I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, to the House.
NRA Report and Road Traffic Accidents: Statements.
Tá áthas orm a bheith ar ais sa Seanad. Slándáil ar na bóithre atá i gceist sa rún agus sin é an cúram speisialta atá orm sa Roinn Chomhshaoil agus Rialtais Áitiúil. Seo é an tríú huair go raibh rún faoi timpistí agus marú ar na bóithre á phlé ag na Seanadóirí. An uair dheireannach go raibh mé ag labhairt anseo dúras go rabhamar ag obair ar stráitéis náisiúnta ar an cheist seo. Foilsíodh an stráitéis sin ó shin agus tugann an díospóireacht seo seans dom í sin a chur os comhair an tSeanaid. Táim cinnte go dtabharfaidh na Seanadóirí lántacaíocht don stráitéis sin agus don bplean atá leagtha síos ann ag an Rialtas.
Tá gach duine sa tír an-bhuartha faoin méid timpistí atá ag tárlú ar na bóithre agus faoin líon daoine atá á marú agus á ngortú go dona. Is beag duine nach bhfuil aithne aige ar dhuine éigin a gortaíodh nó a maraíodh i dtimpiste éigin taobh istigh fiú amháin de bhliain anuas. Is uafásach ar fad an scéal é sin. Tá fás tagtha ar na figiúirí seo agus an t-uafás daoine á marú ar na bóithre anois. Caithfimid coinneáil linn ag iarraidh cúrsaí a fheabhsú.
Ar ndóigh tá an oiread sin daoine ag tíomáint anois go bhfuil an seans ann go mbeidh méadú ar na timpistí. Sin an rud atá ag cur as dúinn, go bhfuil an méadú sin le feiceáil sna staitisticí le cúpla bliain anuas. Tá sár-iarracht ar siúl againn leis an stráitéis seo agus tá an plean sin á chur os comhair an tSeanaid tráthnóna agam.
There has been increasing public and political concern about road safety. That concern has highlighted a number of especially tragic accidents resulting in multiple deaths which have occurred in recent months. In overall terms, our road safety performance has improved considerably over the past 20 years. In 1978, 628 people died in road accidents in this country, 472 died in 1997. That reduction was achieved against a background of significant increases in both miles travelled and vehicle numbers. However, a worrying trend has been established in recent years which has seen a rise in road deaths in each of the past three years. In response to that, the Government has published a Strategy for Road Safety 1998-2002. More than 26,000 people have died on Irish roads this century, more than 355 in this year alone. This first ever national road safety strategy is intended to address this unacceptable social problem urgently and systematically.
The strategy was prepared by the High Level Group on Road Safety, under my direction, arising out of a commitment by the Government in October 1997 to tackle the terrible tragedy of road accidents in Ireland. The strategy brings a more systematic and focused approach to the management of road safety in Ireland. For the first time, the Government's road safety policies and objectives are outlined in a detailed and comprehensive manner in one single document.
Within five years, the Government wants to reduce deaths and serious injuries from road accidents by at least 20 per cent. If we succeed — and the Government and the road safety agencies are determined that we should — 172 lives will be saved in the year 2002 compared to a business as usual scenario.
The strategy aligns itself with road safety plans from other countries in recognising that the modification of human behaviour in the three key areas of speeding, alcohol use and seat belt wearing holds the greatest and most immediate potential for realising road safety gains. The strategy therefore proposes a concerted effort in these areas to achieve the targets set.
Higher speed reduces the time available to avoid collision and makes the impact in a collision more severe. A reduction in average traffic speeds can result in a consequent reduction in accident frequency. Given the scale of speed limit exceedances being recorded by the NRA on the inter-urban network there is clearly scope for considerable reduction of vehicle speeds. The Government's policy is therefore to secure a much higher level of compliance with existing speed limits. The strategy target is to reduce, within its five year timeframe, present levels of excessive speeding by 50 per cent.
Measures proposed to achieve this target include greater use of automated speed detection systems, both mobile and fixed, by the gardaí. These systems will significantly increase the rate of detection and sanction in relation to excessive and inappropriate speeding. Just as importantly, their deployment will help to change the mindset of drivers so that detection of speed limit exceedances is perceived as a probability rather than a mere possibility.
Traffic calming measures will continue to be implemented on national routes by the NRA and in urban areas by local authorities. Traffic calming aims at reducing vehicle speeds by self-enforcing traffic engineering methods. They can both physically restrict speed and encourage driving at lower speeds. Speed reductions of the order of 20 per cent have been achieved as a result of the installation of such schemes and consequent reductions in accidents are confidently expected.
The aim of continued media awareness and education campaigns led by the National Safety Council will be to create universal social disapproval of excessive and inappropriate speeding and to highlight the risks of this behaviour.
Despite the perceived improvement in behaviour in relation to drink driving it is conservatively estimated that in Ireland alcohol is the primary cause of 25 per cent of all road accidents. The strategy sets out an extensive analysis of the alcohol factor in accidents on Irish roads and sets a target of reducing by at least 25 per cent, the number of fatal road accidents — commonly drink related — occurring during the hours of darkness.
A number of new counter measures are proposed to tackle the alcohol factor in road accidents. These include the introduction and extension countrywide, beginning in 1999, of evidential breath testing; possible selective application of random breath testing; possible wider availability of information from coroners' reports about the blood alcohol level of road accident victims and media campaigns aimed at achieving the same high level of social non-acceptance of drink driving on a year round basis as has been achieved for the Christmas period.
The use of evidential breath testing is already common in many European countries. What it involves is that a person suspected of drink driving may be required to provide a breath sample instead of the traditional blood or urine sample. The breath sample will be analysed by an automated or calibrated appliance located in the Garda station. The system provides for speedier processing than is provided for currently and should permit an increase in the number of proceedings against drink driving offenders.
The road safety strategy commits the Government to consider the possibility of the introduction of random breath testing. At present road traffic legislation requires a member of the Garda to have formed an opinion that a driver may have consumed alcohol. That requirement would need to be removed in order to facilitate the introduction of random breath testing. However, the use of such a system on an unqualified basis is not envisaged within the life span of the strategy, and the question of its application on a selective basis will be examined.
The third area of focus in the strategy is the wearing of seat belts. While seat belt wearing does not prevent accidents, it is highly effective in eliminating fatalities and reducing serious injuries in low speed crashes in particular. Current wearing rates in Ireland, at an estimated low of 55 per cent, identify scope for an improvement in behaviour which could result in saving 30 lives annually when the strategy target of an 85 per cent wearing rate by car users is achieved.
Measures in support of this target will include extension of on-the-spot fines for failure to wear a seat belt and publicity measures to give particular emphasis to the need to use seat belts on short as well as long trips, and also to ensure the wearing of seat belts by rear seat passengers. While these key target areas and the countermeasures proposed will give us the greatest immediate return, the strategy also proposes a range of other measures to complement these and to further improve road safety in Ireland in the longer term. These include improved road safety education programmes for primary and second level school-children; the introduction, in 1999, of roadworthiness testing for cars and the introduction of a written theory test for first time applicants for provisional driving licences.
Certain cross-cutting issues, vital to the effective implementation of all or most of the specific measures which I have already described, are also addressed in the strategy. The enforcement process will be enhanced by major upgrading of Garda and other IT systems relevant to enforcement; extension of fines on-the-spot to non-wearing of seat belts and other offences and refinement and updating, as necessary, of the legal framework for the processing of offences and the development of a penalty points system for driving offences.
It is a key principle of the strategy that improved technologies should be used wherever possible to improve road safety. This covers matters such as speed detection equipment, IT systems and the application of telematics towards traffic and vehicle safety.
Responsibility for road safety is spread over a wide number of agencies at both national and local levels. Good multi-agency co-operation is, therefore, essential for effective road safety and for the successful implementation of the strategy. Achieving the strategy's ambitious targets will place heavy demands on the implementing agencies — the Garda, the National Roads Authority, the National Safety Council, local authorities and others — but all support the new strategy and are strongly committed to delivering on it.
If responsibility for the strategy is seen to rest only with Government and public agencies, then it will fail. The strategy needs wider public, political and media support. Surveys have shown that the Irish public have a high level of concern about road safety and are generally supportive of action to improve it. We need that concern and support to be maintained so that, under the co-ordination of the strategy, all will play their part in making Ireland's roads safer.
The time has come to adopt a more pro-active and precautionary approach to road safety in Ireland. The requirements of efficient transport and the convenience of our social lives cannot be allowed to dominate road safety policy as, to some extent, they may have done in the past. We need to relate road safety to wider issues of health and security so that the various restrictions and disciplines imposed by road traffic regulations are seen as contributing positively to a safer Irish society.
The Government is committed to the implementation of the new road safety strategy and to making a reality of better road safety in Ireland.
I welcome the Minister to the House. Tá an Gaeilge go flúirseach aige. All he said was very interesting.
I want to deal with the "National Road Needs Study" of the National Roads Authority. This is a major report. In a map on page 86 entitled "Final Report: Future Road Types", it is evident that there are major deficiencies in the recommendations contained therein, the most glaring of which concerns the much needed western road corridor. The proposed route by-passes County Kerry altogether. I am glad to see my colleague, Senator Dan Kiely, sitting opposite. No doubt this is a subject to which he will wish to refer. One can imagine what by-passing County Kerry will do and how it will greatly hinder the development of the region.
