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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 29 Jun 2010

Vol. 203 No. 11

Road Traffic Bill 2009: Second Stage

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

It is good to note when other matters are being discussed in the other House that the Seanad, in keeping with the role it plays, will discuss this afternoon matters of life and death. The Bill represents the continued resolve of the Government to save lives and reduce injuries on our roads through appropriate legislation that supports our policies on traffic law and road safety generally. That is why I am pleased to take the Road Traffic Bill 2009 in the House this afternoon.

Senators will be aware that road safety is to the fore of our national consciousness. Legislators from all sides of the House and policy makers are fully aware of the pain and anguish associated with the road collision statistics we see on a daily basis.

In this context, the Government and all parties in the Oireachtas have responded to the issues through the promotion of legislation to support road safety initiatives and the ongoing advancement of safety performance. The cohesive policy structure that binds the various road safety measures has been set down by the three Government road safety strategies to date. The current strategy, covering the period 2007 to 2012, has been the trigger for many of the major provisions being discussed here and contained in the Road Traffic Bill 2009.

To emphasise the importance that the Oireachtas places on road safety, this is the sixth major legislative initiative that has been taken on traffic law in the past decade. The legislative progression during that time has seen the introduction of many innovations: the fixed charge and penalty points systems, a new structure of speed limits based on metric values, the introduction of mandatory alcohol-testing checkpoints, the establishment of the Road Safety Authority and most recently and the introduction of the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between this country and the United Kingdom.

The advancement of road traffic legislation reflects a response to the changing nature of road usage. This past decade has seen a significant increase in vehicle volumes. To put this in context, there were nearly 2.5 million registered vehicles in Ireland by the end of 2009. This was a 27% increase on 2003, a 74% increase on 1997 and a 275% increase on 1983. The increased number of vehicles on the road has led to many changes, a principal one being the unprecedented levels of investment in our road networks. This investment continues into 2010 with allocations of more than €412 million for regional and local roads as well as €1.1 billion for the national roads programme. A total of €15 million has also been provided towards road safety measures under the programme. This persistent investment has played a major role in reducing deaths and injuries on our roads in recent years. The major inter-urban roads programme, which is well advanced and will be completed by the end of this year, is a significant improvement and will continue to support our safety objectives for many years to come.

Road safety was one of my priorities as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in the 1997-2002 Government. The first road safety strategy, published in 1998, and subsequent strategies have reduced the numbers of people killed on our roads. In 1997, 472 people lost their lives in collisions. These fatality records provide a sad reminder of the losses suffered by people over the years, particularly in 1972 when road deaths reached a staggering 640 despite having a good bit less than half the number of vehicles on our roads that we do now. This figure is astonishing. In contrast to 1972, last year was the safest year on record with fatalities reaching 242. While this represents a large reduction, it also represents a great deal of pain for many people. It is never good news when discussing lives lost, but our roads are, without question, becoming safer for all users.

In 2009, the European Transport Safety Council, ETSC, ranked Ireland sixth in the top ten best performing EU countries for road safety. To put this in a wider context, we were ranked 16th in 2005. Our latest high ranking position was based on figures for 2007 and it is anticipated that we will achieve even better results this year when the statistics for 2008 are taken into account.

Last Tuesday, I was privileged to accept the 2010 Road Safety PIN Award from the ETSC in recognition of the Government's sustained successful strategy in reducing road deaths. The award marks outstanding road safety performance among the 27 EU member states. The award was a tribute to the road users in Ireland for the manner in which they have embraced road safety, to the Garda and the Road Safety Authority, RSA, for their commitment to reducing fatalities and injuries on our roads and to the many campaigners who have focused on the issues of road safety and reducing the number of road deaths. Everyone has played a part and it was my privilege as Minister to receive the award on behalf of Ireland.

Senators will recall that the first road safety strategy, which ran from 1998 to 2002, asserted the necessity for co-ordinating actions across a range of disciplines and organisations. It is estimated that not doing so would have resulted in the number of road deaths reaching approximately 550 in 2002. A continuation of the "business as usual" approach would have seen annual road deaths rise to well beyond that figure in 2009. Through the adoption of road safety strategies, we have been able to identify and link measures that reinforce the advancement of the safety message. The establishment of the Garda national traffic corps and the RSA has had a profoundly positive effect on transmitting that message through enforcement, detection, education and awareness.

The current strategy was the subject of a wide-ranging consultation process, not only with the public at large, but with key stakeholders. The outcome of this process is reflected in the 126 actions in the strategy. Each of those actions has a designated stakeholder responsible for its delivery. Such debate informs policy and leads to the kind of legislative development being considered today. The experience gained to date from consultations and involvement with stakeholders has been invaluable in forming this Bill.

As everyone knows, road traffic legislation is one of the most challenged in our courts and, therefore, requires that the drafting process of any new legislation must also focus on making the provisions as robust as possible. This is a concern and the Lower House had a good debate on various provisions. Good suggestions were made, some of which I was able to take on board. Others I was unable to take on board because of strong legal advice to the effect that some provisions were tried and trusted in the courts and that case law backed up the use of certain words and phrases. It is important that we bear this fact in mind as we discuss the Bill, particularly on Committee and Report Stages.

Turning to the specific provisions promoted in this Bill, it has passed through the Dáil and a number of amendments to strengthen its provisions were agreed. The primary focus of the legislation is to advance the road safety agenda through changing driver behaviour, particularly in the area of intoxicated driving. In this context, the Bill provides for lowering of the legal blood alcohol concentration, BAC, from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 20 milligrams for learner, novice and professional drivers, and from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 50 milligrams for other drivers. The equivalent levels in urine and breath will apply. This provision is central to the approach of the 2009 Bill. The Bill also provides for the mandatory testing of drivers involved in road traffic collisions where injury has occurred. It introduces administrative fixed penalties for certain drink driving offences and preliminary impairment testing to assist the Garda further in its enforcement role, particularly in respect of the increasing problem of drug driving.

The Bill amends the fixed charge and penalty point provisions by introducing the option of a fixed charge payment on receipt of summons. It sets out certain presumptions in respect of the delivery of fixed charge offence notices and seeks to improve certain matters relating to the endorsement of penalty points on driver records. Regarding driving licences, the Bill amends related provisions to ensure that penalty points and disqualification can be applied to non-national driving licences and to give the Garda powers to seize a licence in certain circumstances. In addition, the Bill amends provisions and penalties in respect of inconsiderate, careless and dangerous driving. It also restates provisions on intoxicated driving, consequential disqualifications and fixed charge offences in a consolidated and clearer format and includes a number of minor amendments to the Road Traffic Acts.

On Report Stage in the Dáil, I also introduced an enabling provision for a payment deposit scheme in respect of out-of-State drivers detected for road transport offences, initially those relating to driver hours, tachograph and operator licensing. Drivers suspected of committing these offences will be required to make a payment deposit at the roadside. It is proposed that any payment deposit received will be treated as a fixed charge or as a deposit against any fine imposed by the courts if no selection is made by the driver within the prescribed period.

In more specific terms, sections 4 to 7 provide for intoxicated driving offences. The scientific evidence on drink driving is conclusive and irrefutable. Alcohol consumption impairs driving and affects driver capacity in a variety of ways, including psychomotor skills, cognitive functioning, choice and simple reaction times, visual function, vigilance, perception as well as the ability to divide attention and absorb information. The current road safety strategy identifies the need to legislate for and introduce a reduction in the legal blood alcohol concentration, BAC, level for drivers, but does not specify what that level should be.

In determining the limit to which the BAC should be reduced, I sought the advice of the Road Safety Authority. That advice was informed by a number of issues, including known driver behaviour, past offending rates, enforcement practicalities, best international practice and research as well as analysis of data held by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety.

In taking the approach I have advocated in this Bill, I am encouraged by the findings and recommendation of a recent report in the UK by Sir Peter North. Drawing on new comprehensive research commissioned from the National Research Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, the North report has recommended that the current drink drive limit in the UK be reduced immediately from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres. The research concludes that as many as 168 lives, approximately 7% of road deaths in the UK, could be saved in the first year of the reduced limit, rising to as many as 303 lives saved by the sixth year following any changes to the law. This could have significant implications for road safety and enforcement on the island of Ireland if it proves possible to have the same BAC levels on both sides of the Border.

While the RSA's advice does not address the issue of appropriate penalties for drink driving offences, following the reduction in the BAC level, I have given much consideration to the structure of penalties under the Road Traffic Acts for such offences. The deterrent effect of a potential disqualification is a significant factor in changing driver behaviour in this country on drink driving. While wishing to maintain the overall principle that intoxicated driving is and should be considered a serious offence, one which attracts such automatic disqualifications, I am mindful that in providing for lower BAC levels, some recognition should be made for those detected for the first time at the lower levels.

Accordingly, the Bill provides for two measures in this regard. As a transitional measure, in advance of the introduction of the lower BAC levels, provision is made to amend section 5 of the Road Traffic Act 2006 to allow for an administrative option for those detected within specified lower levels, not exceeding 100 milligrams, to pay a fixed charge, accept a six month disqualification and avoid having the matter dealt with in a court. Following the introduction of the new levels, penalties are provided for on payment of a fixed charge. The status of the driver and the BAC level detected will determine the disqualification period and associated penalties. For learner drivers and the recently qualified, as well as professional drivers, the penalties on payment of a fixed charge associated with the specified BAC will be three months disqualification and a €200 fine. All other drivers will receive three penalty points and a €200 fine for a first offence. This fixed charge option in lieu of court proceedings will only be available once in a three year period to drivers who are not disqualified at the time of detection.

However, the application of appropriate penalties will not single-handedly save lives. Good enforcement and detection practices are also vital in achieving this aim. In this context mandatory alcohol testing, MAT, was introduced in 2006 and has proved to be a very successful intervention. Close to 530,000 breath tests were carried out in accordance with the MAT scheme in 2009. The Garda Síochána, as a key partner, has had a major role in delivering on road safety results through ongoing roadside operations and a stringent testing regime. The percentage of drivers detected with excess alcohol levels continues to fall, thus confirming the deterrent effect of this measure.

Section 9 of the Bill provides for mandatory testing of drivers involved in road traffic collisions where a member of the Garda attends at the scene of the collision and where injury has been caused to another person who requires medical assistance. This is yet another improvement on the current legislation. In fact, through a Dáil amendment I have strengthened this provision still further by making it mandatory for a member of the Garda to test drivers where he or she is of the opinion that the driver has consumed intoxicating liquor.

