General Scheme of Road Traffic Bill 2015: Discussion (Resumed)

We will now deal with pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the road traffic Bill 2015. The purpose of this part of this morning's meeting is to engage with representatives of AA Ireland as part of the committee's pre-legislative scrutiny of the heads of the road traffic Bill. We will also hear from Ms Moyagh Murdock, CEO of the Road Safety Authority, RSA; Mr. Declan Naughton, director of driving licensing and testing with the RSA; and Ms Miriam Scott of the RSA. Both presentations will be held in this session, but obviously the two organisations have separate remits and will give separate presentations.

By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person(s) or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I also advise the witnesses that any submission or opening statements they make to the committee will be published on the committee website after the meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against any person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I now call on Mr. Conor Faughnan to make his opening remarks.

Mr. Conor Faughnan

My name is Conor Faughnan and I am a director of and principal spokesman for the AA. I am very pleased to accept the invitation to come before the today to discuss the provisions of this year's update of the Road Traffic Act. The AA is Ireland’s motoring organisation and has been around since 1910, so we have a century of history in Ireland. Our original reason for coming into being was to act in good faith to help responsible motorists and represent their views to Government, and in turn to support policies that ensure the safety, fair treatment and long-term interests of our members.

We are quite a big organisation. In addition to being a motoring organisation, we provide consumer services. We have around 200,000 roadside breakdown customers and we sell motor and travel insurance. We attend to well over 100,000 car breakdowns per year, with 80% of them fixed on the spot. We also try to put information into the consumer's hands. Our AA Roadwatch service, of which Ms Foley is the editor, provides up to the minute traffic and travel data through live broadcasts, online and social media. We have over 90,000 Twitter followers. We engage very regularly in communication with members of the motoring public and given that we have a century of history doing it, we act on their behalf to represent their interests and they tell us what they feel on the issues.

In the last 20 years or so, we have been very active in the area of road safety. I have been there for all that time myself, so I have spent my whole career doing little else. Success has many fathers, but if one looks at road safety policies in general in Ireland over the last ten to 15 years, a key reason for that success has been buy-in from the motoring public. There has been a sea change in attitudes towards road safety over that period of time and the AA has played an important part in championing road safety policies to the motoring public.

We research the beliefs of Irish motorists systematically. We have a degree of engagement with our customers which very few organisations can match. We regularly survey our members and customers by email and get thousands of responses. We ask AA members perhaps 20 multiple choice questions about policy issues and expect over 10,000 completed questionnaires to be returned. We frequently ask them their views on road safety topics and broadly speaking 75-80% of the motoring public buy into road safety policies. They support things like tougher penalties, extra gardaí, and speed cameras. However, there is also a cohort of 15-20% who are cynical. They do not believe it. They are convinced it is a racket and that it is about revenue creation. Whenever we do something about road safety, we must always make a conscious effort to demonstrate good faith. We may never convince all those people, but we must be sure to stay evidence-led and to act in good faith to persuade the doubters.

As the committee knows, the Road Traffic Act must be an evolving piece of legislation because technology and social behaviour change and the law must evolve to keep up. On this occasion, in the 2015 draft, there are a number of key changes. In some cases these are relatively unimportant and technical and are just necessary updates to the law, while in other cases they are a bit more profound. As we read the draft of the legislation, we reckoned there were nine areas of significance. These are in the document we submitted to the committee, so I will not read it word-for-word, but I will say a few words on each area, in no particular order, and there may be questions later.

The first area is drugs and driving. The Bill will allow gardaí to use a mouth-swab or other detection kit in the same way that they use a breathalyser for alcohol. In other words, along with the roadside breath check, there would also be a drugs check. That would be a screening mechanism, and a motorist who tests positive would thereafter be asked to provide an evidential sample, which could trigger a prosecution. From a road safety point of view, that is very welcome. One could have no reservations about it and it has to be a good thing. We know that drugs are being used while driving. The jury may still be out on the data on that, and I know there is some research going on, so it is hard to quantify, but we know it is there. However, we must also point out that the drafting of regulations that flow from this provision in primary legislation will be very important because there are things we must avoid.

It is a problem, technically, at this time. There is no device as effective as the alcohol breathalyser.

I am not an expert in this area but I know from conversations with people such as Professor Denis Cusack, whom I am aware the committee has met, that there are some types of drugs in respect of which trace element can exist after impairment. This is potentially a problem because we do not want roadside road safety checkpoints turning into de facto random drug tests for the population. We must ensure that we are concentrating on impairment caused by illegal or legal drugs rather than on trying to detect the drugs. That must be the focus. The control of illegal drugs is a matter for other legislation rather than road safety legislation. That said, we must ensure we are concentrating on impairment and are only seeking to detect where motorists are actually impaired by drugs. In that context, the AA can unreservedly support the provision.

As the committee will be aware, we are speaking in this regard about two key types of drugs, including legal drugs used on prescription or abused by the user - classically, benzodiazepines and so on - and illegal and illicit drugs. The provision contained in this Bill will essentially allow the Garda to screen for drugs in the same way as they screen for alcohol. On the whole, I believe this is a good measure but advise caution around the drafting of the detail in this regard. It is important we ensure that road safety legislation does not stray out of its territory and seek to address issues that should be addressed under the misuse of drugs legislation. Nevertheless, it is a good provision. Concerns have been expressed by employers about the implications of their having to put in place a drug screening or testing regime for drivers. This might be a concern as regulations are drafted. The drugs issue is one of the key provisions, probably the most significant new provision, contained in this Bill.

Another issue addressed is the use of mobile phones while driving, which is a perennial problem. We do not yet know how to keep up with technology in terms of legislation. It is proposed that under this Bill it will be an offence to use any type of electronic device for a data input exercise. In other words, it does not matter if it is a SatNav, tablet or something not mentioned in current legislation, it will be an offence to use a connected device to obtain information while driving. This will close off loopholes in current law and will probably be a good provision. It is unlikely to be the last word on these devices because the technology is constantly changing. We may have to look again at issues such as voice activated searches for the Internet etc. and whether they are a distraction. The legislation does not seek to outlaw making a hands-free mobile phone call while driving, which is probably pragmatic because it would be almost impossible to implement. Nevertheless, in parallel with the legislation we need to continue with education to persuade people that, even if not technically in breach of the law, regularly engaging in hands-free mobile phone conversations while driving is a bad habit and a poor driving practice. This a good provision in the law that will close off some gaps and improve things.

The Bill provides for the imposition of three penalty points in respect of the driving of a heavy vehicle with a trailer greater than 3.5 tonnes without the proper driving licence. My colleagues in the technical area have welcomed this. It appears that is a little overdue. There is also an important provision around written-off vehicles, which, again, is a consumer protection concern. It will become an offence to drive a vehicle that has been a write-off in a public place, unless it is exempted by regulation. These exemptions will close off the rare but not completely rare case whereby a car is technically a write-off but is physically repaired uneconomically and is now sound on the road. This does happen from time to time. This legislation will allow for that by regulation but it will also provide for much greater control of vehicle write-offs and enable a proper national register of written-off vehicles. While this currently happens as an administrative process, the provision provided for in this legislation will put it on a statutory footing, which is welcome.

Other work needs to be done on this issue, which is outside the scope of the current legislation which, as I said, will not be the last word on this. We would like to see a proper public open-source database which allows any motorist or person to at any time poll a car's registration number and automatically obtain relevant data about that car which already exists, including its mileage which is captured by the NCT, its collision history, its service history, ownership history and so on, all of which information should be freely available. Currently, it is not available because databases do not co-operate and because in many cases people are wary of falling foul of data protection legislation, which to us appears a little silly. I do not know of a legitimate data protection need which would seek to prevent somebody finding out the mileage on my car given that I could sell my house tomorrow and any citizen can find out what price I got for it. To me it seems a little silly not to share information about a car because of data protection concerns. I believe we need to do much more in this space. There should be no reason that information, which we already have, should not be made publicly available. This is a reasonably good provision but cannot be the last word in this area.