I note that the South-West Regional Authority has pointed out that the Government could save £80 million if it improved road links between Waterford, Cork and Limerick with an improved road to Tralee. The NRA wants to upgrade roads between Galway, County Mayo, County Clare and Rosslare via Limerick. This would inflict a severe blow on County Kerry in terms of tourism and trade losses. Surely County Kerry is peripheral enough without by-passing it and cutting it off altogether. We are being shoved off the end of the map here. I am getting very worried.
Recently we were talking about Objective One status. One does not want to rely on big supports but, from what we have been reading, it would seem that perhaps the proposed measures are discriminatory. I hope that will be corrected. I will be watching closely the moves and views of Minister O'Donoghue and of the Deputy who has a foot just outside or inside the Cabinet door, Deputy Healy-Rae, in that regard because they have both gone on the record about the need for County Kerry to be included in the Objective One group.
Transport links are vital in terms of getting people to and from County Kerry which, outside of Dublin, was designated some years ago as a major centre of tourism growth. With all that is happening I am getting worried about the status of that formerly declared goal. It is seriously in doubt. It is obvious that the road from Limerick to Tralee needs improvement and that road from Ballyvourney to Cork should be improved to the standard of the Killarney-Ballyvourney road. This is a fine road but trying to get off it is difficult, as Senator Quill would know because she must take part of that route and turn left at that junction which goes to the now famous village from whence she came. To have a road — between Ballyvourney and Ballymakeery and the Halfway House — in the largest county in Ireland, that is Cork, in such an appalling condition is nothing short of a disgrace.
It is also essential that the national primary road between Killarney and Tralee be upgraded. It is very disappointing to note also that, in what is called the south-west road corridor on another map in the report, the road stops at Limerick on one side of the fork and Cork at the other and, apart from what is entitled a strategic corridor link from Limerick to Tralee, it does not properly reach into the most south-westerly county.
I would strongly suggest that what are indicated as corridor links from Limerick to Tralee and through Killarney to Cork be upgraded and made an integral part of the proposed western road corridor. It is difficult to understand the tardiness of the NRA regarding the proposed future road types for such important national secondary routes as Killarney-Mallow where, again on the map on page 86 of the report, the National Road Needs Study states simply that it will be the existing road and that no upgrading is required. Nobody who has to use the road would believe that. This is a major gateway to County Kerry from Rosslare and other parts of the country and it is in extremely poor condition. The Minister need not take my word for that: he can take the word of the redoubtable Deputy Jackie Healy-Rae — Senator Dan Kiely will corroborate this — who has often referred to this subject in common with myself and others at meetings of Kerry County Council. This road is full of twists and bad and dangerous bends.
The road from Tralee to Dingle is indicated in the report as a reduced two lane route and there is no mention of the Killarney to Dingle road. The Ring of Kerry, a famous route, is also indicated as a reduced two lane route. Some of this route, such as the road to Dingle, is also indicated as an existing road where no upgrading is required. Who is to believe that? It is like the fairy tales of Ireland. The assessment of this road is a huge blunder given the level of traffic — articulated lorries and heavy coaches — which these routes carry of necessity in servicing the tourism industry.
The Senator voted money for these roads.
I have always voted money for roads. Why not? The Senator voted similarly.
The Senator should not forget that.
Senator Coughlan without interruption.
It is enough to have to put up with the Senator's barracking in Kerry——
Perhaps you should not draw his fire.
I will take your advice. The road from Killarney to Bantry is a heavy traffic tourism route which we share with Cork on the Beara Peninsula. It is a beautiful area. The report illustrates a simple black line and recommends that no upgrading is required.
The Senator still voted money for it.
I will vote for all the money I can get. I note the positive aspects of the speech by the Minister of State. Motoring taxes now account for one seventh of all revenue. Car sales have reached a new record and are expected to reach 145,000 this year, which will further push up the amount of motor tax paid. It is estimated that £2.2 billion will come from motorists and related services this year. It is predicted that car sales next year will be 140,000. There is no sign of a let up in the car population.
Given the overall inadequacy of our roads, a serious problem arises from the growth in car numbers. There has been insufficient investment in the provision of extra roads and in the improvement of the existing roads structure. According to the Garda National Traffic Policy Bureau, over 330 people have died so far this year. The bureau has analysed the causes and has found that in 129 cases speed was the cause and alcohol was a contributory factor in 57 cases. The remainder were caused by a variety of factors, including dangerous or careless driving, driver negligence, cyclist negligence, pedestrian inattention, hit and run and weather conditions.
The bureau has definite views on how to cut the human cost of what has been termed the culture of complacency among Irish drivers, which was evidenced from a survey published recently by the PMPA, in which more than 50 per cent of drivers admitted to speeding and other illegal driving practices, with males under 30 years of age being the worst offenders. The bureau believes that two measures can significantly reduce road deaths: the introduction of a system of penalty points for road traffic offences and on-the-spot fines for failure to wear seat belts. It found that just 53 per cent of drivers wear front seat belts and many less wear rear seat belts. Speeding is apparently the big killer followed by pedestrian inattention. Drink and speeding are primarily the young person's problem due to inexperience.
As a society we must seriously try to get the message to the young driver, especially the young male driver, to end this macho culture surrounding speeding. The goal must be to make speeding as socially unacceptable as drink driving. If this could be achieved surely there would be a marked decrease in the number of road deaths. Other measures which could be more usefully adopted would include more speed cameras and a written test for driving licence applicants.
Dr. David Lillis, president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, recently stated his belief that many road traffic accidents are the result of more than 330,000 unqualified drivers using the roads. A recent survey of road accident statistics at University College Hospital, Galway, found that over 40 per cent of those involved are aged between 17 and 26 years. Dr. Lillis advocates a five point strategy to reduce road carnage. Unqualified drivers must be accompanied by qualified drivers until they have passed their driving test, newly qualified drivers should be restricted to driving up to a certain speed for a specified period after qualification, written tests should accompany the practical driving test and the testing process should be speeded up. In addition, road quality must be improved and a public education campaign introduced.
The Driving Instructor Register of Ireland, which is concerned with the standard of training of drivers, yesterday called for a review of the driving test and of how provisional driving licences are allocated, noting that 24 per cent of drivers are currently on provisional licences only. These matters need urgent attention. Furthermore, the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Pat Byrne, has urged the introduction of random breath testing of motorists and a penalty points system for road traffic offences.
If these measures are introduced we will achieve a marked reduction in the number of road deaths. Mr. Byrne has also said that random breath testing would give gardaí greater flexibility, while the points system leading to possible disqualification by the courts following successive offences, would also be helpful. The chief executive of the Guardian PMPA Group, Mr. Gerard Healy, said that his group remains concerned at the increasing number of deaths and serious accidents on the roads. He went on to say that the problem can only be resolved by a change in poor driving habits.
When launching the strategy "The Road to Safety", which is aimed at reducing road deaths by targeting behaviour, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government said that 40 per cent of cars and heavy vehicles on Irish roads breach the speed limits. It is a frightful experience to be confronted on a narrow, winding, twisting road by an articulated lorry which is almost certainly breaching the speed limit. This happened to me recently on the road between Mallow and Kildorrery, which provides a main corridor in the centre of the country and is in an appalling condition.
Alcohol is still a major factor in road accidents and the rate of seat belt wearing is well below international best practice. I wish to address a few other matters, but as my time has expired I will be happy to hear the views of my colleagues.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Tá ceangal láidir idir timpistí bóithre and feabhsuithe ar na mbóthar náisiúnta. I welcome these reports. The "National Road Needs Study" and the Government's strategy for road safety are interlinked. Road safety and road improvement are related. While we can attribute driver behaviour patterns, or perhaps their failure, the number of accidents on the roads, undoubtedly the condition of some of our roads and of the overall network are also a significant contributory factor.
Since 90 per cent of all traffic — 89 per cent of goods vehicles and 96 per cent of passenger vehicles — use the main roads it is important that considerable investment is made in them. Criticism could be made of the lack of realistic forward planning in the past. The thinking was too short term and the condition of many roads reflects that today. The study and the corresponding programme have a 20 year vision of improvements and a heavy investment will be made in that period — estimated at £6 billion with annual maintenance costs for national roads in excess of £35 million. Those are significant amounts by any standards.
However, the 20 year time frame may be insufficient. On examining continental motorways, the conclusion may be drawn that a 50 or 60 year horizon would be more appropriate. Many German autobahns were constructed in the 1930s and have stood the test of time because of good forward planning. We need to do likewise. As a peripheral trading country much of whose produce is exported it is important the distribution systems from and within the State are at competitive levels.
There is a significant payback for investment in road infrastructure. There is a saving on time, the wear and tear of vehicles, depreciation and the cost of fuel. All these are imported costs, so investment in roads contributes to an improvement in the balance of payments. Many imported second hand cars come from countries with a better road infrastructure and, consequently, are in much better condition and are of much higher value than domestic vehicles of a similar age which have suffered greater wear and tear.
