I thank the Senator for raising this matter with me. He is not the only person who has done so. Many local county councillors have also raised it. The chair of South Dublin County Council's joint policing committee, Councillor Deirdre O'Donovan, was in touch with me about this issue yesterday. I know the Senator will be familiar with Councillor O'Donovan. This is a matter of great concern for many local authority members. I understand and sympathise with those who are concerned about this issue. It might be helpful if I begin by clarifying the current legal position on the regulation of scrambler bikes under road traffic legislation. Then I will deal with the specific issues raised by Senator Craughwell. As a scrambler is a mechanically propelled vehicle, which is defined as "a vehicle intended or adapted for propulsion by mechanical means", road traffic legislation provides that regardless of engine capacity, the user of a scrambler motorbike in a public place is legally bound to have insurance, road tax and a driving licence and to wear a helmet. If he or she does not comply with these requirements, the road traffic laws provide for severe penalties including fixed charge notices, penalty points, fines and the possible seizure of the vehicle. Notwithstanding what I have just said, I am aware that many people using scrambler bikes do not comply with the regulations, as the Senator has said.
For the purposes of the Road Traffic Acts, a "public place" means "any street, road or other place to which the public have access with vehicles whether as of right or by permission and whether subject to or free of charge". Road traffic law does not extend to the use of mechanically propelled vehicles on private property. Certain places, such as parks under the control of local authorities, can be subject to by-laws prohibiting the use of these vehicles. Local authorities have the power to introduce such by-laws. Some scrambler motorbikes do not comply with the requirements of the Road Traffic (Construction, Equipment and Use of Vehicles) Regulations 1963 to 2002 and the Road Traffic (Lighting of Vehicles) Regulations 1963 to 1996. These regulations prescribe standards in relation to essential matters such as brakes, steering, mirrors, safety glass, wipers, headlamps, rear lighting, indicators and reflectors. Such vehicles are not, therefore, considered suitable for use in a public place. The Road Traffic Act 2004 makes it an offence to supply a mechanically propelled vehicle to a person under 16 years of age. With effect from 24 January 2005, a person convicted of supplying a vehicle to a minor faces a fine of up to €5,000 or a term of imprisonment of up to six months, or both. Mini-motorised scooters, micro-motorcydes and quadricycles also come within the definition of a mechanically propelled vehicle for road traffic law purposes. The supply of such vehicles includes giving a gift or loan. As a result, it is illegal to supply such a vehicle to a person under 16 years of age.
The enforcement of road traffic laws is a matter for An Garda Síochána, which is satisfied that it has the necessary powers under the Road Traffic Acts to deal with cases of the use of scrambler motorbikes and similar vehicles in public places. It should be noted that the Garda Síochána does not have any legislative powers to deal with scrambler bikes being driven on private lands. Local authorities have the power to introduce by-laws to prohibit the use of vehicles in areas under their control, such as parks. The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has similar powers to control off-road vehicles in certain areas. For example, the unauthorised use of off-road vehicles is prohibited in certain national parks. Section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1994 and the Road Traffic Act (Section 41) Regulations 1995 provide for three grounds for the detention of a vehicle by An Garda Síochána in a public place. A vehicle may be detained if the person driving the vehicle refuses or fails to produce there and then a driving licence then having effect and licensing him or her to drive the vehicle and the Garda is of the opinion that the person by reason of his or her age is ineligible to drive the vehicle; if the vehicle is registered in the State and the Garda reasonably believes a policy of insurance is not in place for the vehicle; or if the vehicle is registered in the State and motor tax has not been paid in respect of a continuous period of three months or more immediately prior to use. An Garda Síochána can also use section 20 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 to perform an examination of roadworthiness of any vehicle being used in a public place. An Garda Síochána has indicated to me that it is satisfied with the powers it has to deal with the use of scrambler motorbikes by under age and uninsured drivers in public areas. Following the representations from Senator Craughwell and others, I will discuss this matter with my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, to see whether any legislative amendments are needed to deal with the specific issues they have raised.