The Bill also provides for mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between Ireland and the UK. This is a technical change to the law. It is a change to the basis on which that law is founded, from an EU convention to a bilateral arrangement with the UK. This follows on from measures taken by the UK, which are outside our control. It is only a technical provision but it is a continued signal to what is an important continuation of policy. In addition to recognising each other's driving qualifications it is a road safety policy imperative to move towards closer harmonisation with the UK. It would be lovely to have close harmonisation throughout Europe but that is not going to happen for a long time. In the mean time, it makes pragmatic sense to dovetail with the UK, with which we have a similar culture and share a land Border. Also, in both countries driving is on the same side of the road. There are many areas of interaction between the jurisdictions. If I drive into Belfast at 100 km/h, in terms of natural justice, I should not get away with that just because I have crossed an invisible border within the European Union. We have to improve bilateral co-operation with the UK. We need to move to mutual recognition of each other's penalty points systems. Again, this is a perfectly reasonable provision but it cannot be the last word in this area. There is a policy imperative to improve co-ordination between ourselves and the UK.

The Bill includes another provision which, again, tidies up existing custom and practice and law, namely, the sharing of insurance information by insurers. Insurers are already obliged to provide a Minister, the Garda and the Motor Insurance Bureau of Ireland with details on new policies created and on existing policies cancelled. This legislation makes more specific the nature of the information that can be shared. Ostensibly, this might be seen as setting aside or acting outside of data protection considerations for a transparent, fully understood and good reason. Motor insurers and certain other interested parties have to be able to share information because this will enable them to price accurately and fairly. They will then also know if individuals are choosing to cherry pick from one insurer to another in an effort, perhaps, to disguise a poor accident or collision record. It is in everybody's interest that this is done intelligently. Once again, this cannot be the last word in this area. There needs to be broader and deeper co-operation in the sharing of information. Generally speaking, this is a reasonably good provision.

One of the provisions in this law which is likely to be eye-catching, even from a PR point of view, is that related to cyclists. Cyclists will now be obliged to provide on demand to a garda the same information that a motorist is currently obliged to give to a garda, with application of the same penalties if they choose to refuse to do so. Everybody would accept that this is a sensible idea. Everybody recognises that cyclists, while typical of the general population in that most of are very decent and law abiding, there is no doubt that some are poorly behaved and that there is a perception that there is very little that the Garda can do about this. This provision will strengthen the hand an An Garda Síochána and is probably a good provision. In the longer term we can never arrive at a situation whereby a cyclist is treated the same as a motorist. I am instinctively uncomfortable with penalty points for cyclist offences. We need to recognise that at a deeper level motorists have the greater burden of responsibility. Cyclists do not knock down cars and kill them. The opposite is the case. It will always be the case that the use of a motor car is more tightly regulated and that transgressions in that regard are more severely punished than would be the case in respect of a cyclist. I think that is reasonable.

There is to be a change to the speed limit law to allow for variable speed limits at roadworks, which is sensible. It should go through and be uncontroversial.

It is a measure that is included in the speed limits review published in the autumn of 2013 which took effect last year. It is unreservedly good. It should not be controversial, provided local authorities administer it correctly.

The last new provision which conceivably is eye-catching but likely to be uncontroversial, certainly from a road safety point of view, is aimed at having tighter laws on what are called sulky races - informal races on public roads involving horse-drawn vehicles and typically organised by members of the Traveller community. I appreciate that there are cultural and respect issues about this activity to which we have to be sensitive and I do not claim it is our area of expertise, but purely from a road safety point of view, this is an entirely sensible measure which will mean that races can continue but a local authority licence will be required. Anyone participating in an unlicensed event will be guilty of an offence. This unregulated activity presents an unacceptable risk to the general public. While we desire to facilitate long-standing traditions of the Traveller community, it is very important that we act in the interests of public safety. On that basis, the AA supports this measure.

Broadly, there are some important and more technical measures included in the legislation, the broad thrust of which can be welcomed, but it is very much dependent on careful drafting of the regulations that will flow from it. Otherwise we will find ourselves at a similar committee discussing how to tidy it up in future iterations.

I thank Mr. Faughnan who has given us a lot of food for thought. We will go straight to Ms Murdock who is speaking on behalf of the RSA.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I thank the Chairman and members for giving me an opportunity to appear before the Joint Committee on Transportation and Communications to assist in its pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the road traffic Bill 2015.

The Road Safety Authority very much welcomes the proposed Bill and the measures contained in it. The new Bill is particularly timely as we have seen an increase in the numbers of road deaths in the past two years. New measures are needed to tackle existing and new road safety challenges. I am accompanied by Mr. Declan Naughton, director of driver licensing and testing, and Ms Miriam Scott who are here to assist with specific details if someone has a question that falls within the remit of the RSA.

I would like to begin by giving a brief overview of the position on road safety today, as well as providing some context for the measures included in the heads of the Bill.

A total of 49 people have been killed on the roads in 43 fatal collisions so far this year. That is seven fewer than the number this time last year, which is to be welcomed, although it is certainly not something to be complacent about.

In the past decade Ireland’s road safety record has improved measurably thanks to the work of many agencies and individuals, some of whom are present, working in a strategic way to prevent deaths and injuries on the roads. In the ten year period from 2003 to 2013 the number of road fatalities fell from 335 - almost one a day - to 188, a decline of 44%. In the same ten-year period we have seen a reduction of 16% in the number of serious injuries. However, since 2013 the numbers of road deaths have begun to rise once more. Last year there was a 4% increase to a total of 195. The current road safety strategy which runs from 2013 to 2020 has set a specific target to reduce the number of deaths on the roads to 124 a year and the number of serious injuries to 330. These drops are necessary to close the gap between Ireland and other best performing countries such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden and Australia.

I would like to add context to some of the contributory factors in collisions. Driver error represents the single biggest contributory factor, accounting for at least 80% of fatal collisions in recent years. As previously stated, we know that speed, impaired driving through alcohol, drugs, fatigue or distraction, the non-wearing of seat belts and unsafe behaviour by or towards vulnerable road users remain the main contributory factors, both here and internationally. I would like to give an overview of the evidence for some of these factors, focusing on the topics of particular relevance to the new Bill.

Excessive speed was cited as a contributory factor in 15% of all fatalities and 11% of all serious injuries in the period 2002 to 2012. From our analysis of road collision data, we can confirm that speed related fatal or serious injury collisions are most likely to occur during the summer months on rural roads; on roads with a speed limit of 80 km/h or 100 km/h; on bends; and, tragically, involve male drivers aged between 17 and 24 years, followed closely by male drivers aged 25 to 34 years. From our observational studies of drivers in recent years, we also know that as many as eight in ten drivers exceed the posted speed limit on urban roads, while a lower proportion, about one in five, exceed the speed limit on higher speed rural roads. The extent to which drivers engage in speeding in urban areas poses a significant threat to the safety of vulnerable road users. We firmly believe a reduction in speed limits in residential areas specifically and urban areas generally is crucial to protect the safety of vulnerable road users based on all of this evidence.

On impaired driving, alcohol has played a significant role as a causal factor in road traffic collisions in Ireland, as well as in the rest of the world. Previous research in Ireland indicated that alcohol had been a factor in over 36% of fatal crashes in 2003 and over 28% in 2004 and 2005. The Road Safety Authority analysed the role alcohol had played in fatal collisions in a two year study period from 2005 to 2007. This period was relevant to establish the effectiveness of the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing, MAT, which came into play in July 2006. This provision allowed the Garda to breath-test a driver without the requirement of having formed an opinion that the driver had consumed alcohol. It allowed the Garda to test a greater number of drivers than had previously been permitted.

The study also analysed the cases in which a breath test had been administered in cases involving a fatal collision. The result of the analysis showed that there had been a significant reduction in the role alcohol had played in fatal collisions during the period. It showed that the number of cases in which alcohol had played a part had decreased to 15.5% in 2007, from 28% in 2005. This was a significant reduction and appeared to be directly related to the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing in 2006.

Professor Cusack from the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, when he appeared before the committee last Thursday, referenced a report on roadside drug testing, in which there was a section on prevalence. Chapter 3, in particular, provided a most comprehensive overview of the available data for drug driving. A review of road collisions and an analysis of drug and alcohol toxicology results from the Coroner’s Court in Kildare during an 11-year period, from 1998 to 2009, showed that of 92 driver deaths examined, a positive toxicology result for alcohol and-or drugs was recorded in 50% of cases, while there was almost a 10% figure for the number of cases in which drugs had had an influence.

