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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 14 Dec 1993

Vol. 138 No. 13

Road Traffic Bill, 1993: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to be in the Seanad today for the Second Stage debate on the Road Traffic Bill, 1993. This Bill has already been considered by the Dáil and was examined in some detail by the Dáil Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs. During its passage through the other House, Deputies from all sides participated in a constructive debate. Arising from those deliberations, the Bill has been amended and extended in certain respects and as a result is an improved piece of legislation. I look forward to equally positive and constructive debate in this House.

Road traffic legislation is essentially concerned with setting standards for road users, seeking to influence or regulate their behaviour both in the interests of road safety and securing the most effective and orderly use of our public road network. This Bill is designed to update and improve the existing body of road traffic law in a number of key areas where the need for change has been identified. The basic objectives of the Bill are to restate and strengthen the law relating to drink driving; introduce new measures to secure better enforcement of road traffic law; introduce more streamlined arrangements for making traffic regulations and devolve a range of functions to local authorities.

The first key area is the drink driving provisions. Legislation governing drinking and driving has evolved over a considerable period with significant new measures being introduced in 1961, 1968 and 1978. Existing drink driving legislation is set out in the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act, 1978. While that Act has served us well there is, after 15 years' experience of operation, a need for further changes. These include policy changes, amendments to take account of new technology and new provisions to remove difficulties shown up by court challenges.

The key policy issue in this area, which has generated significant debate, is the proposal to reduce the maximum permissible blood alcohol level from 100 milligrammes to 80 milligrammes. Many different viewpoints have been expressed with some commentators suggesting higher levels and others promoting even lower levels. The offence of driving a vehicle with an alcohol level exceeding a legal limit was first introduced in 1968. At that time, the limit was 125 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. That limit was reduced in 1978 to the present level of 100 milligrammes.

The effect of alcohol on a driver's ability has been the subject of extensive research over many years. All this research clearly shows that drinking and driving are incompatible. Alcohol is a drug which affects the nervous system. It leads to a feeling of well being with an over-estimation of ability and an underestimation of mistakes. There is no doubt that relatively low levels of alcohol in the system impair concentration, judgment and ability to react while at the same time removing inhibitions leading to false confidence in ability and a tendency to take risks.

We all accept that the drunken driver is a menace but some people still do not accept that drivers with a couple of drinks are also creating a serious risk. Studies carried out in other countries clearly show that the risk of being involved in an accident rises sharply when alcohol levels rise above the limits now proposed in this Bill. Apart from the international data, I have consulted with coroners and accident consultants. The message I got is very clear. Alcohol, even in moderate amounts, is an important contributory factor in road deaths and injuries and, if we are serious about road safety, we have to combat drinking and driving.

While the effects of alcohol are well known, there is still no international consensus on a correct legal limit for drivers. The legal limits vary considerably from a base of zero to the existing Irish limit of 100 milligrammes which is the highest in the Community. At this stage, the Government has decided that the limit in Ireland should be brought into line with the majority of our partners in the European Union while, at the same time, providing a mechanism in the Bill to allow for further changes subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

The important point is that there is no safe level of alcohol for drivers of vehicles. The approach in the Bill mirrors the approach in virtually all developed countries. International practice is to set a statutory limit above which an offence is committed with penalties for non-compliance while, at the same time through educational and publicity programmes, promoting a strong message that drinking and driving do not mix.

The second broad purpose of the Bill is to strengthen the powers of the Garda Síochána in enforcing road traffic law generally and to provide for increased penalties for certain offences. A number of these measures were recommended by an inter-ministerial group on motor insurance. The most significant new provisions are a requirement to carry a driving licence at all times when driving a vehicle; power for the Garda Síochána to impound vehicles in certain circumstances; increased periods of mandatory disqualification and a requirement to pass a driving test following conviction for drink driving offences, dangerous driving offences or hit and run offences.

This element of the Bill was significantly improved arising from the debate in the Dáil. The Bill now includes new provisions to facilitate the use of modern photographic apparatus to detect speeding offences and also includes flexible new powers to allow local authorities to provide a range of traffic calming measures in their areas. I should mention that I have in recent months also made regulations to require the compulsory fitting of speed limitation devices to buses and heavy goods vehicles.

The two broad areas of the Bill which I have outlined are essentially road safety measures designed to reduce the unacceptable level of death and injury on our roads. The statistics are well known but there is no harm repeating them today. Every year, over 400 people are killed on Irish roads and a further 10,000 are injured.

Driver behaviour, particularly drink driving, dangerous driving and excessive speed, is recognised as the single most important factor causing road traffic accidents. Safer roads are largely dependent on persuading road users to change habitual behaviour, persuading drivers to adopt a more responsible attitude when sitting behind the wheel and persuading drivers to think of the risks and the dangers which irresponsible driving habits impose on other road users.

Driver behaviour can be conditioned both by education and information programmes and by laws and regulations and their enforcement. We will continue to tackle the problem in all those ways. In 1990, a major road safety campaign was launched and this campaign is now in its third full year. The campaign has been successful in securing a welcome change in public attitudes to drink driving and other bad driving practices. Promotional road safety campaigns will continue but they must be complemented by adequate legislation and enforcement to provide a real deterrent to the hard core who have not yet been convinced of the dangers of their driving habits.

The level of death and injury arising from road accidents is simply not acceptable. I am confident that the provisions in the Bill, supported by increased enforcement, will reduce the levels of tragedy and trauma for many of our people by reducing road accidents.

The third broad function of this Bill is to streamline procedures for making traffic regulations. The current code governing traffic and parking rules is fragmented. General traffic regulations, which outline the basic rules of the road, are provided in regulations made by the Minister for the Environment. These regulations are complemented by a series of local traffic and parking by-laws, or temporary rules, which are made by the Garda Commissioner for each county. This arrangement has given rise to a significant element of duplication and this Bill provides for an amalgamation of the two codes. This will simplify the procedures, remove duplication and anomalies between the two codes and provide a single reference point for the gardaí, traffic wardens, local authorities and the motoring public as to the source of traffic and parking regulations.

The fourth broad element of the Bill involves devolution of functions to local authorities in line with the Programme for a Partnership Government. The Bill has identified key areas of road traffic law in which the role of local authorities will be considerably enhanced and it will result in a significant shift of power to local authorities in relation to the implementation of traffic management measures, in the introduction and operation of parking controls and in applying speed limits to roads in their areas.

I wish to specifically refer to the role envisaged under this Bill for elected members of local authorities. The main objective in pressing forward with devolution proposals is to place local government in a position where it has the freedom, the discretion and the autonomy to tackle matters of local concern. This Bill has identified important areas of road traffic law in which that freedom and autonomy is to be developed.

In developing these proposals, specific care was taken to maximise the role of elected members of local authorities — it is the elected members who will take the key decisions under these new devolved arrangements. These new measures are a significant boost to local democracy and I am confident that they will lead to more effective and efficient administration.

While it would not be possible to go through the 49 sections of the Bill at this stage, I would like to refer briefly to the more significant policy decisions.

Part III of the Bill replaces the corresponding drink driving provisions in the 1978 Act. While there are changes, care has been taken to retain the provisions and procedures in the existing law which have successfully withstood legal challenge. The main new proposals in this Part of the Bill are set out in the following sections.

Sections 10 and 11 reduce the maximum alcohol level and provide a mechanism for further changes subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Sections 13 and 17 will facilitate the introduction of evidential breath testing. At present, breath testing apparatus is only used for screening purposes. These new provisions will allow the results of breath tests to be used as evidence in place of blood or urine testing. It will obviously take some time to build up confidence in this system. Accordingly, I propose to phase in its operation and to use the system in the early stages in tandem with blood and urine testing. Prosecutions will not be grounded on breath test results until such time as we have gained sufficient experience of its use.

Section 15 removes an anomaly under existing law whereby a person can avoid having to supply a specimen if he or she has been involved in a traffic accident and is taken to hospital.

Section 16 provides a new power to detain an intoxicated driver either for his own safety or the safety of others. A number of safeguards to protect the rights of a detained driver are specified and the maximum period of detention is limited to eight hours.

Section 22 introduces a new provision which will require a person found guilty of a drink driving offence to pay a contribution towards costs incurred in the detection and prosecution of the offence. While the payment of costs will generally be mandatory, the court will have power to waive payment where it is satisfied that there are special and substantial reasons for doing so.

The other sections in this Part of the Bill are restatements with some amendments of the corresponding provisions in the 1978 Act.

Part IV of the Bill will introduce some important changes in the law on driving licences. The most significant changes are in sections 25 and 26. Section 25 deals with the production of driving licences and effectively requires a driver to carry the licence at all times when driving a vehicle. This will give the Garda immediate proof of the identity of a driver and eliminate some of the difficulties which the Garda are experiencing in the enforcement of the traffic code.

Section 26 of the Bill, when read in conjunction with the new Second Schedule provided for in section 49, consolidates, with amendments, the law governing mandatory or consequential disqualification. The principle enshrined in this section is that the court must, on conviction of specified offences, impose a minimum period of disqualification from holding a driving licence. Mandatory disqualification currently applies to most of the offences listed in the Second Schedule — the new offences affected are first convictions for dangerous driving, uninsured driving and hit and run offences. Some of the periods of mandatory disqualification are also to be increased and the section introduces a new requirement that a person found guilty of a drink driving offence, dangerous driving or a hit and run offence will, in addition to the minimum period of disqualification, be automatically disqualified until the person passes a driving test and produces a certificate of competency.

These new provisions are designed to act as a deterrent with a view to influencing driver behaviour. On this point I should mention that an attitudinal survey, carried out in 1991 on behalf of my Department, showed that almost 40 per cent of those surveyed indicated that mandatory disqualification is the most significant deterrent which influences their driving behaviour. Some objections have been raised in relation to mandatory disqualification for dangerous driving claiming that it is too harsh. My view on this is clear. I consider dangerous driving to be a serious offence and one which warrants severe penalties upon conviction. If there is a doubt about the gravity of the offence in individual cases, the courts will decide if a conviction is warranted or if the individual should be found guilty of the lesser offence of careless driving.

Part V introduces new arrangements for applying speed limits to roads. The Bill does not change any of the speed limits on individual roads or the speed limits for specific categories of roads or categories of vehicles. Instead, it is concerned with introducing new structures whereby speed limits on roads can be determined by local authorities. In addition to a devolution of power, the new arrangements will allow speed limit changes to be made more quickly and with the minimum of bureaucracy.

Section 31 provides for a new statutory motorway speed limit which will automatically apply to all motorways and will avoid having to make a separate statutory instrument every time a new section of motorway is opened to traffic. Sections 32 and 33 contain the main devolution proposals in this Part of the Bill.

Part VI replaces the present statutory arrangements for the regulation of traffic, including parking controls. In sections 35 and 36 the procedures for the making of traffic regulations are streamlined and greater power is to be devolved to local authorities. Section 35 provides for national traffic regulations to be made by the Minister and issues which should be dealt with at a local level, such as systems of paid parking controls, are to be dealt with in separate local by-laws to made by local authorities under section 36.

Section 37 assigns greater responsibility and discretion to local authorities for traffic management measures by removing the need for the consent of the Garda Commissioner before providing traffic signs. Local authorities will have full discretion subject only to a requirement that they consult with the Garda Commissioner in advance of providing regulatory traffic signs. The section does, however, introduce a public consultation process before certain regulatory signs can be provided. This will be limited to signs which implement significant traffic management measures which could have a serious impact on road users and property owners in the areas affected. An example would be a new one-way street system. The final decision in relation to the provision of these special category signs will be taken in all cases by the elected members after the public consultation process has been completed.

I have already mentioned the proposed new powers in section 38 dealing with traffic calming. In recent times, a number of urban local authorities have written to me looking for new more flexible powers to control or calm traffic in urban areas, particularly in residential areas. I am aware that existing powers are limited and quite restrictive and the Bill now includes a new provision which will give local authorities the maximum flexibility to provide a range of traffic calming measures and to select the individual techniques best suited to their own areas.

Part VII of the Bill provides for a number of miscellaneous matters and I will refer briefly to four of the issues dealt with in this Part. Section 39 is a new section which outlines the proposed powers of entry to be given to the Garda Síochána. This was debated at length in the Dáil and the new provisions were developed in the light of concerns expressed at the time. The proposals now before the Seanad are, subject to certain restrictions, to allow the gardaí to enter any place, including a dwelling, to arrest a person on a hit and run charge, that is, of leaving the scene of an accident having caused death or injury. This is a serious crime and I believe such powers are warranted in those circumstances.

The gardaí will also be allowed to enter the curtilage of a dwelling, such as a driveway or a garden, to secure an arrest for a drink driving offence. In these circumstances, they will not be authorised to enter the actual dwelling of any person. The revised proposals provide a reasonable balance between the need for effective measures to enforce road traffic law and the need to ensure that the constitutional rights of the citizen are protected.

The proposed powers to impound vehicles are outlined in section 41. These powers will be available to deal with cases where a driver is clearly too young to hold a driving licence — this is designed to help tackle the problem of joyriding. The powers will also apply in the case of driving without insurance and for nonpayment of road tax. Arising from concerns that impounding is unduly harsh in the case of motor tax offences, the provisions were amended in the Dáil to limit the power to impound to cases where road tax is more than three months out of date.

The third aspect of this Part of the Bill which I wish to highlight are the provisions in sections 42, 44 and 46 which introduce changes to road traffic law to facilitate the use of speed cameras to detect speeding offences. At present, the gardaí make extensive use of radar speed metres and in the last two years have also been using in-car video units to detect speeding offences. Using both types of equipment, the Garda Síochána have been extremely active. In 1992 alone, over 30,000 prosecutions were instituted for speeding offences. New enforcement techniques and equipment are being developed on an on-going basis and the purpose of these sections is to cater for the latest technology by providing for the use of modern automated equipment - equipment which has a proven track record in other jurisdictions.

Finally, I wish to refer to the provisions in section 48 which extend the period in which summary proceedings must be instituted. The normal time limit is six months, although up to 12 months is allowed in certain circumstances under existing road traffic law. A period of six or even 12 months can be inadequate in cases such as fraud or making false declarations where the offence may not come to light for some time.

Section 48 is designed to deal with such cases. It is not intended to allow up to three years to institute proceedings for the more common offences which can be detected immediately. I intend to bring forward an amendment on Committee Stage to clarify this point; to limit the longer period to circumstances where the conduct of the defendant was responsible for the delay in obtaining the necessary evidence to justify proceedings.

The House will appreciate from this short overview that this is an important Bill and I look forward to hearing the views of Senators. I know that I can expect a high standard of debate — a standard for which this House is rightly respected.

I welcome the Minister to the House; no doubt it will not be his last visit here this week.

One could say that this legislation is more important than the ordinary Bills introduced in this House. We are debating a Bill designed, we hope, to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries on our roads. As this festive period begins, four people were killed in road accidents over the weekend. There is always an increase in the number of fatal accidents over a holiday period, many of them happen after a celebration. It is important that we get this Bill right.

We must strike a balance in the legislation and prevent further loss of life and carnage. In 1992, 415 people were killed and approximately 10,000 people were injured. These are frightening statistics in a country with a small population. These figures cover all the country; no one area is affected more than another, although certain problems may be more relevant to one area.

In this Bill we should promote greater road safety and protection for motorists, motor cyclists, cyclists and pedestrians. Motorists and motor cyclists have their own roles to play when it comes to driving. Pedestrians also have obligations to make themselves more visible, particularly in rural areas. Further rules and regulations must be introduced.

We must also legislate for people who ride horses. They should wear helmets because they have a responsibility to themselves. They should also be visible on the roads and if they are riding mettlesome steeds there should be some way they can warn motorists.

As the Minister indicated, there are various aspects of the legislation before the House. Many people are concerned about the sections dealing with drink driving offences. One could look at this issue in different ways. It could be said there was no major lobby to reduce the blood alcohol level from 100 millilitres to 80 millilitres. The Department's motto a couple of years ago was, "Just two will do", and it was justifiably criticised. That motto has now changed to, "If one is taking a jar, leave the car". The Minister is saying that if one drinks, one should not drive, and that is the message we should send from this House. I am sure my country colleagues have had representations from people in rural areas who took a few drinks, were slightly over the limit, according to this legislation, and drove home. We must try to change this pattern. One could justifiably argue that someone driving a sports car at 100 or 110 miles per hour is committing a greater offence than a farmer driving home after drinking three or four pints. However, the purpose of this legislation is to eliminate both offences.

The original reduction in the legal limit of alcohol from 125 milligrammes to 100 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood, which, I understand was implemented in 1978, has served us well. It is important that we implement a programme that will be followed throughout the year and not only during the month of December when there is a blitz by the gardaí. While motorists have a role to play, so also have publicans, hoteliers, the organisers of various events and so on. If these people want the custom they should plough back some of their large profits to assist their customers by organising coaches, cars, taxis, etc.

