I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
It is satisfying to be able to bring the Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021 before the House. This Bill began life under the previous Government, with a number of important and necessary issues addressed, but we have added significantly to it in light of the programme for Government and emerging issues since the Government was formed. It is a large Bill and an important one. It will mark a positive advance across a wide range of areas and will be an important contribution to making our roads safer and more environmentally friendly for the benefit of all road users.
In this Bill we will be legislating to meet our commitments to provide in law for e-scooters and e-bikes, as well as to deal with the menace of antisocial use of scramblers, quads, and other similar machines. The Bill will provide the necessary legislation to underpin delivery of the BusConnects project and dynamic traffic management on the M50. It will make important advances in the area of motor insurance to tackle uninsured driving. It will also modernise legislation in a number of areas such as: medical fitness to drive; regulation of driving instruction; and the system of fixed charge notices issued by traffic wardens.
We have also committed in the programme for Government to the consolidation of road traffic law. This is a major project, which will involve not just consolidation but also identifying and correcting any anomalies which may be identified during the process. This Bill is our first priority in road traffic legislation, and we will turn to examining consolidation in more detail after this Bill is passed. I would like to thank all of the various people and organisations, too numerous to list individually, that have contributed to the development of the proposals in this Bill. It can be all too easy to say that we need to legislate for this or that, but getting it right is never easy, and always takes time.
I would like to mention, though, the valuable input of the joint Oireachtas committee through the pre-legislative scrutiny process. The joint Oireachtas committee made a number of important comments, and we have taken those on board. In particular, the measures in the Bill which relate to databases have been discussed in detail with the Data Protection Commission to ensure they comply with all data protection requirements.
The fundamental reason we have road traffic law is to ensure public safety. We all need to travel, for work, for shopping, for socialising and to access many services, whether they are educational, medical or anything else. We can and should reduce unnecessary travel, particularly unnecessary car journeys which add to our emissions, but we will always need travel and, therefore, safety for all road users will always be an issue.
Ireland has made great progress on road safety since the turn of the millennium. In 1999, there were 413 deaths on Irish roads. In 2020, there were 149. The story is not entirely a straightforward one. If the general trend is down, the figures have fluctuated. The lowest year on record was, in fact, 2018, when there were 139 deaths on our roads. As of today, the figure for 2021 is 118 deaths, which is down 12 on this date last year.
Everyone working in this area agrees that we are at a point where it is getting more difficult to bring the figures for deaths - and for serious injuries - down further. The big items which needed to be addressed - getting dangerous vehicles off our roads through the NCT, improving roads and driver training - have been done. They need to be maintained, of course, and enhanced where possible, but we are at a point where it has become harder to make an impact on the remaining annual tragedy of avoidable deaths on our roads. This Bill will provide a number of measures which will contribute to this goal, and I will explain those in a few moments.
We also need to promote more active modes of travel, particularly walking and cycling. These are not only better for our environment as we take on the enormous challenge of climate change, but also healthier for individuals. As a culture, we are attached to private cars, and we have come to use them when other, better options are available, particularly for shorter local trips. One of the key deterrents to people walking and cycling more is a concern many people have about their safety and this is a direct result of the relative lack of proper infrasfructure for active travel. We are currently reviewing the processes associated with the provision of active travel infrastructure and we hope to bring forward amendments to improve the legislative basis for doing this during the passage of this Bill.
Deputies will be aware that there is a very large body of road traffic legislation, covering a wide range of issues. This makes it all too easy to say that any given road traffic Bill, which will inevitably deal with only some of these issue, should be dealing with particular topics. I am well aware that these arguments can be made but I believe that we are putting as much into this Bill as we reasonably can, and that all of the policy proposals which are being put forward are valuable and will have real benefits to the public at large.
The main challenge before me, as Minister of State at the Department of Transport, is to ensure the establishment of a sustainable transport system, with an optimal modal mix to meet both the travel needs of a changing Ireland and our responsibilities to our shared climate future.
Micro-mobility options such as e-scooters and e-bikes have an important role to play in this sustainable transport mix. They provide new alternatives to commuting by car, new last-mile delivery options and new ways to explore our towns and cities while alleviating congestion and helping to improve our urban air quality. The programme for Government has committed us to legislating for their use and we are firmly setting that process in motion through this Bill.