A prevalence rate of one driver in ten being under the influence of drugs undoubtedly points to a need to have an intoxicant impairment testing regime. We also know, as Mr. Faughnan stated, that there is strong public support for such testing. Our own survey of public attitudes among 1,000 motorists conducted as recently as November 2014 showed that 93% of motorists agreed that the Garda should have the power to conduct roadside testing to detect drug use. The Medical Bureau of Road Safety, the State body with responsibility for the testing of all blood and urine specimens taken by gardaí, tells us that in the case of approximately one in ten drivers killed in a crash there will be a positive toxicology result for a drug or drugs.

As Professor Cusack outlined last week, a two-step process has been identified to tackle the drug driving problem. The first step was the introduction, in December of 2014, of the field impairment testing. This new roadside impairment test provides An Garda Síochána with additional powers to test drivers whom they suspect of driving under the influence of drugs. The second step, introduced in this Bill, will see the introduction of roadside chemical testing, which is modelled on successful mandatory alcohol screening. When in use, it will test for certain key drugs like cannabis, cocaine, opiates and benzodiazepines which are the most prevalent in drugged drivers. I have no doubt that such additional powers will mean more drug drivers apprehended by gardaí and the fear of being arrested and disqualified from driving will force drivers to reconsider such dangerous behaviour, similar to alcohol testing introduced some years ago.

International evidence suggests that driver distraction is a contributory factor in up to 30% of all collisions. Experts in the area say that distraction can be any one of three types: manual which is hands off the wheel, visual which is eyes off the road or cognitive distraction which is mind off the road. A distraction can be internal or external to the vehicle be it manual, cognitive or visual. For example, texting or using a mobile phone in any other form, can potentially include all three types of distraction - the mobile phone is in the hand and the hands are off the wheel, the mind is off driving and the eyes are off the road. International evidence suggests that texting while driving makes one four times more likely to crash.

Of all drivers aware of the increase in penalty points for mobile phone use, three in ten say that since the introduction they now use their hand-held mobile phone less, but I believe that three in ten is still not enough. Of the high risk group which admits to using the phone more regularly while driving, over half admit to now using their mobile phone less, so the culture is changing. This is a very positive endorsement of the effectiveness of enforcement measures in changing public behaviour. Further strengthening of legislation on the use of electronic devices is welcomed in the road traffic Bill and is to be expected in future Bills. It is, as Mr. Faughnan pointed out, a changing technology and it continues to pose new threats.

I will now turn to vehicle defects. The most recent data available show that vehicle defects have contributed to 3% of fatal road collisions and to 1.5% of serious injury collisions over the period 2007 to 2012. Tyre issues are most likely to feature. These data are based on the preliminary investigation of vehicles by a member of An Garda Síochána. A more detailed vehicle inspection, conducted as part of the forensic collision examination, will provide a more accurate assessment of the extent to which vehicle defects contribute to collisions. Preliminary results from the pre-crash behaviour study indicate that worn, bald tyres and inappropriate pressure of tyres, contribute to collisions to a greater extent than previously thought.

There is new provision in the regulations for written-off vehicles. This is a key component in ensuring a high standard of vehicles in the national fleet. It is essential that severely and irreparably damaged vehicles are never let back on our roads. Where a vehicle can be repaired, it would only be allowed back into service if repaired correctly by competent people. Having a firm statutory basis in road traffic law will allow the Minister, in conjunction with other Departments and public bodies, including the Road Safety Authority, to progress the implementation of a robust system for dealing with written-off vehicles in Ireland.

The current position on information provision is that insurance companies voluntarily notify, through a third party, the Department’s driver and vehicle computer services division, DVCSD, in Shannon of vehicles that are damaged beyond repair. These are statutory write-offs and the DVCSD lock these vehicles down so that no transactions may take place such as motor tax renewal or change of ownership. In 2014, there were 2851 vehicles notified to the DVCSD as being statutory write-offs and their details were locked down.

The current process is administrative and although it is subscribed to by most insurance companies, it does not have a statutory footing. Categories of vehicle write-offs are not legally defined and motor insurance companies are not compelled to provide the written-off vehicle information to the DVCSD. The current register does not account for financial write-offs, also known as economic write–offs. In such cases, insurance companies can use their own inspection and certification procedures to allow the vehicles back on the road. Estimates suggest that over 45,000 vehicles are written off by motor insurance companies in each year. Of these, an estimated 18,000 financial write-offs make their way back onto roads.

The RSA carried out a review, with full public consultation, which identified legal and procedural shortcomings existing in the current system for dealing with written-off vehicles. As a result, the RSA issued proposals to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. As a first step, the appropriate primary legislation needs to be put in place. The draft head of this Bill before the committee will allow the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to make regulations on the use, detention and destruction of written-off vehicles. The Minister will be able to define the various categories of written off vehicles, specify the written-off register to be maintained and prescribe the credentials of those who may make a determination that a vehicle has been written-off.

The Bill will provide the primary legislative basis to allow written-off vehicles to be assigned either of two core classifications - a statutory write-off or a financial write-off. Statutory write-offs are vehicles that are damaged to such an extent that their integrity of construction is seriously compromised. These vehicles are unsafe to go back on the road and must be disposed of correctly in line with end of life vehicle requirements. This will eliminate the possibility of such vehicles making their way onto roads again and will also prevent them from becoming an environmental hazard through illegal dumping. This addresses the market forces that may see Ireland as having a loophole in disposal of such vehicles.

With regards to mutual recognition of driver disqualification, the UK and Ireland have, since 28 January 2010, recognised licence disqualifications across each other’s borders. This was a very isolated case as not all European jurisdictions do that and we had a very good relationship. As the UK withdrew from certain legal frameworks that enabled this to happen, from 1 December 2014 mutual recognition of licence disqualification does not apply to cases where a driver was disqualified after that date. Both jurisdictions recognised the value of this measure and are taking steps to restore mutual disqualification. The necessary legislation and memorandum of understanding are being worked on to effect this. The draft road traffic Bill 2015 incorporates the necessary provisions from Ireland's point of view.

The provisions applied to court disqualifications for offences that were similar in both jurisdictions. It did not apply to penalty point disqualifications, the danger of which was raised by Mr. Fintan Towey in discussions about the complexity of the issue with this committee last week. The types of offences include speeding, drink driving, dangerous driving and hit and run cases. The role of the Road Safety Authority, in the mutual recognition of disqualifications, was to take cases here when we were notified by UK authorities that a person was disqualified in the UK but gave an Irish address as his or her residence. In addition, the Road Safety Authority forwards to the UK licensing authorities details of cases where a person disqualified here gives an address in the UK. Given the differing legal systems, the RSA goes through the court system to apply the disqualification whereas the UK applies disqualifications administratively, without having to take court proceedings.

I want to express my sincere thanks on behalf of the Road Safety Authority to all members of the committee and their colleagues in all parties in the Oireachtas for the encouragement and continued support provided to us on the issue of road safety.

I thank Ms Murdock for her comprehensive presentation.

I thank both parties for their thoughtful presentations. It is very helpful to our work in ensuring we resolve most of the issues in the development of the legislation at the pre-publication stage rather than through amendments later.

One of the most significant issues that has bedevilled drink-driving laws for many years is challenges in the courts as to how a garda formed the opinion that someone had consumed alcohol. People were able to successfully challenge this for decades. The difficulty I have with the impairment notion is that it is subjective, to some extent, unless there is a capacity to measure. The delegation spoke about the need to provide for that in secondary legislation, and concerns that it not be seen to be prurient in nature, a concern which I share, and used for other evidential purposes rather than just saving lives on the roads. Is it possible to have a methodology in place that measures the concentration of the intoxicant or the impairment by virtue of the quantity of the drug in the system? We have a model for alcohol consumption. There are some who might argue that even if they are above the limit, they might not be impaired to the extent that someone else might be. My concern is that impairment will go back to the old debate about alcohol intoxication. Is it possible to measure definitively the concentration of a drug and its impairment on some scale which would stand the test of the battery of legal eagles that will ensue?