The proposed change in the legal limit of alcohol from 100 milligrammes to 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood means that drivers may have only one drink and, at this time of year, who goes out to have one drink? Therefore we must change our culture. There is probably no Member of either House who does not know someone who has been seriously injured or killed in an accident. Not all such accidents would have been related to drink driving but with more care and attention — maybe less speed - many of these accidents could have been prevented.

This is the message that must be conveyed in this Bill. I compliment the Minister on accepting some of the amendments put forward in the Dáil. One of the Dáil amendments advocated that a different approach be taken to a person who has had three or four drinks than to a person who has taken perhaps 23 or 24 drinks, in other words, there should be a graded system.

I appreciate some of the difficulties involved in this. For example, I am aware that some judges in Dublin take into account the nature of the bureau reading when handing down sentences. This also applies in the case of returning a licence after six months — which is possible until this legislation becomes law; if the reading is over a certain level, some judges will not authorise the return of the licence until the mandatory disqualification period is over.

The Minister should consider this matter. I am sure he would agree that a person slightly over the limit is different to a person who can barely climb into a car, and sets off to possibly inflict extensive damage and cause mayhem, maybe killing himself and others.

The road safety issue must be examined. I hope the Minister will give a specific allocation to local authorities to enable them to run an awareness week to communicate these essential messages to schools and elsewhere. Many millions of pounds are collected in road tax each year; perhaps the Minister could give some of that money to local authorities to provide road safety and education measures, even on a once off basis. This would draw public attention to the issue.

Local authorities may have to make decisions on speed limits and replacing signs. The present position is crazy; some counties' signs are in miles per hour and others in kilometres per hour. Uniformity will have to be imposed and speed limits should be regularised.

I am glad local authority members will have a say in this matter. Residents' associations and community councils often make representations to councillors about aspects of road safety, such as the need for extra traffic lights, ramps, extra lighting or changing routes. The knowledge of residents' associations, the local gardaí and local authority members would be greater than that of someone looking at a map in a traffic department many miles away.

Some of the most important issues covered in the Bill are uninsured driving and impounding vehicles. Under legislation passed some years ago it was mandatory to display insurance discs. This was supposed to be the magic solution to our problems but experience has shown that there are still many uninsured drivers on our roads. Given the cost of insurance, many people are willing to risk driving uninsured. If they are caught, the fine may not be bigger than the premium would have been. We must crack down on this.

Part of everyone's insurance premium goes to the Motor Insurance Bureau, which provides money to compensate those injured in accidents involving uninsured drivers. If everyone was insured, or if the numbers uninsured were greatly reduced, we might all benefit from cheaper premiums or fewer and smaller increases in the cost of insurance. Some weeks ago we debated accident claims. The abolition of juries was supposed to make a difference but it would be better if many of the thousands allegedly driving without insurance were brought into the net.

The main provisions of this Bill are to get a higher level of driving and to reduce the numbers of fatalities and injuries. As one who has visited the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dún Laoghaire and seen the good work carried out there, I support the Minister's goal to reduce the numbers of accidents and fatalities on our roads.

We have to stop this carnage. Various problems must be tackled, such as drink driving, excessive speeding and there must be uniformity in dealing with these matters. Driving at 70 to 80 miles per hour on some roads, even if one is slightly over the limit, may not be too serious, but on other roads which may be in the process of being upgraded, for example, driving at 40 miles per hour may be excessive and the chances of there being an accident are greatly increased. There must be an increased awareness in these areas and cases must be examined in greater detail.

There must be uniformity in sentencing. In one area if a person is 20 to 30 miles over the speed limit, a certain justice automatically disqualifies him. That has certainly slowed some of the traffic in that area. However, there is probably not the same degree of vigilance in other areas. There must be uniformity in the application of the law and the passing of sentences. I mentioned earlier — I think it is worth repeating — the difference between the farmer driving home after drinking three to four pints, committing an offence under which, if convicted, he will receive a mandatory disqualification and a Stirling Moss-type driver, going at 120 miles per hour trying to impress his girlfriend. If the gardaí can catch and convict him — and there may be a question mark over that — he could be free with no more than a fine or a severe caution if his solicitor put up any sort of a decent defence, especially if it is his first offence. This is an anomaly which it is not easy to address. They are two specific cases but which is the greater liability? How one tries to sort out those difficulties should be examined.

I have already referred to road safety. If certain rules and regulations apply to motorists and motorcyclists they should also apply to pedestrians and cyclists. I notice that many children wear safety helmets when cycling probably inspired by Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche. However, the older generation are reluctant to wear them. They still wear their caps when cycling.

I urge the Minister to ensure pedestrians and cyclists wear armbands or fluorescent belts so that at least they can be seen in the dark. Driving along a dark road — not having taken any drink — one might not see two people wearing black coats walking; in fact, one would probably need extra good sight to see them. There is also the problem, particularly in country areas, of pedestrians coming out of a pub, having taken a couple of drinks too many, and swaying from side to side on their way home. This could cause an accident involving an innocent driver with no drink taken. In most of these cases, it is the motorist who gets the blame. If we are to get this legislation right we must get cyclists to acknowledge they have a responsibility in terms of having lights on their bikes, and pedestrians ensuring they can be seen. My colleague in the Dáil, Deputy Doyle, suggested an amendment to cover people on horseback; she suggested the wearing of helmets should be mandatory. It was a good suggestion.

This legislation, by and large, has our support. There have been certain changes regarding entry into one's home. Given the possible abuse of such procedures, definite regulations must be made and adhered to. I hope the Minister will give that further attention and allay the fears of ordinary citizens. It is my contention that this Bill is not designed to have a go at the ordinary citizen, but at those who may try to wreak further havoc and carnage leaving children without fathers or mothers or parents without children. One should mention the work done by Mrs. Gertie Shields — the Mothers Against Drunken Drivers — and all those who have had family members killed by drunken drivers. Many children have been knocked down when they ran out onto the road without looking; one must have a certain amount of sympathy for these drivers because it would have been very difficult to prevent those accidents. We must implore drivers to reduce speed.

I ask the Minister to clarify the timescale regarding evidential breath testing. He indicated it would be introduced as an ancillary to the present systems and, at a later stage, it would be brought in as a test in its own right.

I heard a programme from Portlaoise recently on the availability of taxis, hackney cars or mini buses. Someone who was interviewed said there was an imbalance in some areas — some of my country colleagues may know more about this. A case can probably be made at particular times of the year for licensing extra taxis, hackneys or mini buses. I saw in a paper recently that taxi plates are still making £50,000-£70,000. If people are prepared to pay that there is a case to be made for keeping under review the provision of extra licensed vehicles at weekends. In this legislation the Minister should consider such a measure so that people who live in small and medium sized towns can be assured that hackneys or other hired cars will be available to take them home after a night out. Those of us who use taxis know it can be difficult to get one at certain times. Admittedly they are not exactly cheap and a little competition might not go amiss.

We support this Bill although we may have some amendments on Committee Stage. We must get across the message that road safety is all important and everybody must play their part.

I welcome the Minister to the House. This is important legislation. It is a matter of great public concern that there are so many deaths and injuries on the road. My reading of the Bill is that it is a good attempt by the Minister to protect road users, and that includes drunk drivers. If many people who were involved in accidents and who had drink on them could turn back the clock, they would not have allowed themselves to get into the state they were in when they had that serious accident and injured themselves or someone else. The Minister is responding to the public's concern that the law should be amended to protect those who use roads.

Drink driving has played a part in accidents which resulted in injuries to passengers, drivers, pedestrians and road users. It is not the only cause, but it — and speeding — are major causes and evidence confirms this. It is difficult to deal with speeding in every location and on every road and we must sympathise with the Garda in this regard.

We must educate people in regard to the use of roads, indeed it should be part of the education curriculum and the safe cross code has served a useful purpose. People who drive cars do not appreciate that a car is a lethal weapon. An educational programme on the use of roads is needed to change public opinion because a norm — which has caused many deaths and injuries — seems to be acceptable.

To a certain extent, this Bill will affect rural outlets which serve intoxicating liquor. The existing way of life where people travel one, two or three miles to shop and to take a social drink once or twice a week must change. Indeed, this should have changed long ago because these people were not following guidelines and complying with the law. That way of life and our approach to drink driving must change if this Bill is to have an effect. One may drive and drink, but not at the same time. People in other parts of the world have conditioned themselves to that situation and accept it as the norm. It may take some time for that to hit home in this country.

An educational programme on this matter would change people's attitudes and encourage positive thinking in regard to drink driving, how it affects the community and families when injuries or deaths occur. As Senator Cosgrave said, it is brought home to all of us when a family member, neighbour or friend has been affected by the tragic results of drink driving and speeding. Anyone visiting a hospital following an accident will be disturbed by the fall-out from such happenings. If the Bill changes public opinion and stops this carnage, it will have done a lot.

Will the Minister comment on an area of the Bill about which I am not clear, driving under the influence of drugs which are referred to as "intoxicants" in the Bill and can be detected at bureau level? How do gardaí detect someone driving under the influence of drugs? It is not as easy as in cases of drink driving. When a garda stops a car he may get a smell of alcohol from a driver. However, when a driver has taken drugs and drives erratically, how can a garda decide if this person has taken drugs? This is an area about which I am not clear and I would like the Minister to comment on it. Somebody driving under the influence of drugs can be more dangerous than a person who has taken a few drinks. I would like an assurance that there is provision for this.

I am happy with the change in relation to entry to a home in certain circumstances and I agree with the provision where gardaí can enter driveways because this device was used by people trying to evade detection. As soon as they were inside their driveway, they gave the two fingers to the gardaí. That did not help to remove drunk drivers from the roads. Although a garda might have established that someone had taken a few drinks and was over the limit, that person could not be dealt with inside their driveway. This legislation allows gardaí to make necessary arrests in such locations.

An area of concern to people in the city is joy-riding. It is the wrong name for such an activity because there is no joy in someone stealing a car, driving at high speed and knocking down people going to the shop or to their home. It is an obnoxious activity. The provision in the Bill for confiscation is an important step in the right direction. It will be welcomed by the public who will give their full support to the Garda Síochána in stamping out so-called joy-riding which has caused death and terrible injury for years. Joy-riding has become a craze for children who are too young to qualify for a driving licence.

I am not convinced that we are getting value for money on motor insurance and I am convinced that some type of cartel is involved. Some years ago it was suggested that if a certain legal framework operated in the courts insurance costs would drop because of lower legal expenses. That has not happened, it is practically impossible for a young person to get insurance, which is wrong, because it should be available at a reasonable cost. The fact that it is not forces some drivers to use uninsured vehicles although that is no excuse.

Companies handling motor insurance are not giving the value for money the public expects. I would like to see an investigation into insurance premiums to see if the motoring public could not get a better deal.

People should not drive without insurance as that in itself adds to the cost for those who pay their premiums. If 30 per cent, 20 per cent or even 1 per cent of the public do not have motor insurance cover it means there is less money in the kitty to pay for settlements arising from accidents.

Some very good roads have been built over the last ten years but not all road users have settled into the new situation. We have fine motorways and excellent national, primary and secondary roads but people who are not used to them think they can travel 30 m.p.h. faster than before just because the new roads are so good. This is where education is needed. It is a pity to spend a lot of good money — European and national — on the development of roads only to see that we are increasing injuries and death because of some drivers. The surfaces on some of our roads, in particular the national routes, are so good that it is easy to reach the maximum speed limit because the car cruises along. We must be vigilant and try to stop the trend towards breaking the speed limit. The figures show what is happening. I understand from the Minister's speech that 30,000 prosecutions were initiated in 1992. This demonstrates that people are driving well over the permitted speed limits and those high speeds are a major contributory factor to death and injury on the road.

Apart from asking the Garda to implement the law, we must explain to the public through an educational programme the dangers of speed on the roads. Television advertisements bring home a stark message which, unfortunately, has not yet got fully through to the public.

The Bill provides for the devolvement of power to local authorities in certain areas, which is welcome. The Minister demonstrated he is prepared to devolve power to local councils, thereby enhancing local democracy. A county council has a more intimate knowledge of a local situation — whether in a town or on a country road — and can thus be better placed to evaluate the necessary regulations. This will enhance local authorities' control as well as providing a local input that will be accepted by local people.

People who live on housing estates have made representations to local representatives over the years about cars and trucks driving through at high speed and the noise of traffic and horns, all of which can be very disturbing. I welcome the approach of the Minister in this area.

Will the Minister examine the situation of pedestrians and cyclists because I am not satisfied that pedestrians in particular are using the roads properly? All the evidence points to the fact that pedestrians believe they can be seen without difficulty just because a car has its lights on but they are wrong. Pedestrians do not realise the terrible danger they pose to motorists. We must get the message across that pedestrians have to make themselves visible at night. They will have to be far more conscious of the danger to themselves and drivers. Nobody wants to see pedestrians in danger or life made harder for them on the road. We want to make it safer for them and they should make it safer for motorists. Pedestrians should be far more conscious of the danger of not being visible to drivers. Unfortunately, pedestrians face the greatest danger in such circumstances, indeed in my county last week a pedestrian was knocked down.

The public should be educated to be aware that, in many instances, pedestrians cannot be seen by drivers. Cyclists also have a duty to ensure they are visible and careful but, by and large, pedestrians pose the greatest danger.

The Minister introduced a very important Bill. Evidence shows many people are killed and injured each year because people drive with excess alcohol. He is tackling this problem and has public support for this measure. It is important that we in the Oireachtas show we have concern for the public by enacting legislation which protects them in certain situations. The debate in the media and in society generally shows there is a demand for a change in the law. The permitted level of alcohol in the blood is being lowered from 100 to 80 milligrammes. This is important and necessary if we are to respond to the public demand for change.

Eventually people will have to completely separate the activities of drinking and driving. Driving will be for business or pleasure and when people go for a drink they will exclude driving and make alternative transport arrangements. This situation will be most difficult for rural areas and the Minister should outline the opportunities for hackney and taxi plates in such places. This facility is available to people in cities and large towns. There may be a hackney car in a rural area but the owner may not be available for bringing home people who are in pubs for a social drink. Hackneys are usually available to take people shopping, to mass, to the doctor or whatever but traditionally they have not been available at public houses at closing time for driving people home.

I would like a transport facility to be available to people in rural areas, provided by mini-buses, taxis or hackneys because we have a responsibility to maintain the fabric of rural life. I know it is not the intention of the Minister or the House to close down every rural pub just because we enacted legislation to restrict people from driving with more than a certain level of alcohol in their blood. We must be conscious of the situation in rural areas and provide transport for them. I would welcome any contribution from the Minister on this issue. If such a service is attractive to provide, people will become conditioned to the fact that they do not have to take their cars because there is a service to transport them from their local village and back. Also, a group of people could use such a facility and cut down on costs. In many rural areas such a service is not available at night. If it was, people might use it and there would be far less use of private cars.

Drink is very much part of our culture. Sometimes one wonders what people did years ago when drink was not available at every function. How did people enjoy themselves? Nowadays, a function is not successful unless drink is provided or sold and there is an extension of the time allowed for drinking. It is not necessary to provide drink for functions to be successful. There are many opportunities for entertainment which do not involve drink.

I welcome the Bill. The Minister has responded to a public demand for a change in the law and its provisions will deal adequately with the situation. I am pleased the Minister devolved powers to local authorities. An educational programme is necessary to implement the Bill's provisions and the drink and drive culture need to be the focus of such a programme. If the Minister does this, he will have done doubly well in that he will have introduced legislation to stop the carnage on our roads and changed people's thinking on drinking and driving.

With the agreement of the House I wish to give ten minutes of my time to Senator Norris.

Is that agreed. Agreed.

This legislation is a response by the Minister and his Department to demands, in this country and Europe, on aspects of safe driving and matters related to it. The Bill is like the curate's egg, it is good in parts, but I have grave reservations about one or two other parts and unless they are explained to my satisfaction, I will have to oppose them. I am aware that the Minister has been quite flexible in his response in the other House and has made many changes. The reference to certain sections in the explanatory memorandum is now out of date. However, I am sure the Minister will be happy to clarify the aspects about which I am confused.

I drive many miles, perhaps over 30,000 miles, each year. I am not the best example of a driver and I have not complied with all the sections of road traffic Acts over the years. I am not great at observing the speed limits and I have suffered the pain, and the fine, for doing so. I say that to establish my experience of this and other legislation.

I support 100 per cent the decision to reduce the legal alcohol limit from 100 milligrammes to 80 milligrammes. I am sure this has been said time and time again but the reality is that in recent years the effective limit in cases which were brought to court has been about 115 milligrammes. I have observed cases over a period and I have not seen one below 115 milligrammes. I would have preferred the improved implementation of the present regulations rather than decreasing the current limit. However, I will support the case the Minister made so ably and which he explained comprehensively. I have to support the reason he gave if only to remind people of the effect of drink on driving.

