I am not sure who is speaking after me but, to give the Deputy notice, I will be taking less than ten minutes.
Courts (No. 2) Bill 2016: Second Stage (Resumed)
That is okay.
I will start again because I got cut off last night after a couple of minutes.
My party will be supporting the Bill as it will positively impact on the efficiency of court administration and will free up Garda resources for much-needed operational deployment.
Under the current fixed-charge-notice system, those alleged to have committed a relevant road traffic offence are issued with a fixed-charge notice. Currently, fixed-charge notices are issued and printed on behalf of An Garda Síochána and payment of fines is made through An Post with the notice stipulating that the relevant fine must be paid within a period of 28 days and the relevant penalty points accepted. Where the fine is not paid within the initial 28-day period, the fixed-charge notice provides for a further 28 days within which payment of the original fine plus 50% may be made. Failure to pay a fine within the 56-day period, that is, the 28 days plus the further 28 days, will result in the automatic issuing of a summons requiring the alleged offender to appear in court. It should be noted that this process does not require a member of An Garda Síochána to apply for the summons to be issued; the summons is triggered automatically by non-payment of the fixed-charge fine. It is estimated that 7,500 cases are dismissed annually on this ground alone. Between January and August of last year, there were 118,000 fixed-penalty notices issued for speeding and since January 2013, nearly 150,000 drivers were not convicted for various reasons, including not being served with a summons at the correct address or claiming to have never received a fixed-charge notice in the post. This not only means that the fine was not paid but, arguably more importantly, also that the relevant penalty points were not applied.
Under this Bill, the second fixed charge will provide a third and final option for the payment of the fine - the original fine plus 100%. For those who opt to pay, payment must be made not later than seven days before the date specified in the summons as the date on which the charge is to be heard by the court.
The issue of motorists going to court and claiming that they never received the fixed-charge notice in the first place has been a long-standing source of frustration for many District Court judges. I note, in particular, the comments from Judge Patrick Durcan in Ennis District Court who has been quoted at length in the media criticising speeding motorists who are allegedly willing to perjure themselves in the witness box when giving sworn evidence that they did not receive a fixed-charge-penalty notice for speeding. In one case, a defendant before his court was detected speeding at 133 km/h in a 120 km/h zone on a motorway. The judge refused to accept that the gentleman in question did not receive the fixed-charge notice and he fined him €750 and banned him from driving for a year. The judge also requested that the Garda inspector refer the evidence to the DPP as a result of the alleged perjury committed which he referred to in the court as a "pack of lies." In his own court, the judge ended up being obliged to dismiss 15 cases in one day where all the motorists suspected of speeding stated that they did not receive a fixed-penalty notice in the post. One can understand the frustration of judges in this regard.
Of course, we can have all the legislation we want on the Statute Book to address this matter but it will be of little use if there are not dedicated resources available to ensure these laws are enforced. In December 2013, there were 804 gardaí in the traffic corps. This dropped to 742 in 2014. In 2015, the number dropped further to 716 and by November of last year, there were 674 members of the Garda traffic corps. While I do not believe there is a correlation equal to causation, it is certainly something which has to be taken into account. If we are bringing in additional legislation and decreasing the resources available to the Garda, one outcome will be the question of who will issue and monitor the fines. In fairness, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, has stated that the traffic corps will increase by 10% this year but that will still not result in the numbers increasing to where they were previously before the economic crash. I note the Minister has put on record that her ultimate goal is to get back to that level. We understand it will not happen overnight. It will take a number of years. We certainly welcome the commitment from the Tánaiste that it will increase by 10% this year. We hope that she is proven correct in that regard because as long as the number of gardaí in the traffic corps remains an issue, the issue of enforcement will also remain an issue.
The State has been aware of significant weaknesses in the fixed-charge-notice systems for some years, as far back as 2013 when the Comptroller and Auditor General flagged up that one traffic offender in five was able to avoid penalties and suggested that it needed to be urgently addressed. Unfortunately, the Government did not urgently address it and we are addressing it now.