Mr. Conor Faughnan

I know the committee has spoken to Professor Denis Cusack, director of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, who would have greater expertise on this. Alcohol has been well researched in so many jurisdictions over such a long period. Although a 50 mg/dL level may impair one individual more than it impairs another, at least there is such a large body of evidence that we can draw a definitive line in the legislation stating that it does not matter whether one is impaired or not in one’s judgment, the law states that 50 mg/dL is the limit and one cannot go north of that. At least that gives everybody clean rules to follow. It also means we do not prosecute somebody who had a chocolate liqueur at lunchtime. Unfortunately, for other types of drug, that level of research and data simply do not exist to enable legislators to draw a clear line. In the same way, there is no blow-in-the-bag equivalent. The UK authorities have introduced definitive permitted blood levels for, say, THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in cannabis. I know I am straying from my area of expertise, but I have been told this is problematic and would not be recommended in Ireland.

What is proposed in Ireland is a little more pragmatic. There are two stages to drug testing. A garda will be able to administer the roadside screening test only if he or she forms an opinion of impairment or if there is a properly constituted checkpoint. It is the same as for alcohol. One cannot randomly pick people out of the stream of traffic. A garda must set up a checkpoint and then he or she can breathalyse a driver. After the checkpoint has been set up, the screening device can also be used. The Medical Bureau of Road Safety will be the body charged with ensuring we get the right screening advice and licensing and certifying it. The intention is to go for a screening device which will only read positive where there is clear evidence of recent significant drug use. Physically doing that could prove problematic. The intention is to screen so that a person would be required to provide a definitive sample for evidence only if he or she has a level that would imply impairment. That could work reasonably well. When the person provides the definitive sample for evidence, the law proposes a very strict interpretation, so that even a minor trace could result in a prosecution. I do foresee that this could become problematic and could be challenged. The intention is to use a screening device only to pick up people who have enough in their systems to be impaired. Only those people can then go forward to provide a sample which can be used in evidence. That is probably the best and most pragmatic way it can be done. It would do so much good on the road that it is worth supporting.

Is it wishful thinking on the Government’s behalf to create the algorithm in that device when the data is not available?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

The process proposed is mirrored with mandatory alcohol testing on the roads. Basically, it is about impairment and the perception that the driver might be under the influence of a drug or alcohol. This is contrary to what was done in the UK, where they have a prescribed list of drugs in specific amounts. We are taking the approach that the key drugs that will be looked for are cannabis, cocaine and benzodiazepines. At the station, if a driver detected as being impaired, a blood sample will be taken.

We felt that if we were to go down the same route as the UK, with a prescribed list of drugs, the list would be constantly changing, with combinations of different drugs and head shop drugs that might not even be identified by detection. It is proposed to have an impairment test at the roadside, including a mandatory one. It will not be a case of forming an impression that somebody is under the influence of drugs. There will also be mandatory testing where all drivers at a checkpoint will be put through an impairment test. We believe that will definitely lead to an increase in the number of detections. The message will be out there that one will be detected and disqualified if one takes a chance. It is a combination of several processes. We learned from the process adopted in the UK that it could be out of date quickly.

I welcome that notion, because of the ever-changing list of drugs. When it comes to alcohol testing, there is a specific sliding scale based on the concentration of alcohol in blood or urine. Do the delegations support the same type of sliding scale based on concentration? How will it be monitored?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

It will be based on the presence of an illicit drug, not a scale.

I am concerned that this will be significantly challenged in the courts. The taking of illicit drugs is obviously prohibited by law. However, the legislation is about preventing accidents on the roads. For somebody who may have taken cannabis yesterday, if there are traces in their bloodstream today, they could find themselves in trouble.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

There is a constitutional right to challenge anything involving the detection of alcohol or drugs in a court.

I am talking about the proportionality of the measure. The crime committed may involve illicit drugs, but what is a proportionate response to somebody who may have consumed an illicit drug yesterday but whose driving is not impaired today? I am not an expert on this subject; I am just asking the question.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

It is a fair question, which Mr. Naughton may be able to answer.

Mr. Declan Naughton

There is evidence that when one pairs any illicit drug with alcohol it has an exponential impact on one's driving. This happens even when one combines alcohol with fatigue and no other drugs or toxicology are involved. Even trace amounts can cause impairment to driving. The ultimate question from a road safety perspective is whether something affects driving. Will there be challenges? We all know that road traffic legislation is extensively challenged, so we will no doubt have the same experience going forward.

Mr. Conor Faughnan

We are often approached by people who wish to use road safety legislation for other worthwhile purposes. It has been suggested that one should get penalty points when one smokes in a car where there are children. We did not agree with that because, while we had no problem with fining someone for smoking in a car, it was not appropriate to road safety legislation because it was not relevant to road safety. Somebody suggested that people should get penalty points for littering from a car. We resisted that, not because we support littering but because we believe that if something is not connected to road safety it does not belong in road safety legislation.

I am just guessing, but it may come about that we will have to put something in to allow the law to do what it is intended to do, which is to catch and prevent people from driving while impaired. We may have to put in a mechanism whereby micro or trace amounts which do not in any way cause impairment but which might prove illicit drug use can be set aside for this purpose.

I raise the matter because, if we have a measure that is not proportionate in terms of what the Bill is attempting to deal with, it will undermine the whole effort. I am not criticising but trying to tease out the subject so that we get a piece of legislation that will stand the test of time rather than becoming ineffective after four or five years following various challenges, requiring us to revisit it. That is why we have pre-legislative discussions, and today has been helpful for that purpose. I thank the witnesses.

I thank the witnesses for their presentation. We have had a lot of discussion on this, but the thing about which I feel most concern is the question of making employers responsible for testing their employees. That is a very difficult thing to do, because if someone took cocaine it would be very difficult for an employer to have a mechanism to test them. We need to be very careful not to put too much onus on employers by making them responsible and imposing penalties on them. What is the opinion of the witnesses?

I am also concerned about speed and the 20 km/h speed limit which is going to be brought in. I put forward legislation on this subject in the Dáil, relating particularly to residential areas. I am aware that local authorities will have flexibility as to whether they introduce a limit of 20 km/h, 30 km/h, 40 km/h or whatever, but it is important to look at this issue, as there has been a big increase in the number of children killed this year. That is an added factor in considering a 20 km/h limit and I would like to hear the opinions of the witnesses on that.

Deputy Dooley asked about testing for drugs, but the combination of drugs and alcohol is a big issue. I have been of the opinion for a long time that a lot of people have been driving under the influence of drugs. We are discussing bringing in a new offence involving a combination of drugs and alcohol, and that is fair. It is one thing to take alcohol, but to take drugs, whether prescribed drugs or illegal drugs, creates a very dangerous situation, and I think it is a lot more prevalent than we realise.

What is the opinion of witnesses on the recording of cars that are written off? We used to call them "company cars" and there used to be a lot of them in our area, but there are not so many today, as cars have got older. Some of these cars did make their way back onto the streets, so it is welcome that we have a register of some description. A significant percentage of cars that are not written off but, for insurance reasons, are declared to be not worth repairing are nevertheless being repaired and coming back on the road. I would like to hear the thoughts of the witnesses on that.

I know we are trying to enter into an arrangement with the UK on serious driving offences, North and South, but it is important we push this on a European level. I do not recognise the Border, but penalty points should apply on both sides of the Border, as well as rules applying to speed limits and signage, because it is very confusing when one hits the Border, particularly if one is a tourist. I know there is a lot of resistance to this, but it needs to be pushed more and more.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Deputy Ellis's first question related to the responsibility of employers to test for drugs and alcohol. Given my previous background, I am a bit of a poacher turned gamekeeper, so I do appreciate those concerns and the challenges that employers can face in enforcing a drugs and alcohol policy. The purpose of this legislation is to ensure that we have improved safety, especially in the bus and truck industry where large fleets of vehicles carrying between 50 and 80 passengers and big transport operators with 40-tonne and larger vehicles are on our roads and are a serious risk under the control of an impaired driver.