The old arguments that people can drive after having two or four pints no longer stand. The current advertising campaign is something of a joke and is a waste of the Department's money. Nobody says these days that they drive better after drinking four or five pints. That remark takes from the importance of the advertising campaign and I do not think it works. I take a great interest in the media and the power of advertising and I asked nine or ten people what they thought about the advertisement. They thought it made a joke of the whole problem.

I am assuming that the Department is paying for the current advertisements on drink driving, but perhaps I am wrong. The advertisements are not effective. The position is straightforward; it is unacceptable for people who have been drinking to drive. The copy of the advertisement makes a joke about people claiming to drive better after four or five pints, a claim nobody would make now. The Bill makes two omissions. There are two causes of danger on the roads, one is pedestrians and the other is slow driving. Too many people feel that if they chug along at 30 miles per hour in the middle of a main highway they will be safe. That is dangerous behaviour and it should not be allowed. Making due progress is part of the driving test and should be reflected in legislation.

The problem created by people driving on the right hand side of what is effectively the width of a two lane highway at 30 or 35 miles per hour is not acceptable. When those people hold up a queue of cars on a busy weekend the frustration levels of the 200 drivers behind are increased. That is culpability and should be seen as such. We are too soft about such behaviour. There is a view that driving slowly makes it impossible to damage anybody; however, it is possible to damage the health of 200 or 300 people driving behind. That should be looked at.

Another cause of danger on main roads is the capacity to make a right turn off the busiest highways. I do not know why that is left in legislation. It should not be allowed on specific types of road. I am not referring to dual carriageways and motorways but to busy roads, even if they are county roads. In many parts of Europe the regulation is that drivers must veer off to the left and go directly across the road rather than parking to the left of the centre of the road and holding a dangerous place which reduces the speed of traffic and the ability to make progress. We need to look at that.

I would also draw to the attention of the House to the danger created by unlit pedestrians and cyclists on the roads at night. More importantly, people bound across city streets; there is no sense of discipline among pedestrians, particularly in Irish cities. There should be crossing points which should be strictly observed. An education campaign should be organised to ensure that cyclists realise that traffic lights also apply to them. There is a view that they do not apply to them, they just go straight through them, particularly in the cities.

I regret the cutbacks which have been made in the road safety programmes which were run by many local authorities in consultation with the schools. The cutbacks in the funding for training people, in road safety committees particularly in the Dublin area, involving teachers, officials of the councils and elected representatives, have caused problems. Teachers believe this will particularly affect young children. The Minister mentioned education in his speech and road safety training should begin as early as possible.

I understand that in real terms we are moving towards metric speed limits which, in effect, raises the speed limit. I presume the normal speed limit will be 100 kilometres per hour, or 62 miles per hour. I welcome the fact that the Minister has resisted this daft campaign to reduce speed limits. This campaign just encourages bad driving. Reducing speed limits does not make sense at a time when roads and cars have been made safer and the standard of driving has improved.

I do not understand the aspect of section 22 of the Bill which allows the State to seek the costs of the investigation from those found guilty of drink driving. I think the costs should be reflected in the fine. This is something I have not come across before in legislation. It is, perhaps, innovative and is there just to make a point. I agree with the idea that those culpable should be made pay for the costs of the investigation but the costs should be retrieved through the fine.

I also welcome the subsection of section 25 of the Bill which states that the signature of the garda on a certificate from the Garda station stating that the defendant did not produce a driving licence as required does not need to be proven. There should be more such moves in legislation which would reduce the confrontational nature of many court cases where long periods are spent proving technical details which could easily be dealt with by lawyers outside the court. I welcome such moves forward.

I wish to refer to the section on special speed limits which allows local authorities to specify such limits for certain roads in their areas as some issues need to be clarified. I am sure the Minister has addressed this many times but I have not read the Official Report. I presume the section means the authorities are not restricted to the numbers used in speed limits in other areas and can specify 30, 35, 40 or 45 mph. Can the authorities also impose a minimum speed limit? If they choose to do so can they require cars to make reasonable progress in certain areas and prohibit parking for a distance of ten miles for example? Will they be able to ensure the free flow of traffic? I ask that to ensure the Minister addresses the point I made earlier about drivers in the middle of the road slowing down traffic, causing frustration, indignation and accidents.

I have serious difficulty with the disqualification outlined in the Second Schedule. I agree that somebody found guilty of dangerous driving should lose his or her licence but there is a problem with the interpretation of dangerous driving in the Bill. We are effectively saying that somebody who crosses one of the many double white lines on the roads can lose his or her driving licence. The case can be made that this will not happen or that somebody in that situation could not cause a serious problem.

I have a little experience of how the courts work and while officially there is no plea bargaining in this country, the reality is that it does take place. A person may be charged with careless driving, driving without due care and attention and dangerous driving and very often the court, on the recommendation of the Garda, is prepared to accept a plea to the lesser charges to ensure an expeditious disposal of cases. I do not object to that but a charge of dangerous driving is very serious and can be subjective. Inasmuch as I can be objective about something of which I have personal experience I feel we should examine this and seek consensus as to the meaning of the term "dangerous driving" without the subjectivity of a garda's estimation. The area should be clear and definable.

Recently, I spoke to a person who had been driving at just over 50 miles an hour in a 40 mile an hour zone outside Portlaoise. The person was in court last week and has been put off the road for six months which does not help anybody. I appreciate that is not what the Minister is attempting to deal with in this Bill but by not doing so he has left it open to be used in that way. If there is to be a mandatory disqualification for dangerous driving, it should be more clearly identified, more easily measured and less likely to be dependent on the subjective judgment of a garda. I am not criticising the Garda, its members are people for whom I have the highest regard. My father was a garda so I do not have much choice in that matter.

There are negative aspects to the Bill. I could be driving down the street today and, in the estimation of a garda, go through a red light. I could explain my case to him or her yet it could be the week before Christmas 1996 before somebody decides to prosecute me. That is my understanding of section 48 of the Bill although the Minister may disagree. My Christmas present the week before Christmas 1996 could be somebody asking me if I remember driving down a street in Dublin in 1993 and going through a red light. That is daft. The Minister cannot operate on that unfair basis. Certain people will be able to deal with it but many people who are not used to dealing with the gardaí or who may have been accused of something of which they feel they are not guilty will have to wait three years to plead their case. The Minister knows as well as I do that justice delayed is justice denied.

It will not surprise the Minister that I am utterly opposed to the powers given to gardaí under this legislation to invade the dwelling house of a person on the basis that he or she is suspected of involvement in a hit and run accident. I do not understand the reason for it. I read the Minister's speech and listened to him today although I did not hear what he said in the other House. Why are these powers necessary? If somebody is in a house and people know who they are, why can they not be arrested in another way? It is not right that a person's door can be broken down on the basis that a garda thinks somebody inside is guilty of causing a hit and run accident. It is unnecessary although I recognise the Minister has improved on the original manner in which this provision was phrased.

It is tricky legislation and I do not envy the Minister his task. People like me do not make it any easier by raising new issues at this late stage in the Bill but it is what we are elected to do and the process of democracy and legislation must continue. I will harry the Minister through the Bill on many aspects, including the issues to which I just referred. I will put down amendments and I will vote against the Bill where necessary. The main points I wanted to raise were those of pedestrians, slow drivers, right hand turns and other issues which must be addressed to ensure the protection of people who use the roads.

I welcome the Bill which is timely at this period of the year when more people tend to drive with drink on board and the rate of accidents increases. It is shocking to contemplate a situation in which there are more deaths occurring involuntarily and without malice on our roads than in the North of Ireland during this vicious Provisional IRA and UVF campaign. That is a stark thought. We, appropriately, spend much time agonising about the situation in the North of Ireland on the basis that if we are prudent and able to provide a solution, we will reduce the number of fatalities, injuries and so on. Here we have a situation on our own doorstep where we can do something by fairly simple and effective measures.

I have to say that take a drink. My colleague, Senator O'Toole, is very disarming in acknowledging that he had a brush with the law. So have I, and I was actually put off the road for an offence which, to be honest, I regarded as drunken parking. Politicians are put under much pressure to attend social functions and so on. I had been at a charity function and came home to find cars parked outside my house. I dumped my car at the bottom of the road thinking that I would come out later to move it. It was a Sunday afternoon and I went in and consumed a fair quantity of port while reading the Sunday newspapers. I came out at 1 a.m. in my carpet slippers to shift the car and then got the bright idea to go around the block to see if there was a shop open where I could get a packet of cigarettes. I came back up the street, saw the guards at the pub and thought they were raiding it. I parked beautifully — I think my driving is all right — and a face appeared at the window and said: "Did you not see us waving at you?" I thought he was just being chatty and replied, in a very cheery sort of way, "I did and I waved back". He was not amused, got me out of the car, breathalysed me and so on and I was put off the road.

The reaction of people to that event was interesting. People said I was set up, the gardaí were waiting for me. They were not. They were perfectly right. I was a little unfortunate as it was directly outside my own house, but had I driven even a short distance, if one of the unlit pedestrians to which my colleague Senator O'Toole referred had staggered across the road, there is the possibility that I would have flattened him or her. I have no argument with the gardaí, but it did sting and it was something of which I was bitterly ashamed at the time. I have since then made sure that I do not drive under those circumstances and I hope I am never tempted to do so again.

The reduction of the limits is very severe and it seems that the inevitable logic is to make driving with any alcohol an offence because the culture in this country is no bird ever flew on one wing. It is impossible to get people to take one drink and then go home, so the best thing is to stop them drinking altogether if possible. People do take taxis now. I regard my gymnasium as the pulse of Irish life, and I hear them all talking this Christmas, saying that it is not worth it, that it is better to leave the car and take a taxi home.

Whatever my colleague Senator O'Toole says about the advertising campaign, I think it has been very effective. People know that the police are out making random checks. I was stopped twice in the last couple of days, and that is fair enough. People are aware of that and are taking the necessary measures to avoid being prosecuted for drink driving. I was surprised that the offence of driving a vehicle with an alcohol level exceeding the legal limit was as recent as 1968. I thought it had been in place far longer.

In his speech the Minister says that alcohol leads to a feeling of well being with an over-estimation of ability and an under-estimation of mistakes. I am not sure how correct that is. Since alcohol affects different people in different ways, that is a woolly phrase, but immediately after he hits the nail on the head when he says that even a relatively low level of alcohol in the system impairs concentration, judgment and the ability to react while at the same time removing inhibitions leading to false confidence in ability. The Minister is on stronger ground there.

I have some reservations about the Bill. I am worried about the requirement to carry a driving licence at all times when driving a vehicle because many people, innocently, will forget to bring their driving licence with them. When I change suits or clothes, I lose bankers cards, cheque books, my wallet, etc.

I do not think it should be an offence to drive a car without carrying a driving licence. This is too severe and will lead to people keeping the driving licence in the glove compartment of the car. If they do that, and the car is stolen and the thief has any sense, he or she will look in the glove compartment of the car and will find the licence there. I am worried about that. We are not the kind of people who automatically want to carry this kind of documentation. This is a draconian measure. The phrase used is if he does not produce the licence "there and then". I know there are some qualifying clauses further on and that the gardaí are given discretion. My experience of the gardaí is that they are capable of using that discretion. I do not like the idea that it is an offence not to have a driving licence on one's person. It is far too severe.

I am largely in favour of giving the gardaí power to impound vehicles in certain circumstances but I am a little worried about some of those circumstances, because a case was drawn to my attention recently where somebody attending a memorial service in St. Patrick's Cathedral for people who died of AIDS, parked in the Cathedral Close. This person was distressed because her brother had recently died from AIDS. She parked in an area where there were no yellow lines. There may have been some restrictions, I do not know, but her car was towed away. She had to get a taxi home and pay £100 to get her car out of the pound. This person is on social welfare. In those circumstances, particularly since the clergy of the cathedral confirmed that they were worried about this and they thought the action of the gardaí was a little harsh, there should be some capacity for amelioration.

With regard to the breathalyser, I notice this is moving up the scale of priorities but the Minister did not include very much argument about its increased accuracy. This is something people were concerned about — that it was an inexact measurement. I notice that he talks about the number of micrograms per unit of breath and so on, and I presume there is strong scientific evidence to back the accuracy of this test at this point. Having passed a breath test, is it then possible to be subjected to a series of other tests, or by passing that test, has the motorist then been proved to be below the legal limit and can he or she then go home? This matter interests me.

There is a rather curious paragraph in section 12:

(4) In a prosecution for an offence under this Part or under section 49 or 50 of the Principal Act it shall be presumed, until the contrary is shown, that an apparatus provided by a member of the Garda Síochána for the purpose of enabling a person to provide a specimen of breath pursuant to this section is an apparatus for indicating the presence of alcohol in the breath.

That seems to be an almost Mylesian sentence in its convolution. I hardly imagine that gardaí will produce a balloon and ask motorists to blow into it, pretending it is a breathalyser. I am sure there is some technical reason for that sentence but I cannot work out what it is. Why on earth would the gardaí produce something that was not a breathalyser? They could not get any results out of it that would stand up in court. I do not know the reason for this presumption; it seems very odd indeed.

I also worry a little about the increased powers given to the gardaí not only to break into people's houses, which Senator O'Toole has dealt with, but to force people to have blood tests in hospital. I understand the reasoning for it — people do sometimes simulate heart attacks to get themselves into hospital and then the police are not able to take the samples — but this is an area where there must be considerable sensitivity and the view of the surgeon or doctor in charge must be very fully taken into account. There is a gesture in that regard in a subsequent paragraph. It would be very distressing for somebody who was genuinely seriously injured to have a squabble going on between two doctors over their body while procedures were being contemplated to restore them after an accident.

I wish to raise a point which the Minister might also like to consider. One of the other ways I am told people avoid prosecutions is by carrying a bottle of brandy or whiskey in the glove compartment of the car. If they are in an accident or if they are stopped by the gardaí they say "what a terrible shock", put the bottle of whiskey to their lips and drain the lot, which is a fairly hazardous procedure anyway. This can then be introduced in evidence as distorting the accuracy of the blood or urine sample then taken.

Is there a way around this? Is it possible, for example, to include a provision that if somebody engages in this kind of behaviour and they are then tested and found to be over the limit, they are automatically presumed to be guilty regardless of whether they have consumed alcohol subsequent to the offence being committed? I did not see that in the legislation. Perhaps it is there; I understand this is one of the methods used to avoid prosecution.

With regard to other matters, in particular the control and calming of traffic, as a pedestrian, a cyclist and a motorist in the city of Dublin, I can assure the House I would take quite a lot of calming some days, particularly during this part of the year when the traffic in Dublin often comes to a standstill for reasons that could be avoidable if the local authorities lived up to their planning obligations. One of the most disastrous areas in this city is Parnell Street. Why? Because Irish Life were allowed to build the ILAC centre with no proper provision for parking or any understanding of traffic flow.

Yesterday I could not get down O'Connell Street because there was a queue almost out to the North Strand of solidly jammed traffic. Were they observing the traffic lights? They were stationary right across O'Connell Street; they did not observe the yellow boxes and it was not only private cars but CIE buses which were stopped right across the street so that when the lights changed those coming from the direction of Findlater's Church could not cross. There are a number of elements involved here, one is planning. Why is the adequate provision of parking spaces in the siting of supermarkets and places of major public resort not examined and the impact of traffic flow not considered?

Another element is the observance of the yellow box system. I say this despite the fact that I was reproved and reprimanded by a young garda in Gardiner Street only two days ago. I was stuck at a traffic light and obediently waited. Everybody else ignored the yellow box but I waited until the traffic moved. There was a car in front of me which went across the road and as there was plenty of room for me to get out of the yellow box I moved forward. However, the car in front stopped with about 30 feet of space in front of it and would not let me get out of the yellow box. My two back wheels were in it and I was the victim reprimanded by a young garda, and, I suppose, rightly. I had assumed that the car in front would do the decent thing and move forward rather than deliberately and maliciously keep me out.

There is an element of malice in driving. Senator O'Toole talked about the people who drive at 30 miles per hour and who then move into the fast lane to make sure that one cannot pass them.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I must remind the Senator that his time is up.

I have said most of what I wanted to say, including my confession, although I am sorry the press were here for it.

I hope the Senator gets absolution.

In welcoming the Minister to the House I congratulate him on the legislation as it is one of the most important Bills to come before us this year. The two most important elements of the Bill concern drink related and speeding offences. I am a politician, I am also heavily involved in sport and on certain social occasions, sporting or political, drink can cause many problems and arguments about transport and who will drive home. It is true that Irish society is learning and making provision in cases such as these whereby the organisation or group running the function or social event ensures that provision is made for transport so that members of the organisations have a safe journey home.