I have been asked, previously, to explain why there is no provision to test drivers involved in all collisions. This is because, in many instances, the collisions result in material damage to vehicles only, are generally minor in nature and are settled by the drivers concerned. Having the Garda called to each and every one of such instances would be a waste of Garda time and distract gardaí from more important road safety functions. I would prefer to have gardaí trying to detect real breaches of road traffic law rather than settling relatively minor squabbles.

Complementary to the measures already outlined will be the introduction of preliminary impairment testing. I want to emphasise that it is illegal in Ireland to drive while under the influence of drink or drugs, to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle. Gardaí are obliged by law to determine whether a driver is under the influence of an intoxicant to such an extent. This obligation is more difficult when trying to determine the presence of drugs, since the tell-tale smell of alcohol from the breath is not present. There is currently no suitable device available that will permit roadside testing of drivers for drugs. However, the Medical Bureau of Road Safety is keeping abreast of developments in this area and will inform me when a suitable device has been identified for testing and certification. I am aware of devices being used in other countries such as Australia but the different atmospheric conditions in that country and in certain parts of Europe may render these devices unsuitable here. Considerable efforts are being made at a European level to find a solution to these particular issues. I can assure the House that as soon as such a solution is found, we will move to have it introduced here. Unlike alcohol, however, there is no legal limit for drugs. Detections for drug driving are on the increase and as concern grows for the effects of both polydrug use and incidences of mixing drugs with alcohol while driving, a more detailed review of the regulatory regime in relation to this issue has been raised in the context of the current road safety strategy 2007-12. It is planned that such a review will commence this year and will require very detailed consideration and consultation by the relevant key stakeholders involved.

In the interim and arising from the actions in the strategy, section 11 of this Bill provides that a driver may be required by the Garda to perform tests, known as preliminary impairment testing, to assist in determining the extent to which he or she may be under the influence of an intoxicant. That section also provides for the making of regulations by the Minister to prescribe how such tests should be carried out. I am absolutely certain that the combination of the reduced BAC levels, along with the introduction of preliminary impairment testing and the extension of the testing regime at collision sites will further augment the momentum that has been achieved to date in reducing road fatalities and increasing road safety overall.

As previously mentioned, enforcement needs to be a key element in any road safety agenda. The Bill contains a number of provisions aimed at improving aspects of the enforcement of road traffic offences. The Garda Síochána is responsible for the detection of road traffic offences. Many of the offences are included in either the fixed charge or the penalty point scheme. The aim of these schemes is to increase the effectiveness of Garda enforcement, to improve driver behaviour through the deterrent effect and to reduce the volume of road traffic offences coming before the courts. From a road safety point of view, I see this trend continuing into the future with more offences being included under these schemes.

With regard to fixed charges, at present payment is possible within 56-days of the issue of the notice but there is currently no option for payment after that date. While some 70% of fixed charge notices are paid, an estimated 30% end up in court for failure to pay within the prescribed 56-day period. The case has been made to me that, for a number of reasons, a person may not be able to make a payment within the prescribed time but many would rather make a payment than be prosecuted in court. The Bill, therefore, provides for a final option of payment not later that seven days before the date set for the court hearing. If the payment is made within that period, prosecution will not proceed.

Where fixed charge offences proceed to court, other amendments have been included in the Bill to improve the effectiveness of the overall fixed charge system. Section 38 sets out certain presumptions for prosecutions for fixed-charge offences, in particular the presumption that a notice has been served where there is proof of posting or delivery of the notice.

Any penalty points or driver disqualification arising from paid fixed-charge notices or court convictions must then be applied to the driver through the driver licence record, held on the national vehicle and driver file in the Department of Transport.

The Bill's main provision on penalty points is under section 53 which provides for amendments to facilitate the endorsement of penalty points where a licence record does not exist or has not been identified, or where the person is the holder of a foreign driving licence. It also provides for the transfer of any penalty points accumulated from such a record to a pre-existing record which is later identified.

The 2002 Road Traffic Act provides that a person who is alleged to have committed an offence under the Road Traffic Acts must produce his or her driving licence to the court on the first day he or she is due to appear before the court or on a subsequent date at the discretion of the presiding judge. The Act also provides that the court shall record whether the licence has been produced. The purpose of this requirement is to enable the court to record the driving licence details to facilitate endorsing penalty points on the licence record of drivers convicted of such offences.

Issues arising relating to the application of these provisions were identified during the extensive discussions that preceded the drafting of the Bill. Consequently, section 63 establishes a requirement to produce a driver licence and a legible copy of the licence to the District Court clerk on the first day of the court hearing. This will further assist administrative procedures in the courts and the application of the penalty points to the appropriate driver licence record.

In this context, it is vital the driving licence system is robust from an enforcement perspective. Accordingly, this Bill has established a new requirement that will further validate the identification process of licence applicants.

Section 57 specifies that licence applications including renewals must include a personal public service number, PPSN. In addition, section 58 provides for the offence of applying for a driving licence or learner permit while disqualified for holding a licence.

The introduction of mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between Ireland and the United Kingdom on January 28 marks a significant road safety measure because it aims to target some of the most dangerous drivers on our roads. It is also a good example of the co-operation between the jurisdictions and, separately, our joint determination to save lives and reduce injuries on our roads.

Part 6 also provides for amendments to the definition of a "driving licence" to bring foreign driving licence holders into the scope of the application of sanctions for road traffic offences including a disqualification from holding a driving licence. Section 64 will also ensure a person who is in receipt of a disqualification order stands disqualified from holding a driving licence, whether that person holds an Irish or a foreign driving licence.

The Bill provides for several necessary initiatives that will help to bring clarity to a number of areas with particular attention being paid to deterrents. In addition to the new and amended provisions already described, I have taken the opportunity in the Bill to consolidate the intoxicated driving provisions from several earlier Road Traffic Acts in a clearer format and with consequent repeals. This means all intoxicated driving provisions will now be together in one Act. I intend to achieve the same for other areas, such as bringing all provisions for penalty points under one section.

A key determinant of road safety performance is the behaviour of road users. Consequently, the primary focus of our road safety strategy is positively to influence that behaviour. This can be attained through initiatives across a range of areas including the enactment and enforcement of laws that promote good road user behaviour. Such laws must also be underpinned and supported by the application of fines, prison sentences and driving disqualifications as well as well as the necessary technological resources.

The Road Traffic Bill 2009 is another important element of our road safety programme and will, without doubt, build on the achievements of recent years. It will help to deliver additional improvements to the manner in which all drivers interact with our road system. Society expects and requires these improvements whether in the short, medium or long term.

Road traffic legislation is the most challenged in our courts. I want to ensure, therefore, that this Bill is as watertight as we can make it. Since passing the Bill in the Dáil, I have asked officials to undertake another detailed examination of the provisions. This exercise has brought to light several minor drafting issues for which I propose to move amendments on Committee Stage.

The Bill is targeted at specific areas of driver behaviour. Road traffic legislation is complex, covering a wide range of activities. I have taken the approach of concentrating on certain key priority issues. I hope this approach will help to deal with these issues in a more focused and prioritised way. When taken with the institutional changes referred to, the Bill marks a significant watershed in the deployment of road safety policy.

I look forward to the co-operation of Members in facilitating the Bill's passage. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome this legislation which Fine Gael Party will support. The amendments we will propose on Committee Stage will ensure the constructive improvement of the legislation and its most effective operation.

A frequent criticism we hear of how politics is conducted in Leinster House is that the Government and the Opposition spend all of their time locked in fruitless battles of exchanges that neither party will accept. In my time in the Oireachtas I have noted occasions when the Government and the Opposition come together to deal with issues of such national interest or importance that they are above party politics. The attitude adopted towards the Road Traffic Bill 2009 is an example of this.

The need to improve road safety and to make our roads safer for drivers and pedestrians is accepted by all Members. Some of the pressures brought to bear on this legislation could have opened up the temptation to play opportunistic politics in either opposing or delaying its passage. That temptation was not taken up by Members on this side of the House.

Those who believed the legislation could have been improved have been heard. People have been constructive and responsible in trying to translate these views into amendments.

Again and again one hears the citizens, at times legitimately, complain about the way politics is practised. This Bill provides a template as to how all Members hear the views of everyone concerned and improve the legislation for the benefit of all.

While we on this side of the House have views as to how this legislation could be improved and better policies introduced, there is much in this Bill to be welcomed. Four particular elements make this Bill worthy of support. First, the reduction in the blood-alcohol limit. Second, a new and lower blood-alcohol level for inexperienced motorists or professional drivers. Third, the mandatory testing which is being introduced for roadside injuries and accidents. Fourth, an aspect which particularly impresses me is the clarity in the Bill with regard to the production of driving licences and the need to make clear that when notice is served for penalty points, the presumption is that it has been done properly and clearly. This is an especially welcome improvement and I hope to see it implemented quickly to deal with the issue of the number of penalty points being quashed at court. The position at present allows people to escape from the fines and sentencing to which they should be subject. We are determined to see this issue being dealt with properly but other policy issues and failures should be discussed alongside the Bill.

The Bill makes greater statutory provision for the firm and successful operation of roadside testing and checkpoints. The information the Garda is providing indicates a reduction in the number of checkpoints and the hours allocated to conduct checks at such points. The figures I have indicate that in 2008, some 70,000 Garda hours were made available for checkpoints and in 2009, the number declined to 55,000 hours. We do not have the 2010 figures available for the number of checkpoints or the hours allocated to them. However, the expectation is that the trend should and will decline. It is a source of genuine regret that at a time when this legislation will improve the effectiveness of checkpoints and the powers available to the Garda with regard to offences taking place on our roads, the number of hours allocated for inspection is declining. This is a pity given the importance of the legislation being enacted quickly. I call on the Minister to respond to this point.

One point made many times previously relates to the effect of the Bill on rural life and on people who do not have access to the public transport links available in urban parts of our country. I recall when we debated the legislation on the establishment of the National Transport Authority I raised a point concerning why the power and strategy for road transport sat with Pobail, a different Department. We must find ways to maintain and improve the rural transport links throughout the country to ensure better implementation of this law and to ensure people have options such that at no point will they be inclined to get into their car when they should not. Tackling this issue and dealing with it effectively would lead to an improvement in safety on our roads and to avoidance of the accidents, death and injury which the Bill seeks to address.

I refer to the roll-out of speed cameras, an issue which has been touched on in this House and elsewhere. Until the end of 2009, there was a sanctioned roll-out of only 45 speed cameras. It is clear from other countries and it is backed up by international evidence that as speed cameras are rolled out there is a reduction in death and injuries on our roads. It is regrettable that when such legislation as this is introduced, we do not see the necessary infrastructure in place to provide a full armoury of tools to the Garda and transport officials to ensure we continue to battle to reduce death and injury on our roads.

