Road Traffic Bill, 1993:

Committee Stage (Resumed).
Debate resumed on amendment No. 36:
In page 18, before section 25, but in Part IV, to insert the following new section:
"25.—(1) Any person who successfully passes a driving test shall be issued with a ‘Restricted Driving Licence' for a period of 2 years after which a full driving licence shall be issued to them.
(2) Any person who is the bearer of such a Restricted Driving Licence shall not be permitted to travel at a speed in excess of 50 m.p.h.".
(Deputy Doyle).

I hope the Minister will be as understanding and as prepared to change his mind and admit he can make mistakes as he was in regard to the quarterly licensing option. The Minister might listen to the points made by the Opposition generally and take on board some of our amendments in the same spirit he displayed when he restored the quarterly licensing option in relation to the taxation of motorists' cars. I welcome his change of heart on that. People with lower incomes particularly welcome it. Car tax evasion would have been enormous if the Minister's original decision had stood.

At the last meeting of this committee I put on record my view that the Minister should consider the introduction of a restricted driving licence. It is not one of the issues on which I wish to delay the meeting but I noticed over the summer that this suggestion came from other quarters. It would be interesting to hear the Minister's views on this. I had hoped that the insurance companies would consider introducing a restricted driving licence as a means of lowering premia for younger drivers. This is a crippling problem, particularly in those areas where there is no public transport. Young people cannot get insurance to drive cars and this presents them with a huge difficulty in seeking and taking up employment. If we took measures to support sensible young drivers, such as introducing a driving licence that would restrict them to certain speed limits for a period of two years and imposing other restrictions similar to those operating in the North and other countries, we could make the case to our insurance companies that they should look after our young people more favourably when they pass their test. I would like to hear the Minister's view on this concept and if he or his Department have given this matter any consideration.

I support Deputy Doyle who contended that we should introduce a restricted driving licence. When this was first mooted, I was not altogether in favour but, as Deputy Doyle said, the cost of insurance for young people is outrageous and unacceptable, I speak from personal experience.

The Deputy is not the youngest driver around at the moment.

I was referring to a driver in the family. In any event it is an imposition and wrong. Young people have been categorised by the insurance companies as reckless and careless although in many ways they are much better drivers than many of those who obtained their driving licences without having to do a test. The quotations from the insurance companies are unjust and unacceptable and if I felt that the introduction of a restricted driving licence would lead to more reasonable premia I would support the idea. I compliment Deputy Doyle on coming up with ideas during the summer holidays in relation to this Bill.

The reason I support this amendment is that it would have a bearing on the cost of insurance to which there was a reference. During the recess much attention was focused on this matter, in particular the pain and suffering endured by claimants and comparisons were drawn with the cost of insurance in other countries. In many respects one is not comparing like with like given the conditions of roads and the legislation operated in other countries. During a ministerial review of the cost of insurance some of these ideas were put forward but not followed up. However, they have been taken up in other countries.

Deputy Boylan homed in on the cost of insurance for young drivers. We all know the reason the cost is excessive; statistics show that the number of claims made by younger drivers is greater than those made by older drivers. As a consequence they have to carry a loading. It is important that these amendments send a signal to the Irish Insurance Federation and insurance companies, that if, for example, there was a restricted driving licence for younger drivers, they could consider lowering the loading young drivers have to carry. During this debate recommendations have been made which, if accepted, would have a bearing on the cost of insurance. Possibly, the debate up to now has focused too narrowly and we have not considered other measures which could have a bearing on the cost of insurance. The reason I support the amendment in the name of Deputy Doyle is that it reflects progressive thinking, will receive support on all sides and send the right signals.

I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Doyle, on raising this matter. One of the things I have noticed is that when it comes to offering insurance cover to young people insurance companies speak about people over 30 years of age. I cannot understand this. At one time a person was considered young at 18 or 21 but now a 30-year-old is regarded as young. The hair stood on the back of my neck the other day as I watched an advertisement on television placed by an insurance company in which they promoted a new package— their golden package— aimed at people over the age of 50. It will not be long before I will be able to avail of that golden package.