My party will support the Bill. We hope that it will prevent the practice of people arriving to court stating they did not get their notice in the post. Furthermore, we are hopeful that it will act as a deterrent to motorists speeding in the first place because that is what we must address. The Bill is to address motorists who claim that they did not get the fixed-charge notice but we cannot forget that we must provide deterrents to the act of speeding in the first place. We need to reach a point where motorists are not being issued fixed-charge notices to start with. In that light, we would urge the Tánaiste to look at the issues of road safety, traffic policing and penalties in a holistic manner. I note the Tánaiste has done that in the past and will continue to do so. Hopefully, this time next year we will be looking at a reduction in the number of fixed-charge-penalty notices being issued, as well as closing this particular loophole. For that reason, we will be supporting the Bill.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak briefly on this important Bill before us today, the Courts (No. 2) Bill 2016. It is sponsored by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, and I understand that it is a collaborative effort with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. It will allow for the commencement at long last of section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 2010, the third payment option, which I have been calling for in this House for a long number of years. Indeed, I have replies to parliamentary questions on it dating back to 2012 from the previous Minister for Justice and Equality, Mr. Alan Shatter, and the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar. At the time, the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, stated that his officials were in consultation with the relevant stakeholders, including the Department of Justice and Equality and the Garda, regarding the commencement of section 44 of the 2010 Act, and that he expected to receive an update on those consultations shortly - that was four and a half years ago. The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, undertook to immediately commence section 44 as soon as the Department of Justice and Equality advised that the technical and administrative measures are resolved. Here we are, four and a half years later.
In 2013, I received a similar reply from the former Minister, Mr. Shatter. He referred to a working group on this area. The working group in question is the criminal justice (fixed-charge-processing system) working group, which was set up to examine the serious failings in the processing of fixed charge notices and application of penalty points for road traffic offences. Currently, if a person is convicted of a fixed-charge offence, he or she is issued with a fixed-charge notice indicating the detail of the offence or offences and giving him or her 28 days to pay the specified fine. A further payment period of 28 days is then permitted with a 50% increase in the fine amount - a total of 56 days to pay - if the fixed-charge notice remains unpaid.
The Bill before us finally provides the legislative framework to allow for the commencement of section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 2010, also known as the third payment option. This will provide motorists with a third and final opportunity to pay the fixed charge plus 100% extra and, therefore, to avoid a court appearance. The third fixed-charge notice, FCN, most importantly, will be issued alongside the summons for the court appearance, thereby putting a stop to the practice of those incurring FCNs attending court and claiming that the FCNs were never received. This practice generally culminated in the case being thrown out, no fine paid and no penalty points being applied to the licence. This practice is widespread and, legally, there seems to be little that a judge can do but accept the word of the person before him or her, meaning that tens of thousands of fixed-charge offences were thrown out of the courts each year.
This short Bill will amend section 1 of the Courts (No. 3) Act 1986. Section 2 of the Courts (No. 2) Bill 2016 inserts a subsection into section 1 of the 1986 Act, making six amendments in the administrative procedures of printing and issuing summonses.
Paragraph (a) of subsection 2(a) provides for information sharing to allow a print-service provider print a summons and fixed charge notice. Paragraph (b) allows for the processing of batches of summonses and paragraphs (c), (d), (e) and (f) make provisions for the definitions around the effecting of the summons and true copies of the summons. Section 3 of today’s Bill deals specifically with the issuing of a summons to a member of An Garda Síochána when he or she has allegedly committed a road traffic offence. A summons to a garda will no longer have to be signed by a judge as is currently the case under section 88(3) of the Courts of Justice Act 1924.
I warmly welcome the Bill and wish it a speedy passage through the House. However, I will use the opportunity of this debate to raise five or six closely related matters, which I hope the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality will address. The Departments of Justice and Equality and Transport, Tourism and Sport must work closely together to administer road traffic law. On 3 November last, I tabled a parliamentary question on the wording of the summons to inform persons of the legal requirement to present their driving licence to the court and the penalties for failing to do so. This is section 22 of the Road Traffic Act 2002. The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality replied on the issue but the matter still has not been effectively addressed. When will this be rectified? The enforcement of section 22 remains a huge issue in our road safety legislation.
In November 2015, Judge Marie Keane dismissed the 21 cases before her for the offence of failing to produce their licences in court and 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 their licence. What has been done since this ruling to correct the wording on the summonses so that the Garda can begin to prosecute again? In November 2015 a reply from the Tánaiste stated:
I am informed by the Garda authorities that in the first instance an offence wording is created by An Garda Síochána. Following approval by the DPP the approval details are forwarded to the Courts Service for offence coding, and returned to An Garda Síochána for uploading onto the Garda Pulse System. This then allows a member of An Garda Síochána to apply for a summons by inputting the specific offence code assigned to the particular offence in respect of which they are creating the summons for.