When I was involved with the Irish Road Haulage Association we repeatedly requested a system of motorways for the country. It is 15 or 16 years since we met the then Minister for the Environment to whom we articulated a programme of motorways between the major population centres of Dublin, Belfast and Cork. The opportunities presented at the time were unfortunately not seized. Had they been, the heavy investment required now would not be needed and the deficiencies in the network not nearly as evident. It would also have contributed to the overall economic development of the country. The return on investment in the Naas by-pass, the first section of motorway to be constructed in the country, was about 15 per cent per annum. That is a significant return, so there is a significant payback to the State and its economy on investment in road infrastructure.
Significant employment is generated in the construction of roads. When we put our case there was high unemployment. Thankfully, that position has improved. Labour accounts for up to 30 per cent of the construction costs of a motorway and the proportion increases the smaller the road. This means road building assists in employment creation and is one of the ongoing benefits of the investment.
While the 20 year programme is good, it must be fully implemented and accelerated if possible. With the future reductions in Cohesion and Structural Funds, it is important the State makes the commitment to continuing the road programme at a faster rate than heretofore. There will be a need to attract other sources of finance, one of which will be private. I do not understand why the successful pilot schemes of the East Link and West Link bridges were not built upon. Both involved private investment, with a return to investors over a 30 to 35 year period and the infrastructure eventually being handed over to the State for future use. That is a blueprint for future progress. However, many other countries have embarked on this in a more aggressive and progressive manner. It is an area which should be examined. Considering the amount of money available in pension funds and elsewhere for investment in the stock market and tax break schemes, such as holiday resorts, investment in much needed infrastructure, such as roads and sanitary services, in the form of a scheme which would give investors a return would be a good way of directing that available finance.
Demographic changes will place an increasing strain on the existing network. We heard figures of a 60 per cent increase in car registrations over the next decade which will certainly add to traffic congestion, especially near the capital and other locations. Regarding the planning of the network, there must be an available source of expertise, if not here then certainly in Europe, where there have been sophisticated road networks for decades, which can eliminate the mistakes in road development. The M50 has been of tremendous benefit to traffic flows around the city but the slipways were congested almost as they were built. This illustrates that someone was not doing their homework. Such mistakes can ill afford to be made and they should not be repeated.
I use the roundabout at the Red Cow Inn coming to and from Dublin, but the road network leads to a bottleneck. The traffic lights were erected as an afterthought when it was found the roundabout did not work. People should be held to account for such costly mistakes but, above all, lessons should be learned so that these mistakes are not repeated. While flyovers, which are commonplace elsewhere, may involve an extra capital expenditure, they are far better than delays which add to the maintenance cost of cars in terms of excessive braking and fuel consumption. Furthermore, an important safety feature is involved in that the inclination for people delayed for prolonged periods at such junctions is to make up for lost time on the open road. This contributes to some of the inexcusable speeding on our roads and we should be conscious of that. Efforts should be made to have the traffic flowing freely as it is in our economic and safety interests to do so.
I notice in the plan that the N30, linking Enniscorthy and New Ross, is scheduled for improvement in the next phase with the section from Enniscorthy to Clonroche earmarked. There is another equally deficient seven or eight mile stretch on the New Ross side of Clonroche. If that is an example of failure in other areas of the network — I am citing that because I am particularly familiar with it — I would be worried if areas like that are being left out. The worst possible thing to do is to improve sections of a road to a high standard and have traffic flowing into a funnel where accidents are waiting to happen. I hope those areas will be examined. While I welcome much of what is in the NRA report, those types of mistakes should not be incorporated into the plan.
There is a requirement under EU legislation to provide lorry parks for heavy articulated trucks because of the restriction on driving hours. This is in the interests of safety and the environment. I am aware of the difficulties in this regard because I have been involved in one such area with a person who is seeking planning permission for a lorry park. The situation has also arisen elsewhere in the country, for example, in Roscrea. For some strange reason, however, while lorry parks are specified in EU regulations, it is nearly impossible to get planning permission on main road arteries for such parks, unless there is an existing entrance. This is something the NRA should examine. There is a need to ensure that facilities which are an aid to safety and driver discipline are made available, but not on a restricted basis as is happening at present. In my own county, somebody is keen to develop such a facility but they have had difficulty in finding a location. It has been suggested that if one goes off the route on to some of the by-roads, one could obtain permission but that approach seems neither sensible nor logical.
The single greatest cause of death to people under the age of 45 is road accidents. That is a startling situation. I welcome the Minister's initiative on this report. A sustainable road safety policy was overdue and it is to be welcomed. The challenge to us is to improve driver confidence and behaviour. Senator Coghlan mentioned young drivers. I am inclined to believe that, whatever about young drivers, driving improves with experience. It is like any facet of life; in time, whether by design or chance, one will improve from experience and driving is no exception.
We could introduce a system under which drivers who pass their tests would qualify as improver drivers for a few years. If they were involved in an accident or infringement during that two year period they would be required to repeat the driving test. Other safety procedures could be built in to focus people's attention on the fact that when one passes the driving test it does not necessarily give one the experience to respond quickly to potential accidents. With experience it is often an automatic reflex action.
I welcome the Minister's comments with regard to tackling speeding. The automated speed detection systems will certainly be a deterrent. We should concentrate on enforcement. Whether we are driving at 50, 100 or 150 miles per hour, the chances of being stopped for speeding are probably less than 10 per cent. If one breaks the driving law in the United States, however, the chance of being caught is 70 per cent. If we can apply that type of enforcement level, people will respond to being caught. That will lead to a reduction in speed patterns and alcohol related driving incidents. Evidential breath testing will contribute towards improving matters in that area. However, if enforcement is not obvious or at a higher level than now, we will not see such improvements.
We discussed local government reform at a sub-committee meeting this morning. Given the crime detection and investigation duties of the Garda Síochána, special traffic rangers under the aegis of local authorities would be welcome.
It is an alarming statistic that only 55 per cent of drivers comply with seat belt regulations. That is very low. Enforcement is the key to achieving greater compliance. Greater enforcement is required if the target of reducing road deaths by 20 per cent over the next five years is to be achiveved. Everybody should take responsibility for their own safety as well as having regard for the safety of others.
I want to harp on a theme about which I feel strongly, the establishment of the National Roads Authority — a body that is neither accountable nor elected. I could never understand why responsibility for national routes was not left to local government. One can argue that local government looks after only its own little patch. However, it should have been possible to establish some kind of authority in which local government played a major part, on a regional or sub-regional basis. A large question mark hangs over some of the ways in which the National Roads Authority has carried out its work. The previous speaker mentioned the Red Cow junction where four lanes of traffic go into two. But for the fact that the local authority installed traffic lights to regulate the traffic, there would be nothing but chaos there. That demonstrates the Authority's remit is so limited that when it comes to local authority areas there is no gel between them.
The same is true of other areas throughout the country, although I do not wish to be too parochial. I am sorry that the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, is not here. In its statement, the National Roads Authority mentioned our peripheral position as regards Europe and the need for strong infrastructures so that commercial and industrial traffic can have easy access to ports and airports. When one looks at the map, however, one notes the authority has forgotten about that aspect when talking about Ireland alone. Galway Corporation and Galway County Council applied for funding to have a particular road upgraded to a national primary route. The purpose of that funding was to ensure factories and industry in the Gaeltacht area of south Connemara, which we all agree is a fairly deprived area, could avail of an infrastructure which is not failing. Nobody would want to establish industries there if they could not travel to Galway, Dublin or Shannon rapidly. If the Minister of State looks at the map, he will note there is not even a road shown from Galway along the south Connemara coast. There is no intention of upgrading it, even to a wide two-lane road with hard shoulders. I would have thought if the criterion of Ireland being on the periphery applies in terms of Europe, it should also apply to the west because of its peripherality.
Other speakers mentioned areas they believe have been left out. Local government should have been given a say in the matter because it is aware of the needs of the community and the local area.
The report provides projected figures for vehicle traffic to the year 2035 when, it states, saturation point will be reached. I do not know how the Authority worked out that date. One has only to look at the roads out of Dublin, Galway and Limerick early in the morning and in the afternoon to see that saturation already exists. The Authority's projection for traffic saturation by the year 2035 is already out of date; it will occur by 2015. The demands for the proposed infrastructure, which I believe should be reviewed, will require more than £6,000 million. I do not know where that money will come from or the priorities it will create, but I would like the Government to tell us where the money will be found.
I am sorry the Minister, Deputy Molloy, is not in the House to hear this because in his opening statement he mentioned that more than 355 people have been killed on our roads this year. The first report on local radio in Galway this morning was of another death in a road accident. "Another statistic" some might say, but that is what worries me. It has almost a drip effect — people switch off when they hear about it. If the carnage were accumulated into one day, such as Enniskillen or Omagh, I do not wish to denigrate what happened in those places — the world would be talking about it. It is an extraordinary number of deaths, more than one person every day. Between now and Christmas, if we project those figures, more than 100 people will be killed on the roads.
