It is not an easy job to keep two Houses going. I apologise for being compelled to leave. I heard a lot of talk in this discussion and I suppose a lot of what one might expect to hear on a motion of this nature on which every motorist has ideas of his own. Always when a discussion of this nature is provoked here, in the Dáil or indeed in any other assembly, those who are motorists take advantage of the opportunity to describe all their problems on the road and to complain of the carelessness of the pedestrian, the cyclist, the man at the fair with the cattle, and so on.
The movers of the motion would almost give the impression that they were urging upon the Government and those responsible to take steps which were not taken before, to make new regulations and indeed to amend the law if necessary. I would not claim to be an authority on this subject because I was in doubt up to recently whether I or the Minister for Justice should take this motion here, but when it fell to my lot to appear I found that my officials during Senator Burke's opening remarks passed across to me a handful of regulations of all kinds and by-laws made down the years since 1933, designed, all of them, to protect the motorist and the public to the best of the ability of those who designed them.
Although Senators wandered over the whole field, I do not think there were any really new suggestions or that anyone suggested putting in the hands of the law any instrument that was not already there. Therefore, we must fall back on the enforcement of the law and of the by-laws and regulations already in existence.
Senator P.F. O'Reilly made the speech I should like to make in so far as he explained the responsibilities of the Minister. Being a solicitor, and handling hundreds of those cases all over the years, I suppose he would be fully conversant with the legal position and with the division of responsibility as between the Commissioner and myself.
Let us examine now some of the suggestions that have been made here in order to reduce the number of road accidents or wipe them out entirely. No two Senators would agree completely as to the type of sign, where it should be placed, and what size it should be. One person complained that signs were being damaged by youths or irresponsibles, and that would suggest that the larger the sign the greater the difficulty in protecting it. Others wanted the signs not at the cross-road, but some distance from it. Some Senators complained that there were too many signs. Only a short time ago I was driving along a road on which an enormous expansion of signposting had taken place, and I happened to remark to the driver: "People often complain about roads not being signposted, but we may soon reach a stage when it will be overdone." We were looking at danger signs here and other signs there, and came to one particular spot where there might have been on the one post 20 or 30 different signs, one showing the number of miles to one town, another the distance to a particular village. There were other types of signs as well, and you had to look around that signpost for a long time to get the indicator you needed.
The discussion on this whole question reminds me of a discussion in the other House on wireless broadcasting. No matter what pains those responsible take to determine the most attractive programme, Deputy after Deputy says that this or that should be in the programme. One Deputy is enthusiastic about one item, but the two Deputies following him would not agree with that suggestion at all.
I heard Senators here speak of the driving records of motorists. Well, I travelled with some of those who claim to have an unblemished record of 30 years' driving. I have one particular Senator in mind—he drove me across this city three or four years ago, and my heart was in my mouth until I got out of the car. Like most Senators, I have been on the road for a long time, and I know that, in the main, it is not so much a matter of the regulations you make but, as many Senators have wisely stated, it is the extent to which you can by some means or other induce the public to co-operate with you.
Senator Stanford and Senator Douglas emphasised the desirability of indicating by a chalk line and the word "Stop" the approach of a minor to a major road. Some Senators who supported that line of reasoning gave the impression that this was a common practice in Britain. I am told that, while it has been adopted to some extent, it is not widely adopted there. As Senator P.F. O'Reilly said, the Gardaí are the people responsible here for keeping a check on the causes of accidents, and they maintain that this is not by any means a very substantial contributing factor to the pool of accidents that occur on the roads in any one year. In 1951 only one fatal accident occurred as a result of crashing from a minor to a major road. I make this remark in order to show that it is not a common practice in Britain to signpost those roads in that particular fashion and also to show that the matter has been given some thought here by those responsible.
Having regard to the difficulties that there are and having regard also to the fact that it has not contributed largely to the number of accidents all over the country, the authorities have suggested that, so far, at any rate, that course need not be taken. I would be prepared to ask them to examine that matter again and, if it is found practicable, there should be no difficulty about giving my approval, if the initiative were taken, as it must be, by these people.
On this matter of signs and warnings, in backward parts of the country there are cross-roads where both roads are equally important, or where it is difficult to see which is the more important, and very often there are no signs of any kind. I find that when you have not got these signs people exercise quite a lot of care because they are in doubt. It would not be right to say that we would be better off if we took none of these precautions at all. Whether it is the propaganda that has been distributed, the warnings given in the Press and over the radio, the lectures to school children, the many other steps taken to educate the public as to the dangers, the cases that arise in the courts in respect of which a good deal of publicity is given to regrettable accidents in which claims of one kind or another arise—whether it is all or any of these, I have figures to show that while there has been a tremendous increase in the number of vehicles that have come on the road since 1938, the number of accidents has been reduced. It would not, therefore, be right to say that we might be better off if no action at all were taken. These figures would appear to suggest that the action that has been taken to educate the public mind as to the dangers has had its effect.
Senator Burke suggested that booklets should be issued. That has already been done. I have a booklet here, which is only one of three issued by the Department in the last few years. I want to say to the Senator that when I came to drive a car first, only a few years ago, I received one of those booklets. I never opened it. As a matter of fact, I never knew what was in the book at all until I was told that I had to come to the Seanad to speak on this particular subject. Does not that admission—I think it is an admission that many people who drive motor cars could truthfully make—prove that although it is an excellent little book it is not read? It is not very heavy. It is excellently produced and is very artistic and the instructions it contains are set out with an economy of words. Yet the Senator who put down this motion in this deliberative Assembly has urged me in the course of his speech to produce a booklet when one is already in existence. There is not only one book in existence but three.