The Bill will have an effect on the rural population. While in urban areas there are taxis and many bus services available, this is not the case in rural areas which will, consequently, suffer and the rural publican will see his earnings drastically reduced. However, I fully support the Minister in relation to the provisions of the Bill because one death on the roads due to drink or speeding is one too many. We must educate ourselves and our youth to be responsible and to realise that drink driving or speeding will not be accepted by society. There is a need for safety on the roads for pedestrians, cyclists or motorists. We must ensure there is provision at secondary and vocational school levels for educational facilities, such as posters and tutoring, to ensure that the youth are responsible before becoming road users. We must establish a code of practice at that level to ensure that future generations will appreciate the dangers of drink driving and speeding.

The Bill makes provision for local authorities in urban areas to make bylaws governing parking etc. Senator Cosgrave mentioned towns in the midlands such as Portlaoise, where there is no provision for taxi ranks and mini-buses. It is essential that provision be made for them and I am glad that the Minister has made a provision for local authorities to control such facilities in their areas. If we are serious about drink driving offences then we must make provision for people to have proper taxi facilities in the urban areas. It is essential that they be provided in a proper manner in areas of towns which are easily accessible to the general public.

It would be foolish to think that the Bill can be implemented with the present number of gardaí. If the legislation is to be implemented to its full extent to ensure a reduction in the number of deaths on the road due to drink related offences, the Minister for Justice must ensure that extra gardaí are made available. It is imperative to ensure the legislation will not fail due to a lack of gardaí policing our roads. If there is a greater presence of gardaí it will also ensure safety for the general public. At present some communities live in fear because there is not a general presence of gardaí. In rural areas, where many older people also live in fear, an extra visible presence of gardaí would be of help.

As previous speakers said, pedestrians must also be educated regarding road use. It is essential that advertising campaigns are used as a means of educating pedestrians. There is a general feeling that they have a right on the road that nobody can take away from them. However, they must be educated to ensure they walk the roads safely. Cyclists can also be a danger to themselves and to motorists if they are not properly attired. Through education at primary or secondary level we must instil in future generations a greater need for responsibility as pedestrians and cyclists towards others.

Two provisions in the Bill worry me. One is in section 14 which states:

Where a person is at a Garda Síochána station either pursuant to subsection (1) or having been arrested under subsection (3), a member of the Garda Síochána may there, at his discretion, require the person to —

(a) permit a designated doctor to take from the person a specimen of his blood, or

(b) provide for the designated doctor a specimen of his urine,


I am worried that the permission in that case is given to the gardaí rather than the doctor and that the gardaí seem to be overruling the doctor. If the person is ill the gardaí can require the doctor to take the specimen rather than the doctor acting on his educated judgment. The doctor must have the final say on whether a specimen of blood or urine can be taken.

Under section 16 a garda, at his discretion, can hold a person for eight hours in a station. I believe that provision could have detrimental consequences for a person's employment. While I do not think the person should be allowed to leave the station alone, a friend or a relation should be allowed to call to the station to bring the person home. If a person was arrested at midnight and held for eight hours he could lose his job as a result of not being at his place of work the following morning.

I commend the Minister on this Bill. I have no doubt that many of its provisions will be discussed on Committee Stage. I believe the Bill will ensure that the person who travels our roads — pedestrian, cyclist or motorist — has the protection of the law. Drink related and speeding offences are a major problem at present and the Minister, in this Bill, has provided the gardaí with a means to ensure that safety will be one of society's priorities in the future.

I welcome the Minister. He was an able and distinguished Member of this House and I compliment him on the progress he has made since he left. While I welcome the Minister I will not give his measure the same welcome but I hope it will be possible to do so by the time we have completed our discussion. That will be in the Minister's hands.

At this stage I wish to declare an interest. I am a publican, one of the very few in this House but that fact will not affect my objectivity in dealing with the legislation before us. However, it probably gives me a particular insight to mention certain issues which must be raised in relation to this measure. As a result of my experience in the trade I recognise the very responsible attitude of many people who, when going to pubs, invariably arrange either for somebody to collect them at the end of the night or for a non drinker to drive them home after closing time. We should recognise that because it displays a responsible attitude. It is an attitude which is common to many of our customers.

I support any measure that will reduce the number of road accidents. However, I question the balance in this Bill and I am critical of some of the assumptions that seem to underly certain provisions. There is a time limit on Members' contributions. As people on the other side of the House will deliver suitable compliments on certain parts of the Bill, I will leave that task to them and will focus on the provisions with which I disagree or about which I am concerned.

I read the report of the discussions on this Bill in the Dáil and in the Select Committee. The Minister, when concluding the discussion on Report Stage in the Dáil, said a number of times that he looked forward to the debate in the Seanad. That indicates he is prepared to look positively at some of the suggestions he did not consider favourably in the Dáil.

It is wrong to describe the Bill as the Road Traffic Bill, 1993. That is wide of the mark. It is an anti-drink driving Bill and it should be described as that. If it were a road traffic Bill in the strict sense of such terms it would deal in greater depth with many of the other hazards which cause road accidents, a number of which have already been mentioned.

The Bill does not deal, for example, with the condition of roads or cars. We still do not have an MOT test as there is in neighbouring jurisdictions. The Bill does not deal with the need for better lighting or unsafe surfaces and the alignment of our roads. It makes a stab at dealing with speeding but it is not as comprehensive in regard to controlling speed as it should be. It does not deal with the need for reflective clothing. The issue of pedestrians has been raised by both sides of the House. According to the Department's figures, pedestrians constitute about 28 per cent of road accident victims. If this were a genuine road traffic Bill, in the full meaning of that term, it would deal as effectively with those traffic hazards as it does with drinking and driving.

The Minister, during one of his contributions in the Dáil, referred to the hard core of people who drink excessively and drive and said he wanted to get at them. All reasonable people will support him in that. However, if that were the purpose, how can he justify or claim that reducing the blood alcohol level from 100 to 80 millogrammes will eliminate and deal with excessive drinking and driving? The Minister is attacking the wrong objective. He has not justified, to my satisfaction, why he found it necessary to reduce the blood alcohol limit. I would prefer to get specific figures on how many accidents can be related to drivers who have a blood alcohol content of between 80 and 100 millogrammes. Are such figures available and, if they are, should they not be produced? I am open to be convinced on this issue if I see the evidence which proves that such a step is necessary.

The Minister seeks to justify this by referring to studies carried out in other countries. May we see the results of those studies? What conclusions have been drawn from them? He also referred to international data. Where can this data be located and is it possible to obtain a copy?

I am concerned that people outside the House are under the impression that every road accident is caused by drink. The Minister is shaking his head, but I am not accusing him. However, he supports that theory by referring to consultations with coroners and mentioning accident consultants. The Minister has reduced the blood alcohol level from 100 milligrammes to 80 milligrammes. What evidence justifies that decision which contradicts the "two will do" policy of the Department which existed for many years? I may be convinced by this evidence if it is available.

I want to refer to the penalties which will apply if this legislation is passed in its present form. There are two types of drinker, the excessive and the moderate. A moderate drinker may, for example, go to a restaurant for a meal and it is common in high class restaurants to put brandy or other spirits in the gravy or cooking pan. Perhaps the diner will finish the meal with sherry trifle and one glass of wine. Certain tests have shown——

That is a good restaurant.

——that the combination of spirits, sherry trifle and one glass of wine puts people over the 80 milligrammes limit. It is unreasonable to impose the same penalty on this individual as on the person who has consumed eight or ten pints and drove a car. Therefore, a serious argument can be made for the introduction of a graded level of penalties which takes account of both extremes. I invite the Minister to consider this.

Will the Minister consider underage drinking, a growing menace in society? Figures show that an increasing number of children consume their first alcohol secretly at home. If the moderate drinker is driven from the pubs, clubs or other social outlets and if, as a consequence, the mini bar becomes a feature in many homes, an opportunity will be provided for an increase in underage drinking. We will solve one problem by creating another. I make this argument in the context of the reduction of the limit from 100 milligrammes to 80 milligrammes. Can the Minister justify this reduction with factual statistics and, if so, may I see the figures?

Does the Minister believe that the problem of the excessive drinker who drives will be solved by criminalising the moderate drinker in the way this measure proposes? It would be better if the drink driving problem was discussed calmly and objectively which we can do in this House. It has not been possible to do so outside it because there has been a deliberate attempt by certain groups outside the House to claim that every accident is directly related to drink.

The point has also been made, and it is on the record of the other House, that we have the highest level of road accidents in the EU. This is incorrect.

Who said that?

The Minister is quoted as saying this.

I did not. The Senator should check the record.

I said that Ireland has one of the highest levels of road accidents.

Our level of road accidents is average. According to the records in the Minister's Department, there were 1.4 accidents per 10,000 population in 1990. There is a higher incidence in Belgium, France, Greece, Luxembourg, Spain and Portugal while that in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands is lower. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Wall that one death is too many. However, the figures must be honestly presented.

Other issues must be dealt with on Committee Stage. I am not happy about impounding cars, especially with regard to not having a driving licence. It is a draconian imposition, but we can discuss it on Committee Stage as it is not one of my principal arguments against the Bill. I support the pursuit of the hit and run driver.

Another problem I want to bring to the Minister's attention relates to a person in control of a car, but not driving it. This individual faces the same penalties, loss of licence, having to resit the driving test, etc., as a person driving the car. I ask the Minister for advice on this situation. Many people visit my premises, drink until closing time and are collected by their sons. I cannot allow an individual to stay on my premises after closing time. Therefore, he must sit in his car until his son collects him. I do not know what can be done about this person as he cannot stay on my premises and he cannot sit in his car. Discretion should be exercised in this case.

I will have more questions to raise on Committee Stage and I hope it will be possible to make certain changes and improvements. At the conclusion of the Bill's passage through the House, I hope I will welcome the Bill which I cannot do at present.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I congratulate him for this extensive legislation in an area which needs reform because of the changes in people's attitudes and the modifications in motor vehicles and roads. I refer to the Minister's magnanimous attitude when this Bill was on Committee Stage in taking on board relevant amendments made by the Opposition in the Dáil and in accommodating the opinions of other interested bodies.

The Minister said a number of the measures were recommended by an inter-ministerial group on motor insurance. This worries me, because in my experience, when insurance companies suggest measures to reduce the cost of motor insurance, the cost of their policies increases when such measures are implemented. This is illustrated by their campaign to get rid of juries in personal injury cases, and more recently in their campaign to have personal injury insurance claims capped at the court's levels.

As the Minister pointed out, there are over 400 deaths per year on the road. While I agree with those figures — and they are 400 deaths too many — there is no proper structure for designating their exact cause, whether they resulted from speeding, defective vehicles, drink driving and so on. This is an opportunity for the Minister to establish a scheme whereby the reason for all injuries occasioned by road traffic accidents would be recorded. Therefore, for example, if the gardaí were of the opinion that the accident was because of drink, it would be recorded on a central registrar. This would then provide a body of opinion and evidence whereby there could be greater exactitude on the figures relating to the incidence of road accidents.

The problems on our roads relate, in general, to drink driving, as many Senators remarked. The Garda Commissioner's report on crime for 1992 reveals that the total number of breath tests in 1992 was 19.269 and the number of specimens given under blood and urine tests was 4,234. A deeper analysis of the figures illustrates that in 1992, under non indictable traffic offences relating to drinking and driving, where the sex and age of persons convicted is given by the Garda, 4,684 persons were convicted for the offence of driving or attempting to drive a vehicle while drunk or with a blood-urine alcohol concentration above the prescribed limit. Interestingly, while most tend to believe that younger people are offending, the figures supplied by the Garda illustrate that 182 were between the ages of 17 and 21 years, whereas the vast majority, approximately 4,500, were 21 years of age and over. In addition, males are the main offenders by a factor of approximately 200 to one.

The Minister advises that section 15 of the Bill removes an anomaly under existing law, whereby a person can avoid having to supply a specimen if he or she has been involved in a traffic accident and taken to hospital. I understand the problem the Minister is seeking to circumvent with this section. However, is it not the case that the section may be interpreted by the courts as being too broad? An example would be including people seriously injured in an accident and interfering with the medical treatment provided for them after the accident. I agree with the sentiment expressed in the section, but it should be definitive and confined to certain categories of injuries and persons.

Part IV of the Bill, which will introduce some important changes in the law on driving licences is, again, a new departure for the Legislature and legislation of this kind. I remember being stopped by a garda in Cork city some years ago and being told to produce my driver's licence, insurance certificate and car registration at the local Garda station within ten days. I had the documentation on me and I handed it over. He advised that I should not have been carrying my log book with me. I do not know whether he meant that it was against the law at the time as I was not certain about the legal position. Under the proposed law there is a requirement for people to carry a driver's licence when driving a vehicle. In addition, the Minister advises there are relevant sections in the Bill to avoid fraud in relation to names given and so on. However, if a car was stolen by a joyrider, stopped by the gardaí and the driver's licence produced, even with a photograph on it, somebody could claim they were driving the car and was the person registered as the owner.

The requirement to carry the driver's licence at all times when driving is similar to the Big Brother syndrome and to the identity card scheme operated in France and many other European countries. I understand the importance of this requirement because it gives the gardaí time and proves the identity of the driver. It can also eliminate many of the difficulties which the gardaí have in enforcing some traffic regulations. However, this section should be broadened to allow more leeway for a person to present a driver's licence and insurance certificate to the Garda station within a certain period of time, as currently provided under the existing legislation.

I am especially aware of the upset caused by section 39 of the Bill and the unfavourable comment this has received. This section gives the Garda powers to enter the dwelling of a person suspected of being involved in a hit and run accident. I am pleased that the Minister altered this section as outlined in the original draft of the Bill which also provided for access by the gardaí to people's dwellings following drink driving offences.

The proposed legislation touches on a personal and honestly held belief that the Constitution guarantees the right to private property and the right to non-infringement of that property. As confirmed by many previous cases, the courts have been quick and strident in their efforts to defend this right. In view of this I am concerned that the President may refer this Bill to the Supreme Court on the grounds of its constitutionality which would possibly inhibit the measure the Minister is trying to undertake.

This concern could be addressed if other criteria were set down for this section of the Bill. For example, I agree with allowing the gardaí to enter premises or land but I have doubts about allowing them to enter the dwelling, not because of any worry or suspicion I have about the gardaí in abusing their powers and so on, but because I fear that this section, as at present designated, might be the cause of a conviction being struck out as a result of an infringement of constitutional rights. Our courts have forcefully advocated unenumerated rights under the Constitution, particularly under Article 40.5.

I fully agree with the measure providing the power to impound vehicles because for too long the State has been denied revenue from untaxed and uninsured cars. In the figures given by the Garda, the number of cases taken in 1992 for driving without compulsory insurance was 34,210 but the number of convictions — 16,792 — was nearly half that amount. This shows the enormity of the problem; nearly 40,000 people were in breach of the law on uninsured vehicles.

It is important for the protection of the individual rights of citizens that, if they are injured in an accident through the fault of a driver, they know they have a right to compensation for the injury and loss suffered. It is wrong that because 40,000 drivers are not insured, the onus is on the State to provide compensation. It should fall on the individual. I support this section.

A vehicle can also be impounded when the motor tax is more than three months out of date. The Minister previously said that every 1 per cent increase in motor tax revenue provides an extra £2 million to the Exchequer. At a time of huge cutbacks this would be a welcome development.

The other major provision in the Bill is the power devolved to local authorities to implement local traffic calming procedures and to erect traffic signs. For too long local authorities have been excluded from implementing legislation at a local level, where they would have the most knowledge and understanding of what was required. I am glad the elected members of local authorities will have a major role to play in this. The Maastricht Treaty of the European Union encourages subsidiarity, more power being given to regions. This is a fine example of the idea.

On Committee Stage I may raise with the Minister the issue of whether local authorities will have the power to collect fines under whatever regulations they introduce. The revenue from those fines could be retained within the local authority area to help them introduce further traffic calming and traffic regulation orders.

Section 48, the last section of the Bill, deals with time limits for taking prosecutions. Senator O'Toole raised a question about this section and I agree with him on this issue. We have a Statute of Limitations Act for personal injuries and certain criminal offences. For summary proceedings and minor offences, a period of three years is too long. No-one should have a possible charge hanging over him or her for that length of time.

I understand the reason for the section is the difficulty in getting evidence to take an early prosecution and the danger of fraud. The Garda may need extra time to investigate matters. However, if there is to be a three year limit, there should be some format by which the Garda would have to go to court within six months. They would either have to look for an extension or say that because of fraud or suspected fraud they are unable to collect the evidence at present and that, given time, they may be able to bring the prosecution at a later date.

This provision could be seen as an infringement of constitutional rights. There must be equality before the law and not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done. Senator O'Toole said justice delayed is justice denied. While I do not fully agree with that statement, people have a right under the Constitution to know what charge is levied against them, who is charging them, and a right to cross-examine and challenge evidence brought against them. If one does not know for three years whether one will be charged, one's memory of the incident and the memories of the relevant witnesses may have faded. Therefore, for the relatively minor offences which could be affected by this section, the three year period should be accompanied by the stipulation that the Garda or the prosecuting authorities would have to go to court at certain intervals to say why the prosecution has not yet been brought.