If we can do anything to save even one of those lives, we must do it. Some of the ideas suggested today are very worthwhile. The suggestions put forward by Dr. Lillis in Galway are worth implementing, particularly those regarding drivers who hold provisional licences not being allowed on the road unless accompanied by someone with a full licence. Today a small family saloon of less than 1,000 cc is capable of doing up to and more than 100 miles per hour. It is not built to do that speed. If it hit a wall, it is so small and light the impact would cause terrible damage. Even those small cars are dangerous and for a person driving without experience they are a weapon. We should insert a provision in legislation stating that no provisionally licensed driver should drive without a fully licensed experienced passenger beside him or her.
I agree with Senator Walsh that people who commit offences should not only lose their licences but should be made go back to school. That is what happens in the United States, where they must do written and driving tests to ensure they are capable and have sufficient knowledge of the road. They have to attend school for a number of weeks and prove they did the course. The cost is carried by the person who committed the offence.
The Government's aims in regard to speed controls are very laudable, but the controls are imposed in a periodic and sporadic manner. At Christmas time there is a huge increase in advertising about the dangers of drinking and driving. That should be spread throughout the year. I am, however, cautious about carrying out random tests on people who may not have given an indication to the gardaí that they have committed an offence. That is open to abuse.
The traffic calming measures are excellent. They slow down traffic on its way into towns. Recently I was leaving a town where there were four traffic calming islands and I was astonished to see a car overtake. It was unable to return to its own lane and had to stay on the wrong side of the road for three quarters of a mile as a result. Traffic calming is signposted for people travelling into towns but it should also be signposted for those leaving such towns.
I have spoken to many people about our speed limits. The speed limit on a dual carriageway is 60 miles per hour. People say a car is capable of travelling at 70 miles an hour with greater safety than it was in days of yore. Most cars have antilock braking systems, side impact bars and other safety fittings and their road holding ability is much better. We should review the speed limits on dual carriageways and that review should be extended to county roads. A peculiar situation exists whereby one can travel at 60 miles per hour on a dual carriageway but there are so many corners on some county roads that tavelling at 60 miles an hour would make one a danger to everyone else on the road.
Perhaps people on the Continent obey speed limits to a greater extent than we do, but there the speed limit can decrease from 60 to 40 miles per hour and then increase to 60 miles per hour over a short distance. We do not have provision for that on county roads or when major roads suddenly narrow.
I concur with some of the proposals made today, but the penalties for drink driving and dangerous and reckless driving should be extended. Perhaps people should be disqualified completely if they are caught twice. The fines may be welcome as another form of taxation, but a person in business can write off a fine of £50 one day and do the same thing the following day. There is a possibility that insurance companies could be brought in and the fine doubled or trebled by virtue of the fact that once the person has been caught once or twice, their insurance will increase, but the fines should be reviewed and made so substantial that they are meaningful.
I thank the Minister for listening. I hope that whatever action is taken between now and Christmas, and in the future, will save as many lives as possible.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, to the House and acknowledge the Minister's appearance earlier to present Government strategy on road safety. That was his third visit to this House in 12 months. That is a measure of the importance he attaches to road safety. The fact that he was invited here by Members three times in the last 12 months is further confirmation of the importance Senators attach to road safety and of our deep concern at the number of road deaths and accidents which take place in this State year after year.
We heard today that the number of road deaths so far this year is 357. We are still only in the tenth month of the year. I do not have figures for the number of serious road accidents but they are very substantial and should also be taken into account when talking about road accidents. In County Cork, 43 people have been killed in road accidents already this year. That is an extraordinary loss of life by any standards. As Senator Coogan said, if that carnage had occurred in one day or in one place, there would be a huge outcry. Because it happens incrementally and over a geographical spread, there is not the same intensity of public revulsion about it.
The statistics are frightening, but we should look behind them. There are few people in this Chamber who do not know some family which has been stricken by the loss of a member slaughtered in a road accident. Earlier this afternoon Senator Coghlan mentioned the road to Killarney. The last time I travelled that road was to the burial of two young people in that town who were killed in a car crash at midday one Sunday as they made their way from Dublin to Kerry, two young men in their prime, ripe with youth and energy, driving down to play a match for their local club. The anguish of their families and friends was one of the saddest experiences of my life. The parents of one of these young men were friends of my family. This young man, Tom Beckett, of whom we were all so proud, died at the start of his life. Similar stories can be told in towns and villages throughout the country. While the public return to their everyday lives, the families of victims of traffic accidents never forget their grief. Their anguish cannot be described. A huge onus is placed on those of us who make public policy to strengthen our efforts to reduce the number of deaths on our roads.
I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, on the document he has introduced outlining the Government's priorities and the provisions the Government plans to make to reduce the number of road deaths and to reinforce road safety. I compliment him on his development of this comprehensive strategy in the short time he has been in office. It is important that we take a comprehensive approach because, despite the best efforts of bodies such as the National Safety Council, the Garda Síochana who have introduced many operational programmes, the National Roads Authority and the Department of the Environment and Local Government, the number of road deaths is far too high. There is great merit in putting in place this integrated and comprehensive strategy for road safety so that all agencies act in unison and focus their efforts on a common and co-ordinated set of priorities. This co-ordinated approach will lead to a more intensified and sustained programme not just at Christmas but every day of the year. The heightened effort of this strategic national approach will generate a greater level of support from the general public and the public must support road safety programmes if they are to succeed.
The biggest single factor in the prevention of road accidents is the attitude, the expertise and the experience of the driver. Approximately 1.4 million people hold full driving licences and approximately 337,000 hold provisional licences; this represents 24 per cent of all licence holders and it is far too high. Efforts must be made to reduce that figure. To do that we must take a fresh look at upgrading the driving test, improving pre-test driving training and putting an appeal system in place so that people who fail the driving test can reapply for the test very quickly. I am aware that too often our schools are expected to provide solutions to our problems. However, schools are pivotal in inculcating attitudes and in forming character and we must look to our schools to improve the attitude of young people to driver education. This can be done by including safe driving modules in transition year programmes.
All driving schools must be of a uniformly high standard. We all know of people with no qualifications who have used their redundancy money, for example, to set up driving schools. That is not acceptable. A basic standard of proficiency for every person who sets up a driving school or who gives driving instruction must be laid down. All private driving schools must be registered so that a uniform standard of driving instruction can be established. We must provide in-service courses for driving instructors. Very often young people are prepared for the technical aspects of passing the driving test but not enough emphasis is placed on road safety and responsible driving. It is a great privilege to hold a driving licence and a sense of this privilege must be part of a young driver's training. Driving schools must teach not only technical driving skills but a proper attitude to road safety, courtesy to other road users and a sense of responsibility. If we ensure that this happens we will create a new generation of responsible drivers. We must take a serious look at the standards of driving schools and instructors. Instructors who are not properly trained must be taken off the road.
A person who fails a driving test should not be permitted to drive home from the test centre and continue driving without a supervising driver. This indicates a recklessness in our attitude to the importance of driving education and it must be stamped out. The older generation has given a bad example to young drivers. As a nation we are careless drivers and we must solve that.
I call on the Minister to introduce the penalty points system. A £50 penalty is as nothing to young high earners — it is about what they might spend on a night out during the week. Somebody said to me recently that when they were young £50 was the deposit on a house. However, young drivers will pay a £50 penalty as a matter of course. It is not a deterrent.
Legislation must be brought forward to enable the introduction of a penalty points system. It should be based on the best features of such systems as administered elsewhere. Its introduction would be a praiseworthy act which would enhance road safety and help to eliminate the appalling level of carnage on the roads.
I concur with Senator Quill's assessment of the road safety problems. However, one of the features of the Seanad is that nobody takes the slightest heed of what is said. I hope some of the Senator's points will be taken on board.
In October last year 18 people were killed on the roads in an eight day period. There was a debate on road safety in the House at that time. There was also a top level meeting under the chairmanship of an assistant secretary in the Department of the Environment and Local Government which included representatives from the National Safety Council, the Departments of the Environment and Local Government and Justice Equality and Law Reform, the Garda Síochána, the National Roads Authority and the Irish Insurance Federation. A decision was taken to prepare a co-ordinated national strategy for road safety for consideration by the Government. That national strategy has now been published and I welcome it. It contains many features which, if implemented, would reduce the carnage on our roads.
Unfortunately, enforcement seems to be a problem with the law. We are well aware of the causes of accidents — excessive speed, drink driving, defective vehicles and drivers who lack experience. These factors contribute to road accidents. However, the level of enforcement for non-compliance with the law is very low. Last week I was driving on a national primary route on which there was a speed check in place. I knew about the speed check three miles before I came to it because its presence was signalled by two or three oncoming drivers. The traffic passed by the check at the appropriate speed. Such enforcement is useless and is a waste of Garda time. We must examine such factors and change them if we are to make an impact on the carnage on the roads.
There is also an obligation on the Judiciary. Some courts impose heavy fines and disqualifications for periods up to six months for excessive speeding. This is a welcome approach and it will contribute to a reduction in speeding. Heavy articulated vehicles have a speed limit of 50 miles per hour, yet how many of them observe that limit? There should also be a speed governor on the engine of heavy vehicles to prevent them exceeding the speed limit but on most trucks these inhibitors are disconnected. It is rare, if ever, that there is a prosecution for a disconnected inhibitor on an articulated vehicle. These issues must be addressed if we are to reduce the injuries and deaths on the roads.