It is a complicated system.
It is now 15 months since Judge Keane’s ruling and despite many promises of an "urgent report" I have not received an update. In a reply to a parliamentary question on 15 November 2016 the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality said:
Insofar as the wording of the relevant summonses is concerned, An Garda Síochána is engaging with the prosecution authorities in relation to these issues, which I understand are complex ones, and not necessarily related solely to the wording of summonses. As the Deputy will be aware, I have asked An Garda Síochána for an urgent report in this regard. In addition, the wording on the summonses and other related matters are being considered by the Fixed Charge Processing Group which is jointly chaired by my Department and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
What is the outcome of this consideration by the group on this matter?
It is the responsibility of An Garda Síochána to serve summonses. Figures from replies to parliamentary questions show that this is not being done in 37% to 85% of traffic cases across the country. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality must work together on this ineffective system and try to find solutions. It is difficult to understand how the reasons put forward by An Garda Síochána could account for the figures. I will offer some random examples. In Manorhamilton it is 85%. It is a small area where most people are likely to be known to each other and to the gardaí and where the residents are unlikely to live in multi-occupancy dwellings inaccessible to gardaí. The non-serving rate is 67% in Skibbereen and 62% in Ballaghaderreen in County Roscommon. The reason provided to me in a reply to a parliamentary question on 15 November 2016, in which I requested information on speeding summonses, was:
The figures provided by the Courts Service indicate that a significant percentage of cases are struck out for non-service. My officials are seeking clarification from the Courts Service and An Garda Síochána as to the reason for this figure being at this level. It should however be noted in this respect that a working group [yet another working group] was established by An Garda Síochána to examine how the rate of summons serving can be improved and to regularly monitor the level of summons service throughout the country. While this group has reported improvements in the rate of successful service of summons, challenges remain in relation to effecting service of summons in certain circumstances, relating to such matters as inaccurate address data, persons moving address, or living in multi-occupancy dwellings or other settings which make service difficult. In addition, certain persons will take steps to evade service.
In the period from January 2015 to October 2016 there were 66,771 offences for speeding listed in courts across the country. Of these, there were just 14,572 convictions, which is just over 20%. Of those convictions only 6,165 had their licences recorded, which is 42%, 2,923 were dismissed, 30,618 were classified as "strike out not served", equating to 45% or almost half, and 676 received the court poor box, which is technically illegal. The total number of 48,745 means that 73% of offences listed resulted in non-conviction.
The third matter I wish to raise relating to the performance of the Department of Justice and Equality in respect of road traffic law concerns figures released by the Road Safety Authority, RSA, which show that 96% of drivers disqualified in court in 2015 did not surrender their licences. The figures were provided to the great campaigning road safety group PARC - Promoting Awareness Responsibility and Care on our roads. Susan Gray and her colleagues in PARC have done much work to bring forward road safety issues in the House. Recent figures released by the RSA to The Irish Times showed that almost 8,000 drivers who have multiple concurrent disqualifications on their licences continue to flout the law by driving. These are drivers who were ordered off our roads for drink driving or causing death or serious injury or both. The Irish Times also reported that banned drivers are responsible for the deaths of between 11 and 14 other drivers every year. We already know that 521 drivers were disqualified at the time they were convicted of dangerous driving causing death or serious injury in the period from January 2013 to March 2015. To date, PARC and I have failed to establish how many of those drivers were already disqualified at the time they caused death or serious injury or both. Perhaps that is another matter the Minister could progress urgently.
The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, has always been a thoughtful and assiduous Member of the House and is equally so as a Minister of State. There appear to be huge lacunae in road traffic law enforcement and administration which must be resolved. I mentioned to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport earlier today that he had promised four legislative measures relating to his responsibility for road traffic law. Perhaps it is time to have a consolidated Bill. It is something on which the Government could work. I tabled a parliamentary question for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, in which I requested the full report on the research the RSA had carried out on the 8,000 figure I mentioned earlier. The Minister replied:
I am aware of the Road Safety Authority (RSA) research indicating that there may be as many as 8,000 disqualified drivers on our roads, and that a number of them have been responsible for fatal or major collisions in recent years. My Department has been advised by the RSA that this research was not the subject of a formal report, and the RSA research included the use of data provided by the National Vehicle and Driver File to the RSA. ... I would point out that under new powers provided to the Gardaí under the Road Traffic Act 2014, the Gardaí (since June 2015) can now arrest drivers who are detected driving while disqualified.