I do not share the concerns of other Members about powers of arrest given to the Garda. It merely puts on a statutory footing what already exists under common law. To this day, a private citizen has a right to arrest a person he reasonably suspects has committed a felony. This provision puts the power on a statutory footing and makes it secure. It is needed in exceptional circumstances where there is no time to go to a judge to get a warrant for arrest.

I broadly welcome the intention of this Bill, with the few provisos I mention. From the Minister's actions in the Lower House on this legislation, I know he will be open to any discussion Members may feel necessary on its provisions.

I wish to share my time with Senator Belton.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister to the House. On balance this is good legislation and it is unfortunate that much of the public debate has focused on one aspect of the Bill. I welcome other aspects, particularly the discretion to local authorities for traffic calming measures.

The matter which has caused the most public debate is the reduction in the levels of alcohol in blood, urine and breath. I support that reduction. From a scientific viewpoint it is arguable how reliable those measurements are in determining the degree to which someone is capable of driving a motor car. The Minister may be aware of a newspaper article which pointed out different people may consume the same amount of alcohol and have differing levels of alcohol in their blood or breath. I have reservations in that regard because obviously a big person who has eaten a large meal can consume more alcohol and drive "safely" compared to someone smaller who has not eaten. I would always have that reservation about the degree to which science can determine the offence, but there must be a measurement and the most complete one is likely to be the amount of alcohol in the blood. The speed with which it gets into the bloodstream is the point at issue.

I am sure everybody, given enough time, will reach a certain level having consumed an amount of alcohol, but as legislators, our primary responsibility in this, as in other areas, is to protect life and ensure that people are not maimed and injured on our roads. It is generally accepted and verifiable that alcohol has contributed enormously over the years to a large number of deaths and serious injury on our highways. That, in turn, imposed a burden on the State, albeit a financial one, which cannot be compared to the human burden borne by bereaved families in tragic circumstances. I know of a case where a young person was killed many years ago, yet one of his parents refers to it repeatedly and says what he wishes to do to the person who perpetrated the offence.

The balance of advantage must lie with those affected. In that sense, I do not agree with the view that since the rural pub is the main focus of social interaction, we should not reduce the levels of alcohol permitted. As someone who lives in the country, and you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh know this, it is nice for those who work on the land to go down on a summer's evening, after making the hay in this idyllic rural setting — in which we allegedly all live in — to drink in our local pubs and then wend our way home. That may be an attractive proposition, but if one looks at it dispassionately and in the context of human life and suffering, even those of us living in the country accept there must be controls in this area.

Enforcement is at the heart of this issue, as it frequently is with the legislation we pass in this House. We have, for instance, passed legislation stating that people should not take sand off the foreshore, but how many have been prosecuted for breaking this law? It is remarkable to see the number of people, particularly in rural areas, driving without wearing a seatbelt. It is also remarkable to see the amount of people who travel with small children on their laps in the front seat of speeding cars. That, in itself, is in some ways as prejudicial to human life as consuming alcohol and driving. Our desire to enact law which will protect our citizens is not always followed by a consequent determination to enforce those laws. I ask the Minister to use his good offices to ensure that after having enacted the legislation, we would then have the resources to enforce it. I know the Garda are active in apprehending drunken drivers, particularly at this time of year. That it is commendable, but it should take place all year, not just at Christmas. A pet is not only for Christmas but for the whole of the year and it is the same in this respect.

Some aspects of the legislation are welcome, especially the provisions concerning those who could jump into an ambulance after causing an accident and by doing so, are immune from the law. At least, they can now be pursued into the hospital and wards. I share the reservations expressed about the power of the Garda, from a civil liberties point of view, in entering someone's house. It is often said in another country that a man's home is his castle, but it applies equally to this country. This, from a policing point of view, comes close to the edge of what is acceptable. If a person takes drink and speeds home, gets in his front door and closes it and a garda is in hot pursuit, it would be natural in those circumstances to expect that the garda should be able to confront him, but there is a thin line between that case and forcing entry. I realise the difficulties of framing that desirable case in law, but I am uncomfortable that the balance may have gone too far in one direction.

Another provision in the Bill — in a lighter vein — deals with mechanically propelled vehicles. There is a famous incident in which Myles na Gopaleen, the late Flan O' Brien, was involved in Chatham Street, when he came out of a noted public house which he frequented with other members of the literary community at the time and poured himself into a vehicle. He was apprehended by a vigilant officer who found there was no engine in the vehicle. It was not, therefore, mechanically propelled and he could not be prosecuted. I am told that this was done deliberately to put one over on the law. I give this example to underline the point that some people, including members of the legal profession, will trawl the legislation and find loopholes. I know some of them have been closed off in this legislation but I am sure there are others.

I welcome the provision that local authorities can now regulate parking and traffic calming. Unquestionably, this area needs enforcement. The quality of life in my local town, Newbridge, has been greatly improved by the new bypass, I do not know whether I should thank the Minister for sanctioning it. Having released the citizens of Newbridge to park on the streets of the town, we now have the phenomena, which we never had before, of double parking. We all know about Moate and other places but——

It was always a problem there.

——it is important for the local authority to be able to intervene in cases where they know there are difficulties. The same applies to introducing speed limits to villages. It should not be necessary for every local authority to say that one will have to go either to the Garda or the Minister to implement these signs. I will not repeat the points that have been made about kph and mph. Overall, this is reasonable legislation.

On the spot fines should be considered as the local authority could raise revenue through them. Obviously they could also do this with parking fines. On the motorway in County Kildare — and I know the Minister is aware of this from correspondence with his Department — the taxpayers of County Kildare, must pay for the lights to illuminate the passage of those coming from the provinces and the cities of Cork and Limerick though our county to Dublin city but we do not get anything in return. That is a reminder to the Minister of his responsibilities to us.

I welcome this aspect of the Bill which gives more decision making powers to local authorities. Both I and other local authority members in built up or developing areas have seen there is a need to extend the speed limit. Unfortunately local authorities had to wait until there was a review of all speed limits within the county with the Garda. This always took a great deal of time to arrange, with perhaps a special meeting required. It is a welcome development that local authorities can now act on their own initiative and speed up the process.

Another point I wish to raise with the Minister is rumble strips, which I understand are under review by the Department. They are effective. Given the amount of money being spent on our roads, such as by-passes and motorways, it would be a good idea if there were rumble strips at roundabouts and at black spot bends. They are very effective, I ask the Minister to consider this.

To a certain extent, local authorities through lack of funding cannot keep up with the need for adequate signposting. Road markings are lacking in certain counties where signs such as "slow" and "very slow" are needed on secondary roads. There are still many dangerous bends and old bridges and there is a consistent number of accidents at these places. As a member of a local authority — many of my colleagues are also members of local authorities — I continually bring those matters to the notice of the local authority and the county engineer. Invariably we are told there is no funding although we might not be asking for a large amount of money to be spent. This is an area towards which more funding should be directed.

There has been much discussion here and in the other House about drunken driving and speeding. Some people argue that speeding causes many accidents; other facts show that alcohol is responsible. However, in my opinion, there is another reason for many accidents and that is parked vehicles. I have no doubt that parked vehicles are a cause of accidents. We have all experienced it when driving at night where a person stops a car, perhaps to go into a house and they will not turn down their headlights. If one meets a moving vehicle which has its lights dimmed, there is some break in the beam of the light. However, if there is a parked vehicle with its headlights on and one is driving towards it, it is blinding. It should be an offence to park a car and leave the lights on. Statistics show that vehicles parked without parking lights or badly parked at night have been the cause of a number of accidents. It is not just speeding and alcohol which cause accidents. Sometimes people who park on bends while sitting in the car do not turn down their lights. This is an area which should be highlighted. Perhaps in the Department's road safety campaign people could be asked to lower their lights if they stop their car at night.

Regarding the drunken driving aspect of the legislation, I come from a rural area and a number of people have told me that this will affect the publican trade and perhaps the enjoyment of people having a few pints at night or over the weekend. When the statistics for drunken driving are broken down, it would be interesting to know at what time — and accidents usually happen at night — drink related accidents occur. In my opinion, when the State allows extensions as it does, it is more likely that accidents where alcohol is involved will take place between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. The Minister and the Government must take a close look at this.

Between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.

It is interesting to know that. I would like to see the breakdown of the figures between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. Perhaps it might be of interest to the Minister, the Department and the Government which has other areas, such as the licensing laws, to consider.

The Senator's time is up.

There were a number of other issues I would have liked to mention. I wish the Minister the best of luck with this legislation. He is bringing the legislation up to date and in line with driving today when we have faster and more powerful cars.

I welcome the Minister to the House. His name has been mentioned often in the last couple of months, ironically in pubs at night. After four or five pints, the Road Traffic Bill, 1993, comes up in conversation and has been described by a number of people as draconian and by others as welcome. Overall, I presume the general public will feel comfortable with most sections of the Bill.

The situation regarding pubs, drink driving and road traffic deaths has caused many serious problems over the years. The statistics have already been mentioned and I endorse what the Minister pointed out, that is, that drunk driving is a major contributory factor.

The difficulty is establishing what is a drunk driver, and this brings me to mandatory sentencing. If a person has had two drinks he is treated the same as a person who had ten drinks and the mandatory sentence would be harsh on a person who unintentionally went over the limit due to a factor outside his control, such as alcohol put into beverages or some form of medication. This is an issue which should be examined.

We had much lobbying from vintners in rural areas that are isolated from large urban populations and without public transport. One issue that has caused consternation in rural Ireland is how do people get to the public house? We cannot condone drink driving, but we must accept that people have a right to drive to and from a public house. People drive to public houses for a drink, alcoholic or otherwise and, unfortunately, some will take a few drinks.

In relation to the discretionary powers of the gardaí, this Bill will work well because they are in touch with local communities. However, due to its nature the Garda Síochána will become isolated from the community and in future will have less knowledge about individuals and this could cause problems. If this Bill was fully implemented, the Garda Síochána could have many people off the road within 24 hours if check points were placed at every cross roads and outside public houses. Gardaí must use their discretionary powers in this regard.

We condone drink driving and that is one of the reasons for the introduction of this Bill. If we had not condoned it, would we have reduced the limit to 80 milligrammes? Those who consume 100 milligrammes will continue to flout the law and they are the people this Bill must home in on.

While I support the idea that people should carry a driving licence, I see a fundamental problem. If a person has two cars and drives to the shop without the licence because it is in the other car, they are liable for prosecution under this Bill. I understand gardaí can use their discretion and allow that person to hand in their licence and insurance at a Garda station within ten days. However, a mechanism should be in place whereby dual licences may be issued so that a licence may be kept in one's car rather than on one's person. People are afraid to keep their licence on their person when going to a dance or to the beach because it is difficult to carry a licence in a pair of swimming togs. This issue must be looked at.

The thrust of the Bill is welcome. It updates and devolves powers relating to speed limits and safety from central Government to local authorities. A number of points were raised in regard to someone sitting in a car. I am aware of a case where an individual was prosecuted because they sat in a car while under the influence of alcohol. The person was looking after the car while their friend went to a shop to purchase something. This is a draconian measure. Although such an individual may have taken two or three drinks, he is only looking after the car or sitting in it outside a public house while waiting to be collected.

The provision where gardaí may enter a house after a hit and run accident could be tested constitutionally. I have no problem with gardaí entering the house of person who has committed a crime as serious as a hit and run for the purpose of arrest. However, how does one know whether an individual was involved a hit and run accident? This provision gives a broad range of powers to gardaí, again at their discretion.

The entire Bill is centred around the Garda Síochána's knowledge of the community. We have discussed community alerts in this House and the Garda Síochána's knowledge in this regard. As the Garda develops it will become less personal. At one time gardaí knew everyone in a parish and everyone knew the local sergeant, but that is no longer the case. Rural areas near cities come under city jurisdictions and it will be difficult to overcome the discretionary powers of gardaí.

Regarding licences for agricultural vehicles, this is an issue which should be looked at again. It is difficult for a person to carry a licence while operating an agricultural vehicle and I take issue with this measure. During the summer it can be difficult for someone to carry a licence but if they forget it, they are liable to prosecution. From that point of view, the legislation should be looked at again.

The Bill raised an issue which society has ignored, drink driving. We have condoned it for too long because there is a drink culture in our society. That is why this Bill is contentious. Most rational people realise drink driving has caused many deaths and injuries. If this Bill is fully implemented, will insurance costs come down? Those who drink excessively and drive are responsible for high insurance costs. However, I do not believe the Bill will encourage flexibility on the part of insurance companies in regard to premiums. Over the years we have seen that people do not take note of legislation if it is in their make up to break the law. Although one must draw the line, this infringes on the innocent victim. I hope the public and insurance companies will abide by the provisions in this Bill and that gardaí will use their discretionary powers to the best of their ability.

We must do something about what has been described as an infringement of the social fabric of rural Ireland. The public house, the church and the GAA facilities have always been described as the social make up of rural Ireland. Difficulties will arise for old people who are used to driving home from the public house after three drinks and a game of cards on a Sunday night. This issue was raised at meetings even before the Bill was published. Although I do not know what directives senior Garda officials will issue in regard to discretionary powers, mandatory sentencing will place an onus on gardaí to use these powers. If they do not, these people will be prosecuted under the Bill as well as those who drive recklessly after drinking excessively.

Duplicate licences must be issued if we are to have a foolproof system where people must produce a licence at all times. Joyriders, who have wreaked havoc on society for too long, are also responsible for the introduction of this Bill. They are an evil in society and my constituency, Cork North-Central, has experienced this problem. Joyriders have no regard for human life; they have less regard for human life than the drink driver. If dual licences were issued, gardaí would not need discretionary powers as there would be no reason a person could not produce a licence. I raise this issue because I am looking for information. Perhaps the Minister will comment on this in his reply.

This Bill has made local authorities more aware of the problems and the difficulties which have arisen too often — the red tape involved in removing a hazard, the implementation of a speed limit, the implementation of ramps to slow down traffic through a residential area, etc. Overall, this Bill must be recommended to the House.

Sitting suspended at 6 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.

With the agreement of the House, I wish to share my time with Senator Farrelly.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the general thrust of the Bill. Its aims are very important. However, it affects nearly every citizen. In some cases it goes too far. As well as making laws, we should try to create a law abiding ethos but we have failed to do this. In many cases it is our own fault. The cynicism of the public is justified. We are well aware there is a great deal of cynicism about how the law is applied. We regularly hear people say the law is applied to them because they are ordinary citizens but important people in society are above the law. This feeling has grown rapidly in recent years. One has to blame the scandals we had, such as the Telecom Éireann affair and the beef tribunal. Such scandals give ordinary citizens the feeling the law does not apply to some people but always applies to them. If they drive without a light or with one light blown, they are stopped by the Garda and the due process of law is applied. However, they read newspaper reports of scandals where people were seen to be above the law and were able to get away with serious breaches of the law without the due process being applied to them.

It was reported last week that the former Minister for Health allocated public money in an unacceptable way. I thought the Comptroller and Auditor General used very mild language in his report. In most people's view, the former Minister in question would have been in breach of the law. If the Government is serious about making laws, it should be equally serious about creating a law abiding ethos. If a Minister behaves in a way that is in breach of the law he should be prosecuted. The Government should make Dr. John O'Connell answer for his actions.

Acting Chairman

This is irrelevant to the Road Traffic Bill.

It is very relevant.

Acting Chairman

It is very irrelevant. You have been given too much latitude.

I disagree with you because I think not alone——

Acting Chairman

You may not disagree with the Chair. Confine yourself to the Road Traffic Bill.

This is very relevant to it. If we do not have a law abiding ethos, there is no point having laws. If we developed such an ethos we would not need to redraft laws and introduce draconian measures to frighten the wits out of people who are turned off by the whole system and do not give a thinker's curse for the law for the reasons I have given. Such an ethos is extremely important. People find it very difficult to decide between what is truth and what is false. People have little regard for the law.

I blame many of the people at the top for the type of society we have. People used to look to those whom they regarded as pillars of society for examples. All those pillars have now fallen and the country is in a disastrous state as a result. Having made this point and having suggested we should try to create this law abiding ethos, I hope I will be listened to, particularly by people in important places, and that the law will be applied evenly throughout the community. This is the desire of every citizen. People who break the law, no matter who they are, should be liable to due process. The law should apply to everybody and not just to ordinary citizens who are now of the view that the law only applies to them.

I disagree with parts of this legislation. Section 39 gives the Garda the power to enter a person's garden or driveway if they suspect the person is guilty of, for example, drunken driving. The only time I accept this power should be used is in the case of hit and run accidents. We all agree that such accidents are distateful and horrific. We have all attended the funerals of honest, decent people who were victims of such accidents. Members of the Garda Síochána should not have to decide whether to enter the private property of a driver of a vehicle whom they believe to be under the influence of drink. Such a violation of a person's rights should be subject to certification and warrants should be obtained by gardaí in such cases.