We must welcome the promotional work done by the National Safety Authority and the research done by Beaumont Hospital into the age categories of the drivers involved in road accidents. The coroner in north County Mayo is heading a national campaign to reduce drink driving. He has started a national organisation called Dóthain which is growing and advocates drink free driving. However, although drink is a factor in road accidents, it is not the main cause. About 25 per cent of road accidents are attributed to drink driving. Lowering the drink driving limit may prove unproductive if it is not enforced because if they can do so with impunity people will continue to drink and drive.
Senator Quill referred to a matter in which I am particularly interested — the education and training of young drivers. She mentioned the transition year in school and it is a great idea because at that stage young people are only two years from being entitled to hold a driving licence and they could come to understand the dangers of driving. She also referred to the technical qualifications needed.
More than technical qualifications or a knowledge of the rules of the road are needed to produce safe drivers. I recently spoke with two young drivers about the serious wet road conditions and the dangers of aqua planing at high speed. Neither had heard of aqua planing. This kind of knowledge needs to be inculcated in the minds of young people at an early age. Transition year or the final year of secondary school provide an ideal opportunity to teach road safety. This would contribute to a greater understanding of cars and a greater knowledge of the rules of the road.
The driving instructor register needs to be updated. Some driving instructors with the minimum knowledge and experience are teaching. There are 137,000 provisional licence holders on the road, an appalling statistic. This must be tackled. Provisional licence holders should not be allowed on the road, even with an experienced driver who can only intercept an accident at a late stage. There should be greater control of provisional licence holders.
I do not have time to refer to the National Roads Authority, except to say that the only road I am concerned with is the national primary route from Longford to Ballina. We tried for years to get it upgraded to national primary status, which was achieved. However, all the road has is a new title. We are waiting for funding for the N26 and the N7 from Longford to Ballina. I hope the authority is listening.
I welcome the Minister and compliment the Government on introducing the road safety strategy, a timely and meaningful measure. There has been a public outcry about the number of road deaths. Twenty one years ago 628 people were killed on our roads compared to 472 last year and 357 to date this year, including the person killed today. There have been huge improvements in our roads and the quality of cars over the years. However, death on our roads is a serious problem which must be tackled. I compliment the Government on its moves to do that.
I do not agree that provisional licence holders should not be allowed to drive. When I was younger I applied for a provisional licence in a different country. I was entitled to drive and I then got my test. To get a provisional licence here, one just has to fill in a form and pay the fee. In other countries, one must pass written, audiovisual and eye tests to get a provisional licence. On the day of the test there are no rules of the road examination, which takes off the pressure. There is no doubt that people get nervous driving in a car with a stranger. They are often worried about what questions they will be asked on the rules of the road and that can distract them when doing their driving test. I am glad the Government is introducing a written examination.
More road safety education in schools is also important. I compliment primary school teachers on the way they control children going home from school, helping them to cross the road, etc., and the emphasis they put on road safety. However, second level students cross roads wherever they want and ignore the cars which are legally entitled to be on the road. The onus is put on the driver to avoid them and if they are hooted at they look at the driver in disgust wondering what they did that was wrong. Second level students will have to be made more conscious of drivers and the rules of the road.
There are many good drivers in this country because they are used to driving on winding roads. However, a great deal needs to be done. There are better quality cars on the road and many are built for speed. No one really knows the legal speed limit. The legal speed limit was reduced from 60 miles per hour to 55 when there was a petrol shortage. I do not think it was ever restored to 60 miles per hour. There is a 70 miles per hour limit on some motorways. There should be a uniform speed limit. Perhaps there should be a limit of 55 miles per hour on county roads and a limit of 60, 65 or 70 miles per hour on dual carriageways.
There is an enormous number of new cars on the road. As I said, 628 people were killed 21 years ago. There is twice, if not three times, the number of cars on the road today than there were 21 years ago. Every home has two, three or four cars. The husband needs a car to go to work, the housewife needs a run-around to do the shopping and the young people also need a car to go to work because there is no public transport.
A great deal has been said about the decline of the rail network. The loss of rail lines was a retrograde step. An extra effort should have been made to maintain our rail network. I welcome the new rail proposals for Dublin, which should have been introduced some time ago.
I will deal with the National Roads Authority later as I am critical of some of their proposals for the next 21 years. The Government should look at upgrading the road network, including the possibility of private investment and toll charges to finance the construction of new roads. Despite Cohesion and Structural Funds and the extra money in the national purse, we cannot update our roads fast enough to keep pace with our development. The NRA programme has good ideas but it is developing the country in one direction only. Even the western roadway through Galway and Limerick goes across to Rosslare and cuts off a huge part of the south-west. If one wants to see how the country will develop in the next 21 years all one has to do is look at the main road arteries in the NRA's programme, because industry will follow those roads as sure as night follows day. I am utterly disgusted.
Senator Coghlan spoke about his disappointment at the exclusion of roads in south Kerry, such as the road from Mallow to Killarney. However, he supported the adoption of this report at last Monday's meeting of Kerry County Council, when I put down an amendment to oppose it because not one penny is to be spent on the N69 between Tarbert and Listowel. That is the main road into the county from Limerick and from Clare via the Tarbert ferry. It is disgraceful that the document states no upgrading is required on that road. It was the first secondary road in the county but it is being ignored and it is disintegrating. Large stretches of land were purchased for road widening and the removal of bends, fences were removed, but grass is now growing there and the road will receive no funding for the next 21 years. Also, Listowel town needs a by-pass because traffic is being held up every day, even on Sundays when people go to Mass, but that is not provided for either. Where will the money needed here be spent? About £6 billion will be spent on the western alliance road in the next 21 years. Someone asked where that money would come from — the taxpayers will provide it because they pay for everything.
There is an imbalance in the programme. Parts of it are excellent and one must recognise the growth areas which it identifies, such as the major cities of Dublin, Galway, Waterford, Cork and Limerick but one does not need to be Einstein to recognise where the major growth will occur in the next few years. However, if we consider the equality of our citizens under our Constitution, people living in peripheral areas are entitled to the same facilities as those in big cities which have taxi and bus services.
I, too, welcome the Minister and compliment the Government for its efforts to curb speed and solve the problems on our roads. When thinking about improving our roads we cannot forget safety, traffic, the quality of life or the environment. We are discussing this issue because of public concern about the huge number of traffic accidents in the last year. The accident in Arklow was particularly horrific — it happened because the driver fell asleep.
Roads have become the dominant mode of internal transport in Ireland — 89 per cent of freight traffic and 90 per cent of passenger traffic is carried by road — so we must have a strategy for improving road safety. Before we can do that, however, we must study the psychology of human behaviour to discover why we travel at high speed on our roads; to answer that one need only look at the economic costs of delays. On "Morning Ireland" we hear about traffic delays all over Ireland, not just Dublin, and it can take up to three hours to get into the centre of Dublin from the outskirts. The problem then arises when people try to make up time to catch an aeroplane or a boat. We must tackle the problem at the root — we can introduce measures for speeding but we must look into why people speed. If I have to catch a plane and I am delayed for an hour en route, I will try to make up time. All of us could be guilty of an offence in those circumstances, so it is a problem for all of us. It is not just a matter of introducing measures to curb speeding. We must go back further than that.
What kind of people have accidents? Why does it happen to them? There is a learning curve for all of us. Are they unemployed, like the joyriders, for example? In the case of joyriders we must look at education and the unemployment rate, and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform must be involved so that we can introduce a co-ordinated policy.
A truck driver, on the other hand, may have to catch a boat and make up time; he may be driving through the night and fall asleep. The employer has a responsibility to ensure that drivers have enough time, after leaving their place of employment, to reach their destination, and he must take into account congestion on the road, hold-ups due to road improvements, etc. I doubt whether hauliers consider this when their drivers leave — they may calculate that it takes three and a half hours to get from Cork to Dublin, but that is only if there are no hold ups from traffic, road improvements, or perhaps a funeral through a town which could delay them for an hour. Do hauliers take all that into account before requiring drivers to reach a destination in a given time? We should remember this because these are the reasons people speed or fall asleep behind the wheel of a car, causing accidents. As I said, we must look at human behaviour and examine what one does when under pressure. Personnel departments should assess this. The Department and the NRA are introducing a strategy, which I welcome, but it is designed to curb things so they will not happen again. The public, employers, schools and parents, particularly those with children of 18 or 19 years of age whom they allow to drive their cars, must also become involved in solving this problem. Parents of the young people to whom I refer have a responsibility to ensure that their children show respect for the vehicles they drive and the public at large.
This is an issue of great importance. I am glad that measures are being introduced to stop people speeding in their cars. I welcome the introduction of new breathalyser tests which will speed up the process of identifying those who drink and drive. Having said that, if I go out at night I do not drive because there is a likelihood that I may be breathalysed but I then have no way to travel home because I cannot get a taxi. It is a vicious circle. My car is very important to me and, at present, it is the only viable mode of transport I can use at night. This is a matter of concern to working people who may wish to have a quiet drink at the end of their working day because they cannot get a taxi from their home to their destination and vice versa.