The legislation refers to the appliances necessary to conduct roadside testing and other tests following accidents. We are aware already that it will take a further 12 months to secure the 86 appliances deemed necessary to allow the Garda Síochána to implement the measures in the Bill. Given the amount of time spent preparing the Bill and the need, acknowledged across all sides of the House, for the Bill to be implemented, it is clear this is a missed opportunity. We must find measures to accelerate this process such that we do not find ourselves in a situation where the legislation is available to be enacted but is not enacted because the necessary appliances are not available.

I refer to the issues in the Bill to which I will refer on Committee Stage, which I intend to flag and to which I will return in more detail. I refer to the use of the breathalyser. If the appliance is not available at a checkpoint or at a time of accident or injury, its use becomes discretionary at a later point. This is an omission with which we should deal. I note the term "apparatus" is defined very tightly for breath testing. An apparatus is only defined for checking the level of alcohol in the blood. I realise the appliances are not yet available but perhaps we could include a definition of an apparatus to allow for testing for drug content in a given driver. Part 4 relates to payment deposit and there is reference to transport officers. Is it possible to tighten up this reference to ensure the definition includes traffic wardens who are available, of whom we make use and who are mentioned in other parts of the Bill? I refer to the notices that will be affixed to vehicles for fines and penalties imposed on a driver. Can we do anything to put in place a provision to allow a garda to show the courts that a given notice was definitely affixed and visible on the car, such that we do not find ourselves in a situation where a penalty or potential conviction is challenged in court because it is not clear whether the notice was affixed to a vehicle?

These are the areas to which I will return. We must do all we can to ensure the Bill is successful. A good deal is contained in the Bill but there remains a good deal to which we can return at a later point. Graduated driving licences can be examined. I note that in Northern Ireland if a person commits a driving offence the penalty may include attendance at a special driving class in addition to a fine. Apparently, this measure has been remarkably successful when used by the Thames Valley Police in the UK, in which jurisdiction re-offending rates have been reduced by more than 60%. We must consider further education programmes in our schools and media to ensure the horror of a driving accident is brought home to people and we must do all we can to deter them.

These are the main concerns I hold with regard to the Bill and the issues to which I will return on Committee Stage. That we have reduced the number of road safety incidents from 107 per million inhabitants to 54 per million inhabitants during recent years is worthy of celebration. I note the Minister was recognised for this and deservedly so. All of us have a stake in reducing the number of incidents even further and this is a goal to which we are all committed. This Bill goes some way towards that end and this is why we support it. However, I believe we have further to go and I will return to our amendments in these areas.

I welcome the Minister to discuss the Road Traffic Bill 2009 which has taken some time to get this far, but the teething problems have been well and truly addressed by the Minister. That brings me back to something I have said in the House on numerous occasions. There should be a mandatory publication period of six weeks before legislation is brought before either House in order that people will have time to go through it line by line to see if there are problems that need to be ironed out. Too much legislation passes through the Houses of the Oireachtas without being fully scrutinised. The net result is that when it is put into every day use, anomalies and problems emerge.

We all welcome the success of the road safety campaigns undertaken in recent years. The Road Safety Authority has done tremendous work. Sometimes people say it is too diligent on certain issues, but the results speak for themselves and the reduction in the number of road deaths is significant. At other times people say the regulations are too harsh and that they especially affect rural life. This is an issue to which I will return.

We must look at the danger posed by drug driving, which is criminal. It is worse than the danger posed by alcohol because it is hidden. One does not realise a person may be under the influence of drugs and in some cases it will not be detected. It is sad that we still have a problem in finding a way to detect the use of drugs. A few years a swab system was used in Australia as an initial test. If one failed the test, one was subject to a full blood test. Despite the position adopted by the Minister, this issue should be looked at again because there must be some way of dealing with it. In many instances the Garda will be unable to determine if a person is under the influence of drugs without undertaking a preliminary test.

We also come across another problem presented by people who are genuinely taking prescription drugs. Given that people can sometimes show a reaction, the issue needs to be examined in the Bill, if it is not too late to do so. In many cases prescription drugs can be as harmful as alcohol or non-prescription drugs. The matter should be examined in the context of providing advice. It should be clear what prescription drugs people should not use if they wish to drive. It is stated on some prescriptions that the drugs prescribed may impair a person's ability to drive, but it is not stated it is dangerous to drive. This issue needs to be examined.

We are all aware there has been annoyance at the proposed changes on the part of people living in rural areas. I live in a rural area. I was brought up in a pub and understand how people are affected. I also understand the reasons people living in rural areas feel hurt because in many cases taxis are not easily available. As a result, some people will take a chance, which is not a good idea. Their only hope is to designate a driver. The younger generation has moved on and will designate a driver or find a taxi or minibus. Young people are not taking the risks our generation took in drinking and driving. This shows the progress that has been made in raising awareness of the dangers posed by drinking and driving.

Another issue raised concerns morning check points. A person goes home at midnight having had five or six pints and gets up at 8 a.m. thinking he or she is ok. No one is in a position to say he or she is capable of driving at that point; neither is anyone is in a position to say he or she is incapable of driving. I do not think one can go around with a breath tester in one's back pocket to ascertain whether one is capable of driving. This is one of the issues that causes problems.

I understand there is a vote in the Dáil.

I propose the sitting be suspended until 6.10 p.m.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Sitting suspended at 5.55 p.m. and resumed at 6.10 p.m.

Senator Ellis was in possession when the sitting was suspended. As he is not present I call Senator O'Toole.

I compliment the Minister and his staff on the reduction in the number of road traffic deaths over the last couple of years. It really is a great credit to the Department and to all the other agencies involved. I must declare an interest as I am the vice chairperson of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. The board is issuing its annual report today and it takes a keen interest in reduced numbers of accidents, particularly deaths. It very much supports that operation.

The Bill has been well debated but I wish to take up one issue, on which there was a long discussion in the Dáil between the Minister and Deputy Broughan. It is the issue of conducting a breathalyser test after an accident and the use of the words "may" or "shall".

Senator Ellis has arrived so I am prepared to give way to him.

If the Senator is prepared to give way, I wish to finish my contribution. I thank the Senator. I did not realise it took so long to get from the fourth floor to the Chamber.

I referred earlier to testing on the morning after. On the issue of professional drivers being subject to a different set of criteria from ordinary drivers, I wonder what will be the legal consequences of that when challenged. I believe they will have to be common for both. I might be wrong but I asked somebody in the legal profession who told me that while it might be provided for in the law, common justice would mean they should be equal for all. I am not a lawyer but this should be examined. Somebody with a concentration of between 50 and 80 gets three points and it was originally proposed that the points remain on their licence for five years. There was a suggestion that this might go back to three years and I see that this has been agreed. I believe it should only be three years. It is a warning, and if they do not heed the warning, they can understand the consequences. It is a great thing to get a warning, have the opportunity to get one's act together and move on. I am delighted the Minister decided to bring it back to three years.

We all welcome the mutual recognition of penalty points between the UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland. However, the same question was raised with me about this as was raised regarding the professional drivers. Where does this stand under EU law? If it was common across the EU, everybody would probably be happy. However, can one legislate for this under EU law without being subject to challenge in the European Court? I accept that a person would require enormous financial resources to challenge something like this in the European Court. In the context of the media, the right to privacy is more protected under European law than under Irish law but to take a case on that ground one would first have to go through the Irish court system, which few can afford, to secure one's right to privacy. This question was raised with me and I do not know whether it is legitimate but can one have this system for Ireland and the UK without it applying across the rest of Europe? I am not in a legal position to know but I believe there are certain provisions in European law which might cause problems in implementing the system.

We have had tremendous success in reducing the carnage on the roads. The Garda is to be complimented. In many instances, the gardaí take a very objective approach to problems. If they see somebody leaving a premises who they consider to have consumed quite an amount of alcohol, they will tell the person to give them the keys or to leave the car and go home. People will accept that advice. In the old days, certain gardaí preferred to allow the guy to travel down the road before taking them into the station, although at that time the person did not get banned from driving so it did not matter a great deal. It is something on which the gardaí must be complimented. They take a very objective role when dealing with these problems.

The problem of dangerous driving worries everybody. There is a certain amount of dangerous driving on the roads but some laws can lead to a person being capable of being charged for dangerous driving. I saw an example of this on my way to the House today. A car was being driven on a motorway at 30 miles per hour. There was a truck behind the car but the driver had to break the law to overtake that car. The guy travelling at 30 miles per hour was a greater menace than a fellow who would drive up the road at 90 miles per hour. The lorry driver had to break the law to overtake that driver because lorry drivers are not supposed to leave the inside lane. This issue should be examined. I am aware that the Minister has discussed it with the National Roads Authority. It must be dealt with. It is most unfair that if there was an over-zealous garda in a squad car behind the lorry, the lorry driver could be prosecuted and receive two penalty points. The effect of that for a professional driver is very serious.

Perhaps there is a case to be made for a minimum speed on motorways. It might sound funny but a case can be made for it. The guy travelling at 30 miles per hour is a total menace; he will cause chaos. In addition, one is not allowed to drive agricultural vehicles on motorways because they cannot travel at more than 50 km/h, although some can do 70 km/h, while motorbikes of a certain cubic centimetre, capacity are also not allowed on them. There is a need to consider having a minimum speed on motorways. I am not suggesting it for regional or county roads, just motorways.

I will take up some of the points raised in the last contribution. I introduced an amendment in this House to the Road Traffic Bill 1995 to give local authorities and the Minister power to introduce a minimum speed limit. It had an interesting history. It was Fianna Fáil legislation. Fine Gael was in Opposition, and Fine Gael supported me in my amendment. The Government then fell and people changed sides. Fianna Fáil went into Opposition and Fine Gael went into Government. I put forward my amendment again and I had the support of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael opposed it.

Another issue I objected to in that legislation was the requirement that people had to carry their driving licence with them at all times. I objected to it simply because of the type of driving licence we issue in this country. I have appealed time and again for the Minister to ignore Europe and introduce a credit card sized driving licence for us and change it subsequently to accommodate Europe when Europe finally gets around to doing it. For the past 15 years I have been listening to promises that we will have a decent driving licence in Europe. It is now an offence if someone does not have their driving licence with them when driving a car, although I recall the Fianna Fáil Minister at the time, when I objected to that section in the 1995 Bill, saying it would never be implemented in this country.