The purpose of the legislation is to set down in law the basis of impairment testing within organisations based on best practice. There is a provision already, in the Health and Safety at Work Act, for employees to agree to intoxicant testing if it is deemed appropriate by their employer. This is a further step that focuses on road safety. We will see more detail in the actual regulations in terms of facilitating employers, but it is a very important step in improving road safety, especially in public transport. It is not directed at small companies, taxi drivers, one-man bands or husband-and-wife teams but at transport operators who operate fleets of large vehicles carrying schoolchildren and other passengers. It operates under a voluntary arrangement at the moment and a lot of bus operators already fit alco-locks on their vehicles to improve their safety. We are doing this to ensure there is a safe system of work in transport companies whereby they are satisfied that their drivers are fit to drive and the public and their passengers are safe.

We will take on board the issues of small operators and small businesses in terms of enforcing something like that.

Will it specifically address the bigger operators? Are we saying that if it is a small family businesses, involving a husband and wife or one or two employees, it will be different. Is it going to be very specific in that regard?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

That still has to be worked out. I know this was raised at last week's meeting with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. The feedback will be taken on board but it is primarily geared towards the larger operators who have major fleets.

In terms of the discussion on the Bill last week, the issue of the practical implementation of it for smaller companies was mentioned. Ms Murdock just made reference to a business involving a husband and wife and in that scenario, does the husband test the wife and vice versa? If have just one truck, do I test myself? What is the situation there?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

The actual detail of the regulations has not been finally defined and we will take that on board. However, there is also the breathalyser or intoxilyzer which can be used for smaller businesses, whereby drivers can carry out a breathalyser test. It is really geared towards the larger operators.

I know that.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

At the moment it is not prescribed that the one-man band has to test himself but there must be a policy of zero tolerance of drugs and alcohol in place. Operators must implement the policy in a workable way and be able to demonstrate that they live by what they say. There must be a record of operators, for example, reminding staff about the policy and taking steps-----

Yes, but the point was made that truck drivers do their CPC training and in doing that, they are guaranteeing competence and that they understand the rules and regulations and so forth. I am still not convinced about how this can be practically implemented by individuals and small companies in the industry.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

That is a fair point and we will work that through before the Bill is enacted. We will ensure that those issues are fully examined and a practical solution is put in place.

Mr. Declan Naughton

The European Transport Safety Council has a raft of measures to deal with that sort of thing, including having alcolocks in vehicles and various other means. There are ways and means of arriving at the desired end point without necessarily placing an undue burden on small companies.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

Deputy Ellis also made reference to drug-related driving. I ask him to remind me of his specific question in that regard.

I asked about the combination of alcohol and drugs.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I would agree with the Deputy's point in that regard. Forensic tests and the coroner's reports into 92 deaths in County Kildare showed that 50% had traces of drugs and alcohol. There is a misconception that must be changed in that regard. There is a widespread belief that if one person in a group of people who are out together is not drinking alcohol but is smoking a joint, he or she should be the designated driver. That misconception is prevalent and we fully acknowledge that. Our responsibility is to raise awareness that drug taking is just as lethal as drinking in the context of road safety. I would fully agree with the Deputy's point in that regard.

On the issue of the recording of company cars as written-off vehicles, the Road Safety Authority hopes to introduce standards later this year for servicing, maintenance and repair shops. That will hopefully address the issue of financial write-offs being reintroduced onto the market and ensure that they are repaired to a satisfactory standard and meet all safety requirements. We will endeavour to ensure that vehicles are not on the road which have gone beyond a safe life.

On the issue of a 20 km/h speed limit in residential areas, the Road Safety Authority is on record as being very supportive of that campaign. We would agree that reducing speed has a significant impact on the safety of vulnerable road users. Last year, as the Deputy pointed out, 14 children under the age of 14 were killed on our roads. Seven of them were passengers and the other seven were pedestrians and speed was a major contributory factor. We had our annual road safety conference on 2 April, the theme of which was child safety and a number of eminent speakers raised the issue. Mr. Rod King from the UK spoke about the successful 20's Plenty for Us campaign which aims to roll out a 20 mph speed limit across all residential areas in the UK. Their target is to have that fully implemented by 2020. The debate has already started and action is happening out there and the Road Safety Authority is fully behind that campaign. Our goal is to increase significantly the number of 30 km/h zones in the first instance and local authorities have the power to this already. The Bill we are discussing today provides that local authorities can enforce speed limits around road works more effectively. Likewise, they will have the authority to implement more 20 km/h zones around residential areas.

Which is more effective in residential areas - a 20km/h sign or a speed ramp?

Ms Moyagh Murdock

It is a combination of measures and not just one thing. It is a combination of awareness, community influence, working with the local authorities, the local community gardaí and road safety officers, the RSA, as well as signage, which is very important. Speed ramps also play a part in the campaign to reduce speed. A community approach is what is required so that speeding in residential areas becomes as anti-social as drink driving. That is the end goal, to make drivers realise that speeding through their local community is extremely anti-social and puts the lives of children, pedestrians and cyclists, in particular, at risk.

Mr. Conor Faughnan

I wish to make a number of points in response to the issues Deputy Ellis raised. He said that he understood the common-sense, pragmatic approach of harmonising with the UK but would like to see similar harmonisation across the European Union and I completely agree. That is quite a broadly-held view but practically, it will be a long time before it is achieved. I have been reading about a pan-European system of penalty points since Mr. Neil Kinnock was the EU Commissioner for Transport 20 years ago. Everybody buys into that as an aspiration but in practical terms, in order to improve the situation in Ireland today it makes much more sense for us to co-operate first off with the neighbours, with whom there is so much interaction, commerce and so forth. That said, I would very much like to see it done across Europe eventually.

The issue that Deputy Ellis raised regarding the register of cars and company cars in particular is one that we have raised previously. Let us say I have a company car that is end-of-life, that will never pass another NCT and is possibly up on blocks or just sitting in the driveway. Someone rings my doorbell and offers me €100 for it, which sounds great. The person takes the car away but I discover several weeks later that the car has been recorded driving away from petrol stations or refusing to pay tolls or, in the worst case scenario, has been sold as a toy on the street and that youngsters have taken it to do donuts, play with it and eventually burn it out. We are aware of some situations where that has resulted in fatalities.

We have suggested previously that when a car reaches the end of its life and cannot pass an NCT any more, the last registered owner should be able to bring that car to a scrap yard and get tax back on it, a little like the coin in a supermarket trolley. If people with such cars know that if they bring it to a scrap yard they will get €200 as the last registered owner then that is what they will do. They will not just sell it casually and let some youngster drive it away and burn it out. We have suggested that on several occasions and believe that cars accrue enough tax-paid during their lifetime to cover the cost of refunding the last registered owner. A bit like the money-back bottles, it would be worth peoples' while to do the right thing with their end-of-life cars instead of just letting it drift. We would love to see that come about.

The point about drugs in combination with alcohol has been addressed by Ms Murdock and her response was absolutely correct. On the increase in fatalities among children, one should note that the increase is proportional. The Deputy knows that for many years there were 400 deaths per year on Irish roads.

In road safety terms, a lot of those were low-hanging fruit, including a ridiculous culture of drink driving and very little enforcement. In addition, there was a custom and practice to challenge everything so that guilty people were never prosecuted. That meant that over 400 people were killed on the roads every year.

As we started to get our act together on the simple policies that we knew worked elsewhere, a lot of that low-hanging fruit was taken out of it. We have therefore gone from 400 road deaths per year to fewer than 200 but because of that, however, the ones that are left are much more problematic to address. In a sense, it is geometrically more difficult to reduce from 200 to 100, than from 400 to 200. That is why a lot of those genuinely tragic and apparently random accidents appear to be more common, as one is sorting out the accidents that can be addressed. That may be one of the reasons why it is giving the appearance that child fatalities are worsening, while in absolute terms they are not.

Everybody agrees that Jake's law, which I know was supported by many parties in the Dáil, is a big issue. I did not support a blanket law to be applied to all residential areas across the country. It was not that I disagreed with the effect, but I just do not think it would achieve its objective. Our experience with blanket laws is that they turn out to be clumsy in reality and difficult to maintain. I am not convinced that they would achieve the desired effect.

To be cynical for a moment, if one has a sign up that says "Caution - children at play", why do we really believe that a sign with the number 20 on it would be more effective than that, in the absence of enforcement and other measures on foot of a blanket rule imposed from Dublin? I am not convinced that it would achieve the desired result.