Another issue is the fact that gardaí have informed PARC representatives that occasionally when they try to check an individual on the Garda PULSE computer system, it is not possible to identify the correct person. They say this is due to the fact that there could be several recorded dates of birth for that person and differing addresses. This results in multiple PULSE identifications and they say that it is not possible for gardaí to be confident they are identifying the correct person. What is being done to identify multiple identifications on the Garda PULSE computer system? Is the Minister sure that the PULSE system is fit for purpose? We have not supported An Garda Síochána sufficiently regarding IT structures in the computer and Internet age. The Minister of State will recall that it was not long ago when he and I were attempting to contact our local Garda headquarters and we were unable to e-mail them. It is only in the last few years that we have been able to e-mail our local superintendent or chief superintendent.
I also recently requested an update on the drink driving cases which were affected by the issuing of Garda reports in both Irish and English, but I have been informed that the information I requested cannot be provided.
However, the Tánaiste told me that the matter was determined by Mr. Justice Noonan at the High Court on 21 September 2015 and the Garda Síochána sought to have all cases where this issue had relevance before the courts at the time adjourned pending an appeal of the High Court decision. In certain cases, the presiding judge did not accede to that request and the matter was struck out or dismissed. The Tánaiste also informed me that “following the judgement by Edwards J., at the Court of Appeal on 10 May 2016, all district officers liaised with the respective law officers in so far as the cases in their districts were affected by the outcome of these proceedings to ensure that all cases affected by this issue, which have not been finalised, are brought back before the courts." It would be useful if the Tánaiste were able to come here and give us an update on this serious matter, which has led to another major gap in people owning up to their responsibilities regarding infractions of road traffic law.
Before Christmas, we had a very good discussion in the House, in which Deputy Jonathan O'Brien and others participated, on the Road Traffic Bill 2016. Most people still feel more emphasis needs to be put on learner drivers. I have recently been asking questions about this and have been trying to determine the extent of the problem with unaccompanied learner drivers being involved in fatal and serious road traffic collisions. At the beginning of this year, I received a reply to a parliamentary question from the Tánaiste informing me that the number of fatal traffic collisions involving unaccompanied learner drivers was seven in 2012, four in 2013, eight in 2014, 16 in 2015 and seven up to 29 November 2016. The number of unaccompanied learner drivers involved in serious road traffic collisions was 22 in 2012, ten in 2013, 32 in 2014, 24 in 2015 and 24 up to 29 of November 2016. We also had a long discussion about insurance of cars being driven by learner drivers during the lengthy discussions on the Road Traffic Bill. I hope the changes in the law will move towards eliminating this scourge and the numbers of deaths and serious injuries being caused by unaccompanied learner drivers.
I would like the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to urgently examine a number of provisions, such as addressing the wording of summons and the timeframe to have changes completed, for those to be issued along with the fixed-charge notice, but also for those to allow prosecutions under section 22 of the Road Traffic Act 2002 to recommence. They could be included in the Bill, if the Tánaiste were to take swift and decisive action. I would also like to see a provision stating that where the licence or permit is produced on conviction, all the details specified in the licence or learner permit, including the licence number, must be forwarded by the court to the national vehicle and driver file, NVDF, and the Road Safety Authority, RSA, within five working days, including all of the names and contact details of the persons who failed to produce their licences on conviction. I tried to put it into the Road Traffic Act before Christmas. For this, we would need a direct or electronic link between prosecutions as recorded on the Courts Service's criminal case tracking system, CCTS, and the fixed-charge notice originally issued by the Garda Síochána. We need stronger penalties for those who do not surrender their licences and improved follow-up procedures to ensure that proper tracking is taking place of licences and the endorsements received on the licences.