I wish to raise a number of other issues. Many people have spoken, and I am taking advantage of this being a Second Stage debate, on the question of the reduced alcohol limit and particularly its effect on rural Ireland. I agree with the points made about that but when the Minister is challenged with that again there are a number of issues to which a response is needed. This is not a one-off position. It goes back to planning and it relates to the one-off housing debate. If we are allowing people to build houses out in the country away from all resources, unlike the rest of Europe where people tend to live in a village and drive out to their farm during the day, that is an issue. I support one-off housing as long as it is done in a controlled manner but we should examine that.

I raise another issue which the Minister might find strange. I heard somebody say recently in the argument about the IRFU, free to air etc. that people go down to their local pub to view those channels but for a local pub to have Setanta or Sky available to local people is almost prohibitive. It is an issue we must examine. Also, pubs should be required to provide a café type service as well as a bar service, although I realise that is not quite relevant.

I want to pick up on the point about the lack of uniformity in the speed limits. On his way to work the Minister sometimes travels on the N2. One could give examples but the speed limit on the old road used to be 120 km/h until two years ago but the speed limit now from one of the Minister's county towns, Ashbourne, is 80 km/h and once one hits the Dublin border it is reduced to 60 km/h for no reason whatsoever. The same gardaí will give the same advice. I understand the reason if one is coming up to dangerous junctions, and there is one a kilometre or two beyond that, the Ward cross, but I am very unhappy with the way speed limits are determined. That is one example but I could give the Minister 24 more. There is a lack of uniformity in that regard. There is no question in my mind that there should be a minimum speed limit, and not just on motorways. What I have outlined causes a great deal of trouble for people.

I refer to the position in France. I heard the Minister speak during the week about driving through France and that his TomTom told him when he was over the speed limit. I want to tell the Minister that it does the same in Ireland. It is not just in France that the TomTom will tell somebody that they are over the speed limit.

In France, where agricultural vehicles must travel on the road the speed limit is reduced to accommodate that fact. There is a tractor sign or something like that indicating a reduced speed limit for a mile or two in those cases where farmers have no option but to travel, and at least people know that is a planned event.

I agree with the point made by Senator Ellis about the North, the South and Europe. That should be Europe-wide, and I am sure the Minister would share that view. I ask the Minister for his views on it.

Senator Ellis raised a point about some of the legalities in the Bill. A number of them bother me also and I ask the Minister to come back to me on them. I refer to the question of people being guilty of intent to drive. The Minister might have dealt with that earlier as I did not hear all of his opening contribution but how do we prove intent? That appears to be something that could be abused. If somebody in a pub is asked to hand over their car keys and they refuse and say they will drive home, it is clear that is intent but what is the context in which that would arise?

I ask the Minister also to revisit the point he refused to concede in the Dáil, namely, the question of breath testing following road traffic accidents. The wording in the Bill should not be "may" but "shall". There should be a requirement that anybody involved in an accident would submit to a breath test. Whether it is done an hour later or immediately, it should not be perverted by the lack of equipment at a particular time. I ask the Minister to revisit that. I accept the Minister has made a major move on it, on which I compliment him, but I ask him to go the final mile in that regard.

I refer to the point raised by Senator Ellis, namely, the question of applying the law differently to the specified people and the question of taxi drivers or public service vehicle drivers etc. I refer to section 3. There are a number of aspects which bother me about it but I refer to the question raised by Senator Ellis. Can we apply the law differently to people with a similar responsibility in a similar position who are both drivers? It appears to me that if somebody is driving and they break the law, they have broken the law and they should not be driving. The fact that they are carrying passengers does not seem to be any reason it should be different. I understand there is more responsibility but either they should be driving or they should not. We might say they should not be driving because they are carrying passengers but the next person coming down the road could be carrying three or four people as well though not for gain. The only question that arises, therefore, is whether somebody is engaged in a business. That seems to be close to invidious discrimination, which is outlawed by the Constitution, and I would like to hear the legalities involved in that. I am sure the Minister has had internal discussions on it and that it has come up previously but I would like to hear the legal position clearly outlined.

The definition of "specified person" includes the driver of a public service vehicle, a taxi driver or a hackney driver but paragraph (c) of section 3 states: “is the holder of a driving licence licensing the holder to drive a vehicle in the category D, D1, EB, EC, EC1, ED, ED1 and W while driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of such a vehicle”. It does not matter whether they are involved in a for gain business or otherwise. It is not in the course of business necessarily. Paragraph (d) states that a person driving a small public service vehicle would be in breach while attempting to drive or being in charge of such a vehicle when it is being used in the course of business. That goes back to the first question. There is a difference between paragraphs (c) and (d). In paragraph (d) it would appear it only arises if they are plying their trade. Does that mean that a taxi or a hackney driver driving his or her vehicle for personal purposes and not in the course of business would not be a specified person?

Subsection (2) of section 3 states that where a person holds a driving licence and is a specified person etc. it is presumed, until the contrary is shown, that the person was driving at the time of the alleged offence. That seems to challenge the presumption of innocence in that a person must prove their position, and it sits uneasily with me. I am not objecting to the reduction in the limit but I have serious questions about how that is to be implemented and whether it creates a difficulty. Issues arise in that regard. In terms of the application of the law, is it constitutional to have a different requirement on somebody merely because they are plying their trade as opposed to another driver, even though they both have the same potential to cause an accident, they both could have the same number of people in their car, they both could be driving at the same speed etc? That seems to be a lawyer's dream.

The other point is the difference between paragraph (c) and (d). In section 3(1)(c), the person does not even have to be involved in the business because I presume it refers to a larger vehicle. However, this is making fish of one and flesh of the other, both between subsections (c) and (d) and between the ordinary driver and the taxi or hackney driver. Subsection (2) states, “it is presumed, until the contrary is shown, that the person was driving”. This turns the presumption of innocence into a presumption of guilt. It turns the normal state of things on its head.

I will finish on a positive note. I have no doubt the Minister will deal with my questions in his reply. I affirm what I said earlier that the Department and the Minister are doing a superb job, as are bodies such as the Road Safety Authority, to bring driving speeds down to very low limits. I do not think the impact of these measures is generally realised. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, road traffic deaths were far more numerous on a pro-rata basis than at present. This Bill is a very welcome development which is to be lauded and for which I congratulate the Minister. I agree with the provisions in the legislation. I intend tabling one or two amendments on the issues I have raised but I will examine the Minister’s responses very closely before I make a decision one way or the other.

I welcome the Minister and I commend the Bill. It is unfortunate the Minister had to leave the House to attend the Dáil to talk about a much less important Bill, the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill——

The Senator should say that to Deputy John Gormley.

Allow the Senator without interruption, please.

I know Deputy Gormley would agree with me entirely. Last year, 240 people were killed on Irish roads, a decrease from 410 at a maximum. This is a very good news story but 240 deaths is unacceptable and the Minister is well aware of this. He is introducing this Bill in which he proposes to reduce the permissible level of alcohol in the blood from 80 mg to 50 mg and he is to be commended for this measure.

It is extraordinary when health issues are raised that people will make the case that one death is far too many and we need to spend a lot money on medical procedures. We should not be prepared to accept that so many people are being killed and many more injured on the roads.

One of the reasons for the decrease in the number of road deaths is better quality roads and better quality cars. The NCT test ensures cars are maintained to a higher standard of road worthiness and this helps to bring down the number of road deaths. There is good evidence from across the world that good quality roads lead to fewer road accidents.

A total of 33% of road accidents are caused by blood alcohol content being above the acceptable limit. We have to move to a situation in which our society will accept that no level of alcohol in the blood is acceptable for a driver. I do not believe it is acceptable to drink and drive in any way, shape or form. I hear all the arguments about rural people and the social life in the west but it is incumbent on society to find ways in which people can have a good social life without having to drink and drive. There is no problem with people drinking but there is a big problem with people drinking and driving. It is possible to have designated drivers. Communities are wonderful at adapting to new situations. I do not believe we should allow people to be isolated but we need to consider measures whereby those who live in isolated areas can find a way to have a decent social life without having to drink and drive. This is the challenge. The two should not be mixed. It should not be the case that everybody should be allowed to drink and drive because a few people in the country find it difficult to have a social life. That is not an acceptable argument.

Senator Joe O'Toole talked about planning issues. I agree that planning is an important aspect in the prevention of road accidents. The length and difficulty of journeys are important considerations. We must ensure people have safe journeys. There is a greater potential for accidents if there is a combination of high speeds on small country lanes. In my area of Galway, there was a farcical situation where the speed limit on good quality two-lane roads was reduced to 50 km/h while just slightly up the road, one is entitled to go at the maximum speed limit on a small bóithrín. This was ludicrous and I railed against it. Thankfully, measures are being introduced to ensure appropriate speed limits are being put in place. However, more needs to be done.

I refer to the practice in the North of a category of restricted drivers. My car has a learner driver L plate on it because my wife is learning to drive. I have a full licence. I notice a few smiles on the other side of the House.

It is a pity the Senator cannot drive the Government. I apologise, they are doing the stag Bill.

We will see what happens this evening. If the Senator waits his turn in a couple of years he might be able to say that with a bit of confidence.

There will be nothing left in rural Ireland after the Senator's party.

Nothing except stags.

The Senator without interruption.

I grew up in rural Ireland and it is safe and well with the present Government and we will see that after today.


The Minister's efforts will make both rural and urban Ireland much safer. This Minister has got the right approach to this issue. I also commend Gay Byrne, whom I noticed said he would not continue with his job unless he saw a decrease in the number of road deaths. He is as good as his word.

I note the European target is 205 road fatalities, which is 50% of the peak this year. I believe this is just about possible. It would be a fantastic achievement if this happened. However, I will add the rider that 205 road deaths is not acceptable but it is certainly a lot better than 410 deaths. I have been presented with costs for road deaths. I do not like to introduce the word, "cost" in this context as each death is a human tragedy. Every family in this country knows people who have been killed on our roads.

I note the focus both on alcohol and drugs. This is important because I question why illicit drug use should not be tested for. I also raise the issue of tiredness which, in my view, is a cause of accidents. People should be educated to the dangers of driving when tired as they do not associate tiredness with death or danger. In some cases, people who are extremely tired are much more dangerous on the road than people who have taken a small amount of illicit substances. I am not saying the other guys are safe but tiredness is a great cause of road accidents and this is known to be the case.

Why not ban that as well?

I think that is a good idea. We will ban tiredness. We are banning everything in this House at the moment.

The Government should tax it as well.

We will ban Fine Gael if the Senator is not careful.

I have heard that one before.