I travelled to Cork last week. I telephoned for a taxi at 10.30 a.m. and asked to be collected at 12.30 p.m. so that I could catch the 1.30 p.m. train. No one arrived to collect me. I accept that I have digressed but my point re-emphasises the fact that I would welcome the introduction of an improved public transport system. If the NRA strategy included an integrated approach to public transport, this would provide another mechanism to reduce road traffic accidents. Members will have to forgive me but I tend to get carried away when discussing this issue.
Not true, the Senator is in full control.
The NRA describes itself as the body with sole responsibility for assessing national primary routes. Local authorities are responsible for secondary routes. When do the two meet? The only occasion on which the NRA is mentioned at meetings of my local authority is when members are informed that the organisation has issued a statement. When construction of major routes such as the M50 is under discussion at local authority meetings, I would like to see NRA representatives in attendance and not merely have county managers reiterate what that organisation has stated. I want to be in contact with those who make decisions which affect my local authority area. In the future, when construction of national primary routes, which will have an impact in terms of speeding and traffic management — this should take the form of an integrated approach between the NRA and local authorities — is under discussion, representatives of the NRA should visit local authority areas to discuss the relevant issues.
I welcome the involvement of the Garda and our schools in road safety campaigns. However, it must be stressed that a co-ordinated approach is needed. I welcome the introduction of this strategy. The key to its success rests on the pillars of implementation and enforcement but it will only succeed if adequate investment and support personnel are made available.
I welcome this debate. As the Minister of State indicated, this is a serious issue, particularly when one considers the number of people killed on our roads. Road traffic accidents are the most common cause of accidental deaths. Too many people are being killed on the roads daily. As Senator Coogan stated, last night a person was killed in a road traffic accident in Galway.
When will people realise that the killing and carnage on our roads must stop? As individuals it is vitally important that we take responsibility for our safety and realise that this is our problem. Until everyone who gets behind the wheel of a car realises this, we will not save the lives we are committed to save in the next five years. When a person sits behind the steering wheel of their car and turns on the ignition, it is essential that they realise that they are in charge of an instrument which could kill them or a number of other people on the road. It is important that people recognise the fact that they could easily be responsible for a road traffic accident.
When setting out on a journey, people must set aside enough time to allow them to reach their destination in comfort. Speeding has been identified as a major factor in the cause of road traffic accidents. However, people speed because they are in a hurry to reach their destination — perhaps they were detained ten minutes before setting out on their journey. We do not set aside adequate time to make a journey. In the past, people could drive from Galway to Dublin in two and a half hours. The journey now takes three hours and that can only be achieved by driving at the maximum speed limit, and sometimes beyond it. We must change the culture where if people are behind time, they try to catch up later in the day.
We must also rid the country of the culture of drinking and driving. I accept that this culture has changed in recent years but that culture has not been brought to an end. When one considers the number of people charged with drink driving offences, it is obvious that people continue to consume up to six alcoholic drinks and then drive. Some people are convinced that they can drive better when under the influence of alcohol. When will these idiots realise they might kill not only themselves but also many innocent people?
I turn now to people who drive without wearing safety belts. Statistics prove that wearing safety belts can save the lives of people travelling in the front and rear of vehicles. Most modern cars have rear passenger seat safety belts but they are not used. I cannot understand how parents can allow their children to sit in the front seats of their cars, not to mention allowing them to do so without wearing a safety belt. It is vitally important to realise that it is easy to put on a safety belt because, in the event of an accident, this could save a life.
With regard to pedestrians and cyclists, there are those who cycle at night without using bicycle lamps or reflective safety equipment. If one is driving along roads in rural areas — sometimes it even happens in urban areas — it is often difficult to see people walking or cycling. I often wonder whether any of the students in Galway have lights for their bicycles because it is impossible to see them on dark winter nights. They do not seem to realise that they could be killed even if they were only brushed by a car. Road safety is our responsibility. We have better roads and cars which will protect us to a certain extent but if we do not take responsibility for our safety, people will continue to be killed, injured or maimed.
It is interesting that this debate involves consideration of the work of the NRA in conjunction with road safety because the two go hand in hand. The NRA is responsible for providing safe roads. In doing so and in investing money in road development throughout the country, a good road infrastructure has come into being. However, because this has been done in a piecemeal way in certain areas, people speed along good stretches of road before encountering a dangerous section in respect of which funding for improvements has not yet been granted.
A straight stretch of the N84 road from Galway to Headford has almost become a race track; a series of very sharp bends follows and this is very dangerous. Recently there have been accidents on that road and people have been killed. It is vitally important that the NRA, in association with the local authorities, looks at how it develops roads. I know this is happening but it needs to happen more. Putting in a stretch of new road that feeds into a series of bends is not the answer. It only leads to more danger and to people taking chances.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the strategy document the Government has put together. This is the first time this has happened and it is an indication of the Government's commitment to dealing with this issue in a pro-active manner. It addresses the issues of safety and attitude. This is the first time we have looked at the attitude of drivers and realised that unless we change their behaviour and our behaviour we will not make the necessary changes and achieve our target. We need to make national roads safer. The NRA has the job of introducing remedial measures and working with the local authorities.
The traffic calming measures one sees on entering many towns and villages along main roads are certainly having an effect. Someone might be driving, listening to the radio and concentrating on driving without taking too much notice of speed signs. However, attention is now drawn to the signs and if a driver does not slow down it is because he is reckless not because he has not seen them.
The strategy document has recognised that the solution to the carnage on the roads, to ensuring our safety and to all driving more safely from A to B without being in an accident is multi-disciplinary. The Department of Health and Children is involved as we can save money by reducing the number of traffic accidents and deaths; the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is involved because it must make and implement the laws; the Department of Finance is involved as it must provide the resources to implement the measures; the Department of the Environment and Local Government is also involved because it is within its remit that the roads are improved and the NRA reports to it and the Department of Education and Science is involved as it is vital that we consider education. We should educate young people so that when they turn 17 years of age and apply for a provisional driver's licence, they will realise what is involved in driving a car and that there is a possibility that they might kill someone on the road. They need to learn how to drive properly and safely.
An attitude exists that "it will never happen to me". However, all too often, it happens to us or to our sisters, brothers, mothers or fathers. Until we realise that it could happen and that every time we get into a car it is likely to happen, we will not change anything.
I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, on his assiduity in pursuing this issue and for coming before the Seanad to listen to its deliberations and opinions on this issue. It is unfortunate that this has probably been the most debated issue in the Seanad over the past few years. Requests for a debate on this issue arise regularly. This debate on road safety and the NRA report is the first major debate in this term.
The reason this topic is before us again is the unfortunate deaths and injuries which continue on our roads unabated. The last time the Minister was before the Seanad he announced various provisions and strategies which he was introducing and one might have expected some improvement as a result.
I compliment the Minister on his approach in that the High Level Group on Road Safety working under his direction came up with the Strategy for Road Safety 1998-2002. The approach is an overall plan which will be put in motion and monitored over the years to see whether it is effective.
The present situation is alarming. Almost every day there are news reports of further carnage and deaths on the roads. There are a variety of reasons explaining Ireland's high level of road fatalities and we have gone over them repeatedly. I am sure there is a variety of reasons none of the measures has so far been effective. The Minister said more people died on the roads in the 1970s than in the 1990s. That may be the case, but in the 1990s the numbers are increasing annually and the situation will be as bad in the early years of the next millennium unless the corrective measures proposed, or other measures, are put in place.
I wish to mention a couple of points. In relation to recent deaths, there still seems to be a culture within the prosecution system and the Judiciary of not treating drunk driving as a serious criminal offence. During the past few weeks we have discussed the culture in financial institutions in relation to tax evasion, fraud and white collar crime which the institutions are facilitating by offshore accounts, etc. There is an equally insidious culture in the ranks of those in charge of dealing with the crime of drunk driving and related issues. It is almost a white collar crime. There is a nod and a wink and hail fellow well met and everybody has a few too many sometimes attitude which has percolated through the system so that when someone commits a serious crime by driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and causing a fatality or serious injury, a hefty sentence is seldom handed down.
Every day we hear judges talk about exemplary sentences being handed down. Not long ago an exemplary sentence of nine years was handed down to a young heroin addict in her early twenties for larceny of a handbag. The judge insisted he was imposing the serious sentence of nine years for exemplary purposes to ensure the public was well aware of the consequences of such dangerous, nefarious activities as stealing a handbag. He talked of how the tourism industry could be damaged and that people could lose their keys and suffer many problems as a result. Yet, on the same day, a six month prison sentence for drunk driving resulting in a fatality was quashed. No matter what one's views are on drug addiction or larceny there is no comparison between that and the incident which the judge believed did not merit a prison sentence.