Last year, we were all very disappointed that the number of deaths on Irish roads increased so significantly to 188. Deputies on all sides made huge efforts to reform road traffic law during the previous decade and a half. We brought the numbers down from the horrendous levels that used to apply in the 1960s and 1970s. Still, last year 188 families were totally devastated and thousands of families have members who were seriously injured. We must take a very proactive approach. The Government, particularly the Tánaiste and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, could make a significant contribution, if they wished, perhaps by consolidating road traffic law and having the courage to bring a consolidated Bill before the House. I commend the Bill to the House.
I, too, am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the Bill. Deputy Broughan has been pursuing it like a dog with a bone for years and I commend him on his efforts. There are many inadequacies in the system and that should not be the case. While the Bill is trying to deal with them, we must consider other areas. The Minister is examining enforcement and the wording of summonses. We get a so-called clever or industrious solicitor or barrister. I mean no disrespect to my good colleague, Deputy O'Callaghan, in his new job here. We hear there is a good fellow in Mallow or a great fellow in Tipperary and that either one is able to deal with it. They come at enormous cost. Sometimes they produce the goods by holding up whoever is acting on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP. Our legal representatives have a role to play in respect of road safety. They sure do. It is not a case of defending the indefensible. They must have some moral standing and know that right is right and wrong is wrong. It does not mean that a person is clever or ingenious if they can get somebody off the hook for a heinous crime.
According to the figures, last year was shocking in terms of what happened on our roads. The variations in the failures to serve summonses in different areas throughout the country beggars belief. I am not trying to single out any gardaí for any reason. It is difficult now. At one time, we all knew everybody who lived in our communities, as the Minister of State would know, given that he comes from a rural constituency. This has vastly changed and we do not know where people reside. It is very difficult. During the past 15 months, batches of summonses were not delivered. The figures were quoted by others. It is amazing to see. How can one area be so good?
The PULSE system is not up to standard. The severe lack of investment in the Garda Síochána regarding numbers and, above all, equipment, during the past ten years is taking its toll. Several Garda stations in my area have no PULSE system and scarcely any Internet coverage. We can keep the Garda stations open and I am a great advocate that there is no replacement for the garda on the beat, in situ, in the station. Gardaí get to know the people. There is an excellent garda, Niall O'Halloran, in my area. He has got in there in the past few years and has got to know the people. He attends matches in the area and is involved in young people's sport. He is also involved with the community alert and text alert systems and people know him. There is no replacement for that. Gardaí from 20 miles away who arrive in a squad car will not get the same co-operation from people. Like the parish priest, if one stands in people's kitchens, one will have a full chapel. They must get down and meet the people, and they must be allowed to do it. There is no point appointing a token garda responsible for districts and the community alert person if he or she is not left there but is always pulled back into the town. While I know they are needed there, country people are also entitled to their service.
Use of the poor box in courts has been criticised. It is at the discretion of the justices. Many very needy organisations benefit greatly from it and would have been in fierce trouble over the years if they had not. Practice varied in different court areas, depending on who was sitting. That is fine. They are entitled to make the decision.
I cannot believe the figures supplied to PARC on the number of licences that were not surrendered by people who were put off the roads. What kind of court system and lack of communication is there? If a person is put off the road, I would have thought his or her licence would have to be proffered there and then in court. I am delighted PARC does such good work. This is a major area. It is shocking that people are driving without licences, particularly as this means that they have no insurance either.
Deputy Broughan mentioned the figures on those involved in serious and fatal accidents who have been banned from driving. I believe those people should never be let on the roads again because they are so reckless to have driven without a licence or insurance. I accept that a driver has to have a licence to get insurance but there must be some follow-up.
Modern IT systems allow for cross-compliance in agriculture, as the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is aware, and in everything else too. The figures show there is one garda for every 300 people and one agricultural official for every 30 people, so there are a lot more agricultural officials. The Minister of State is wincing but those figures stand up, although they might have changed in recent years. We need a modern, up-to-date system linking the courts, the Garda PULSE system and Garda patrol cars. Some of the newer traffic corps vehicles have high-spec equipment, but only very few. More are needed, particularly given the huge increase in the level of crime and the number of burglaries. Gardaí need to be able to check cars using cameras. I have seen how well these cameras work and how they can tell if a car has passed its NCT and so on.