I have lost my train of thought.

There are no trains in rural Ireland.

I appeal to the Leas-Chathaoirleach. It is lovely to have these nice interjections but it is difficult to speak with these interjections.

Please allow the Senator without interruption.

We need to move towards a situation in which everyone in the country is involved in the aim of minimising road deaths and making an effort to drive safely. We must consider the ways other countries have been successful, the methodologies they use for driver re-education and the way they enforce penalty points. When the late Minister, Seamus Brennan, introduced the penalty points system there was an immediate reduction in road deaths but unfortunately it crept up again very quickly. The reason this happened was that people felt it was not adequately enforced. There was a fear factor but subsequently people felt they could get away with it. As a society we must ensure we minimise road deaths. I notice the Minister tightening the screw all the time. The Minister must consider greater enforcement of the penalty points system. I came home one evening from a political meeting in Galway and I was breathalysed for the first time in my life. Luckily I had been drinking tea, which is thankfully not an alcoholic substance. Members of the Garda Síochána were carrying out random breath testing of every car, which is the right way to go. People must fear the breathalyser, especially late at night. Some think they can get away with drinking alcohol and driving home and this is quite often when accidents happen. We must tighten the screw on this measure.

Fine Gael is the party of law and order and I hope its Members agree that we need proper law and order in respect of road accidents. We must get very tough on this matter. Some 205 road deaths and a huge number of injuries is unacceptable. Even one death on the road is unacceptable. We must work in that direction.

I welcome the introduction of this Bill, which the Labour Party will support. I do not intend to deliver a long speech on Second Stage but to comment on key elements of the Minister's proposals.

The Labour Party welcomes the reduction of blood alcohol content for regular drivers from 80 mg per 100 ml to 50 mg and from 80 mg to 20 mg for learner, novice and professional drivers. This will keep Ireland in line with the rest of Europe and reflects the recommendation of the Road Safety Authority. Those with a blood alcohol content between 50 mg and 80 mg are not the ones who are primarily the cause of road accidents and carnage on the roads. Nevertheless, the change will have the effect of modifying behaviour with regard to drinking and driving and therefore I welcome it. It may have the effect of modifying the behaviour of those who take not just one or two pints but five or six. They may modify their behaviour to reduce the amount. The Minister has come up with a sensible and reasonable position with regard to lesser penalties for people who violate the law at the lower end of the spectrum. I welcome this and it is open to the Minister to amend the legislation in future if this gets in the way of the overall intent of the changes, which is to modify behaviour.

The proposals on learner drivers and professional drivers are also reasonable and take account of the specific training circumstances and needs and lack of experience of novice drivers. However, if the legislation is to have the desired effect, it will require improved enforcement and detection. The Minister referred to this in his speech and it is the key to success. I am not clear how this has come about because there has been a reduction in Garda resources and a ban on overtime. I see a mismatch in this area.

Section 8 provides for mandatory testing at roadside collisions but this is not unequivocally required to happen on all occasions. That must be addressed on Committee Stage and I will table an amendment to address it. My colleague, Deputy Tommy Broughan, attempted to address the issue by tabling an amendment in the Lower House but without success. We must find a way to deal with this in the House.

Driving under the influence of drugs is a serious issue. There is no suitable equipment for roadside testing for drugs and this is unfortunate. I can give the example of a situation I did not observe at first hand but to which I was reasonably close. A driver was out for the night with his family, his wife or his girlfriend and needed to get home from a distance of approximately five miles. Fearing being caught by the Garda Síochána if he drove home, rather than taking a taxi home he decided to drink soft drinks for the night but was continuously seen going out to the smoking area to smoke cannabis. This continued for several hours. He had no fear of falling foul of the law and this is a major problem identified by the Minister. The introduction of impairment tests, in the absence of roadside testing equipment, is to be welcomed. This is the only measure the Minister can reasonably attempt at this stage. I welcome the Minister's commitment to keep technology under review in order to put something more reliable in place. We all wish the scientists well in their efforts to address the matter.

The changes proposed to the current inflexible 56-day period for paying fines are good and will deal with any genuine situations where an individual is not in a position to pay a fine within the 56-day period. The proposal will allow payment up to seven days before the court hearing but it may encourage more people to leave payment to this later date. This needs to be monitored.

This legislation attempts to deal with serious road safety issues but the key issue causing carnage on our roads is speed. Unfortunately, many young people in particular seem oblivious to the dangers of speed. This is the issue that will deliver results if it gets the right focus as part of a road safety strategy.

Gardaí sitting with speed guns at points on the edges of towns trying to catch people driving a couple of kilometres above the limit is rather like shooting fish in a barrel and should have no part in a genuine road safety strategy. On a recent news programme, I heard a senior Garda source comment that this is only done where the area has been identified as high risk. I do not believe that and many Senators do not believe that. These drivers are a soft touch and resources would be better used elsewhere. The Minister should take account of this.

The Minister mentioned progress on road improvements and this must be recognised in respect of many new sections of motorway. However, the condition of many non-primary roads is causing serious road safety hazards. Local authorities are cutting back on road maintenance for budgetary reasons and there are many serious potholes across the country. This is a serious issue of which I have seen many examples. People are coming to clinics complaining about this issue and the Minister must address it. Does he accept this and can he give a guarantee that he is working with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to remove these hazards in a systematic way in conjunction with local authorities? I welcome the legislation on behalf of the Labour Party and look forward to its implementation, with some amendments on Committee Stage.

I welcome the Minister. It is the second time he has appeared since I became a Member of this House. I welcome the Road Traffic Bill. Senator Ellis spoke on many elements of this Bill and the most important aspect is that it represents another step in saving lives on Irish roads. We all want to see this and we welcome this aspect of the Bill. I congratulate the Minister on receiving the PIN award from the European Transport Safety Council. This highlights that road safety measures we are taking are seen across Europe, as well is having an impact on Ireland. A number of international newspapers focused on what we are doing with our economy through austerity measures and trying to turn things around at the economic level. This award shows the good work of the Minister and his predecessors is being taken into account across Europe in respect of road safety. While researching my contribution to this debate, I was horrified to learn there were 640 road deaths in 1972. I note the comparable figure today is approximately one third of that number, even though there has been a quadrupling of the number of vehicles on the roads. One can imagine the traffic levels on the roads, especially on rural roads, back in the 1950s and 1960s and while the advent of a degree of wealth in the 1960s probably led to a large increase in car numbers, road behaviour and attitudes probably did not change much. The Minister can derive great pleasure from the simple fact that people are alive and will remain alive as a result of this legislation and of previous legislation he has introduced. This is a great achievement and it is a great honour for the Government to introduce such legislation.

The current road safety strategy contains 126 actions and in his response the Minister might outline their status and how precisely they are being measured. While I acknowledge they are being measured in an objective manner, it is in the nature of such items that some of them will be analysed subjectively. I ask the Minister to flesh out precisely how progress on the actions is proceeding and whether success is being achieved. While one can have all the key objectives in the world, one must break them down into precise actions and steps regarding how they are to be achieved. I ask the Minister to elaborate on this.

I note Senator Ó Brolcháin has just mentioned this issue but as the youngest Member of the Oireachtas, I believe the appropriate blood alcohol concentration level is 0 milligrams. I acknowledge it has been suggested that the presence of alcohol in medication means that reaching this limit might not be completely achievable. However, younger people of my generation with whom I went to school or with whom I work on a daily basis — outside this House of course — all concur that when going out, one simply does not drink and drive. Previously, I used to work with my father and noticed that ten or 15 years ago, people of his generation would have had four or five pints and then would have hopped in the car and driven home. I thought nothing of it at the time because that was the norm. However, younger people take taxis or designate drivers, although some pubs are lax in their provision of free soft drinks to such designated drivers. I am sure the Fine Gael Members opposite will concur that a blood alcohol concentration limit of 0 milligrams should be put in place. In many respects, this probably is a generational issue. It may be that people of my father's or grandparents' generation would believe it was okay to drink and drive because that was the cultural experience of the time. However, younger people realise that one simply does not do this and that if going out, one gets a taxi or one goes out as part of a group.

I wish to digress slightly from the legislation and to touch on Senator Ryan's comments on the categorisation of roads. While the motorway infrastructure is one of the best legacies of the Celtic tiger, some county roads or local primary, secondary and tertiary routes are suffering as a result of the bad weather and inclement conditions experienced over the past six months. A number of people have been in contact with me, through my clinics and my office, with regard to the categorisation of roads. Some people have different interpretations of the manner in which roads have been categorised and seek to have particular roads recategorised to a higher level in order that works are completed or undertaken on them. The Minister should touch on this subject in his response.

I note that section 9 of the Bill introduces mandatory testing of drivers in any road traffic accidents and incidents that take place. The Minister has strengthened this Bill by providing that where a garda is of the impression that a person has consumed alcohol, he or she may be tested mandatorily. As previous speakers also noted, I have been randomly breath-tested twice. Once, while zipping up the road as I rushed home from college to attend a political meeting, luckily within the speed limit, I went over the brow of a hill and was stopped and randomly breath-tested. This definitely has an effect as human nature is highly interesting. I have read studies to the effect that Italian and Irish people have a healthy disrespect for the law, whatever that may be defined as. However, there must be a fear factor, in that people must believe the legislation will be implemented strictly. They must believe the Garda will be present at corners or on the roads at times such as bank holidays to implement the legislation by randomly breath-testing people. People must see that the legislation is being implemented. There are issues in respect of the effectiveness of drugs testing because of various factors and I ask the Minister to elaborate on that in his reply.

My personal, family and community experience underline the importance of education in shaping people's perspectives. Although many advertisements pertaining to smoking, drink-driving and speeding have been highly effective, a focus on tiredness would be welcome. While it may not appear to be as important, all Members have travelled on long journeys, have been absolutely exhausted and have seen the effects of tiredness. I have spoken to various people who have nodded off at the side of the road, which has caused accidents. Personally, while driving to and from Dublin, I have pulled in many times, having felt the impact of lack of sleep as it is very important to take a rest. This issue will become important.

I wish to touch on another "E", that is, the key factor of enforcement. Although people seek real enforcement of this Bill, personal responsibility is critical. I originally am from Monasterboice, County Louth, through which the N1 used to run before the construction of the M1. As a child, I can recall seeing some horrific accidents as I passed by. Once, as a secondary school student getting off a bus, I saw a young chap with whom I went to school being knocked down. That was one of the most horrific experiences and visions one might ever see. Luckily, he survived but sadly, many people who were knocked down along that route died. Some people with whom I went to primary school were killed and a number of fatalities took place all along that route. At the time it was considered, especially along the Border, that drivers came down from the North and flew right down through the spine of County Louth without paying any heed to the road traffic legislation in the Republic and did what they wished. In addition, however, some people were driving faster than the speed limit. In addition, others were drinking and then either walking on the road or driving on it and the consequences are evident.