It is the general experience that you need simplification if you have to give orders. If you have to make regulations and if the instructions given to the general public are too heavy, very little will be achieved. Senators want signposts that are large and they want signposts that are clear. In other words, they want something on the roads in the form of signposts that they can fly past at 50 miles an hour and pick up all the information which is required by them. If that is impossible and if you make the lettering small and give them quite a lot of information in that fashion they are not satisfied, just as they would not be satisfied if, in producing a book like this, you make it too heavy.
If I, in my foolishness, could not find time to read this booklet, how much more so would I find it impossible to read something that was too wordy?
My officials have showered all kinds of notes on me, giving me information on many points made by Senators. I want to make it clear, although Senator Burke unwittingly tried to establish the reverse in moving this motion, that there are no grounds for believing that those responsible have been negligent.
I want to assure him that the law already provides quite extensive powers in respect of all the matters to which he has referred. If the Gardaí are suspicious that the driver of a vehicle is incapable of driving, they can bring such driver in and put him through a test. The regulations already in existence and the by-laws that have already been made give all the coverage necessary. There would be fewer accidents on our roads if we could secure the public observance of the rules.
Other Senators suggested that the law obliged motorists to have dimming apparatus on the motor cars. They castigated those motorists who refused to dim where they had an advantage over the oncoming car in the power of their lights, who ignored this dimming apparatus and just dashed through, obliging the other people to stop until they passed. I am not an expert driver, but I must say, from my experience in driving a car on the road at night, that it would be dangerous to oblige all persons to dim their lights. Any time I found myself in real difficulties and any time I saw the other fellow in danger, it occurred only on a couple of occasions, when I did dim my lights with a cyclist ahead, I found I was quite near to the cyclist before I was conscious of the fact. From my own limited experience, I would hesitate very much, even if I had the power to do so, to oblige all who drive motor cars to dim their lights.
There again you have a conflict of opinion as to what should happen. One man with more experience than another would say it should be obligatory. With my experience, I would say that it would be dangerous to take such a course. It all boils down to the fact that we must, within reason, try to induce those who use the roads to exercise great care. When you come to decide the methods by which you will bring that home to the public, you find yourself having to make a decision at the stage where even propaganda fails.
It is all right to have a certain amount of well thought out propaganda on the way in which the road should be used, the way in which motorists and cyclists and pedestrians should behave, and so on, but, if you concentrate upon that type of propaganda too much, you will reach the point when it will not be effective. In working out any scheme by which the public mind could be made more alive to all these dangers, you have to exercise a good deal of care and make sure that you will not tire them and make them resist you in the line along which you want them to think and to travel.
The same applies to the use of danger signs. Mention has been made here of the cats' eyes studs and the chalk marks on roads. I have often felt that the extensive use of these cats' eyes in some counties is nullifying the good effect that they can have. When they were first introduced here they were used only on very dangerous corners. By degrees they were used on less dangerous corners, and in some counties now they are continued on very long stretches of road where there is not very much danger at all. Of course, the more they are used in such positions the more the public will come to disregard them. A person will say: "I used to look upon these as indicating that I was approaching a dangerous bend; now I find them being used in all kinds of places", and if he is not familiar with the road, he will take a chance and the worst can happen.
My officials here have advised me that it is the opinion of those who have made a study of this matter that the use of the signs: "Danger Ahead", "Major Road Ahead", too frequently all over the country may result in people becoming careless and indifferent and saying: "They are using these particular signs at all kinds of places."
This discussion, as I have tried to convey, has been largely availed of by Senators to describe the conditions that prevail on our roads and the extent to which regulations, by-laws, and all the rest of it are broken. It has been a sort of general criticism of the manner of enforcement of the laws and the regulations that are at present in operation. It was right for Senator O'Reilly to say that the description of conditions on our roads as chaotic is a gross exaggeration. I have not been abroad very much, but I have been on the Continent, and have seen what happens in some of the towns and cities there. If one could describe the conditions here as chaotic, I do not know what words would describe the conditions in these places.
The conditions here, I suppose, are very far from being perfect. Our cyclists, pedestrians and the people who go to fairs and markets are, perhaps, careless. They happen to be the people who have slow means of moving, and they look upon the person driving a motor car as the person who has all the advantages and who can quickly make up for any loss of time. That is their outlook. It is an outlook, I suppose, that should not be encouraged, but it is one that we should try to understand.
If, on reading the reports of the speeches made here this evening, anything emerges that requires further examination on the part of the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána or if, as a result of the suggestions and the criticism that have been levelled here, the making of any new regulation might be considered, I can assure the Seanad that we will draw the attention of the Commissioner to that and to the undesirable things that Senators have referred to as happening all over the country.
I do not think there is any need to press the motion to a division. I would not mind allowing the motion to pass except for the fact that it suggests that the people who are responsible have been negligent up to this point, negligent about taking all the steps and all the precautions that might be taken to ensure that better conditions, from everybody's point of view, would prevail on our roads.
From that point of view, therefore, I feel I must resist the motion, but I do so while at the same time giving the assurance that if anything worth while emerges out of the discussion I will see to it that it is examined by the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána and, if he thinks fit to make any further regulations that would help to mend matters, I will give him the co-operation that the law imposes upon me to give.