I support the Minister, Deputy Ross, in dealing with the many road safety issues. In some areas, however, he is looking in the wrong place. One fatality is one too many, and to have had 188 last year on the roads is appalling. However, it is not all down to one issue; there are several factors at work. The Rural Independent Group had a debate two weeks ago on the standard of the roads and the deterioration of their surfaces. Although we have had a very good winter, the weather was inclement recently and I heard appeals to drivers on RTE radio to be careful because of the damage to the road surfaces. That is also a huge issue.
We need to deal with the law preventing the cutting of hedges, which is pure nonsense. To quote Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, there is no bird foolish enough to nest on the side of the road where there are lorries passing, so they go well into the fields to nest. I am involved with the Association of Farm Contractors Ireland and we have been lobbying for years to allow the hedges to be cut. We discussed this in the talks on the programme for Government last year but, lo and behold, we have to get permission from the county council. Why can we not just have permission in the interests of road safety and of saving lives? When a tractor is coming out of a field, it is probably 7 ft. out of the field before the cab is out and it could be 10 ft. if there is an implement on the front of the tractor. There could be 5 ft. of scrub and bush that is nothing but rubbish. If it is cut clean, the birds would have plenty of time to mate and hatch in the fields. I am all for our bird species but it is ridiculous how the Wildlife Acts are directly impeding road safety. It is contradictory as well as being unsafe and unwise. Farmers will cut the hedges.
There is also legislation governing tree felling. Every landowner should be instructed to cut the trees. The councils are like a dog in a manger; they will not cut them themselves and they will not instruct the farmers. In spite of the change in legislation, we have to get permission from the council to allow us to cut them.
The Minister, Deputy Ross, has to examine many areas of road safety. It is not as simple as pointing to speed or to country drivers because there are many factors. While I am not against speed cameras, the figures released by the Department of Justice and Equality in August 2016 revealed that the State spent almost €88 million on the enforcement of private speed vans in the space of five years. I see these vans as a money-collecting and money-making operation, although that is not a criticism. I had occasion to contact one of the vans recently when I was contacted because a van was close to a wake that was taking place. I knocked on the van door and made my point to the man, and he left because it was a huge local funeral and people were distressed at the idea of him being there. In fairness, that is the only interaction I have had with them. Thankfully, I have not received any fines as it turns out I am not a fast driver. However, I never see them in the places where there are fatal accidents. I have appealed to the Garda to put up checkpoints and speed cameras at serious bends and dangerous stretches of road but it has not happened. They are put in trick-of-the-loop places and the vans are sitting in the towns in 80 km/h, 60 km/h and 50 km/h zones. Quite honestly, drivers do not know where they are and they are getting fooled.
The figures show the State paid the private safety camera operators the phenomenal sum of €87,951,268 from the time they were deployed in 2010 to 22 July last year, while they recouped just €32,689,120 in fines during that same time. What if that money was invested in the Garda? Those figures need to be seriously examined, given the hardship imposed on people driving to work and so on. While I am not condoning speeding, where drivers are a couple of kilometres per hour over the limit in 80 km/h, 60 km/h and 50 km/h zones, there should be some latitude, particularly as the signage is not great.
There has been recent investment, including in CLÁR areas, which I welcome. For example, flashing lights and signs telling drivers their speed are located on the edges of villages and towns. This is very effective and the new schemes mean the community can be involved in erecting these signs, which can be moved around as needed. This is very important. There is no doubting the impact of the safety camera regime on reducing road fatalities and accidents, particularly in areas that have been blighted by these incidents over the years, and I am not suggesting that they be removed entirely. Accountability is needed, however, given the amount of taxpayers' money required to run them, the amount of money coming back in and the question of who is making the profits. As I said, I seriously question where they are located. I am sure the Minister of State has seen them located in silly places whereas, in places where there have been multiple fatalities, I am told it is too dangerous for the cameras to be located. It can be dangerous but there are areas where a safe location can be found, such as at Duggan's bends near Cahir, but for some reason they are not located there.
In each year from 2012 to 2015 it cost the State more than €17 million to maintain the contract, with a cost of almost €16 million in 2011. These contracts are ridiculous and not fit for purpose but they are lucrative. While I welcome the issues of road safety raised in this debate, we need to do more. For the period from 2010 to date, revenue generated from the safety camera contract has totalled more than €32 million, despite all the millions pumped in. This means that there is just more than €54 million in the difference between the operation of the contract and the revenue that it creates. We need a much more detailed conversation about how the money might be better spent, in particular in terms of robustly resourcing the Garda traffic corps.