I share Deputy Boylan's bitter personal experience when it comes to the cost of insurance for young people. I put it to the Minister who, I have no doubt, examined this matter very carefully that one has to differentiate between the sensible young driver and the young driver who is reckless. There is no doubt that the thousands of good, sensible young drivers carry the can for those who are careless. That point is very important. It seems that the insurance companies only trust people over the age of 30 — this is a reflection on society — people who have a job or married. If we do nothing else today except focus on this very important aspect in regard to the cost of insurance for younger people, it will have been time well spent.

We are not talking here about a couple of hundred pounds. Like every other public representative I have seen quotations to people aged 19,20 and 21 which run as high as £2,500. Certainly the value of the car is much lower than the cost of the annual insurance premium. I would like to hear what the Minister has to say about this. If a restricted driving licence was introduced sensible young drivers could expect to receive favourable treatment from insurance companies.

I support this amendment in the name of Deputy Doyle for two reasons. First, from the point of view of safety, the bearer of a restricted driving licence would not be permitted to travel at a speed in excess of 50 miles per hour.

This would re-emphasise the point made earlier in this debate about the dangers of speed, particularly for young people.

As others have said, the cost of car insurance for young people could be reduced if this or a similar amendment was accepted.

There is no need to repeat the arguments again. In the first instance young people find it difficult to get insurance and the cost can be prohibitive. If it could be shown to the insurance companies that the cost to them in offering insurance cover to the careful young driver would be lower and the risk of claims would also be lower then young people would welcome a sign from the Minister that he would be willing to accept the reasoning here. For that reason I support the amendment.

I can empathise with the sentiments expressed on this amendment. In the constituency I represent there has been a number of horrific accidents during the years. Tragically, four people were killed yesterday. This amendment may be laudable in that a certain class of driver would not be permitted to travel above a certain speed, but would it be enforced? I drive on a regular basis in the North where some drivers carry a restricted driving licence. The vast majority do not keep to the speed limits laid down for that class of driver. It is a bone of contention that most people here do not keep within the speed limits. There is a need for enforcement. This might be of assistance to young drivers in seeking lower insurance premia.

The Department of Enterprise and Employment is conducting a study on "pay as you drive insurance" by putting tax on petrol. Like Deputy Boylan and a number of others I live near the border and I would vehemently oppose any such proposal. People would go across the Border to buy their petrol if a tax in lieu of insurance costs was imposed.

At present there are speed restrictions in force for articulated lorries. I travelled from Dundalk to Dublin today via Ashbourne. This road is not as busy as the main road, yet I encountered 85 juggernaut lorries, the vast majority of which were travelling above the speed limit laid down for that category. It comes down to a question of whether we have the resources to enforce these speed restrictions.

In regard to the tragic accident that occurred in my constituency yesterday, I ask the Minister to bear in mind the fact that a number of accidents have occurred at this location. Two years ago four people were killed in another horrific accident. For years public representatives have endeavoured to secure improvements but the buck has been passed between the local council and the Department of the Environment. Officials of the Department have been in contact with the county council about this matter since the accident yesterday and that an effort will be made to improve the road.

County Louth acts as a hub for traffic heading mainly towards Larne.

The Deputy has strayed a long way from the amendment.

I accept that, but as we are debating a Road Traffic Bill and the danger of speed I beg leave to raise this issue. I am being parochial but the figures show that more traffic passes through County Louth than any other. His officials could not believe that so much traffic crossed a bridge located a short distance from the place where the accident occurred yesterday. The figures, compiled by the local authority two years ago, showed that as many cars crossed the Castletown Bridge, on the main Dublin-Belfast road, as passed through O'Connell Street daily. This accident occurred on a regional road on which the council has to spend its own money. I ask the Minister to consider other ways of funding local authorities, bearing in mind the volume of traffic that passes through County Louth as compared with his own constituency. It is proposed that another restriction should be imposed in this legislation, despite the fact that existing legislation is not being enforced.

Will the legislation be enforced in its entirety?

That is the point I am making. This should be borne in mind when it is proposed to impose further restrictions. My original point was that this is in situ in the North but as far as I am aware it is not being enforced. I ask the Minister to bear in mind the comments I have made in relation to the accident which occurred yesterday.

With all due respect, the Deputy was allowed much latitude.