We also have a circumstance where no two housing estates are alike. Some are engineered for parking arrangements and with chicanes built in to ensure that it does not arise. Some older estates might have a 300-yard straight strip run-in where a young driver could get up to 70 km/h or 80 km/h. There are ways in which those can be addressed, but they have got to be done at an individual community level. I never felt, and still do not feel, that a blanket, one-size-fits-all national law would have been the best road safety policy to pursue. That is still my view, although I accept that other views are different.

I do not think it is necessarily saying that blanket rules would apply but it is saying that in clearly defined residential areas a local authority could bring them in. If someone is doing 30, 40 or 50 km/h in a 20 km/h zone, we know that the fatalities go up. One is, therefore, putting a situation in place whereby one can gauge that a person must have been going at a certain speed and he or she did not keep within the 20 km/h limit. The point of having the signage there is to try to slow people down. We will know by the impact and the injuries that a vehicle in question was travelling at a certain speed. That is the argument.

Mr. Conor Faughnan

I understand that. I have seen Swedish and other studies on this. It is entirely clear that, for example, if one has a choice of being hit at 50 km/h or 30 km/h, one will fare much better at the lower speed. There is an abundance of evidence about that and no one disputes it, but what is not clear is whether that is actually what is happening.

I recall the debate about a blanket 30 km/h speed limit across Dublin city centre, which I did not support for the same reason.

I remember it well.

Mr. Conor Faughnan

One applies 30 km/h limits judiciously where they make intelligent sense, rather than declaring them across a wide area. If one looks at some of the most horrible fatalities that have occurred in Dublin city, particularly before the port tunnel opened and the subsequent HGV ban, they often involved very low speeds. Typically they involved HGVs turning left and being in collision with cyclists. I recall a horrible Dublin Bus accident on the quays. I also recall a fatality on O'Connell Street involving an elderly English tourist who was knocked down by a bus and killed. All of those collisions took place at speeds lower than 10 km/h.

It is not so much a question of making an emotive appeal and saying, "Every time we make the number on the signpost lower, we are doing some good". My challenge is that the evidence would suggest that we are not. We may be making ourselves feel better, but in terms of changing what is happening on the ground, one is by and large better served with local initiatives coming from local communities and relying on local laws, rather than having an absolute national law imposed. That is my view.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

I would definitely agree that the people in the community are best placed to decide what is appropriate. If it is around a school area, then obviously it is a high risk area. Employers already do it - they have 5 km/h or 10 km/h zones within their own workplaces. The local community in tandem with the local authority are best placed to decide if a 20 km/h speed limit zone is the most appropriate in a particular area. We would certainly like to see an increase in the number of 30 km/h zones as a starting point, as well as looking at what we can do with infrastructure, signage, ramps, information and promotion to raise awareness of the risk to vulnerable road users in the area.

I think Mr. Naughton wanted to make a comment.

Mr. Declan Naughton

Deputy Ellis mentioned the issue of mutual recognition. It is true that driving disqualifications are not recognised across the EU. An EU-wide initiative is needed in that area. Even in the way we apply our own mutual recognition with the UK there are different standards. We go to court but they have an administrative system. With different legal systems across the EU one can see how difficult that would be. That initiative has to happen centrally and we would welcome it.

We have two final speakers offering, Senator Brennan and Deputy Tom Fleming.

In some cases, our national and secondary schools were built 100 years ago or more. New schools are now being built with plenty of room for teachers to park. The vast majority of our schools, however, are high risk areas for accidents. I have taken photographs outside a national school in County Kildare where they had four or five signs on either side of the school, including flashing lights, 20 km/h speed limit signs, and children holding hands. Nonetheless, it did not succeed in slowing down traffic at the school.

Children are deposited there in the morning and collected in the evening by parents or public transport. I have interviewed a teacher in the school concerned. The only solution was when they put speed bumps on either side of the school, and one in the centre. That was after a lot of money had been spent both by the local authority and the local people who were concerned for the safety of their children.

I strongly believe that we should consider the phased installation of speed bumps at all primary schools throughout the country, thus eliminating the daily risk morning and evening. As I said, four or five signs were erected at that particular school but to no avail. We cannot expect the authorities to monitor and enforce speed limits outside our schools, but a serious accident is waiting to happen. Children are alighting from buses and crossing a road with traffic.

Does Ms Murdock think the phased installation of speed bumps at all primary schools would be a solution? If that was enforced, it would certainly eliminate a high risk area.

The one thing that is very urgent regarding road safety is the infrastructure. In many parts of the country, our road infrastructure approaches 19th century conditions. The improvement of county roads is of particular importance. One major road between Mallow and Mitchelstown is like a corkscrew it has so many bends. There are narrow sections for the most part and huge black-spot bends. It is a major route, but the issues have still not been addressed. We could be talking about this from here to kingdom come if we do not get co-operation among local authorities, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, and various bodies, including the RSA and the NRA. There is a huge need for a major overhaul and vast improvement for our highly trafficked roads, particularly with regard to the onset of a huge volume of cyclists, cycling clubs and events. Cycling events as fund-raisers are fine as they are controlled, proper stewardship is carried out and the roads are closed off for the most part, but for daily commuting and recreational cycling there are issues. The roads are in hazardous condition and it is a wonder there are not more fatalities.

The increase in road accidents and fatalities in the summer was mentioned. What sort of road awareness campaign is being planned with summer approaching? There is a huge need to give an indication to people to leave good time to get to their destinations. Rather than to give themselves 20 minutes to get somewhere, for example, they should give themselves 30, which is not much more. Even I have the huge fault and habit of arriving just in time in normal conditions, which are not always there. One can suddenly find one is trying to pick up speed on the road to make a schedule. We need to bring in a huge sense of awareness. I agree with Senator Brennan. I saw around Clane, Kildare, a few years ago, a huge prevalence of speed bumps near schools. Kildare is one county where they are utilising speed bumps in a very efficient manner. Enforcement and compliance is impossible at all times because of the shortage of personnel to carry out policing. The other successful thing I see is the flashing signs which indicate to motorists the speeds at which they are travelling. If they are on an 80 km/h road, it shows that they are doing 90 km/h or 100 km/h. It is often the case on our regional roads. There is a need for a complete programme to put flashing signs in place.

There is a need for lay-bys and pull-in spaces on the main highways for people to rest. What are the statistics regarding tiredness? We have spoken about medicines, drugs and alcohol, but do we have statistics on fatalities from common tiredness? There is a huge need for improvements at junction exits and for public lighting at some. More public lighting is required in built-up areas. Signage for visitors from the continent which is common to their jurisdictions would be useful to keep drivers on the right side of the road. Even Britain has different signage. We have seen that rented cars are sometimes dangerous. We know the native drivers are also dangerous as well, but it is not right that sufficient warning signs are not there for people from other countries.

I thank the panel for their contributions this morning. There were some very interesting contributions from members also. I came late but I was listening to proceedings on the monitor in my office.

I seek the panel's views on the issue of culture. We cast our minds back to the 1990s and the shocking figures referred to earlier. The 1997 figure was appallingly high at something like 472. If we go back even further to the 1970s, there were over 600 fatalities per annum on Irish roads. If one consider how many fewer miles were travelled per annum in those years, it is appalling to consider those figures. There were factors, including poorer infrastructure, lack of driver training, a drink driving culture, poor motor vehicle technology and a lack of seat belt wearing. I hope that in 2040 people look back at 2015 and say, "By God, it is shocking that between 150 and 200 people died on Irish roads that year". I say I hope that because if it is the case, the figures will be substantially lower then. How do we get to that? I remember seeing recently that in 1970, when compulsory seat-belt wearing was introduced, people said it was the nanny state gone mad. That was the culture of the time. One of the things that has held back the putting in place of more proactive road safety measures is the fear from politicians of measures being considered draconian and over the top. What I consider to be completely over the top is that we accept as a society that to get from A to B, almost 200 people will die on our roads. How do we tackle that? How do we apply the thinking of 2030 or 2040 today, which is what we need to do? Had we applied 1990 thinking in the 1970s, one would have saved thousands of lives.