E-scooters have become very popular in recent years, both in Ireland and abroad. At the same time they have raised legal questions, such as what kind of vehicles are they and how do they fit into the framework of road traffic law. In Ireland, the answer is that they were automatically captured under the definition of "mechanically propelled vehicles." This means that you would need tax and insurance, as well as an appropriate driver licence, in order to use them in public. Since it is not possible to tax vehicles when they are not type-approved, and since there is no category of driver licence for e-scooters, this makes them effectively illegal for use in public.
We want to change that. To reflect the rapid pace of technological development, the Bill proposes the establishment of a new vehicle category, called powered personal transporters, PPTs. This new vehicle category encompasses not only e-scooters, but other new and innovative micro-mobility vehicles that may need regulations in years to come, such as hoverboards, electric skateboards or segways. PPTs will be intended for use by one person only and will not be permitted to transport goods. This is a matter of safety for the people using them and for others in their vicinity. I would like to take the opportunity to clarify that these provisions will not apply to mobility scooters. The existing legislative framework for those vehicles will not be affected.
The proposed approach will allow us to apply the range of powers and offences that already exist in road traffic legislation to powered personal transporters, and by extension, to e-scooters. Many of the amendments detailed in the Bill extend the powers of the Minister to make regulations for the use of e-scooters and for the minimum safety and environmental standards they should meet. Other amendments extend the road traffic offences and the powers of An Garda Síochána to allow them to enforce road traffic law in respect of these vehicles.
Once the Bill has been approved by Government, the regulations specifically governing e-scooters will be made. The provisions in the Bill relating to e-scooters will be commenced in tandem with the completion of those regulations. This will ensure that a full legislative framework governing e-scooters can be implemented from the day that the regulations are signed into law. Until that time, use of e-scooters in public places will continue to be prohibited.
Some of the provisions of these regulations are already clear. As with bicycles, registration, licensing, taxation and insurance will not be mandatory, nor will the use of helmets and other personal protection equipment, PPE, although this will be strongly recommended for user safety and the safety of other road users.
We intend to set out minimum vehicle standards for e-scooters to ensure that they are safe to use and environmentally friendly. We will consider, among other items, their steering mechanisms, suitable weights and dimensions, braking, tyres and lighting.
When technical standards are introduced in EU member states, a minimum 12-week standstill period is triggered to allow the European Commission and the other countries time to assess the national draft rules in light of EU rules. This process prevents regulatory barriers to the free movement of goods and information society services in the Union.
This necessary and binding delay allows Ireland to meet our EU obligations under the Single Market Transparency Directive, but also means that regulations will not be introduced at the time of publication of the Bill. My Department is committed to progressing the regulations to publication as quickly as possible.
I am, of course, very aware that this is an issue of great public interest and, indeed, an area in which many of my colleagues have taken an interest. In particular, I thank Deputies Farrell and Lahart for the considered and informative Private Members' Bills they introduced, both of which I have taken into account.
While we have given due consideration to each proposal, it is our role in government to legislate for the safe use of e-scooters on public roads and in public places in all contexts, not solely in the context suggested in Deputy Lahart's proposal of a pilot or rental scheme. Furthermore, the Road Traffic Acts do not provide for powers to establish public or private vehicle rental schemes, and the Department of Transport has no function in this regard in such commercial enterprises. The governance of such schemes would be a matter for the local authority in question. However, each of the other issues raised by the Deputies in respect of both the vehicle standards and regulations for use and misuse will be addressed in full in either this Bill or in the subsequent regulations.
In addition, the Bill will provide much-needed clarity to the growing cohort of e-bike users in Ireland by defining the requirements for low-powered e-bikes and high-powered e-bikes. Low-powered e-bikes, also known as pedelecs, are assisted by pedalling and can reach speeds of up to 25 km/h. We will continue to treat this kind of e-bike in the same way as an ordinary pedal bicycle, and the rules of the road for bicycles will apply accordingly. This type of e-bike will not require registration, taxation or licensing.
High-powered e-bikes, which are those that can be used without pedalling or those that can reach speeds in excess of 25 km/h, will be treated in the same way as high-speed mopeds and, therefore, will need to be registered, taxed and insured, and used only by an appropriately licensed driver. This is because these e-bikes are capable of very high speeds - some up to 100 km/h - and present much greater danger to the user and to other vulnerable road users.