I share Deputy Ahern's concern. Serious questions have to be raised as to whether the amendment would be enforced. We tend to overestimate the correlation between the granting of a licence and road behaviour subsequently. The answer lies in adopting a more pro-active approach within the educational system to instil the proper attitudes in our young people before they leave school and inform them of the dangers of speed on the roads. It comes down to a question of attitude. Regardless of whether the speed limit is 50, 60 or 70 miles an hour, people unfortunately break it. By putting in an extra layer of legislation we are not going to deal with the underlying problem.

The difference between the limit proposed in the amendment and the existing limits is not appreciable. The speed limit on an ordinary road is 60 miles per hour.

It has been increased to 70 miles an hour on the motorways.

I accept that, but the difference is not significant. How would the Garda determine which driver is the holder of a restricted driving licence as they speed by? It would create extra difficulties for the Garda.

In relation to the cost of insurance for young people, I am not convinced that this amendment would lead to a reduction. Many measures would have to be introduced to bring this about, similar to the ones announced recently by the Minister of State, Deputy Seamus Brennan. This amendment would add an extra layer of bureaucracy and would have no significant impact.

This amendment is a non-starter. I would like to see the regulations relating to provisional licence holders rigorously enforced.

Provisional licence holders are not allowed to drive on their own but many do. Some drive too fast. The speed limits should be enforced in the case of provisional licence holders. Rather than a new section as proposed by Deputy Doyle, provisional licence holders should be subject to greater control. That is more important than introducing a new section.

There is a temptation for us to start defining classes of drivers as being more dangerous than other classes of drivers. The insurance companies have a tendency to produce statistics which show that the level of claims are higher among particular categories of occupation, for example. When I started to shop around for insurance quotations I was astonished to discover that TDs, journalists and entertainers of various kinds would not be quoted by some insurance companies. There is a danger in categorising people either by occupation, age or when they did the driving test. Every driver is an individual. Some drivers are more accident prone than others. In some cases it has to do simply with their make-up, in other cases it is to do with their responsibility and so on. It is very much an individual thing.

If we were trying to tackle the carnage on our roads and to deal with the problem of the enormous cost of insurance, particularly for young drivers, we have to address how we should identify the individual careless driver and how to take him or her off the road. There are two approaches which should be taken. Just before Christmas each year the Minister launches a campaign against dangerous drivers and everybody knows there will be gardaí on the roads. It is remarkable that every year the Minister comes in here with a very impressive set of figures showing the decrease in the number of road accidents. There is a direct correlation between the fall in the number of accidents on the roads and the presence of gardaí policing the roads, which leads me to conclude that the problem is not so much one of legislation or identifying new classes of drivers that have to be penalised in some way, or have special rules written for them, but of enforcement.

Due to the pressures of trying to provide a policing service for a whole range of areas, the gardaí do not have the time or the resources to do the normal speed checks, to check people for levels of alcohol, to check driving licences and insurance, or to check if the car is road-worthy. It is time we had traffic police, as is the case in other countries, who would have responsibility for policing the road traffic laws. That is probably the most effective way to reduce the number of accidents and the cost of insurance.

The second thing we should look at is the idea of a system of penalty points. The driving instructors' organisation in a submission to the Minister suggested that that there should be a system of penalty points, depending on the seriousness of the offence, which could be communicated to the insurance companies as a means by which they could adjust the cost of insurance to drivers. It is the question of enforcement of the traffic laws which needs to be looked at, as much as changes in the law itself.

I do not agree with the section proposed. As Deputy Gilmore said, the big problem relates to enforcement. Too many laws not being enforced encourages people to shrug their shoulders and ignore them. The high risk cases are not addressed by the amendment. Some people can pass the test at the age of 34 or 35 but statistics do not prove that they are a higher risk on the road than anybody else. I am not convinced that people are a smaller risk after tests or after two years just because of that lapse of time. Certainly insurance companies would not seem to believe so. The insurance companies are telling us in the premiums they are charging that certain groups are considered to be high risk. If there is no correlation between risk and what the insurance companies are charging that is another issue, something that the Minister for Enterprise and Employment should take up and immediately get corrected.