I ask the Minister to again look at section 39 and remove this power from the Garda except in hit and run cases. I am not suggesting members of the Garda do not have good judgement but it is unfair to put them in such a position. People's rights to the comfort and security of their own homes should only be violated when the gardaí involved are of the opinion a very serious breach of the law has occurred and they have good reason to suspect the owner of the property has been involved in a hit and run accident. The Garda should not be able to use this power in other situations.

A case came before the courts in Monaghan recently. Senator O'Brien will be very familiar with this because it may have been a neighbour of his who was involved. It was in relation to an accident involving a tractor. A person gave a neighbour a lift home in the box of his tractor. When he arrived, he found his neighbour was missing from the box. The tractor owner did not have insurance to carry an individual in the box and suffered greviously as a result. After this incident I checked with some insurance companies and found that in many cases they would not insure a tractor for carrying a passenger. They have their own good reasons for this. I believe any tractor which goes on the road should have the same insurance as any other propelled vehicle. If a tractor can carry a passenger, the Minister should make a regulation that tractors on the road should be insured to carry passengers.

Acting Chairman

That would come under an insurance Bill, not the Road Traffic Bill.

I think the Minister could make a regulation to that effect.

Acting Chairman

Not under this Bill. I am subject to correction, but there are vehicles which are only insured to carry one passenger. I should not be commenting from the Chair but it is not relevant to this Bill.

The insurance companies should be required when insuring a tractor — and it costs little.

Acting Chairman

It is not relevant.

In the case I mentioned there would not have been such a big problem for the individual who, at the time was not aware——

Acting Chairman

The Senator said he would share his time with Senator Farrelly. If he intends to share it equally he has a minute left.

I welcome the general thrust of the Bill. We will have an opportunity on the other Stages to discuss the sections in detail. I look forward to this.

I thank Senator Cotter for sharing his time. This legislation has been the subject of widespread comment by many Members in this and the other House. In this legislation we are being asked to give the Garda Síochána more power to control road users with regard to speeding, general traffic offences and drink driving. That is the main thrust of the Bill. Other parts give extra powers to the local authorities which I welcome because heretofore it has taken too long to make decisions on speed limits and so on.

I am disappointed that the Bill does not include a radical change in regard to on-the-spot fines. The Minister stated that approximately 30,000 people were stopped for traffic offences over a one year period. I cannot understand why a system of on-the-spot fines was not included in this legislation which would reduce the present clogging of courts. However, the other side of the coin is that we must ensure that the people collecting on-the-spot fines are accountable for them.

Another aspect I thought we would have considered is the possibility of setting up a traffic control unit which would be separate from the Garda Síochána. There has been a huge increase in crimes, such as burglary, and the last report stated that in the region of £35 million of goods were stolen in one year. Giving more powers to the existing Garda Síochána will result in fewer gardaí being available for crime prevention. This legislation has not gone far enough in that regard. There should be a separate unit to deal with road traffic offences.

Those of us who take a drink know the limitations and the amount of alcohol one can take. The decent thing would have been for the Minister to say one can no longer drink and drive because I do not know many people who ever have just one drink, and I am sure the Minister would agree. Instead of reducing the limit from 100 milligrammes to 80 milligrammes, the legislation should say that people cannot drink and drive because one drink will put them over the limit. That would have been the sensible thing to do. We are beating around the bush on this issue.

I will oppose, if I can get the agreement of my party colleagues, the provision that people who are found guilty of drink driving will have to do the driving test again. Not long ago because about 100,000 people were waiting to do a driving test the Minister for the Environment decided to allow 20,000 or 30,000 people to get a licence without doing a test. The majority of people, if not all, found guilty of this offence will lose their licence, apart from the disqualifications, and join a queue of about 60,000 applicants, according to the most recent figures I received. The bottom line is that this is another way of getting funds for the Department of the Environment. I am not in favour of it. The current penalty of losing one's licence for a period decided by the court should be sufficient. We are going over the top in this regard.

I am delighted that the other House has amended the legislation in regard to allowing the Garda Síochána enter one's house. I have no problem with that in cases of hit-and-run but we were bringing in draconian measures — a lump hammer to crack a nut - when one considers the number of people involved. I welcome the change which has been made on the basis of what the Minister said here today.

The areas in which I feel real change could have been made to bring this legislation into the 20th century and beyond are a new traffic control unit dealing solely with traffic offences and a realistic speed limit on our motorways. We have built motorways and have a 70 miles per hour speed limit. Should people not be given the opportunity to drive comfortably on those motorways at 75 or 80 miles per hour without being stopped? We have been driving on bad roads for long enough and it is unfair to set the speed limit at 70 miles per hour. I welcome the proposal to ensure that there will be a speed limit for heavy goods vehicles and that a unit will be provided in trucks for this purpose.

The Minister told us that 400 people died last year in road accidents but he did not say that all, a half or a third of these accidents were related to drink driving. It is unfair of him to use the figure 400. Last week a gentleman rang Marion Finucane's radio programme who was offended by the advertisements on the radio — I am sure the Minister has heard about this. He lost two children in accidents which did not involve drink driving.

The number of accidents caused by drink driving is exaggerated. People should not drive when over the limit but this Bill should have simply stated that if one drinks at all one cannot drive. The statistics and the information supplied show that one drink will put most people over the limit but there are others, a tough class of people like the Acting Chairman who used to play football and hurling, on whom it might take three drinks to have the same effect.

Acting Chairman

You have less then a minute left.

I am only saying, Sir what you were thinking when I mentioned this. We have to accept the need for rules and regulations but we should not go too far. None of us would like to witness the death of rural Ireland because of the introduction of this legislation, particularly when we consider that many of the deaths on the roads last year may have been speed related and not caused by drink driving.

I would like to share my time with Senator O'Brien who wants seven minutes.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Ar dtus báire, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire agus fáilte a chur roimh an Bille seo. This is necessary legislation. It has been said that the number of accidents arising from drink driving are not as great as we believe. However, until now, the available figures were inaccurate because when a person got into an ambulance or was put into a doctor's care, regardless of how drunk they were, they could not be as classified because they gardaí could not breathalyse them. Dr. Micky Loftus is on record as saying that 60 per cent of the road accidents he attends as a GP are alcohol related, and I would be inclined to agree with those figures.

There are a few issues on which I would like some clarification from the Minister. Drivers will now be required to carry their driving licences at all times; most of us already do. However, a farmer may be driving a tractor in the field and have to go out on to the road. It is unfair that he would have to go to his car and bring his driving licence with him. For the sake of the agricultural sector, we should consider excluding from this requirement a person who is on a tractor doing farm work.

There is also the instance where a person goes to a garage to have their car serviced. The car may not be ready for a few hours and the garage may lend that person a car. The person may forget to take their licence out of their own car. It may be a little harsh to require people to carry their driving licences at all times particularly when they are within ten to 15 miles of home. The Minister should consider requiring a person to produce the licence within 24 hours where the garda knows them and they are in their own garda area. I am thinking of myself in this regard as I often have cause to drive other vehicles and my belongings may be in my own car. The provision is a little harsh in that regard.

I am worried about the dangerous driving provision. It should be tightened up and not left to the discretion of the garda. It is too easy to be charged with dangerous driving. I have 47 years' driving experience and I have driven a couple of million miles and thank God I have never had an accident or a claim on my insurance. In that time I was stopped by the gardaí three times, once for a missing headlight in the 1950s and twice for speeding. I have been lucky.

I was going home the other evening along Whitworth Road. The lights were with me and I was indicating to turn left. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a cyclist passing me who was going straight ahead. It was a wet evening and one would need to have been quite observant to spot him. If I had turned I would have hit that cyclist and would probably have been charged with dangerous driving whereas it was the cyclist who was riding dangerously. He was in the wrong line of traffic, he should not have been in the inside line when he was going straight on.

There are too many things which could cause one to be charged with dangerous driving. We should tighten the definition. We are being very harsh on motorists while the responsibilities of cyclists and pedestrians who cause many problems on the road never seem to be incorporated into any Bill. This is an area we should examine.

Senator Farrelly mentioned driving tests. Before driving tests were introduced we were told they would lead to an accident free society and low insurance premiums. The PMPA was set up to reduce insurance costs because of an outcry about the amounts insurance companies were charging at that time. Driving tests have been introduced and the number of accidents has increased. I would like to know how many of those who got driving licences at that time of the backlog have since been found to have contravened the road traffic law? It would be an interesting statistic.

Not many, I would say.

Not many? Sometimes people go for a driving test wondering if they will pass and come out with their full licence thinking they are ace drivers. I wonder a little about that.

The Bill also deals with being in charge of a car while under the influence of drink. There was a case recently where a man came out of a pub well under the weather and went into the back of his car to sleep. The gardaí found him and he was charged with being drunk in charge of the car. The judge heard the case and said he thought the man was very sensible and knowing he was drunk and unable to drive home, lay in the back of his car to sleep for a couple of hours until he was sober and fit to drive. One may encounter a judge who would not be as far seeing and disqualify such a person from driving. The provision should only cover a person driving a car. If a person is drunk and wants to sleep in the car because he is not capable of driving, we should not charge him with being drunk in charge of the car. He should at least have the keys in the ignition and be attempting to drive. This might be a fairer way of assessing the situation. The Minister should examine this.

I am particularly proud of section 15 which removes the anomaly under existing law where by a person can avoid having to supply a specimen if he or she has been involved in a traffic accident and is taken to hospital. It is high time that was brought in because it was too easy after an accident for people to get into an ambulance or put themselves in the charge of a doctor to avoid being tested. When this legislation is operative we will see the full number of accidents caused by drunken driving. We have not had the true figures up to now.

I already mentioned Part IV of the Bill, dealing with the obligation on the driver to carry the driving licence at all times when driving. The Minister should examine this in the case of tractors and agricultural vehicles. When farmers are busy during harvest time, it is not easy to remember to carry a driving licence.

I hope, when this Bill comes into force, that something will be done about the cost of insurance. Despite the fact that we made many changes in the law — and we were told when we made them that insurance would be reduced — insurance companies do not seem to be reducing insurance. The Minister should pressurise them into doing so. When we abolished juries in personal injuries cases we were told the cost of insurance would come down and instead it has increased.

Some years ago in this House I suggested impounding uninsured and untaxed vehicles. Where a driver has not paid car tax and particularly when the car is not insured, the car should be impounded there and then. It is not right to take the name and address of the driver, summons them and let them go.

We should insist that insurance is specific to every vehicle, unlike the driving licence. Every vehicle should have a disc displayed permanently on the windscreen. I welcome that provision which will also, I hope, put an end to joy-riding, although those people are not too particular about tax and insurance.

I am also pleased with the provision in regard to cameras. I was in England this year at an agricultural show at which the police force mounted a stand. They told me about one junction which was the scene of four or five accidents every week. The police were prosecuting drivers but were not achieving their aim of making the junction safer. Now they put up a sign warning motorists there is a speed trap and cameras, ahead. Since they put up the cameras, people see the signs and deliberately slow down. The police officer to whom I was talking said they do not want to prosecute people, they want to advise them. It is very important that we should have more advice from gardaí rather than prosecutions because prosecutions put people's back up. I welcome the cameras and hope we put up signs to warn motorists to slow down.

There is a possibility of the introduction of testing small vehicles. Local authorities or an independent body should test cars, not garages, whose owners have a vested interest in finding faults. I welcome the Bill and ask the Minister to consider the points I made.

I thank Senator Farrell for sharing his time with me and welcome the Minister to the House. This legislation is vital and should be whole heartedly welcomed by all Members. I compliment the Minister on its introduction and hope it will dramatically cut the number of serious injuries and killings on our roads annually.

With almost 5,000 people killed on our roads during the 1980s we must ensure that everything possible which can be done through legislation, enforcement by the authorities and an educational campaign for road users is implemented. Deaths on our roads have become almost an acceptable part of modern living. A huge increase in motor vehicles over the past 20 years has contributed enormously to the number of deaths. This is why the driver or person in charge of any vehicle, regardless of its size, must be capable, alert and have a roadworthy vehicle at all times.

We can end this totally unnecessary suffering. In a recent survey it was reported that 35 per cent of road accidents were drink related, causing driver error. This is something we must stamp out once and for all. Let the message be loud and clear. If you drink, do not drive.

I welcome the reduction of the blood-alcohol limit to 80 milligrammes. However, I ask the Minister to consider a phased introduction of the reduction from 100 milligrammes, as perhaps someone who goes out at the weekend for a social drink and drives safely will be within the law at 90 milligrammes one week and, the following weekend, could find themselves subject to severe penalties.

A phased introduction could avoid the unnecessary conviction of a driver who puts safety first at all times. This is particularly true of rural areas where no public transport is available to and from social centres. When a group go out for a night out someone must take charge of the driving and curtail his or her drinking to within the limit. It may take time for people to adjust to this change.

No legislation will be effective if it is not enforced but I have every confidence that the Government will give the necessary resources to the gardaí to implement its provisions in an effective and evenhanded manner. I hope that over Christmas we will see a further reduction in the number of deaths on our road. This has been the trend over the last number of Christmases, due mainly to the implementation of the law by the gardaí who are particularly alert at this time. This is why, if people know that measures are being implemented, they will adhere to the law. While deaths are the most tragic consequence of road accidents, the cost of motor insurance, particularly for young people, is high. Many young people who need a car as a means of getting to and from work are unable to pay the high cost of insurance and I call on the Government and the insurance companies to come up with realistic rates for car insurance for young drivers.

The provisions in the Bill to give local authorities responsibility for speed limits on county roads is welcome, as indeed are all the provisions. It is important to have legislation which deals with the current problems on our roads. Road transport is vital to commercial and modern day life. It gives a freedom never known to our parents. However, it also brings tragedy and this is why we must change our attitudes to dangerous driving and make our roads a safer place for all.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome the Bill having seen the result of traffic accidents when I worked in casualty departments. I have the greatest sympathy for the Minister's efforts to improve the laws relating to driving under the influence of drink.

I know it cannot be included in this Bill, but I urge the Minister, as it is within his area of responsibility, to consider the situation regarding pedestrians and intoxication. It is depressing to see people brought to hospital following an accident in which the pedestrian was intoxicated. This must be looked at urgently.

When I was a young doctor, I treated a bus driver who had run over a man who had fallen in front of the bus. How was the driver to know he was there when he started the bus? I was driving across the bridge in Ballsbridge the other night and two young people with cans of beer in their hands nearly went under the front of my car. I managed to stop in time but I would say their level of intoxication was quite high. I hope this will be addressed because the Bill deals only with mechanically propelled vehicles although cyclists and pedestrians are also involved in accidents. I have seen them brought into hospital intoxicated. It is extremely hard for drivers involved in such accidents to begin to defend themselves because the pedestrians will not have been breathalysed.

Many Senators talked about our attitude to drink — which is unfortunate to put it mildly, with 7,000 admissions to psychiatric hospitals every year with drink related disease. I assure Senator Farrell that drink will have been shown to be an important factor in quite a lot of the accidents which result in hospitalisation. It is encouraging that young people seem to have a far better attitude to drinking and driving than older people. One often sees young people saying they will not drink as they are driving and sticking by that, I cannot remember that attitude being as strong when I was younger. There is a general change of attitude, which is fortunate, and the Minister appears to be trying to capitalise on it.

The announcement by the Minister for Justice, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, that she will recruit more gardaí is also welcome. Nothing sharpens us as much when driving as the flashing lights and blue uniforms at checkpoints, especially as we saw in Dublin last year. I feel fortunate that I live in the much maligned Dublin 4 area where we could walk almost everywhere, it made for a far better level of entertainment at Christmas when one knew one could go out and walk home rather than being interrogated at Fitzwilliam Square and then round the corner at the Burlington Hotel. Indeed it would be a miracle if one got as far as Burlington Road without meeting a third checkpoint.

I will talk mainly about the medical aspects of the legislation. However, we must try to take into account that not only is drunken driving an important factor in accidents but that there are other factors such as the roadworthiness of vehicles and the condition of our roads, as Senator Farrell and others mentioned. I hope that will be urgently looked at by the Minister's Department.

Returning to the medical aspects, it is long overdue that those who are brought to hospital can now be obliged to give blood or urine samples. It was a cause of great rage to many members of the medical profession that if one could jump in an ambulance and get to the hospital everything would be all right. Nobody liked being put in the invidious position of appearing to protect someone who had been involved in, perhaps, a fatal accident. I congratulate the Minister on this provision.