Should we be looking at embracing modern technology further including alco-locks to prevent one from starting and operating a vehicle where one is over 50 mg or one's breath shows one has alcohol on board? Should we embrace GPS so that if one speeds in a 50 km/h zone, one will be fined? Should we look at what we have done with HGVs where there is a limiter? I saw a car recently in one of the Sunday papers with a top speed of 260 km/h, or something similarly ridiculously high. The fastest one can travel legally on any Irish road is 120 km/h. Why do we have vehicles capable of doing that and why are they not limited? There is an element of danger in overtaking, but one should not be overtaking anything faster than the speed limit that is imposed.

Should we consider requiring limiters? I am sure there are people who might be watching these proceedings and thinking the suggestion is completely over the top because it will slow down traffic. However, we need to ask ourselves as a society what price we are willing to pay to save a couple of hundred lives over the next decade. It could be thousands of lives. That is the broader question. I am interested in hearing the panel's views on what is not being done that could be done to save lives.

The last few comments were concerned with road safety in general, but if the witnesses wish to respond to them briefly, rather than speak on the Bill, that would be welcome.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

That is no problem at all. I have taken some notes and I will try to deal with them in order. Senator Brennan asked about the schools issue. The RSA recognises fully that this is an issue. It must be pointed out that some of the offenders are parents themselves, who can impede the safe depositing of kids from vehicles, including buses, and create a hazard which should not exist. When they have finished depositing their kids, they head off. Travelling at 30 km/h, or even 20 km/h, would be too fast in and around that area. Through our road safety education officers, the authority is working closely with schools to try to generate campaigns within the schools. Some schools have put in place effective measures which are very disciplined at the school gates. The school transport system and Bus Éireann have worked towards getting consolidated drop-off points. In some areas, there will be three or four schools in the one locality and it is mayhem unless there is a dedicated pick-up and drop-off zone from where the kids can walk safely to the school.

Speed ramps would be appropriate in some locations. Some more rural locations have schools on main roads. I see one near Frenchpark on the way back to Ballina from Dublin. There is a school on a main road. It has flashing lights and, during school hours, these are fully active. They alert drivers to slow down from the national speed limit to a safe limit going past the school. This type of measure can prove very effective. It is not certain whether it would be practical to put in speed bumps in those sort of areas. They may not be suitable in some locations, but there must be some sort of alert system to tell a driver he or she is in a locality with children in the area and that it is necessary to respond appropriately.

Schools can, together with the RSA in terms of its education and promotion functions, local authorities, the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, look at specific needs within the school. We fully support that approach. It is a high risk area. Children have been killed and injured getting off buses near schools. In the United States, it is a federal offence to overtake a school bus when the flashing lights are on. That is how the safety of school children alighting from and getting on school buses is addressed there. It is a zero tolerance approach. Various measures are available. We have looked into having lights on school buses, but private vehicles are just as much a risk area. A combined effort by the school community, parents, local authorities and our road safety officers is needed in and around schools as well as enforcement by the Garda.

Deputy Fleming raised the issue of investment. The progress which has been made in the past ten years in road safety is in no short measure due to the improved infrastructure we have in the country. Our motorways are our safest roads and it is critical that we continue with that upfront investment in road construction, including rural and national roads as well as motorways. There also needs to be a proactive maintenance programme. We need to fund it and to provide the necessary resources. The RSA fully supports that. A ministerial review will be held in early May involving all stakeholders, not just the RSA. The National Roads Authority, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, local authorities and county council management will be involved. We need to focus on all of these issues. We need to continue in our approach and not lose the focus on road safety. That is a risk not just in Ireland, but across Europe. Road safety can slip down the priority list. The EU road safety commissioner is making it a priority that this does not happen. We are coming out of recession and we want to ensure that road safety gets as much investment and focus as it previously did. That will remain part of our strategy from 2013 to 2020. There are a number of key items on road infrastructure and maintenance on which we have to continue to deliver.

In terms of our summer campaigns, we have community groups and our road safety officers operate all year round, not just during school time. The number of road deaths increases during the summer months. This results from a combination of factors. The good weather in the past two years has facilitated more healthy lifestyles, including cycling, walking and playing in open greens. This has resulted in a lot more children, pedestrians and cyclists on the roads. Cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists, motorcycling being an option for touring around Ireland, were most impacted in terms of an increase in the number of fatalities. It is really important that the message is out there during the summer months that we are looking out for remiss drivers and that the enforcement is there too.

Last year, the number of driver deaths fell by approximately 20%. Our drivers are safer but our vulnerable road users felt the impact. Unfortunately, people still allow themselves to be carried in a car without putting on a seat belt and drivers allow passengers to sit in the back seat without wearing seat belts. This has also had an impact. We have a summer campaign lined up. In collaboration with the Garda, our bank holiday June message will be coming out and we will be doing various other things over the summer.

Lay-bys were mentioned. These are a matter for the National Roads Authority and part of its road safety structure. Tiredness is a big contributor to fatal collisions. We estimate one in five drivers will suffer from driver fatigue and end up in a very serious if not fatal collision. It is another form of impairment. Statistics show that if someone has been awake for 17 hours or more, he or she has the same impairment as someone who is drunk at just under the legal limit of 0.5 milligrammes. It has the same impact. A driver needs to have a proper rest and to stop for a break, a coffee and a 15 minute refresh. Impairment through fatigue is a serious risk.

We have a lot of signage in our leaflets and our promotional material for tourists and foreign drivers coming into the country. We work with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport as well as Tourism Ireland to improve signage reminding people to drive on the left in hire cars and around airports.

Deputy Brendan Griffin mentioned our views on culture. The culture in the 1990s was extremely complacent and accepting of bad driver behaviour, be it drink driving, lack of enforcement or the quashing of penalty points. All of that led to an increase in the number of road deaths above what should be socially acceptable. Drink driving is nowadays considered very anti-social. We hope to see the same change of culture in respect of technology, which is probably one of the biggest threats to safe driving in the future. Children are being brought up with it at their fingertips. It is being strapped to the headrests in cars. Even that must be a distraction for drivers. We need to educate our children to understand that when they graduate from the passenger seat to the driver seat, they need to leave the technology behind. This will be a big cultural challenge and we will have to work together to do it. We are starting with education. We have primary and secondary school campaigns. We are about to launch a junior cycle programme as part of the junior certificate which will be dedicated to road safety. That will have a big impact. Road safety will be part and parcel of the lives and psychology of young people growing up. Through pester power, they will tell their parents how to drive safely. We will do it not just through education, but through engineering and enforcement also.

Technology is a primary tool I want to use during my tenure as chief executive. We need to use technology to improve roads and to combat the challenges technology poses for us. Smart speed detection from GPS technology is being introduced in new vehicles. Lane drift technology is already mandatory on new commercial vehicles. It is mandatory that they have an ISA system, which is intelligent speed assist built through GPS.

If one is in a foreign country and accidentally exceeds the speed limit or drifts into a speed zone on an unfamiliar road, the technology will be available in new vehicles. New commercial vehicles, including trucks and buses, will be required to have this technology. The lane drift technology to alert a driver who may be falling asleep at the wheel is currently available. We welcome the contribution these new technologies make to road safety because they will help to change the culture.

Mr. Conor Faughnan

Senator Brennan raised an important issue in regard to schools. This issue is usually best managed at a local level because no two school gates are the same. I would be reluctant to install speed bumps at all schools. While schools are only open for 180 or 190 days per year for a few hours every day, speed bumps are a permanent fixture. I am aware of certain locations in which residents have appealed for speed bumps to be installed only to call for their removal a few weeks later. They can be disruptive and cause a thumping noise as vehicles traverse them. They are not great in terms of creating a pleasant environment. I do not know how much it would cost to install speed bumps outside every school in Ireland but one could purchase a considerable number of speed cameras for the same amount. Flashing blue lights and speed cameras are great mechanisms for slowing drivers down and inducing them to concentrate.

Deputy Tom Fleming's point about the general conditions of Irish roads is possibly true but I remind him of our geography. We have 96,000 km of roads in this country, or four times longer than Holland's roads on a per capita basis. We will never be able to connect every Irish village to a top quality road. We must improve the world in which we live.