At the heart of the matter is the fact that there is no effective sanction in place for even the greatest offences that end in the loss of human life. The Minister would be well served if he asked the Judiciary to consider setting up guidelines on sentencing in relation to this matter. He could ask the Judiciary to compile an approach using their own code of conduct, that would reflect the enormity of the offences that come before them and that this would then be seen by the public to be a serious attempt to deal with the offence. Until that is done people will continue to think they can get into their cars after a night's drinking, go to another pub as happened in this instance and assume nothing will happen to them. These people do not realise that their senses are greatly diminished by the amount of alcohol they have consumed. Until the same proportion of people are imprisoned for that crime as are being imprisoned for crimes of larceny, drug addiction, etc., I do not think any of the other avenues we have explored will be effective.
While we all know that the DPP is an independent officer who prosecutes criminal offences, nevertheless, a lot depends on the way an offence is prosecuted. Where a fatality occurs, if a case is presented to a judge as a careless driving offence then clearly we are signalling that that is all it is. Instead it should be treated as an offence that caused death and the person who was behind the wheel is ultimately responsible. There is a huge difference between murder, homicide and careless driving. The DPP has to also look at the manner in which offences of this nature are being prosecuted because that will be reflected in the way they are dealt with by the courts and, in turn, how the sanctions are imposed.
The Minister's proposals are very laudable. However, I am not sure from his presentation at what stage the process is or if the strategy has locked into place at this point as it is a strategy for the period 1998-2002. I also do not know if there is any assessment, whether he intends to have a six month or annual assessment of the effectiveness of the strategy or if at that point he would be in a position to inform us whether elements of the strategy are effective and if we have reduced the number of fatalities and injuries on our roads.
I welcome the strategy presented by the Minister but I am very disappointed that we still have not initiated any successful measures at this time. I will look forward to seeing how the strategy operates. On the next occasion the Minister visits this House I hope we will not be discussing the increasing curve of road accidents and carnage on our roads but rather its downward spiral, etc.
I am disappointed that this debate is centred almost exclusively on road safety yet the wording of the debate refers to the report of the National Roads Authority and I prepared my contribution on that basis. The Minister is not to blame for this. He was obviously misinformed but I want to put on the record my very strenuous objections to the manner in which this debate has taken place. I know it has not prevented Members from both sides of the House from making contributions on both issues but unfortunately the Minister's brief relates to only one aspect of this debate, and that is speeding. I will take the matter up with the relevant people. This is also no reflection on the Leas-Chathaoirleach.
Notwithstanding that it would be churlish of me not to reiterate the positive comments that have been made on both sides of the House in relation to the Minister's statements. They are to be welcomed. The Minister is to be complimented on the ongoing role he plays in this regard. Road safety is an important aspect of our lives. Sadly it has had the most serious consequences for many families throughout the country. Speeding has now become an unacceptable fact of Irish life and it is obvious that the Government has to address this issue in so far as it can. As the Minister's colleague in Government said on radio some weeks ago, you cannot legislate for people's behaviour and Governments can only go so far.
In that regard there are a number of aspects that I would like to put to the Minister. I am sure he will have already addressed some of them, or will most likely be addressing them. However, I am curious to know if there are any statistics relating to the number of fatal or non-fatal accidents on a road network breakdown. These figures are normally based on a national level. In the public domain there does not seem to be any breakdown as to whether these accidents are taking place, for example, on national primary routes with dual carriageways relative to roads which would be of national secondary, regional or county road standard.
I belong to the school of thought that would suggest that Garda resources are already stretched to the limit which is part of the difficulty in identifying this problem. I question the efficacy of having two or three gardaí sitting in a patrol car on the Portlaoise bypass. This bypass, as was stated in the media some weeks ago, compared to similar road networks in Europe does not have a high level of fatalities or accidents. The anecdotal evidence suggests that most of these accidents take place on roads that are clearly not adequate for modern day traffic, be that the motor car or an articulated truck. In that respect it might be helpful if statistics were based on road networks rather than on a nationwide basis. Perhaps these statistics are available but are not being broadcast in case those who are already driving fast on these roads are encouraged to drive even faster on the basis that statistically they have less chance of being killed, knocked down or injured.
In the context of the spread of resources, my perception would be that many accidents are happening on minor roads at particular times of the day and night, and especially at weekends. Sadly there seems to be an increase in the number of fatalities among young people who are going to or leaving public houses or discos at the weekend. Some of the most horrific accidents — especially in the midlands — over the past couple of months were primarily the result of people travelling on roads after late night entertainment.
I am delighted that at last a date has been given for the introduction of road testing, road worthiness tests, or MOTs as they are known in Britain. I have failed to understand why successive Administrations have not grasped this nettle. Is it because the motor trade who would seem to be benefiting, have been objecting for some reason? Has it been an administrative foul up?
If one looks at the background to many of the fatal and non-fatal accidents on our roads one will find that there are a number of aspects to these statistics other than speeding. For example, I would suggest that among the contributory factors would be driving vehicles which are not roadworthy — for example cars with uneven headlights. How many times has one been blasted not just by a high beam but by two lights, one of which is stronger than the other? I am sure that is illegal. Rear lights, if one or both are not working, are another danger. The most irritating and potentially dangerous practice of many drivers on Irish roads is the persistent use of rear fog lamps, which were manufactured for countries where there is heavy fog. Ireland does not experience heavy fog. The Minister, like me, would be familiar with the midlands where there is a tradition of fog at certain times of the year which descends and then passes. Yet people persist in using rear fog lamps on clear nights this is a hazard. The glare is such that one finds it almost impossible to see beyond the car in front and yet there does not seem to be any attempt to educate drivers about their use.
This brings me to education. It appears that because of the rapid and significant improvements in the road network over the past number of years, the introduction of more dual carriageways, the introduction of traffic calming measures, the introduction of lanes for traffic control and box junctions due to the high level of traffic in towns and the resulting gridlock, there are many drivers who have no knowledge of how to respond to these traffic realities. When I was growing up around the time the motorways were introduced in the UK in the 1960s the then Minister's opposite numbers in Britain embarked on a national media campaign to educate drivers. That was basic and obviously important. It used actuality; it used moving graphics rather than real people, although in some cases it used real people and real vehicles, but the message being put across was how to use lanes and box junctions, etc. For example, there was a great slogan, "When out at night wear white at night". All these things seemed to be helpful in the context of education, yet we do not seem to have embarked on a similar operation in Ireland. Does the Minister have any views on that? Is there within his Department a budget which might be more efficiently used to harness the modern media than leaflets or advertisements in the newspapers — I am talking about radio and especially television — to help to educate many drivers drive properly?
There seems to be a perceptible lack of road skill among drivers. I wonder whether this might have something to do with the fact that in 1979-80 the then Minister for the Environment, because of public outcry over the huge backlog in applications for driving licences, introduced an amnesty granting licences to thousands of drivers who had not passed a test. That happened almost a generation ago — it is 18 years ago — but people who were 18 years of age at that time are now in their mid-30s. When one considers the level of accidents, I wonder whether that has been a contributing factor. It is to those people and others who have not passed the regulatory test that this campaign could be addressed.
I am glad to see that the courts are dealing with road rage. What sort of society are we breeding? We seem to be developing an irritating impatience for even the most minor infractions on the road. Even where motorists are trying to be helpful one will find that somebody will blow their horn to get them to move out of the way or they will stick up two fingers, or one finger, depending on which particular television programme they have been watching. In that way they generate hostility on the road. Once there is hostility behind the wheel one's actions are questionable in any given situation where one needs complete concentration.
On the 30 mile per hour speed limit, this may seem like an unusual suggestion but, as the Minister will be aware, all the mileage signs are metric, with the exception of the speed limits. Continental drivers who are used to kilometres see all the national primary routes and, increasingly, the secondary and non-national routes using the metric system, but the towns and villages use the imperial system. Does the Department intend changing this?
I would welcome a debate on the National Roads Authority and its report because there are serious questions to be raised about the prioritising of many of the national networks. It seems that this was done by computer rather than personnel going into the country and looking at the real needs of the various regions.
Some weeks ago I wrote to the NRA following on advertisements in the national newspapers seeking tenders for the provision of new road signs. Would the Minister ensure that whoever gets the tender checks the correct spelling of the various towns and villages across the country? There is nothing as annoying as seeing the village of Keadue in County Roscommon spelt "Keadew". That is just one of a number of examples from the north-west region and I am sure the same is true of many other parts of the country. All that is required to get it right is a little research.
I welcome the Minister to the House. Like Senator Mooney, I want to comment briefly on the National Road Needs Study because it is important.
The Senators have been thorough and eloquent this afternoon and I will not go over a great deal of what was said. One area which I do not think was addressed was the acceptance of the enormous increase in heavy vehicle traffic which the report envisages. An increase of 170 per cent by the year 2015 would be horrific. We must take into account that more modern methods of transport of goods are envisaged. Indeed, the Taoiseach opened a centralised distribution depot for Supervalu in Cork the other day and centralised distribution is being considered by other large firms also. We must look carefully at this area because there is a huge difference between transport and logistics. Logistics are really what we must promote rather than just transporting goods, perhaps in a very ineffective manner, around the countryside. I was delighted to see that a conference on logistics will be held tomorrow at Malahide which I hope to attend. It is good to see such forward thinking is taking place in Ireland.