The medical organisations have been in contact with the Minister and I hope the Department will take their submissions seriously. At night, following accidents, casualty departments are extremely difficult areas to work in and I urge the Minister to ensure that designated doctors will not be employed in the casualty service. One reason I urge this is because of the mayhem in casualty departments at night, especially if serious accident cases are brought in. For example, the doctor might be about to emigrate to Canada and getting him or her back from Saskatchewan for the case six months later would be difficult. More serious, however, is the conflict of interests for the doctor who will have to treat the patient and perhaps give evidence, having taken the blood specimen.

Some points were also raised by the medical organisations about medicolegal consequences if people, when trying to take blood samples, injured themselves or others. I do not think this Bill envisages doctors trying to hold patients down and forcing them to give blood samples as that would constitute assault and the medical profession would not be in a position to do that. However, the designated doctor should be from outside the hospital if possible. I also suggest there should be plenty of designated doctors because nobody wants to see a long delay before somebody is brought to the casualty department, a delay in treatment or in getting a patient to the wards.

Some of the wording in the Bill is quite loose, for example, where it says "at the request of the Garda." Are these to be written or oral requests? Who in the hospital will be requested? Will it be a casualty officer — as I said, I hope it will not be — or the consultant in charge of the case? Everyone admitted to hospital from the casualty department is under the care of a consultant. Will that consultant be the person legally in charge? There are many points in this regard which have to be looked at carefully. There may be instances of refusal to allow blood samples to be taken on medical grounds. We will have to try to have an understanding about what "medical grounds" are because loose wording like that can be difficult when it comes to cases. I do not envisage, and I do not think the Bill envisages, doctors being accused of having been too liberal in using medical grounds regarding refusal to take blood samples or refusing to allow blood samples to be taken from patients.

These matters can be straightened out before the Bill is implemented. I realise the Minister has been in contact with the various organisations. However, I voice these warnings because casualty departments in particular are a hotbed of medical legal problems. As this Bill is necessary — and as the medical profession supports it and wants to co-operate in its operation — it is extremely important to ensure it is properly set up when it comes into force. It is depressing to see cases where the intoxicated person in charge of the car, whom I as a medical practitioner felt should have been convicted, gets off on a technicality. We must be sure — and I am addressing this from the medical point of view — that we do not have a situation in which there are technicalities which the medical profession may not fulfil properly or in which there are misunderstandings about medical grounds. I urge the Minister and his Department to settle these matters with the medical profession before the Bill is enforced. It is an important area.

I again stress that I would like to see this extended to other members of the population involved in traffic accidents. They can often be at fault and it is hard for the driver to deal with such situations because there is no evidence to the contrary from the pedestrian or the cyclist.

I welcome this legislation which is badly needed although of course, I have reservations. There must be rules and regulations and while they may suit one section of the community they may not suit another. Statistics prove that driving while intoxicated leads to many deaths. There are other problems in this area which should also be tackled. Drug users, for example, should be included in this legislation. I know of several serious accidents involving people who were on drugs. I welcome the provision that blood samples can now be taken from people involved in accidents. It is long overdue.

I anticipate problems with this legislation. I am sure that the Minister, as he is from a rural area, realises that some provisions will not suit his part of the country. They may be suitable for city life where, for example, having a driver's licence in one's possession would be useful as the person would not be known to the gardaí. However, in rural communities most people who drive cars are quite well known within a radius of 15 or 20 miles and if a garda does not know a driver he can check him out in a matter of minutes by ringing the other local Garda station. It is different in the city.

With regard to the blood alcohol level, a law should be introduced to prohibit a person who is drinking from driving. People should ensure a lift or an alternative way of getting home or they should stay where they are. The law at present seems to differ in its effect according to the size of the person. A larger person may be able to take two and a half pints while a smaller person may be over the limit after only one and a half pints. It is quite flexible and rather than putting people through the trauma of wondering if they are over the limit or if they can chance another drink it would be better to tell them they should not drive if they have taken a drink.

Non-motorists, cyclists or pedestrians, do not seem to have any regard for drivers. Pedestrians will walk across a primary road as if they are walking across a country yard. They expect the oncoming car to stop and believe they have the right of way. The same thing happens in large towns and villages. People walk between cars and cross the road without even looking to see if a car is coming. They expect the car not to hit them although, as is well known, sometimes they hope it will.

I have certain reservations about the power of gardaí to enter a private home. One's home is one's castle. In the case of a fatal accident the gardaí should have the power to enter a home but I would be worried that if a garda did not like the look of a person or conducted a vendetta against the person he could lie in wait and follow him into his home on his return from a social occasion. That is an uncommon situation but this provision leaves the door open in that regard.

I am also concerned that people convicted of drink driving will lose their licences. People should be given a second chance after a warning on their first offence. If it happened again or they were again charged with dangerous driving they should then have to do the driving test.

Most people over the age of 50 would fail the driving test, not because they are bad drivers but because they would not carry out the procedures now required to pass it. Drivers are expected to drive in the correct gear during a test whereas many people may be in the habit of driving through a town or village in second gear only. If a driver goes over a certain speed driving through a town during a driving test he is expected to change gear. People may also be in the habit of not using their indicator when turning a corner as they travel the same road a number of times each day and know who they would meet. I am speaking about rural areas where I know that happens. The Minister knows I am right.

I guarantee the Senator that I never know who is coming against me.

In my experience the Minister is always well aware of who is coming against him. He is always ready and waiting for them.

It is more heavily populated around Clonakenny than in Kerry.

People in rural areas use their vehicles to go to town, to shop, to go to Mass and to town socials. They are also accustomed to driving tractors. Many of them got their licences before driving tests were introduced. I acknowledge that driving instructors are doing a great job. However, people have failed their test because they changed gear noisily or because they may have struck the footpath when parking the car. They failed due to small things. Many do not even know how to properly reverse a car into a parking space. They are used to driving forward, rather than reversing into position and I am concerned about this.

People who qualify for provisional licences should do their oral test before they get their provisional licences. This means they can concentrate on doing their driving tests because they have already passed the oral test on the rules of the road when they get their provisional licences.

People in the cities and large towns have an advantage over those in rural areas because they have public transport, taxi services and other means of transport. A person going to a social in a rural area may travel 15 miles before he gets to the function. He must also make arrangements to get home because there is no taxi service or public transport. This puts pressure on rural life and on the pubs.

I welcome the legislation. I would go further and say that one should not drink and drive and legislation should be introduced to this effect. However, I would accept a low blood alcohol level so that people could enjoy a social event or soup with sherry.

It would be an unusual chef who put sherry in soup.

A person who takes a pint or a pint and a half could be over the limit while a person who takes two pints could be under it. People could get nervous breakdowns about this and would not drink any more.

I welcome this overdue Bill. However, the Minister must do more. He not only has to deal with drunken drivers, he must also deal with people involved in drugs and those who speed. The penalties for these people should be more severe than those outlined in this legislation.

This is my first time to speak when the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Smith, is in the House. As I am a neighbour of his, I wish him, his wife and family happiness and health and success in his difficult task.

The overall principle of the Road Traffic Bill, 1993 is to ensure the safety of our roads for motorists, pedestrians and all road users. We will not vote against Second Stage of this Bill because we agree with its contents although we will highlight and discuss certain sections of it. In the Dáil the Minister showed he was open to change and I hope some of the points raised about this Bill will be examined.

The introduction of legislation which is intended to make roads safer and to provide greater protection for all road users must be welcomed. Each year the statistics relating to deaths and injuries from road accidents make depressing reading. One death on the roads as a result of dangerous or drunken driving or the dangerous condition of roads or vehicles, is a death too many. There can be no acceptable level of injuries or fatalities and every citizen has a responsibility to keep this to a minimum level.

The members of the Garda Síochána have an excellent record of law enforcement. Their common sense and practical approach to problems should be recognised and appreciated. The primary consideration of the Oireachtas in considering and passing legislation must be the protection and vindication of the rights of the individual citizen. A delicate balance exists and must be maintained between the protection of the citizen, the rights of the individual and the obligation imposed by the Oireachtas on the Garda Síochána to enforce the laws it enacts.

Is the Road Traffic Bill, 1993, as passed by Dáil Éireann, reasonable and fair? Will an objective person accept that all its provisions are sensible and practical? I believe the answer would be in the negative to both questions. Some examples will illustrate what I mean. If a member of the Garda Síochána is of the opinion that excise duty has not been paid on a vehicle, he can take possession of it under this Bill. A three month tax has now been introduced in the Bill. There are many reasons the road tax may not be paid and a provision enabling the confiscation of a motor vehicle, without affording a person an opportunity to explain his circumstances, is severe. A tax may be recovered and there is no threat to the individual or property by not having a vehicle taxed.

These provisions relate to car tax which was abolished on foot of the policies proposed by the Fianna Fáil manifesto in 1977, upon which the Taoiseach was first elected to Dáil Éireann. Fianna Fáil has gone the full circle from abolishing car tax in 1977 to seizing a car from a person who omitted to pay his tax, perhaps inadvertently.

Dublin Opinion used to state that humour was the safety value of the nation. I am sure there are civil servants in the Department of the Environment who find it humorous that in 1977 legislation was prepared to abolish car tax and now in 1993 legislation is being prepared to seize vehicles from people who have not paid their taxes. However, that is the way democracy works.

Look at the way hurling has changed in the last 15 years. Before that the ball was never played.

The Government should now prepare an ethics in Government Bill, but that is a separate issue.

We are going from strength to strength so there is no need to worry about it.

Under this Bill, a person convicted of dangerous driving is automatically disqualified from holding a driving licence. Nobody approves of or condones dangerous driving. In fact, all fair minded people abhor dangerous driving and a lack of courtesy and consideration for all road users. However, there are varying degrees of dangerous driving. Until now, a District Court judge could use his discretion to impose a conviction and fine appropriate to the gravity of the offence and, where necessary, a suspension of a person's driving licence. The Minister is aware that a simple error of judgment could lead to a charge being brought against a person and a conviction for dangerous driving. As a result, the individual's driving licence would be automatically revoked. The District Court judge is no longer able to use his discretion.

There are further far-reaching powers in this Bill which need careful examination and scrutiny before being passed into law. A driving licence is an essential part of everyday living. Its withdrawal from a person may result in a loss of livelihood and failure to obtain motor insurance cover. Even if such cover can be obtained, it will be at a prohibitive premium which the ordinary person will not be able to afford.

Under existing road traffic legislation, if a garda is of the opinion that a person in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle has consumed intoxicating liquor he may now demand a breath specimen. Under section 17 a person provides two breath specimens. If he exceeds the limit, he is given a statement, produced by the apparatus, which shows the concentration of alcohol in his breath. There is no opportunity afforded to the person to obtain an independent analysis. In his speech, the Minister states that this provision will be deferred for a period while people get used to the procedure.

The Bill makes provision for the detention of a person or persons who, in the opinion of a member of the Garda Síochána, is under the influence of an intoxicant to such an extent as to be a threat to the safety of himself or others for a period not exceeding eight hours. The person may be released into the custody of another person on the satisfaction of the member in charge. Is it not in the best interests of every person concerned that the decision as to detention should be based on the opinion of a medical practitioner and not on that of the member in charge?

With regard to the section referring to drugs, the Bill further imposes an obligation on a person to accompany a member of the Garda Síochána to the station and failure to do so shall result in a fine of £1,000 and/or a six month term of imprisonment. Perhaps the Minister would explain why a garda should not arrest that person. As drafted, this power is especially wide. Is there a special reason for this section? I look forward to the Minister's advice on this matter.

Most people refer to this legislation as a Bill to deal solely with drunk driving even though it also deals with other measures. I believe the reduction in the alcohol level from 100 milligrammes to 80 milligrammes will not reduce the number of accidents. There is no evidence to suggest that accidents are caused by drivers in that category. Accidents are caused by drivers with an alcohol level far in excess of those limits. The gardaí have successfully enforced the existing legislation with commendable common sense. People with an alcohol level above those limits are the primary cause of road traffic accidents. However, taking two or three drinks can sometimes cause accidents. Measures should be taken to ensure that people with an alcohol level above these limits are prosecuted.

The present measures are enforced. However, this new measure will prevent a person from taking any drink. Is this desirable? Can a person paying a social call or attending a meeting not have even one drink? Can a person having a meal, or a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary, not have one drink and a bottle of wine between them? Can a person going to his local for a game of cards not even have one drink?

This change will have far-reaching effects for the already troubled tourism industry, for publicans and hoteliers and especially for those living in rural areas. Many of these people have no public transport, no taxi service and some may live alone. The basis of social life in rural Ireland, and in many of the villages and towns will be affected by this Bill. I support any measures which will ensure safety on our roads but these measures may require further deliberation.

I welcome the Minister's reference to education for road users. An essential requirement to curtail road traffic accidents is education and highlighting, through the media, the duties and responsibilities of drivers. I believe what we need are short advertisements on television outlining the areas of safety that are desirable, encouraging people to use their mirrors so that they may be aware of traffic, approaching and behind, the use of the hard shoulder for lorries, tractors and machinery, etc.

Where roadworks are being carried out, often the only warning signs are badly painted tar barrels, dirty signs or lamps which do not light. This kind of situation is not dealt with in the Bill and it needs to be covered. Such situations and such carelessness cause accidents in which people are killed and injured. Simple improvement works often drag on for years, placing people's lives at risk. In large measure the Department of the Environment is to blame because local authorities do not have the funds to finish jobs. This applies to removing dangerous turns or road widening and it is unacceptable.

Large sums of money are being spent on the construction of high quality national primary and national secondary roads to facilitate motorists. However, little thought is given to farm families living on such roads which, on occasion, divide the family farm. No thought is given to providing a tunnel to enable farmers, their families and the livestock to cross the roads in safety. The Department has duties and obligations and this Bill should grant power to the Garda Síochána to prosecute where the DPP believes that negligence exists. In this respect the Bill is lacking and should be amended.

Section 11 of the Bill deals with a person who is not driving or attempting to drive a vehicle but who stands outside or beside his car, or sits on the passenger seat. If a member of the Garda Síochána is of the opinion that the person has consumed intoxicating liquor he can be arrested. If one is standing beside one's car and is over the alcohol limit of 80 milligrammes, one can be charged, convicted and fined up to £1,000 or six months imprisonment, or both, and be suspended from driving. For example, if a person attends a function with family or friends and leaves to get fresh air and sits in his car for a rest, he can be charged and convicted, although he had no intention of driving. I believe that is a serious provision.

Under the new section 22 of the Bill, the provision whereby a person convicted of an offence will have to pay all the State's costs in prosecuting the case, is a new departure. A defendant will have to pay his own costs, the costs of the Garda Síochána, the State solicitor and other expenses. A person charged with rape, murder or armed robbery will be granted legal aid to defend his case and he will not be liable for any of the State's costs in bringing the prosecution. Is there a reason for treating one offence differently from another? I accept that a person charged with a motoring offence should have to pay his defence costs, but I ask the Minister to consider obliging him to pay the costs of the prosecution is going a little too far. It is something that has not been a feature of these kinds of offences. It is a new and worrying approach.

A considerable number of obligations rest on a motorist, which is as it should be. Most people respect this and there has been a major change in public thinking on this issue. People are more conscious of their obligations and of their approach to driving. The Department has made commendable efforts over the years to bring about this change. In the past all Members of the House have supported road traffic regulations. I accept the principle of the Bill. I have raised some points and I ask the Minister to examine them and perhaps reply when summing up.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation. This is an extensive Bill covering a number of areas related to road traffic which amends a number of past Acts.

I join with previous speakers' comments about some terms of the Bill. Most of the publicity surrounding it has dealt with the alcohol content in the blood, testing for alcohol and the reduction in the legal limit from 100 to 80 milligrammes. There is an onus on the Minister to justify this reduction. It has been said that accidents have occurred because drivers have had a certain amount of alcohol in their blood when tested. The Minister should tell the House how many of those accidents were caused by drivers with alcohol levels of 80 to 100 milligrammes in their blood.

I understand what the Minister is attempting to do. If he had not introduced these provisions he might have been directed by the EU to introduce legislation. He has brought in the Bill before the directive. However, common sense must prevail on the questions raised and the Minister must respond.

None of us would wish anyone with a high alcohol content in his or her blood to drive any vehicle and we are all too aware that some people do so. The Minister is attempting to prevent that happening but he must use common sense. Rather than applying a blanket disqualification on all people with an alcohol level higher than 80 milligrammes, it would be more sensible to have a graduating level of penalties related to the amount of alcohol in their blood.

It is unfair to impose the same penalty on a person with a blood/alcohol level of 80 milligrammes as on someone with 350 milligrammes. Their abilities to drive are quite different. The person with the level of 350 milligrammes is a serious danger to himself or herself and to the public. That offence should be viewed far more seriously and more stringent penalties should be applied.

The person with the level of 80 milligrammes should be treated in a different manner, because it is such a low blood alcohol level. At present someone with that level of alcohol would not be summonsed because he or she would be under the limit. How have the Minister and the Department come to the conclusion that this should be the new level when it was 100 milligrammes?