I want to salute the Garda traffic corps, which operates under Inspector Eddie Golden in my area of Tipperary. I know many of its members, who work hard and who have got involved in visiting schools and visiting farmers on mart days. They have open nights and open days and they have met with the Association of Farm Contractors Ireland. They have discussed changes to many pieces of legislation, which has been very beneficial. I have learned much from them, such as the correct towing of trailers, the correct axle weights and so on. We cannot get enough of that. What we badly need is a programme for transition-year students. I have seen an excellent programme in the Abbey school in Tipperary town, where the students take lessons on a track around a field. This gives them great confidence and is money well spent, given they are the drivers of tomorrow. They need to be educated differently from the way we were educated because the roads are so busy now. No one is taking account of the ten-fold multiplication in the volume of traffic in recent years. While it is never mentioned, it is a huge issue. We need to have those training courses and we need the traffic corps and ordinary gardaí visiting the schools.
I am disappointed the Bill has not addressed the issue of pedestrians being killed on the roads. When it is dark, no one can see them. It is frightening but I come across it every winter. When a person is driving along the road, they see something and they might get time to swerve or they might not. It should be compulsory to wear reflective jackets in the winter months. We need to be creative in this regard. I am sure the RSA spends a lot of money producing these jackets but we have to produce reflective jackets that young people will wear.
We see them wearing all kinds of things now, especially at Christmas, with flashing lights on gansies and rudaí mar sin. We see all kinds of creative writing, different branding and different T-shirts made with all kinds of equipment. Why can we not be creative in order that it will be cool to wear this because it is vital? I often see kids getting off school buses. Thank God, the evenings are bright now but before and since Christmas, I see kids getting off buses and alighting onto the road. It is black and they do not seem to understand. They have big heavy schools bags. They struggle across the road with the weight of them. They cannot even run with them. That is another area that has to be addressed. Why can we not have school bags with flashing lights? We can have them on everything. As they can be bought in shops to wear as armbands, why can they not be a compulsory part of school uniform or school fleeces? They can be nice and trendy and cool to wear and they will be safe. Surely road safety is more important than any uniform.
There is trauma for a driver when he or she hits somebody like that. There is trauma for the person who is hit but for the driver also, who is totally innocent and unable to avoid the accident because somebody walked in front of him or her in the road wearing black clothes. The Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, and his officials in the RSA need to focus on that issue also. They need to get down and dirty and go out and consult in the communities. They should consult the students. They can be very creative. They could have competitions as we often have in our community LEP group. Every year we have a community LEP competition, the young people make Christmas cards, and the ideas that come up are just fascinating. They must be consulted and engaged with. There must be areas for the tests they do. They are very good. The RSA and the Garda do them.
There have been startling revelations about the impact of an accident and the importance of wearing a safety belt if a person crashes. We are not fully aware of it ourselves. We should support the traffic corps and give it more resources and power. The investment in speed vans needs to be examined. They are a bit of a money making racket and are not in areas they should be. I am not blaming the people who operate them. They have a job to do. It is very lonely. There have been attacks on a number of them when there should not have been. It is a very lonely job sitting there for hours in those vans. I often thought there was nobody in them but there is.
We need to take an holistic approach. We need to have more co-operation between the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Courts Service. It is pretty efficient at handing out repossession orders and everything else when it suits, but how can there not be basic tracking for licenses? If one is disqualified from driving, one's licence should be handed up that day. If not, An Garda Síochána should be empowered to collect it within so many days. There must be a system like that. They have spent so much time collecting fines. That is a pure farce because there should be some other way of collecting a fine rather than wasting Garda time doing it. We should be efficient and let gardaí concentrate on road safety and dealing with criminals. That is what they are if they have been banned and have caused a serious accident or fatality when driving while banned.