I congratulate the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Dublin Institute of Technology on setting up the National Institute for Transport and Logistics because it is extremely important that we, who have been described as having archaic freight transport facilities, try to introduce the most modern methods for the transport of goods. This has an enormous effect not just on the amount of traffic on the roads but on what happens to the roads themselves and the enormous amount of money which must be spent on the maintenance of roads which were never built for the heavy traffic they must carry now. I am thinking of the smaller roads where one meets huge freight trucks which traverse bridges, which were built 100 years ago and cannot withstand the weight of these vehicles.
The heavy vehicle area is one at which we should look carefully because the projected increases contained in this study could not possibly be sustainable. We should apply more modern methods of transport while admitting that most of it will have to be on the roads because the rail network is so small. I understand the cost implications of having to take freight for part of a journey by rail and then put it into smaller trucks to bring it by road, for the remainder of the journey.
Developments in road freight must be considered very carefully. Strong objections have been raised in towns and suburbs near large supermarket complexes or shopping centres about the difficulties created by the number of deliveries that have to be made to various stores. A small retail shop could get up to 150 deliveries a week, which causes great difficulties for shops located in small country towns. Suburbs can be blocked by the amount of deliveries being made to large supermarkets.
We must examine the logistics of the situation and not just envisage an increase in freight traffic. As a very small country we will not be able to handle it. We must consider if there can be a more rational and sensible method of freight transport, even if it is by road. I welcome the fact that conferences are at last being held to address this topic.
I wish to share my time with Senator Fitzpatrick.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
It is difficult to say something original at this late stage of the debate, especially after so many speakers have made worthwhile contributions. I welcome the speech by the Minister of State and the strategy for road safety, which is both positive and worthwhile.
We are all aware of the terrible carnage on our roads in recent years, especially in recent months. Every parish in the country has been affected and a number of families in every parish have been touched by the loss of loved ones. We have seen far too many guards of honour by national school children and local GAA club members for people who have lost their lives.
While accidents on the roads can never be eliminated, we would fail in our duty if we did not do our utmost to ensure they are radically reduced. I do not agree with the use of the word "accident" for some of the recent carnage. If a driver travels on a national primary or country road at 90 or 100 miles per hour and fails to negotiate the first bend I would prefer, without being offensive, to use the word "suicide" rather than "accident". Likewise if a person chooses to drive at high speed in an irresponsible and careless manner and happens to collide with a third party the word "accident" is not proper in that context. In some cases terms such as murder and man-slaughter spring to mind. I an pleased that charges have been brought against people who had behaved very irresponsibly on the roads in recent times.
From visiting rural or urban areas we are all aware of the increase in car ownership. Up to five or six years ago there was only one — perhaps even more — parked in most driveways, but nowadays most households have three or four cars parked in their driveways. That is prosperity and people are entitled to it, but it leads to much higher volumes of traffic on the roads. This, coupled with the dramatic improvements on a number of roads, especially the national primary routes, has made us all guilty of breaking the speed limit from time to time.
The attitude of drivers is most important. Young drivers have been labelled unfairly to a certain extent. Inexperience is more of a problem than age. Senator Dan Kiely mentioned how easy it was for young and inexperienced drivers to obtain provisional licences and use them to drive without supervision. In some cases this can lead to tragedy. The attitude of drivers will have to change. They must become more responsible. When we get into our vehicles we have responsibility for our own lives, the lives of our passengers, other road users and third parties. Many of us fail to acknowledge this.
Lack of enforcement is a difficulty. We should consider the option of local authorities policing our routes, especially the national primary routes where the majority of serious and fatal accidents occur. Local authorities deal with traffic and traffic issues in our towns and cities and Garda resources are stretched to the limit. The Minister and his Department should consider this aspect.
With regard to the NRA report, I am pleased the N69, especially from Limerick to Foynes, has been earmarked for future funding. The quicker it is provided the better because we are all aware of the dire need to upgrade this road, which serves the port of Foynes and is of huge economic benefit to County Limerick.
The National Roads Authority is on a threadmill. It is racing to keep up with the growth in traffic and the increase in car ownership. The Celtic tiger has spawned an exponential growth in traffic over the last few years. For example, less than four years ago the M50 Blanchardstown interchange was opened, which eased traffic flow through Blanchardstown and around the Navan Road area. However, radio reports in the morning regularly advise of at least a three mile tail back on the Meath side of the interchange due to the growth in traffic and housing developments on the fringes of Dublin.
It is often forgotten that national roads go through cities, including Dublin. I live on the Navan Road, which is a national primary route. The director of traffic for Dublin is installing quality bus corridors, bicycle lanes and sequential traffic lights on roads which have been in existence since the time of Tara, more than 5,000 years ago. At my end of the city, the roads have not been widened much over that period, yet we are attempting to put more than a gallon into a pint bottle. Traffic has now slowed to such an extent that it is possible to walk across the road in safety without fear of being run over because it would be a miracle if the cars managed to go faster than five miles per hour.
When assessing a crash it is necessary to take into account the road, the driver and the car. Modern cars are small, overpowered and under braked. They are not safe for travelling at high speeds. It is ludicrous, if not dangerous to travel at 60 miles per hour on a country road. A person travelling at that speed on most roads is not driving but aiming the car.
The construction of roads can take up to 20 years from conception to delivery. Roads, traffic management and other related matters were debated by Dublin Corporation in the past but little was done due to many factors, such as lack of money, the democratic right of people to oppose or question everything and the demand in urban areas for traffic calming. The net effect of this was to put more traffic on national primary routes in and out of the city. A balance must be struck but I do not know where. The dialogue between the National Roads Authority and local authorities has not been as effective as it could be.
On a parochial note, I noticed the toll plaza for the new port tunnel will have ten lanes. A similar number was installed on the West Link bridge and it proved inadequate. This should be reexamined before everything is set in stone.
I thank Senators for their contributions. Regarding Senator Mooney's remarks about the subject of the debate, the title refers to traffic accidents. My office was informed the debate was about road safety. I was pleased to hear that because of the recent publication of the Government's road safety strategy. Senators will recall in the last debate on road safety I mentioned the strategy was being devised and that I would be glad to return to the Seanad when it was published. Some Senators took the reference in the motion to the National Roads Authority report to mean it was the subject matter, although it did not refer to any specific report. We consequently travelled the highways and byways of Ireland and were told about necessary by-passes and upgradings. That is the subject of a separate debate and I am sure my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, will be pleased to attend that debate in the Seanad.
Road safety is extremely important. We can all recall from the last debate the friends, relations or other people we knew who lost their lives in tragic and senseless road accidents which should never have happened. Road safety relates to a large degree to the attitude of people using roads, be they drivers, cyclists or pedestrians. The Government is responsible for initiating a high profile road safety promotion and for ensuring the design of roads is to the maximum possible safety standards.
While there is a plethora of legislation geared towards road safety to minimise the possibility of accidents, the key factor is changing the attitude of the driver, cyclist or pedestrian. The failure of road users to comply with restrictions imposed on them must be eliminated. The level of compliance with speed limits is deplorable. I am sure none of us could say we have never exceeded a speed limit, have never driven having taken a drink or have always worn seatbelts. These are disciplines we have not applied to ourselves and that must change. If it does not, we will continue to suffer the horror of the loss of family members or grieve at other people's loss. This change can be achieved because it has been done in other areas and countries. Those of us who have travelled abroad have been very impressed with the higher standard of compliance with requirements placed on road users.
Enforcement is a critical factor. The Garda is participating in the high level group and has stepped up enforcement of road traffic regulations. Under the national road safety strategy there will continue to be a much higher level of enforcement and this will become more evident. The benefit of modern technology will be used which will greatly assist the Garda in processing information made available to it through information technology. Automated speed limit controls and other devices will give it more knowledge more quickly and help bring prosecutions to court more quickly. It is not a question of money because greater enforcement will result in a greater flow of revenue to the State from fines. This will have to be persisted with until people's attitudes are fundamentally changed. While statistics suggest it is a hopeless task, I do not believe it is. I know from debates and public reaction that there is strong support for greater enforcement in this area. That is understandable considering the possible results.
The number of miles travelled and the number of vehicles on our roads have increased beyond expectation. As was said during the debate, the National Roads Authority and road planners designed roads for a certain capacity and, in some cases, ten years of the expected timeframe has already been exceeded. This sets at naught the benefit from the increased investment in roads over the past ten years. Therefore, the investment must be stepped up. We must concentrate on road safety and the battle to sell the message must continue. The best hope of changing the culture is with the younger generation and the National Roads Authority and the National Safety Council, which have a major role to play in promoting road safety on behalf of the Government, are devising new road safety packages for use by teachers for the benefit of pupils in schools. The message must be relayed at every level but it must hit home to young people if improvement in performance on the roads is to be achieved.
The targets in the road safety strategy are very ambitious given the increase in road mileage and the number of vehicles, but they can be achieved. Studies carried out by the high level group show these levels of improvement and the reductions in accidents and deaths have been achieved in other countries where a strategy approach was adopted. It is to be hoped that, with the goodwill of the travelling public and road users, the ambitious targets can be achieved.