 km/h limit would be hugely advantageous for residents, their families and particularly for cyclists and pedestrians. I hope that during the progress of the Bill through the Oireachtas the Minister might take the view that this provision should be made mandatory.
There is another issue relating to road safety worth mentioning, although it is not mentioned in the Bill. I raise it particularly in the context of my constituency of Tipperary. It is the repair, maintenance and standard of roads in the country. The woeful standard and the lack of repair give rise to potholed roads, with the roads almost undermined, difficult to travel and in many cases causing serious difficulties in vehicles. There can also be road traffic accidents as a result of the condition of the roads. This issue must be addressed urgently. It is a question of funding and resourcing local authorities to enable them to maintain and upgrade the roads.
The Minister has been in Tipperary and visited Tipperary County Council in Clonmel on 28 July. The situation in Tipperary is quite clear. Even though there was a Minister and a Minister of State from Tipperary in the previous Government, the county fell behind significantly with regard to roads funding. The ratings for the various road categories in Tipperary compare very unfavourably with the national mean. For example, local primary roads are 5% less than the mean, local secondary roads are 11% less than the mean and local tertiary roads are a full 17% less than the national mean. The reason is that the roads grants profile for Tipperary from 2007 to 2015 has been one of continuous reductions. In 2007, the regional and local grants amounted to €608 million while in 2015 they were down to €294 million. The amount was more than halved in that period. Various other grants show similar reductions. For example, regional and local road grants for restoration and improvement went down from €13.6 million in 2007 to €8.6 million in 2016 while regional and local road grants for restoration and maintenance went down from €4.7 million in 2007 to €2.4 million in 2016. In fairness to Tipperary County Council, it increased the resources from the county to provide for roads by almost €1 million over that period. There is a huge need for additional funding for roads in County Tipperary. The Minister has been made aware of the situation and I hope that in the forthcoming budget he will be in a position to increase the road grants for the county significantly to ensure that the standard and maintenance of roads in the county are at a reasonable level.
I should mention the N24 national primary road which runs through Tipperary. As I told the Minister in Clonmel, it is a significant economic and social corridor for the area but it is also a very dangerous road. There have been significant road traffic collisions on the road, many of them sadly fatal. Promises and commitments have been made to provide bypasses for both Tipperary town, where the traffic comes right through its centre, and Carrick-on-Suir. I ask the Minister to address that matter as well.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I wish to discuss a number of issues but there is a limited amount of time to do so before the Topical Issue debate.
First, I welcome the overall thrust of the Bill, particularly with regard to the ability to change and adjust speed limits. I come from the local authority background of South Dublin County Council which is a very proactive local authority in examining, reviewing and enforcing speed limit adjustments in the area, contrary to what some Deputies might think. I am not in favour, therefore, of a mandatory limit being introduced. If we believe in local government, local democracy and devolved decision-making, one of the key areas in which we should facilitate that is in allowing our local public representatives, who live within the community and have first-hand knowledge of what the impact of adjusting speed limits would be, to continue to be the primary deciders. Having a national mandatory 20 km/h area is not the right solution and I believe it would be almost impossible to define it. However, if we allow that power to remain with the local authorities, we are effectively saying that they can introduce this regulation on a case-by-case and estate-by-estate basis.
I would particularly like that to happen. In my contribution later, I would like to discuss how, when we introduce a speed limit of 20 km/h, we determine the area and the limit. That is the key point in regard to mandatory limits and local authorities.
If I have time, I will refer to one of the points that arise concerning the introduction of 20 km/h speed limits. Regardless of the speed limit, I would certainly not support the removal of speed ramps or any such infrastructure from residential areas. I do not believe local communities would support that. As a public representative, I have never received requests to remove speed ramps when they have been put in. The vast majority of local communities I represent have campaigned for very many years to try to reduce speeding within residential estates. I grew up in an estate with 700 houses. It had many long roads and there was a real fear of speeding. When we could get an occasional speed ramp or introduce a traffic-calming measure, it was always welcomed.
One of the main reasons I favour traffic-calming measures, which is related to one of the problems with the introduction of a 20 km/h speed limit in housing estates, is that it is very difficult to enforce an effective regime for checking for speeding. I have learned this from my conversations with members of An Garda Síochána. Given the distances required, it is not often possible to record a car's speed in the types of housing estates where one would want to introduce a 20 km/h speed limit.