Nevertheless, it is heartening to note the Minister received an award last week. As for the 242 fatalities, that constitutes 242 different families, 242 different communities and still is 242 too many. Although I do not believe we ever will get to a place or time where we have zero fatalities, hopefully we will get as close to that as is humanly possible. I certainly am heartened when I contrast the position in the early 1970s with 640 deaths to the present position. I congratulate the Minister on this legislation. Across all his briefs, he has been very idealistic and always has brought idealism and zeal to them. Sometimes, that has got him into trouble in respect of different factors but although he has been in Leinster House for a long time, he retains an idealism and drive that together with many young people, I respect. He should keep up the good work and I commend him on this legislation. While he has been given some grief internally and externally in respect of the reduction of the blood alcohol concentration limit, I wish to see the day when it is set to zero.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I compliment Senator Donohoe on his reasonable and good contribution and on his approach to this Bill. This Bill has been awaited keenly and while many vested interest groups have lobbied on it, the Bill will never replace the lives of those who have been lost in road traffic accidents. At the back of their minds, Members should remember those who have died for whatever reason, as well as their families, those injured in car crashes and so on.

As Senator Carroll rightly said, we can never replace a human life. We should always remember this.

Various vested interest groups have lobbied hard on the Bill. They include the vintners associations, people living in rural areas, the families of victims of road traffic accidents and the media. It is beholden on all of us to enact the legislation as a matter of urgency. It is extremely important that we do so.

Many colleagues would expect me to introduce a note of political reality to the discussion on the Bill. We should have arrived at this point a long time ago. The Bill should be law and we should be talking about the lack of speed cameras, the reduction of Garda overtime, the lack of enforcement and the measures not being taken by the Government which in many ways has cut back services to rural communities and failed to put in place a structure, whereby one can sustain life in rural areas. I am disappointed that we have not yet had that debate. I accept these issues do not form part of the debate on the Bill, but there is a need for a rural transport strategy to combat the loneliness and isolation which are part of rural life.

I very much welcome the fact that the blood alcohol limit is being reduced. Like Senator Carroll, I would not have a difficulty if it was being reduced to zero. We live in a society that is both rural and urban. Deputy Paddy Sheehan made a valid point in the other House, namely, that we do not have Luas and bus services in rural areas. I would never condone the actions of or compliment anyone who drinks and drives. The opposite is the case. One should not drink and drive.

We must introduce measures to help people, not just those living in rural areas but also vintners. The debate could also be about the fact that as a society we have failed to build sustainable communities. I agree with Senator O'Toole in what he said about one-off housing, but we have not planned for a community social life without alcohol. A number of years ago President McAleese spoke about the need to have a debate on the use of alcohol in society. We should have that debate. We should also have a debate on having a life that is not predicated upon the use of alcohol. In conscience we should support the Bill in its entirety and without reservation.

As both of my parents were non-drinkers, I could never comprehend how people could drink and drive. I had an experience with an American cousin who came home every summer. As we grew older and became more mature, we realised why one should not do so. One evening he was under the influence of alcohol and frightened us in the car. Many friends of mine of varying ages who live in rural areas have one or two pints and drive at 20 mph——

The Leader of the House wishes to propose a suspension of the sitting.

I propose that we suspend the sitting until 7.20 p.m., as the Minister is needed in the Dáil Chamber.

I am reluctant to agree. On what grounds are we suspending the sitting? This is the third interruption of the debate on the Bill. I thought it was the custom when a Minister was in the Seanad that he or she would not be required to attend the other House. I accept the Leader has a difficulty with some members of his party in the other House. He might be poked by a stag.

The Senator knows what it is like on his side of the House.

When his party was on this side, it was difficult too.

I look forward to being on the other side.

Is the suspension agreed to?

Will the debate be extended to 8 p.m.?

Yes, it will. I am prepared to allow whatever time is necessary to enable all colleagues to make a submission.

Sitting suspended at 7.05 p.m. and resumed at 7.20 p.m.

I propose the suspension of the House until 7.40 p.m.

I thank the House for its co-operation.

Sitting suspended at 7.25 p.m. and resumed at 7.40 p.m.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that Second Stage of the Road Traffic Bill 2009 be extended to 8.30 p.m. and that the Minister will be called on no later than 8.20 p.m. to reply.

I hope the Leader will remember that we should not be adjourning the debate for votes in the Dáil. I hope the Leader will get his act together for tomorrow and for the rest of the debates of the week.

As I was saying before I was interrupted by the vote, it is important that we tackle the issue of rural isolation and transport. I pose the following question to the Government Members. Is there a commitment on behalf of Government to have a rural transport strategy? I hope the Minister replies to that.

The café bar licence debate we had a number of years ago was a lost opportunity. Recently, I happened to be in Barcelona where I was impressed, not only by the city itself but by the fact that people could gather, socialise and mingle in an al fresco type atmosphere and in a nice ambiance with no impression of alcohol. As I stated before the suspension, we have an issue with our attitude to alcohol and I would like to have a wider debate. I support President McAleese’s assertion that we need a national discourse on that.

Many Senators spoke about the issue of speed limits. It is important we have a debate on this. Recently, there was a furore in Dublin about the 30 km/h enforcement, and other Senators spoke about the lack of uniformity and about who determines speed limits. We missed a glorious opportunity here in the case of speed limits and I hope Deputy Dempsey, as Minister for Transport, with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, grasp this. I cannot comprehend how on the main Cork-Dublin motorway the speed limit is 120 km/h, or it branches into 100 km/h, and with the best will in the world there are gardaí with speed cameras on that road. I set my cruise control and away I go, and I do not break the speed limit.

Senator Buttimer is lucky to have cruise control.

I accept that. It is like a goldfish bowl mentality. I would like to see the statistics for accidents on the motorways between Cork and Dublin and Dublin and Belfast. I appeal to the Minister that we should go back to enforcing the speed limits where we have the majority of road traffic accidents and fatalities, on the non-national roads of rural Ireland.

I ask the Minister what is the major cause of road accidents. Is it speed? Is it alcohol? Is it bad engineering? The three Es we were always told about, were engineering, education and enforcement. Our engineering, perhaps, in some cases with the camber of the roads, has left much to be desired and now we see with the decline of the quality of road surfaces that many of the roads are a contributory factor to accidents and to fatalities. There is also a issue regarding speed and education.

I very much welcome the significant decrease in the number of deaths on the roads. I pay tribute to Deputy Dempsey, the Road Safety Authority, Mr. Gay Byrne and whoever else because every one of us collectively wants to see a reduction in fatalities on roads. We may disagree on the methodology of how we get to that point but there is a uniformity of acceptance that we must never allow our roads to become a carnage zone.

PARC Road Safety Group has campaigned for many years for mandatory testing of all drivers. That is a good suggestion which I very much support. We need to go after the motorists who are under the influence of drugs as well, and there is a growing preponderance of that.

Anecdotally, a number of people have come to me, rightly or wrongly, regarding non-Irish licensees who drive on our roads being able to abscond from getting penalty points or being prosecuted. I do not say that in any racist way whatever. It must be made clear to all road users, be they Irish or non-Irish, that they are subject to the laws of the land and the law must apply to them.

As I stated at the beginning, Fine Gael is in favour of this Bill. The Minister and the Government have been late in coming forward with this Bill, which should have been here a long time ago. I would like to hear the Minister's reply regarding enforcement and the lack of enforcement on speed cameras.

This Bill must be a testimony and a legacy to the people who have died and to their families because we can never allow our roads to become a haven for carnage. The Minister will have our support. He will have my personal support. I have reservations about some of it, but the thrust of the Bill is to be welcomed and the principle is good. The Minister is correct to stand up to some of the vested interests which, perhaps, have been dominant for too long. The passage of this Bill is important. I look forward to fewer people dying on our roads.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I remember speaking approximately two years ago on the previous Bill on the issue of mandatory testing. The PARC Road Safety Group submission to Senators called for an amendment to the Bill on mandatory testing at injury collision scenes. Research published in 2009 carried out by Dr. Declan Bedford showed that 92% of surviving drivers involved in fatal collisions on Irish roads evaded detection for alcohol. This was due to a failure of the Road Traffic Act to make testing mandatory in such circumstances. I remember calling at the time for testing to be mandatory.

The section of the Bill dealing with mandatory testing as a result of injury collisions, although much improved on the ambiguous laws we have had up to now, leaves much to be desired. The problem is one whereby a member of the Garda Síochána on arrival at the scene of a collision where there is an injury has a mandatory power to test but if a roadside breathalyser is not available at the scene and the garda or a colleague goes in search of one, on the garda's return the mandatory power is reduced to a discretionary one, which seems ridiculous. I am calling for an amendment to the Bill, to have the word "may" replaced by the word "shall", which is all that is required to retain the mandatory nature of the requirement to test, to read:

. . . where the member of the Garda does not have such an apparatus with him or her, to remain at that place in his or her presence or in the presence of another member of the Garda Síochána until such an apparatus becomes available to him or her (for a period that does not exceed one hour) and the member shall then require the person to provide, by exhaling into the apparatus, a specimen of his or her breath in the manner indicated by the member.

I seek the Minister's support in this important matter, which is of grave concern to many people all over the country.

I welcome the Minister. I want to make a couple of points on this legislation. I do not find myself in agreement with large parts of it. I realise I may be in a solitary minority in this House, but I have significant reservations. I do not represent any lobby group other than the people in Kilkenny and in Carlow who are part of my constituency, but I feel I must voice their concerns at what is being proposed.

I am not really a drinker. I have an odd social drink now and again. I rarely drink. I confirm what Senator Carroll stated about people of our generation and that the attitude to drinking and driving has changed. The Minister, the Government, Mr. Byrne and everyone concerned have succeeded in changing people's attitudes to drinking and driving. It is not only younger people. Among older people, now it is socially unacceptable — correctly — for people to drive after they have been in the pub, and I concur with that.