There will need to be connectivity here, especially in the areas I mentioned. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. The young people will learn. Many people have criticised young drivers who drive with L-plates without a qualified driver. It is not always possible. I am not condoning it but we should get some other system. The way it is going in rural Ireland, we will have fewer buses and trains. I have to credit some insurance companies such as Aviva and others that offer certain discounts if one does tests with them. Young people go out and get the car and the provisional licence, do the theory test, do all the lessons, pass the test, put up their N-plates, drive and then go for insurance but the cost is sky-rocketing. The insurance companies must be brought to heel. They are not respecting the young people who do all that with enormous cost to their parents and enormous interest, passion and courage themselves. They learn how to drive, get their licence and celebrate, which is great, then put up their N-plates and cannot get insurance or are penalised with policies of €8,000, €9,000 or €10,000. It is just not fair. If they go off and do some mad things like break speed limits and crash, then we should penalise them but when they have their certificates and their training, which is more than we got when we started driving, and they have it recorded and have their N-plates up, they should not be screwed the way they are for insurance. Their parents cannot afford it. Where will the money come from in the country? They have to go to college. They have to go to Mass. They have to go to games. We do not have the DART or Luas or what they have in Dublin. The Road Safety Authority needs to focus on many other areas, with the Department of Justice and Equality to deal with this problem holistically, not pigeon-holing people and blaming them unnecessarily.
On behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality who regrets that, owing to other official commitments, she cannot be here, I thank Deputies for their exchange of views and observations on the Courts (No. 2) Bill 2016. The broad political support that Members have given to this technically important Bill is also very much appreciated.
I also express my appreciation of the wider road safety and compliance concerns that have been raised during the discussion. They also need to be addressed, including in terms of the human cost and in the wider context of road safety and the Road Traffic Acts. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan listed five specific areas of concern. I will bring them to the attention of the Minister and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I listened very carefully to what the three Deputies who spoke had to say. I am quite impressed. I encourage all Deputies to continue pressing and thank Deputies who encourage road safety and have raised issues like this here and in committees. It is very important that this continues. I encourage Deputies to do this. As the last speaker said, we should continue to work to improve safety on the roads and reduce the numbers of deaths and injuries. That is crucially important and I thank Deputies for it. I will also inform the Tánaiste of Deputy Thomas P. Broughan's ongoing concerns, in particular.
Those concerns do not fall within the scope of this discrete, focused Bill but nevertheless it is a Bill which will technically underpin the enforcement of the wider road safety regime. For present purposes, our debate has been a further step towards enabling the introduction of the proposed new third payment option under a dual strategy, namely, the amendment for technical reasons under today’s Bill of section 1 of the Courts (No. 3) Act 1986, which deals with the issue of summonses for offences as a matter of administrative procedure and the commencement, once the proposed technical amendments set out in the Courts (No. 2) Bill have been made, of section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 2010 by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, in order that the third payment option can be put into practical effect.
The operative date for these changes, for which the necessary IT infrastructure has been put in place, is 1 June 2017. Hence the need to have the framework of this supporting Bill firmly in place before then. While the initial 2013 estimate of the number of cases that may be at issue under this reform initiative was at the 7,500 mark, it is now understood from the Courts Service that in more recent terms it would estimate this figure to be around 2,000 cases per year. It has been emphasised in providing this latest figure that it is very much an estimated one on account of the variety of approaches being taken at judicial level to such cases and the fact that the relevant figures fluctuate from court to court and from year to year. However, as Members will appreciate, there is no room for complacency and I am confident that the Courts (No. 2) Bill 2016 will provide the technical basis upon which to address an ongoing gap in the system whereby persons may otherwise continue to try to circumvent the law, a fixed charge and penalty points.
The benefits anticipated from the Courts (No. 2) Bill and the subsequent introduction of the third payment option include the following: an increase in instances of detected road traffic infringements resulting in penalty points; a reduction in the number of cases coming to court, thereby saving time for the Courts Service and An Garda Síochána; an increase in the number of persons taking up the first or second payment options; and improved service for members of the public who do not receive or overlook to pay an original fixed-charge notice. Deputies will agree it is also important to remember we are not just addressing a legal technicality in this instance. We are also being fairer to the majority of drivers on our roads who behave within the law every day. By the same token, the introduction of the third payment option is a key component in a series of ongoing measures to improve the operation of the fixed-charge processing system under the overall aegis of the Government's Road Safety Strategy 2013-2020. In this spirit, with the Tánaiste, I look forward to our ongoing debate of the Courts (No. 2) Bill 2016 as it progresses through its forthcoming Stages, including Committee Stage in the Dáil when, as the Tánaiste explained yesterday, the Government will bring forward an amendment to section 3.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and Deputies for their support in the debate on the Bill.