Over the last number of years, prior to Christmas the Department conducted successful publicity campaigns with the slogan "just two will do". Why has it now changed its policy? To convince us, we must be given the substantive reasons for adopting this approach.

The drink is getting stronger.

Many publicans in isolated parts of rural Ireland are trying to make a living. The population is low and continually declining; many people in those areas, live alone. Their only social outlet is to go to the pub and have a drink or two. The possibility of meeting anyone on the road at night when they are going home is practically nil. They will be travelling on boreens where no one lives but themselves. This law will be applied to them in the same way as it is to someone in a large urban area where there is a great deal of activity. The gardaí must use a certain amount of discretion.

There is a lot of activity on country lanes at night.

I am aware of that, and the Senator may be more aware of it than most of us here. This law must be applied with common sense.

Some elements of this Bill had not been dealt with in great detail but were tackled today by speakers on this side of the House. The Minister should read an article in last weekend's The Sunday Press by his predecessor at the Department, Mr. John Boland, which highlighted some of the serious problems with the Bill. I hope these issues will be addressed.

Some sections of the Bill substantially change the existing law. One such area is the period of application of a summons. For instance, if someone is given a ticket for illegal parking in Molesworth Street and fails to pay the penalty, that is only a misdemeanour and at present the corporation can summons that person within six months. Under this Bill that period is extended to three years. That seems an inordinate length of time and we are opposed to that. It is unacceptable that an offence may hang over someone for that period. It is unfair both to those asked to administer the law and to the person involved. That section should be changed and the time should remain unchanged at six months. That should be adequate time to serve a summons for a misdemeanour. It is an infringement of the right of the individual and justice should be seen to be done.

Section 26 changes current provisions on disqualifying drivers. It is harsh and needs to be reconsidered. Currently, for a first offence one is disqualified for a year if one's blood alcohol level is too high. If one reapplies, the licence can be returned in six months. This section provides that the period of disqualification be doubled; for a first offence, it will be two years and subsequently, four years. This is an extremely severe penalty. It is harsh on someone found with only 80 milligrammes of alcohol in his or her blood. The Minister must reconsider this provision because that penalty is too severe and he should accept an amendment.

One must consider the fact that people's livelihoods and futures are at stake. Many of them can cope with being off the road for six months, but if they are banned for 12 months, trying to hold down a job at the same time could be an impossibility for many. The social aspect of that needs to be examined and there is also a need for a certain amount of discretion for the judge in applying a sentence. This should not be statutorily mandatory.

Not alone is that the case, but there is no guarantee that one will get back on the road until they sit and pass a driving test. Section 26 only refers to getting a certificate of competency. One can read into this that one would have to undergo a driving test before they would get their licence back, which seems farfetched. One must be reasonable about it. The resources are not there within either the Department of the Environment or the Department of Justice to apply and implement that type of legislation. It would be wrong for us to bring a measure through both Houses of the Oireachtas that cannot be applied in reality and would cause havoc on the ground. We are here to legislate for the overall good and in the interests of the people and we would not want to get too carried away with technicalities. We have to operate in the real world and sections of this Bill are not doing this.

Section 27 deals with the procedure for lifting a disqualification, which is similar to what we have already. I am especially concerned about section 35 because that provides the Minister with the power to introduce extensive regulations and rules in relation to traffic. Under that section the Minister could create a whole range of new offences. There is a danger in having that section cover such an extensive area. If we continue at this level our constitutional right to freedom of movement will almost be impaired because there will be so many inhibitions on it. Some parts of this section could be dangerous and must be reviewed.

Section 41, which gives the power to detain vehicles, is also a serious section. It will have to be closely looked at, especially in relation to the non-display of tax and insurance discs. There are many people who have their cars fully insured and taxed, but for many reasons they may often not have them on display. However, under this section a member of the Garda can detain a vehicle if they believe that it has not been taxed. That is serious, because even if the tax is paid and all is in order, a member of the Garda Síochána could detain the vehicle if they thought this was not the case. This section must be amended and the Minister must realise how draconian and extensive this section is.

While we can appreciate what the Minister is attempting to do in the general thrust of the Bill and also that he has to comply with EU directives, we must recognise that a number of these directives break all logic and do not make a lot of sense in many instances. Increasingly, directives of that nature are coming from Europe. It is time that Ministers of member states stood up in their own right to challenge and remove these directives. The Minister has an opportunity to review this Bill and, before we come to Committee Stage, to introduce a number of amendments on the sections causing particular concern to Senators.

The bottom line is how implementable and applicable are the sections of the Bill, how do they relate to reality and what effect will they have on the ground? The Minister must concern himself with these matters and address them before Committee Stage. I appeal to the Minister to take the matters raised by the Senators in the House into account. When this Bill goes through Committee Stage it would be better if the Minister, who is known to be open minded, would accept amendments from this side of the House on matters that are of grave concern to us.

I thank all who contributed on this important legislation. We had some interesting moments. On a couple of occasions it was almost like a confessional, if I am to try and understand what a confessional might be——

The Minister would make a lovely bishop.

——where Senators were honest enough to say that they were victims of previous road traffic legislation and were of strong resolution not to offend and sin again.

So bless me, father.

For those Senators who did not have the courage displayed by their honourable colleagues, I know from my expert file that it is only because of the grace of God they did not join that league.

There was overwhelming support for the Bill. The fact that there will be no vote on Second Stage is a clear indication of the wisdom of the Members on all sides of this House in their support for the measures provided in this Bill. It deals not only with the question of drink driving but also hit and run and dangerous driving, speeding and the provisions which give more autonomy and opportunities for local authorities to deal with matters relating to traffic speed limits. I was generally heartened by the contributions. That is not to say that everybody agrees with all details of the provisions. I will prove to be as open minded as possible on Committee Stage, if my Seanad colleagues prove to be as equally sensible in the type of amendments they put forward.

I would always support, and we are currently at an important stage in terms of other deliberations in relation to the North of this country, any measure introduced which would reduce the carnage there. I am also a great believer and supporter of providing the greatest possible resources for the health services to deal with those who are ill. This legislation primarily deals with people who leave their homes in perfect health but, who, seconds, minutes or hours later, have crossed the great divide. It is often a subject which, because of the traditional culture about drinking and driving in this country, does not get the priority it should. The numbers who have died on our roads because of drink driving-related offences are greater than those who have died from violence in the North in the past 20 years, adding the two figures over that period.

That is why the Government is extremely anxious to call on the wisdom of both Houses in determining the best possible piece of legislation which would help to get a changed culture and changed attitudes and investment in education, as was requested here. As a representative from a cliff hanging three seat marginal, it is not my wish that the provisions of this Bill would have to be enforced in all cases. There is a choice here, without any financial investment. It is just a change from the traditional acceptance of unacceptable levels of deaths and injuries on our roads.

I will deal first with Senator Howard's contribution because he was probably the most trenchant and, in a sense, probably the only Senator who has a stout-hearted alternative view about this legislation, although that is not to say that others do not have differences. He acquitted himself quite well and confessed some personal interest in the matter. He requested statistics and information as to what data is available to support the changes which are provided. We would like to have more information available as far as the Irish situation is concerned. We have some statistics and many of those are available to the Senator. However, the weight of international data on the proven link between death and injury and drink driving is absolute. In France, research shows that up to 40 per cent of fatalities and injuries are drink driving related. In over 60 countries absolute priority is now being given to stepping up and improving legislation with regard to drink driving, so much so that in countries where the limit is down to 50 milligrammes they want to further step up their performance in terms of dealing with the tragedy, trauma and loss involved in this area.

In certain circumstances insurance companies, because of the sheer cost, are now not going to provide insurance cover for drink driving related accidents. In this country, for the first time, we now have the situation where insurance premia are matched by insurance claims. We can make arguments about changes that can be made in the law or whatever, but that is a crunch economic fact—£500 million in claims arising from accidents on our roads, which many people would say could be devoted to a much more useful purpose.

The majority of these accidents can be avoided. There was an accusation, although I do not think it was levelled at me, that every accident is drink related; but that, of course, is not true. There is a whole range of different reasons, although drink is a very dominant one. There is no doubt that carelessness with regard to speed is equally dangerous, but there are quite a number of smaller considerations. It is not just in this country, but in countries where the culture of drink driving is much different and much less acceptable, that consideration is being given to new measures to combat the number of accidents which are related to drink driving and the associated costs of insurance premia.

I do not want — and I know my colleagues here would not wish me to — to reduce this debate to sheer economics, because there are big losses for families and individuals involved. It is a strange fact that we can now begin each month of the year and say without a shadow of doubt that between 30 and 40 people will die, that there will be 850 accidents and that as many as 250 of those will be drink related. This month that number, regardless of the efforts being made, will leave empty chairs on Christmas Day. Strenuous efforts are being made by the Government to combat a real problem, which has not just been experienced in Ireland but in other places where measures are being taken to deal with it.

It has been suggested that the Bill is going over the top on drink driving and that it ignores other problems. The Bill does not stand on its own. It is in addition to the existing comprehensive law on road traffic issues and deals with many other matters. It also helps to control dangerous driving, excessive speed and hit and run offences. The Bill is aimed at driver behaviour generally and this is a factor which causes most death and injuries. Other aspects are not being ignored. We have a whole body of legislation on vehicle safety. Efforts are being made to eliminate black spots on the road network and significant resources are being put into road safety education and publicity programmes.

I was asked to clarify the intentions in relation to the introduction of evidential breath testing. The taking of breath tests to be used in evidence in drink driving prosecutions is now the norm in many European countries and is gradually replacing blood and urine tests. Its introduction has been controversial, particularly in the UK, and has given rise to many legal challenges. Section 13 of the Bill provides for the taking of two specimens of breath and section 17 provides that the lower reading will be taken into account. Other procedures will be operated administratively. The existing procedures of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety are administrative practice and are not regulatory requirements. While the details will be discussed and agreed with the parties concerned, including the Garda Síochána, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Medical Bureau, it is proposed to introduce evidential breath testing on a phased basis. It will, however, take several years to reach the stage where evidential breath analysis becomes the norm, and this is unavoidable if successful legal challenges are to be avoided.

Suggestions have been made that penalties should be graduated, depending on the level of alcohol in the system. When preparing this Bill we looked carefully at the question of a range of penalties, depending on the extent to which a driver is over the limit. I was extremely anxious and examined closely the prospect of that type of legislation; but, unfortunately, we have to reject the concept. Graduated penalties would inevitably result in legal challenges to the precision of the analysis of specimens. For example, a driver with an alcohol reading of 101 milligrammes would face a greater penalty than a driver with a reading of 100 milligrammes. This would certainly invite legal challenge to the accuracy of the results and I have been advised that such a challenge in those circumstances would probably be successful. Apart from the mandatory disqualification element, the courts have full discretion to decide on appropriate penalties. The courts decide the level of any fine and if a term of imprisonment is appropriate. The courts can impose longer disqualification where it is decided that the circumstances warrant a more severe penalty. The bottom line is that the real risk of a successful legal challenge on the basis of the precision of the results of analysis requires me to oppose setting different automatic penalties for different alcohol levels.

As Senators are aware, the Bill contains a number of provisions to close loopholes in our drink driving laws which are being exploited. One of the new provisions allows specimens to be taken in hospitals. The medical profession is as anxious as I am to close existing loopholes which encourage people to feign injury so they can be taken to a hospital out of the reach of the Garda.

Concerns were expressed about the procedures. Officials in my Department had discussions with the Irish Medical Organisation and the Irish Hospital Consultants Organisation concerning the operation of this provision. Those discussions were productive and I am confident that detailed uniform procedures will be agreed by all parties involved. It is my intention to ensure that clearly defined administrative procedures will be devised, that these will operate uniformly in all hospitals and will be supported and agreed by all parties.

A question was asked about drugs. The Bill deals with driving while under the influence of drugs. The definition "intoxicants "includes alcohol, drugs or any combine. The presence of drugs can be detected by the Medical Bureau by analysing a specimen of blood or urine. There is no technology similar to the breathalyser for screening specimens for drugs at the roadside. A garda must take action on the basis of visual observation of the driver.

Many Senators referred to objections in regard to the impact of this legislation on rural areas. It has been suggested that rural public houses and rural social life in general are in jeopardy. I have not set out to prevent people from taking a drink. I want people to choose their own form of enjoyment and to take a drink, but to make arrangements for alternative transport if they exceed the limit. I note press reports of innovative services developed in rural towns to transport people to and from public houses. I would like to see this trend develop and I have no doubt that it will. People, particularly young people, recognise a change in our culture in relation to drink driving. Often one person refrains from drinking while others enjoy a few drinks, and alternative arrangements are made on other occasions.

It is important to decide what the real quality of life is in a rural area, if that tradition results in a recurring number of serious accidents. I represent a rural constituency and I understand the worries in this regard. However, it is important to make adjustments where necessary and essential. We will gradually overcome these problems.

The problems for those who started to drive 25 or 30 years ago, when there were 150,000 cars on the road, are difficult to appreciate. There are now 900,000 cars on the road. The number of accidents at that time were less, but now the opportunity to make a mistake is greater than when there were fewer vehicles on the road. Sometimes it is said there are no accidents in rural areas. However, when I look at the map of fatal accidents and injuries, I see that no parish is immune or no parish can say it did not happen.

Senator Howard suggested that my contacts with coroners pointed the finger in one direction. That was not my intention. I sought clarification of the districts throughout the country where fatal accidents occurred and their opinion as to the cause of these accidents. I admit our statistics need to be reinforced. That is why direct contact with those at the coal-face of these activities is necessary. One must realise a doctor rushing to a sick patient, a priest or a church person, the fire services, etc. could come around that corner. There are many forces are on the road at night, such as an ambulance speeding to a hospital, and the relaxation which we associate with rural areas may not be as clear as suggested.

A number of Senators referred to the fact that alternative transport may not be available. As Members will know, I lifted the moratorium on hackney licences last year. These licences have been issued in each county and in rural areas. As Senator Howard will know, many of his colleagues are making other arrangements so that their clients and neighbours may get home safely. That is what is involved. It is not a question of breaking up a long established form of enjoyment, but rather that one's enjoyment is not devastated by someone's neglect.

Senator Norris was anxious about one's obligation to produce a driver's licence. This issue received support in the other House. People in most European countries must produce a licence and they do not consider this to be unreasonable. Gardaí experience problems in this regard as they are often given false information by drivers. We must also deal with joyriders. The new section also retains the option for a member of the Garda Síochána to demand production of a driving licence in ten days.

Regarding the powers of entry, in order to meet concerns I amended the provisions to allow entry to the curtilage of a dwelling but to exclude entry to the actual dwelling of a person for the purpose of a drink driving arrest. However, the Bill allows entry to a dwelling to arrest a person who runs away from the scene of an accident having caused death or injury. It is essentially for use in hot pursuit cases where the Garda have seen the person enter the dwelling. In cases where a driver has left someone dead or injured, I want to ensure the driver can be arrested without warrant or a specimen of blood or urine. Although a number of Senators said this power might infringe on an individual's civil rights, in a case where there is a conflict of rights and a person has been left injured or dead, I fail to see how an individual's rights have been infringed. Such people consider themselves safe from Garda pursuit if they are in their home. In the other House there was positive support for this change and provision, as was the case in this House today.

A number of Senators referred to cyclists and pedestrians and the risks they face. Through our road safety campaign we are endeavouring to highlight those risks and to encourage people to wear helmets. I have arranged for the National Safety Council to feature the benefits of helmets and other safety measures as part of the 1994 road safety campaign. I accept points made by Senators in this regard. Attitudes must be improved in regard to the manner cyclists take risks and the danger intoxicated pedestrians are to themselves and to others. The steps which I can take as Minister for the Environment — particularly the road safety campaign including educational programmes on the use of safety helmets — will be undertaken.

I am pleased to note a general welcome for the new structures designed to improve efficiency and give local authorities a real role in deciding on measures to operate in their areas. While much of the debate concentrated on drink driving and other enforcement aspects of the Bill, it is important not to ignore the other significant elements dealing with traffic calming, traffic management, parking control and speed limits.

A number of Senators raised the issue of members of the Garda Síochána charging a person who is sitting in his or her car. The offence is "to be in charge of a vehicle with intent to drive or an attempt to drive". It is fairly specific. Many other areas were covered in this debate to which we will have an opportunity to return on Committee Stage. Unfortunately, it will not be possible to take Committee Stage until early in the New Year.

I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to the debate and particularly for the detailed analyses in various contributions. I look forward to the final Stages of the Bill early in the New Year when we will be putting in place effective legislation to meet the wishes of everybody concerned. The Bill will be a landmark in changing attitudes to drink driving and will make our roads safer by dealing with dangerous driving and hit and run drivers as well as enhancing the autonomy of local authorities.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

It is proposed to take Committee Stage on the first sitting day after the Christmas recess.

Subject to agreement between the Whips.

Committee Stage ordered for the first sitting day after the Christmas recess.