I also refute the notion voiced by many speakers tonight that this Bill will save people's lives. What will save people's lives is implementation. Earlier, one of the Green Party Senators spoke about the party of law and order. We have much law in this area already. We do not have enough implementation of the law that already exists, despite the statistics in the Minister's speech. That will be further affected by reductions in funding for the Garda, for example, in overtime for gardaí. The view is that, if these Houses pass legislation, results will miraculously occur on the ground, but we will not see any unless the changes are implemented. The Minister's proposals on the reduction in blood alcohol levels cannot be implemented until the machines that test those levels are in place with the Garda around the country. Anything we do today will have no impact until those machines are updated and in place. It is vital that we nail the fallacy that passing a law will suddenly result in a panacea. It will depend on implementation at local level and, despite the improvements, this has not been occurring to a sufficient degree. With further cutbacks in funding to the Garda, it will happen to a lesser extent in the years ahead. I wanted to put that particular point on the record.

I listened to Senators discussing rural Ireland. I represent a very rural part of it. That a Government would propose this legislation while slashing funding for rural transport initiatives is shocking.

In my area, a number of groups that provide rural transport have had their funding cut dramatically. They are unable to provide a service for people. We are discussing issues of social isolation. For many in rural Ireland, the postman is as much as they see in the day. If they go to their local pub for a drink once per week, it might be the extent of their social interaction.

I completely refute Senator Ó Brolcháin's argument that the Green Party is looking after rural Ireland. Rural Ireland is pretty much dead. Most pubs are closed, shops, post offices and creameries are gone and people's focal points for meeting one another are disappearing off the landscape, be it in County Kilkenny or elsewhere. When the Government introduces legislation such as this Bill, it indicates a serious lack of acceptance of this problem.

The reduction in the number of road deaths is to be welcomed and there has been a considerable change in people's attitudes, but Senator Ryan was right, in that the greatest killer on our roads, particularly substandard county roads, is speed. It is a question of existing laws not being implemented to a satisfactory degree. Making some of these points is not easy, as people in my family have been killed in road accidents. I am sure other Senators can say the same about their families or friends. The only way to have no deaths on the roads is to have nothing on the roads or if we close them. Some Green Party Members have flippantly proposed the notion that we are aiming for zero. Of course we are, but people are killed on the roads because they travel on the roads. Recently, I found a shocking statistic that 92% of all pedestrians killed between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. are intoxicated, yet I do not see the Minister or anyone else in the Government rushing to save those people's lives. I am not suggesting there is an easy solution, but many pedestrians and cyclists are killed on our roads and there does not seem to be the same level of interest.

I have spoken out in support of President McAleese's comments. I am not particularly a pub goer, but the pub is the centre of the community in a rural area like the one from which I come. I wish it was otherwise, but there is little by way of public buildings in rural areas other than the public house. Most family events and so on end up in the pub, which is bad. Senator Buttimer's statements on a cafe culture and so on were right, but the public house is the only place in many parts of rural Ireland where people can congregate. Sufficient cognisance is not taken of this reality by the Government. Certainly, sufficient effort is not made to provide alternative meeting places.

A number of times, Senator Mary White has spoken strongly on the issue of suicide. My colleague, Deputy Neville, published statistics today that showed a 24% increase in the number of suicides in 2009 on the previous year's level. Some 527 people committed suicide, up from 424 the previous year. For some reason and Senator Mary White might agree, the Government has not made a concerted effort to reduce the number of deaths and the trauma caused to families every year. I urge the Government to concentrate on this area.

In the context of road deaths, Senator Carroll was right to mention the impact of tiredness and driving under the influence of prescription or illegal drugs. Government media campaigns have highlighted these issues, but there has been no other effort by the Government or anyone else to tackle them.

The time of year during which most road accidents occur is the dead of winter. December is notorious, with the highest number of road accidents every year. A considered case has been proposed by others that this country might consider adopting European time so we would have an extra hour of daylight during the evening peak time when people are travelling home from work, as this would have a positive impact on the number of road accidents. I agree we should consider introducing European time as a means of protecting people travelling during rush hours, particularly in the evening.

I am not criticising the great deal of work the Minister has done on this matter, but too much lip-service is paid to what legislation will do when it is passed in this or the Lower House as opposed to what could be implemented on the ground were we to enforce the law as it stands. However, the law is not enforced satisfactorily.

How much time do I have?

Will my colleagues have time to speak?

The Minister will be called at 8.20 p.m., so the Senators will have approximately 20 minutes. Are three Senators offering?

They will need to share time.

Could I take seven minutes?

Could each of the three of us have seven minutes?

I cannot guarantee anything, as someone on the other side of the House or from the Labour Party or the Independent group could indicate. The Senators need to make their decision.

Could we each have six minutes?

How about three minutes each?

No, not three minutes. I could not do it.

Could the Chair silence Senator Wilson?

Would Senator Healy Eames like to be told when she is approaching six minutes?

Yes. I thank the Acting Chairman for listening while we worked this out.

I welcome the Minister. In principle, I welcome the Bill, the aim of which is good, namely, to make our roads safer so that more lives are saved. However, it is important that I make a few points in support of other Senators' comments. For example, I support Senator Phelan's comments on the importance of implementation. Many claim the current role of the Garda is not about making our roads safer. Were that the case, gardaí would be more visible. In rural and urban areas of the west, I am regularly told that the Garda's enforcement is a revenue raising exercise as opposed to an effort to make roads safer. This matter needs to be considered.

The Bill will reduce the legal blood alcohol concentration level to 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood.

There is considerable evidence to support this. Studies taken by the British Medical Journal concur as 50 milligrams is generally seen as the stage when impairment becomes noticeable. One of the studies I looked at also saw signs of impairment in driving at 70 milligrams. However, in the case of 20% of the people studied impairment was reported at between 10 milligrams and 40 milligrams. In particular young men under 20 and men over 55 have an increased risk at lower concentration. It is thought they have a 30-fold increased risk at 80 milligrams, so there is a good reason for reducing blood-alcohol levels, and on that I compliment the Minister.

I support the notion of safety first and the fact we must consider that of the 281 road fatalities in 2008, some 120 involved those in the age group 16 to 30, and 204 of those who died were males. I temper those remarks, however, by asking that the incidences of sleep and tiredness be considered as well as distances. We now have the new M6 from Galway to Dublin. Compared to when people drove the poorer roadway, there is now greater likelihood of falling asleep while driving because the road is so boring, as was pointed out to me at a meeting last night.

In this regard we need to look at the Australian model, with people driving very long distances, but with considerably more signage and warnings as regards the dangers of falling asleep at the wheel. Considerations such as body weight, food and nutrition are also relevant issues, as regards the effects of alcohol in the body, and whether someone will have eaten adequately etc.

In principle I accept there is a good argument for reducing the blood-alcohol level, but we need to temper everything the Minister is doing with the realities in different areas of the country, particularly rural Ireland, as others have mentioned. According to Irish Rural Link's CEO, Seamus Boland, enforcing higher limits will not save a single Irish pub from closure and most importantly, neither will it free people from rural isolation. People need rural transport in rural communities and this is an opportunity for publicans and communities to come together to provide an adequate support system for their locality, he says. However, under current economic constraints supports are needed before pubs close down.

What happened to the pilot proposal around rural transport of the former Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív? Has the Minister any suggestions as regards how he might assist in this area? This would be responsible legislation if he could reduce blood-alcohol levels while matching this with measures that ensure people still have access to public houses.

More than 40% of the population lives in rural areas. Rural dwellers have a higher poverty rate to urban dwellers according to recent CSO figures, which means they have less disposable income for taxis etc. More than half the households in rural Ireland reported difficulty in accessing public transport as compared to 11% in urban areas. It just is not there. On one occasion a few years ago when I wanted somebody to mind my children, nobody would take the job because there was no way of getting there without a car.

One third of rural dwellers have difficulty accessing banking services and local GP services as compared to 15% of urban dwellers, again showing the heightened sense of isolation in rural Ireland. The HSE farm and rural stress helpline found that 50% of callers were living alone, 41% cited depression and suicidal thoughts as their main mental problems and 43% cited loneliness and no support as the main reasons for calling the helpline.

Making it more difficult for people in rural Ireland to access pubs will exacerbate these figures. In a few years we shall have enormous difficulties, as regards the increasing rates of suicide, as Senator Phelan has indicated, with new figures out today. There has been an increase of 26% since last year. We shall have to look for new measures to counteract rural isolation. If the pub is serving a function at the moment, why not find a way? Pub means public house, and not necessarily a place in which to get sloshed and drunk out of one's mind. It provides an opportunity for people to meet. By reducing the blood-alcohol levels we are increasing fear, enhancing rural isolation and effectively promoting excessive drinking in the home.

I have seen this in my locality, unfortunately, with two older families falling into the habit of excessive drinking in the home since they are so fearful of going out because of the tighter drink driving limits.

I call on the Minister to match the reduction in blood-alcohol limits responsibly with rural transport supports, to make the continuation of life in rural Ireland possible. This would be good for the economy and indeed for Fianna Fáil. That party has depended on rural Ireland for many years, so do not let it down now.

At the outset I acknowledge the reduction in road deaths in recent years, and express my pleasure in that regard. I acknowledge the Minister's commitment and contribution to that as well as the input from the breathalyser legislation. There is a remarkable change in our culture and in our attitude to drinking and driving which I also acknowledge and welcome.

Second Stage is an appropriate time to introduce some cautionary remarks in relation to this legislation, however, to put matters in perspective, lest we get carried away. Looking at the study cited in the Library digest by Beirness and Simpson in Canada, and from personal observation, very few people are involved in serious road accidents with an alcohol limit below 80 milligrams. In so far as they might be, the likelihood is that the other driver was significantly over the limit. All objective and empirical studies suggest the majority of people involved in fatalities and serious road accidents are over 150 milligrams. Those are the facts and the legislation needs to be framed in that context.

We do not have a saliva testing process along the roadside for drugs such as cocaine, speed, cannabis, etc. as they do in Australia. From anecdotal evidence and practical observation, I believe that many current accidents in Ireland have their origins there. I acknowledge the Minister's personal commitment to road safety, but I say to him that therein lies a major lacuna in our approach. The issue of speed is critical, and the statistics show that the majority of accidents occur late at night and involve young people, as well as speed and driving in excess of the alcohol limit and possibly drug limits. Those points are worthy of note in the context of the legislation. Perhaps if we implement existing law there might not be the same compelling case to be made for this legislation.

It will not be helpful to the process if in this House we display reactions to the proposed legislation that are not well thought out. We should not adopt a knee-jerk reaction to lowering limits, when there are far more complex issues to be considered.

To sound another note of caution, every Member from a rural constituency will point to the rural way of life and the problems experienced by single persons who do not have a social life, many of whom are prisoners in their own homes. While the reduction in the drink driving limit is meritorious, isolation in rural areas, with the decay of the pub as the focal social centre for so many who have no alternative, must be taken into consideration.