Let us presume for a moment that there is a correlation betwen a high premium and a high risk. One must then come to the conclusion that, for example, young people are a higher risk. Most of us would accept that we are probably more careful as we get older, but I would be very interested in getting figures from the Minister on the percentage of accidents that arise due to speed allied to drinking, which occur between 12 p.m. and 6 a.m., particularly on weekends, allied to age, and allied to distance from home. If a totally disproportionate amount of accidents have those common factors, then we should put resources into enforcing the law to reduce the risk at that time. It is recognised that a lot of multiple fatalities occur in that type of scenario with 2, 3, or 4 of those factors involved. It is well known in certain parts of the country that the chances of being stopped at given times in the night, coming from nightclubs, discos, etc., are relatively small. As long as that is the case we will have this high risk category out there causing injury and death, knocking up the premium on the rest of the people of their own age groups, and making it impossible for young people to get insurance to go to work. That is intended to be targeted by the amendment, but it does not address the issue involved.

I am worried that the categorisation of young people in a special way might lead to further difficulties that we are not foreseeing here. For instance insurance comapnies may not give people the benefits of the full licence when insurance is due. If we create a new category for driving licences, a new category of insurance will emerge, which will not be the one to which one would be entitled, if one had a full licence. There is a danger in creating a new category of insurance as well as a new category of licence.

On the question of speed, the correct speed is the appropriate speed for the type of road one is on at any given moment. I presume speed limits are maxima and in many cases people, not just young people, do not adjust their speed for the stretch of road they are using. I am suspicious of figures from insurance companies because they have a vested interest in maintaining high insurance. I would like to see more statistics from impartial sources before we accept figures as factual.

The penalty listing system would be ideal for insurance. Many people continually disregard the law and when a garda stops a person, he cannot ascertain, for instance, the number of previous convictions. A list of penalties on the driving licence, like an endorsement, would be excellent both for enforcement of the law and for insurance purposes.

I understand the thinking behind the amendment, and I certainly agree that young people are unfairly penalised in relation to insurance. It is a matter that should be taken up strongly with the insurance companies. Most young people are named drivers on their parents' or relatives' insurance policies but they do not get any credit for that. The insurance companies should give the young people credit for having an accident free record etc. on a parent's insurance policies. There is an unwarranted overloading on young driver's insurance policies.

I am also worried about the classification of young people. This amendment seems to make an effort to reduce premiums. However, the amendment as drafted indicates "any person". It does not refer to young people. A person of 50 years of age could have to carry a two-year restriction on his licence. As there is a loading for provisional drivers, one of the aims of getting a full licence is to be able to produce it to insurance companies to obtain a reduction in the premium. This amendment would categorise somebody as being beyond a provisional licence not eligible for a full licence. That could lead to increased insurance costs for those people. I would worry about that, although I understand the thrust of the amendment. Accidents are not confined to any particular category of person and obviously nobody is immune.

The second part of the amendment indicates a 50 mile per hour speed limit for people holding a restricted driving licence. This would give rise to an enforcement problem about which many other speakers talked. Obviously that would create its own difficulties.

One other area was referred to, which I know it is peripheral to this point. I would not be happy with the capping of personal injuries awards in relation to pain and suffering. It is not right to place a measurement on what are basically subjective judgments. If a lawyer breaks a arm or a leg he can still continue to work using a dictaphone, but if a plasterer or a carpenter breaks an arm or a leg, he cannot work. It is too simplistic to talk about capping the pain and suffering element of personal injuries. That suggestion has not been fully thought out.

Some very interesting points have been made and I thank the Members for their contribution. Even those who did not support my amendment had interesting things to say. The two amendments are not tablets of stone, and I am not pretending that either the wording or the detail meet exactly what most of us would like to see in this area. I would like the Minister to indicate what length his Department has gone to to ascertain whether any benefit could accrue to all, particularly to young people who have such difficulty at the moment in getting insurance to drive, by the introduction of the restricted driving licence which has been tested in other jurisdictions, or indeed, some similar type system. It would be a quid pro quo that if we capped the speed at which newly qualified drivers could drive, we would want to be absolutely sure that we would get a net reduction in the insurance premia for the individuals concerned. It is that line of thought I want the Minister to tease out with us, to see if there is any avenue for us to explore in that area.

