I move the following amendment to Schedule, Part I.:—
To delete the following words and figures:—3 Edw. VII., c. 36; the Motor Car Act, 1903; the whole Act; 10 and 11 Geo. V., c. 72.
I move the amendment merely for the purpose of getting, if I can a statement from the Minister as to what the position is in regard to the regulation of road transport. In this respect the law is absolutely obsolete. In the case of the Dublin Metropolitan Division, the Carriage Acts of 1853, 1854 and 1855 have to be relied on mainly for the control of motors and buses on the streets, and, of course, the various Corporation by-laws made in connection with them. The Motor Car Act of 1903 is quite insufficient, in most cases, to provide either local authorities or the Civic Guard with the powers that are necessary. In the country the position is even worse. The Jurisdiction Acts of ancient times are mainly relied upon, and also the Towns Improvement Act of 1854, which enables local authorities to make certain by-laws governing hackney cars and motors. Very few of the local authorities have availed of these powers. We find in the report of the Inter-departmental Committee on the control and regulation of road traffic the following statement:—
In recent years by-laws were sanctioned for the Urban District Councils of Bray, Dundalk and Killarney. In the rural districts of the Saorstát, and in the great majority of the towns, no control for hackney carriages of any description exists.
The Inter-departmental Committee was appointed in April, 1927, to go into the whole question of traffic regulation. It heard a considerable amount of evidence and presented its report to the Minister on the 1st September. Since then, as far as we know, nothing has been done with a view to giving legislative effect to all or any of the proposals of that Committee. At least, no legislation has been introduced. Now, one of the recommendations of that Committee was that the speed for motor buses, which had recently been raised to 20 miles per hour, should be further raised to 25 miles per hour, and that the speed limit for private motor cars should be entirely removed. These were the recommendations, but, of course, they have not been translated into law. Yet we find that an extraordinary condition has arisen. Prosecutions were brought before a District Court against bus drivers for driving at 22 and 23 miles per hour. There was one case where a man was prosecuted for driving at over 25 miles per hour. The legal limit is 20 miles, and yet the District Justice dismissed two cases and imposed a nominal fine in the case of the bus driver who exceeded 25 miles per hour. He went further and suggested to the Civic Guards that, in view of the recommendations of the Inter-departmental Committee on road transport, for the future they should not institute any prosecutions against any driver unless he exceeded 25 miles per hour. In other words, the recommendation of the Committee was to become the law of the land before it was enacted by an Act of the Oireachtas.
The Minister for Justice was questioned on this matter in the Dáil, and his reply was:—
I have seen the report in the Press of the case mentioned by the Deputy, and I have consulted the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, but on consideration of the report of the Inter-departmental Committee on road traffic he is of opinion that, in certain circumstances, a speed of 25 miles per hour is not excessive for single decked omnibuses. I intend, accordingly, to issue instructions to the Gárda Síochána not to prosecute in future in such cases on the sole ground that the speed of the omnibuses exceeded 20 miles per hour.
Now we have the rather unique position of the Minister telling the Guards that, in certain circumstances the law may be violated and he supports that later on by stating "that statute law very often lags behind actual requirements." Well, if it does lag behind actual requirements, in this case, we know where the responsibility lies. It is a rather extraordinary position to leave it now to a Civic Guard to say whether or not he shall institute a prosecution against a driver who has exceeded the statutory limit. I would like to know from the Minister if the other recommendation of the Inter-departmental Committee is to be acted upon, and if instructions to that effect have been issued to the Civic Guards. that is the removal of the speed limit altogether in the case of private motor cars, because the public would like to know what is the position and whether there is a speed limit at all, and if so what it is. Is it to be 25 miles per hour the same as that for the buses, or is it be to 20 miles per hour as laid down by statute law? This is a question that requires some clearing up. The Dáil adjourned until the 20th February next and consequently no legislation can be expected before that time. A considerable amount of chaos exists and will continue to exist in regard to the administration of the law generally. It will depend upon the view of an officer of the Civic Guards as to what action shall be taken in the interest of public safety. The matter is too important to be dealt with in any slipshod or careless way.
According to the last issue of the Trade Journal for the nine months of the present year over 12,000,000 miles were covered by motor omnibuses plying for hire, and 21,750,000 passengers were carried, and yet admittedly according to the report of the Inter-departmental Committee there is no effective legislation in existence which enables the Guards or the local authorities to control effectively that ever-growing traffic. There are certain powers, I think, that might be utilised with greater effect. One of them is the power to insist on the cleanliness and roadworthiness of the vehicles. This power is not administered as stringently as it should be. Then there is the question of overcrowding, which has become, in certain hours of the day, a fearful menace. I had the personal experience about three weeks ago of travelling in a bus licensed to carry fourteen passengers which had twenty nine passengers on board together with the driver. The emergency door at the end of the bus was so pressed against by passengers that nobody could open it. I was wondering what was going to happen in the event of a collision, or in the event of the bus being overturned. I know that the Civic Guards cannot watch every instance. I know there are certain routes in which there is crowding in narrow buses, and which are not so safe as one would desire. That has become notorious, to say nothing of the racing that takes place for the capture of passengers. I hope the Minister will be able to assure the House that he is going to take some steps as early as possible to introduce comprehensive legislation in regard to this all important question of policy.
Steps are being, or have been, taken in Northern Ireland with a view to regulating traffic, and further steps are being taken for co-ordinating it, if possible, and preventing cut-throat competition. According to to-day's paper steps are being taken in Great Britain to introduce comprehensive legislation along the same lines. I would say, in passing, it seems a pity that the Minister for Finance, when promulgating his new policy in regard to the taxation of motor omnibuses, should have thought fit to make his announcement of policy at a political party meeting in Mallow instead of to a House of the Oireachtas. I think a statement of that kind, outlining a new policy in regard to roads, and to a considerable extent in the incidence of taxation, should have been made within the Oireachtas for the first time and not have been given merely as an item of interest at a party meeting. These are the reasons why I move this amendment, and not that I want to press a division, but I hope the Minister will be able to give some information as to his views and intention on this subject of road traffic.