The Minister must keep in mind those counties in which there is no rail service or adequate bus network. Where I live in County Cavan many work in the chicken processing plant in Shercock or the engineering firm Pauwels. There is no public transport service available for the workers in these plants to get to work. They are dependent on the car. While people are opting not to drink and drive and use designated drivers, which all public representatives and professional publicans encourage, many who may have had a few drinks the night before are concerned that they will still be over the limit when driving the following morning. It is an issue that needs to be addressed. I know it is not politically correct to raise this issue but somebody must. There must be some advocate for the people concerned who are voiceless.

I hope the Minister will take these matters into consideration. They need a holistic approach rather than just taking one piece of the jigsaw in isolation. If we opt for the latter, it will only lead to human misery. I could spend an hour with narratives about individuals who live in isolated rural areas and have no social contact. This is an issue that needs to be addressed, as does the issue of road fatalities. A balance needs to be struck in this debate. I hope I have served my constituents properly by striking that balance.

While I largely welcome the Road Traffic Bill 2009, I am disappointed, like Senators O'Reilly and Healy Eames, that the Government has not taken an initiative to help rural areas in which there is no access to public transport which may be affected by this legislation. Will the Minister examine some ways of assisting them? The introduction of various measures such as reductions in VRT and tax breaks to assist publicans to provide transport in their localities has been suggested. I hope the Minister will examine these suggestions favourably, as they would greatly relieve the problems experienced in these areas so eloquently described by Senator O'Reilly.

I participated in the visit of the Joint Committee on Transport to Australia, the world leader when it comes to road safety. The recommendations made in our report have been implemented by both the Minister for Transport and the Road Safety Authority. I have an issue, however, with unmarked Garda cars on transport duties. Having more marked cars would be a much better approach. When drivers see Garda cars on the road, they tend automatically to slow down or check their driving behaviour. In Australia the authorities did away with the unmarked police car approach and instead there is a visible police presence on the road network. This has led to Australian drivers checking their driving behaviour and patterns.

Another option the Minister should consider is having reduced speed limits in bad weather conditions, similar to the system in place in France where the maximum road speed is 130 km/h in dry weather which is reduced to 110 km/h in wet weather. Ireland should adopt a similar system.

On some roadways one will encounter strong lights on pillars outside houses. In approaching them from a distance a driver will find it difficult to determine from which side of the road the light is coming. Homeowners with such lights outside their homes should be required to place a shield around them to prevent them disorienting oncoming drivers.

In New Zealand street-parking against the flow of traffic is prohibited. Adopting such a rule would help traffic flow in many towns and prevent cars driving out into oncoming traffic.

Section 42 provides for the appointment of traffic wardens and commissioners. Is this going down the road of privatising tests as regards alcohol consumption and the issuing of speeding fines? Section 42(1)(c) states, “Neither the Civil Service Commissioners Act 1956 nor the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956 apply to the position of traffic warden”. Who are their superiors? Do they report to their local Garda superintendent? Will they need specialised training in the college in Templemore or provided by private companies? Will the Minister allay some of these concerns, as I believe this is an attempt to privatise some of these services? I am not in favour of outsourcing or privatising alcohol consumption testing or the issuing of speeding fines.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghlacadh leis na Seanadóirí a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht seo. I thank Members for their support for the measures contained in the Bill. I accept some may have tempered their support in some respects. I welcome the fact the Opposition has agreed to support the Bill on Second Stage. I thank Members for the kind comments on the award received by Ireland for our work on road safety, which I accepted last week. It is a recognition of the importance the Government attaches to the problem of road deaths and injuries. As I stated in my opening remarks, it is a tribute not only to the Minister, the RSA, the Road Safety Authority, the Garda, the Department of Transport or any one individual group, but to everyone, including drivers, those who use our roads and all those who campaign on road safety issues.

I will try to deal with several of the points raised by Senators in the short time available. We can deal with the other points on Committee Stage because I am sure amendments will be tabled. Senator Donohoe raised the issue of graduated driving licences and the possibility of rehabilitation schemes and so on. This relates to action No. 119 of the road safety strategy and it is a task for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Part of its remit under the Road Safety Act is to research and evaluate the effectiveness of alternative correction rehabilitation programmes for a range of road traffic offences and this is currently being pursued by the Department.

I refer to the question of the new EBT, evidential breath testing, instruments. I have made my view on this matter very clear from the beginning and I recall exchanging views with Deputy Broughan on this matter over the airwaves. Anyone who knows anything about this subject is aware there must be a lead-in time before EBT instruments can be put in place. Normally, this period is anything from 24 to 30 months. In an effort to shorten this time, once the Bill was published I instructed the Medical Bureau of Road Safety to start the process. I indicated the schedule was to have the Bill passed for the summer and, hopefully, we will do that. I indicated quite clearly that the bureau should start the purchase or tender for the equipment. The bureau has done this and it has cut at least six or eight months off the timescale. The instruments will be in place. Obviously, they must be bought and tested and the Garda must be trained. All of this takes time but they will be in operation by the end of summer next year.

Several Senators raised the issue of rural transport. The Government is committed to a rural transport scheme which was introduced in 2001. We provided €2 million or €3 million at that stage. We continued the scheme and the provision increased to €6 million. When I came to the Department, the allocation was €9 million and it is now €11 million. In addition, a further €5 million or €6 million is paid over by the Department of Social Protection. The programme was heavily criticised by several people when it was first introduced by the then Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy Mary O'Rourke. We remain committed to the scheme and several pilot initiatives have been introduced to determine whether we can expand it. We are working with the HSE and several other bodies, including Bus Éireann with its networking expertise and school buses, to establish whether we can put in place a more extensive rural transport scheme.

I refer to the question of the graduated driving licence. The RSA undertook to put in place a consultation process which it has now completed and it has reported to me on the matter. Several measures have been put forward and I have approved the proposals in principle. Some require refining, some will require primary legislation and some can be put in place through pilot schemes which the RSA will carry out with full support. Some of the other measures related to graduated driving licences must wait for the next Road Traffic Bill which will be during the course of next year.

Several Senators raised the question of drugs and drug testing, including Senators Ó Brolcháin, Ryan, Carroll and Buttimer. The Garda can test for drugs; this is not a problem. Often, when gardaí test for drink and find no evidence, blood tests are carried out for drugs and other intoxicants. Offences are prosecuted in this regard. However, I accept it is an increasing problem. The difficulty lies with the fact that there is no roadside test for drug driving and this is because such testing is unreliable. There is no point going off half-cocked and including a measure in the legislation which we cannot stand over. The methods we use to decipher whether a person has drugs in his or her system must be sound. We have no wish for the whole Road Traffic Bill to be thrown out because we included something unproven or untested. That is the situation but I am as impatient as Members on all sides of the House to try to introduce a test as quickly as possible. However, we must ensure we do not jeopardise everything else in the legislation in the process.

The Bill replaces impairment test measures, which were provided for previously. When a garda stops a person on the side of the road in the knowledge that such a person is driving erratically and suspects the person is drunk but the breathalyser does not show this up, that garda will be able carry out impairment tests on the roadside to allow him or her to form the opinion that the person has an intoxicant in his or her system. That person can then be taken to the Garda station and proper tests can be carried out on foot of which a prosecution may follow.

Senator Ellis raised the question about mutual recognition of penalty points and whether it was in breach of or illegal under European law. My legal advice is that it certainly is. There is an agreed EU convention on disqualifications and we must secure a convention on the penalty points system. In the meantime, we must consider the recognition of penalty points and we wish to ensure the UK and ourselves can come to some mutual agreement on the matter. I do not believe this will cause a problem from a European law point of view.

Senator O'Toole raised the question of a credit card style driving licence. I have already indicated that I intend to introduce such a card and I am no longer waiting for the EU. We have started the process in train and, hopefully, by the end of next year we should have it in place. I have asked for the matter to be expedited as quickly as possible.

I refer to section 9 which deals with mandatory testing at the scene of an accident and in other cases. We amended the section in the Dáil to strengthen and clarify it. Senators O'Toole and Mary White referred to this in their contributions. I will re-examine the matter before Thursday to establish if it is possible to tighten it further and to make it somewhat clearer. We will introduce mandatory testing, a significant step forward, and we will refine it as much as possible. I will inform Senators of progress in this regard on Thursday.

Senator Carroll asked about introducing a zero blood alcohol limit. The issue has often been raised and reference is made to the position in many European states. However, the records in these countries tend to be way behind ours. I would not be comfortable in reducing the blood alcohol level to zero when I hear so much about how alcohol can be in the system when one is undergoing tests. I would be concerned, if we were to go down this route, that the legislation would be thrown out of court because of the imponderables. In some cases, reducing the blood alcohol level to 20 milligrams is as positive as reducing the level generally, but I do not want to jeopardise the legislation by reducing it to a level that we could not stand over scientifically.

A number of Opposition Senators raised the question of the Garda not enforcing the provisions of traffic legislation owing to overtime bans and so on. There is a dedicated traffic corps. If most road traffic accidents occur between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., particularly at weekends, that is time the Garda traffic corps should be on duty. Under the Croke Park agreement which will transform public services, there is a need for flexibility such that a ban on or reduction in Garda overtime will not affect road safety and that the figure of 75,000 hours will still be met. Senators opposite say that because Garda overtime is being reduced we are putting lives at risk. While it is a matter for the Garda Commissioner, if there is a dedicated Garda traffic corps, this is the job it should be doing 24 hours a day, particularly at times of greatest danger. In saying this I do not want anybody to imply that I am criticising the work of the Garda in this regard. If what Senators opposite say is a problem, the answer is not the provision of more money or overtime but the proper organisation of the way gardaí work in order that they will be on duty at the times they are needed most.

Some members raised the issue of the condition of roads. Some 40% of accidents are attributable to speeding, while in 33% to 37% of cases, alcohol is a factor. The condition of roads and vehicle safety are minor factors. The three major factors are not wearing a seat belt, drink driving and speed.

Senators raised the issue of suicides. I do not wish to add to the grief or pain of anybody who has had somebody in their family commit suicide. I know a number of families who have been bereaved in this way. It is not something any of us like to hear about, but blaming this legislation which has not yet been passed or previous legislation for an increase in the number of suicides, when there is no scientific evidence to back up such a claim, is not acceptable.

I do not wish to finish my contribution on a negative note. I thank Senators for their positive contributions and their support for the Bill on Second Stage. I look forward to taking Committee and Report Stages on Thursday.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 1 July 2010.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow, at 10.30 a.m.