Deputy Brendan Griffin made a number of important points about improving road safety. I agree that our standards are much higher than heretofore. In the 1970s, we would have been triumphant if 195 people had been killed in one year but that is a disgraceful figure today. While it is clearly positive that we have halved the number of road deaths over a ten year period, it might sober us up to learn that every OECD country has made similar gains. This is mostly due to a determination to reduce the number of road deaths and a recognition that every road death is unnecessary. There is no such thing as an accident. It is a crash. An accident absolves people of blame by implying it could not be changed but a crash is something we can control. Almost ten years ago Sweden adopted a vision zero policy which stated that the only acceptable number of road deaths is zero. It is not as important to make progress in absolute terms as to ensure that we are ahead of the curve. Are we doing better than other developed nations or are we falling behind them? When we look at our performance in isolation it is easy to pat ourselves on the back, but there are similar improvements in all developed nations, with the exception of the United States. The rate of improvement in the United States varies considerably from state to state. Famously, the US does not have a federal seat belt law and some states do not have local seat belt laws. In many ways the US is behind the curve and it has a per capita death rate that European countries would regard as unacceptable.

I agree that politicians often balk at passing what they regard as draconian laws. I appeal to the members of this committee to have the courage to defend road safety laws even when they mean they will have a hard time at the church gates when they are seeking votes next April. The road safety community needs their support because they are the only people who can give effect to policies that will save lives.

I am not a fan of alco-locks or speed limiters in most circumstances. There are almost no speed related collisions between cars travelling faster than 130 km/h. A car can cruise at 130 km/h on a motorway. That is too fast but in all likelihood it is probably very safe, whereas the same car can be lethal if it is driven through a village at 70 km/h.

In regard to cars and top speed advertisements, I agree that we have moved the mindset considerably. In the "Mad Men" era, advertisers sold cars by draping a scantily clad female across the bonnet and boasting about how quickly the car went from stopping to 60 km/h. That does not tend to happen any longer because the typical car buyer is different. Females are likely to be an influential voice in the purchasing decision and buyers are more likely to inquire about a car's crash test star rating than about its top speed. I have always been curious about why car manufacturers never boast about how quickly a car goes from 60 km/h to a stop, although that is a more relevant statistic. This is partially a cultural issue but I think social values are moving in the correct direction.

I apologise for leaving the meeting earlier but I had to attend another meeting. At our meeting with the Medical Bureau of Road Safety we discussed the issue of drug testing. People are escaping conviction on technicalities in the alcohol testing system, which everybody acknowledges is very well defined in terms of technology, equipment and legislation. Given the complexity of drug testing, there is a prospect of major loopholes in the legislation. We are discussing new legislation on drug testing and impaired driving due to drug use. The bureau identified a range of drugs which could impair driving. I fear we will be creating loopholes in the legislation unless we get some assistance. There is no point in drafting legislation that is not going to work.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

We recognise this is a complex topic. We are mirroring the process involved in mandatory alcohol testing and random roadside checks. We are aware of the challenges that were raised in previous court cases and some of the provisions in the Bill are aimed at addressing ambiguities and loopholes. However, we have learned lessons in this regard and as a result we are taking a simpler approach. Rather than attempt to list the entire gamut of proscribed drugs, we recognise that drug combinations, trace drugs and prescribed drugs might also be involved. In addition to enforcement, the Bill also aims to deter people from taking the risk of driving while under the influence of drugs. I still expect some challenges to be brought but we will work to ensure the legislation and associated regulations are as straightforward as possible. Given that drug driving is becoming more prevalent, it would be wrong to decide against introducing the legislation out of fear it will be challenged. We will learn from our mistakes and fix loopholes when they arise but under our Constitution people have the right to challenge a charge made against them. We believe the methodology underpinning the legislation is sufficiently robust to support the majority of court challenges and we will be ready to deal with them when they arise.

Mr. Conor Faughnan

I agree with Ms Murdock. This is a complicated area.

Many people who voice their opinion to us wish for technology or knowledge that simply does not yet exist. Many people ask us if a drug test could just be done after which one is banned after being caught. It is a nice theory but we do not have any tools which will physically do this in an intelligent way and I do not think we will have them immediately. In recent years the mouth swab tests used for cannabis in places such as France and Australia have been problematic. The new generation of screening kits is much better than those in use at present. The technology appears to be improving, almost like electronic technology. In two years time we may have better tools to hand which can do this more accurately. Everybody - I do not know of any exceptions - believes that impaired driving through legal and illegal drugs is real, and it appears anecdotally to be worsening. We know it must be contributing to road deaths and we simply must do something about it. This is an attempt to do something about it which is reasonably intelligent and measured. It will initially be supported overwhelmingly by the motoring public. I agree there are concerns. If we get this wrong, bits of it might fall on challenge. A concern I have expressed is microtraces proving one used an illicit substance actually triggering a road traffic conviction even though one's road safety was never in question. We must be very careful about such matters. There is much we must get right in the regulation. I suggest it would probably be a far worse sin for the Legislature and the Government to look at this area and say it cannot draft anything because the area is very complicated and choose to do nothing. That would be more remiss.

Sometimes as legislators we get a backlash about nanny statism and being over the top. We do not know who they are, but it is probable that since the 1990s more than 1,000 people are still alive today who would otherwise have died if legislative steps had not been taken in the past ten or 15 years. It could be someone in this room. All of us need to keep this in mind. We hear about the problems which exist but we do not know the ones we prevent. This is along the lines of what has been said, and we need to keep it in mind when legislating. When we come up against opposition about being over the top, perhaps the very person making the complaint is someone who might not have been around had steps not been taken in the past.

The Bill will now go through the House. In the presentations today and last week the significant need for education was mentioned. The one thing people always need and want is certainty on what they can and cannot do. Illicit drugs and prescription drugs were mentioned. If I have a bad flu and go to the local shop to buy a box of Panadol or Nurofen and to kill it straightaway I take four instead of two tablets, I need to know whether I could be impaired. Drug testing has been introduced in sport. It is a different issue, but Lemsip bought in Northern Ireland has different contents from that sold here and a sports person could fail a test in one jurisdiction and not the other. The need for education will be very great and it should be rolled out well in advance or along with the passing of the legislation. It is absolutely crucial. I presume the Road Safety Authority will be involved in this regard.

Ms Moyagh Murdock

It is a fair point. Our primary goal with the new legislation is to raise awareness and try to communicate this message in an intelligent manner so people can easily absorb it. There will be different messages for different sections of the community, such as the elderly taking prescription medication and the young thinking they are not taking a chance with whatever social activity they get up to. There will be a varied media campaign throughout this and not just a one-off. We will use various social media avenues, including Facebook and Twitter. We will use our education service, with road safety officers visiting community centres. We will also work with our partners, including Professor Cusack and Des O'Neill, and the medical profession so doctors know how to advise patients taking new medication on whether they can drive, whether it can be combined with alcohol and what are the exponential effects mentioned by Mr. Naughton, such as being tired.

Mr. Declan Naughton

Consideration is being given in the Bill to a provision which states if one takes medication in accordance with the advice of one's physician, be it a pharmacist, doctor or GP, it should be a defence. This certainly would allay some of the fears expressed here.

Mr. Conor Faughnan

I agree. When over-the-counter medication states not to drive or operate heavy machinery, it means what it says. We will have to remind people of this. To be a driver on Irish roads one has a set of obligations and one willingly signs up to them before one turns the key in the ignition. One must have a proper driving licence, the car must be taxed, insured and have its NCT and be fit for purpose and so must the driver. It is a driver's responsibility to ensure he or she does not take to the road impaired. It will never be possible for legislation to write down every conceivable substance or combination of substances that could make one impaired, but we can enshrine a principle that it is the driver's responsibility to ensure he or she is not impaired. This could be by alcohol, illicit medication or prescription medication taken correctly but driving against doctor's advice, by prescription medication self-medicated or taken foolishly, by stuff bought over-the-counter or by fatigue. One's responsibility before one turns the key is to ensure the car and the driver are in a fit state to take to the road, as per the law and regulations. This must be an accepted cultural norm. The legislation is not the last word on this, but it incrementally moves us an inch or two closer to an ideally regulated state, if there could ever be such a thing. It probably addresses some current anomalies and it is our first proper attempt to address the issue of drugs and driving. In this context, I suggest it is very welcome.

I thank the witnesses for coming before the committee. It has been a very informative discussion and will certainly feed into the report we will produce for the Minister on the issue. We will have further hearings.

The joint committee adjourned at noon until 11.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 28 April 2015.