I cannot accept, particularly from Government Deputies, that our lack of our ability to enforce the law is a justification for not introducing law. If that is the case we could leave here now, and say "Amen" to the Bill before us. If we had enforced the 100 milligrams of blood alcohol limit, there would be no need to spend all our time and energy discussing reducing it to 80 milligrams. We would not have had carnage on our roads if we had strictly enforced the 100 milligrams upper limit for blood alcohol throughout the year as we did during the Christmas period.

To use the defence that one may not, cannot, or will not enforce it is not acceptable. Perhaps the Minister could tell us how his colleague, the Minister for Justice, intends to increase Garda resources so that every aspect of this Bill can be enforced. If it is not enforced we will be back here in a number of years reducing limits all around but really to no avail. We have plenty of law but we fall back in enforcement because the Garda are not being given the resources, either in terms of finance or manpower to enforce the law. How will we enforce the law? I hope the Minister will not use the lack of enforcement as a defence on any of the amendments we propose. Could a restricted driving licence or a similar type mechanism help all, but particularly our young people, get insurance at realistic rates? This is a critical issue, particularly in rural Ireland where there is not an extensive public transport system.

I thank Deputy Doyle for her complimentary remarks on my decision on quarterly tax, but I was much more conscious of pressure from the Government parties in the last month in relation to that matter than I was from the Opposition.

The Minister would say that, but thank you anyway.

Did the Minister not get a motion proposed by me last July from Limerick County Council?

I have only begun, yet I have already touched a live wire. I hope I will be able to continue without interruption. Often when we have discussions like this, particularly in the Seanad, the degree of flexibility and the ability to extend the range of matters that can be discussed on an amendment is absolutely unbelievable.

It is no harm to say what is in my mind if we are going to have an open discussion about this. Time and time again proposals are made and distinctions are sometimes made in relation to young people, car insurance and what could be done to relieve that burden. It would be fair to say that in putting forward that view we are ignoring some of the realities. The payout in claims by insurance companies is running at about £500 million per annum. That is about equivalent to the premia they receive for car insurance, so there is a relationship between the frequency of accidents, injuries and claims and the ability of the car insurance companies to meet those claims.

While this Bill is primarily about trying to deal with the carnage on our roads, it is no harm to understand also that there is a huge economic cost to the country in relation to those accidents and injuries which impinge directly on the person and particularly young peole seeking car insurance. There is no simple way to remove a burden from a particular group while at the same time allowing that frequency of injury and carnage on our roads to continue. We are not arguing in relation to the fundamental principles in the Bill and we as legislators, in the direction we give to our courts and in the enforcement of those provisions, must ensure that we will reduce that carnage. There is no point in pretending that there is a mechanism, or a simple way of reducing the cost of insurance without addressing the cause.

The other amendment concerning a curfew was not moved by Fine Gael.

The restricted licence is used in Northern Ireland. There is no statistical evidence to show that it has helped to reduce the number of accidents and it is not used in the United Kingdom. At one time it was operated in New Zealand but was abandoned. I do not know of any other EC country that is operating it. The point has been put forward that the introduction of a restricted licence might help to reduce insurance but has anybody considered that it might do the opposite? One would be in possession of a licence which is not a full licence, one would have met an EC test requirement which is accepted across the EC as a high standard but for some other reason somebody believes that one is not as good as another driver. That amendment could produce a situation which would allow the insurance company to impose a loading. We are examining every detail in relation to how we might help in this matter.

I want to comment briefly on enforcement. I accept the pont that enforcement is critical, but it is not true that the only time we have a blitz on drunken driving is at Christmas. If one examines the statistics for prosecutions and the dates of those prosecutions, one will find that they are fairly consistent throughout the year. That is not to say that we could not improve. Deputy Gilmore raised this matter on another occasion and I have since considered it. I intend to bring forward on Report Stage an amendment which will provide a statutory base for gardaí to allow them to use speed cameras and any other facilities necessary to improve the capacity of the gardaí to enforce what we are providing for here.

Regarding Deputy Ó Cuív's point, approximately 80 per cent of all accidents involve a combination of speed and drink. A huge proportion are as a result of excessive speed only, drink or a combination of both.

It would never be possible to enforce every law we enact in all areas of the country in the way that one would like. There must be question of personal responsibility and driver behaviour. There must be a question of what we do, and Deputy Michéal Martin touched on this, in terms of changing a cultural attitude to drinking and driving or to speeding.

That is false.

It may well be the case in Roscommon but each one of us has a personal responsibility to do something about this matter. I have indicated that I do not find the restricted licence a practical proposition, that there are real problems with it which I have outlined.

I want to touch on a point raised by Deputy Dermot Ahern. I want to place on record my sympathy to the families concerned in the terrible accident in Louth and to say that there has been contact with my Department. I will at his request meet a deputation from the residents of that area. While it is primarily a matter for the local authority, matters such as this cannot be tossed around by Departments or local authorities. We have to look to resolutions. There are many other dangerous bends and bridges around the country. We do not have the resources to deal with them all but the problems in County Louth are in need of early attention and I will give favourable consideration to proposals from Louth County Council. We cannot at this stage remedy the tragedy for the family concerned beyond saying that I will respond as positively as I can to proposals from the county council.

I thank the Minister for his comments.

The Deputy should thank the Chair for the leniency he was allowed earlier.

I thank you, Chairman, for allowing me to raise the matter but what has happened is extremely serious.

I concur with the remarks made, on behalf of Fine Gael. It is a serious matter. I know the Chairman allowed a little latitude but if we can learn from that family's tragedy it will be well worth while.

I wish to clarify that there was no mention at any stage in this amendment of any curfew as such. The Minister said that the idea had been floated by Fine Gael.

It was floated at a previous meeting.

Not by me.

There is nothing specific in any amendment regarding a curfew.

I said it was not moved.

I thank the Minister for his response to these two amendments. Our young people are amongst our best drivers. Technically they would beat most of us who have been driving for some years. They lack experience in terms of hours of driving and anticipation ability, perhaps because of lack of familiarity with our roads generally. I am not pressing my amendments in relation to a restricted driving licence but I am using these amendments to underline the sense of urgency we in Fine Gael feel in terms of addressing the problem of insurance premia for our young people to help them obtain employment and to help them socialise, particularly in the more remote areas where there is no public transport. When the Minister is in a position to do so I would ask him to come back to the House and indicate his plans in this area. We cannot let the problem continue much longer because it is causing great hurt and is exacerbating the emigration levels in rural Ireland. If they can go to the UK or other countries where they can get insurance and obtain employment, they will take that option. We must not add to the problems of young people in terms of obtaining jobs in Ireland.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 19, to delete lines 10 to 20.

One of the reasons I seek to make some amendment to this section is that I am not sure if, in terms of paragraph (b), the new provisions differ substantially from the present position. Perhaps the Minister would clarify that for me. It would appear from the wording that the individual garda has discretion to allow a moratorium of ten days in respect of producing a licence.

There are some other general points I wish to make in relation to the whole area of driving licences. I have no objection to having a section which requires people to carry a licence at all times. It may alleviate the problem, particularly in relation to underage drivers; a garda might be able to check immediately whether a driver is underage. In various countries people are required to carry their driving licence with them.

A point made to me by some organisations and individuals is the difficulty that arises if a driving licence is retained in somebody's car. If the car is stolen both the car and the licence are gone. I do not see why the person should not carry the licence on their person. At the end of the Second Stage debate we were discussing the size of driving licence and so on and we felt that we should have a credit card size licence that would fit easily into a person's wallet or purse. I am not so sure that this is a contentious matter. A number of people seem to believe a driving licence is some sort of identification card and that this affects one's personal liberty. I do not hold that view. A car is a lethal weapon if it is not driven properly and people should be called to account for their actions, even if this only involves producing a licence on demand.

Deputy Keogh has made a good point. I wonder if the section as drafted by the Minister takes account of modern technology. The preceding subsection says it is an offence to be caught without one's driving licence and the garda may ask for it — he is not required to ask for it. A second offence is being created in this paragraph to which Deputy Keogh's amendment relates. With modern technology it is possible, for instance, for gardaí to check by way of radio communication whether a particular car is registered as stolen. Presumably it should be possible by the same technology to check whether the driver of a vehicle stopped in this way has a valid driving licence. In my experience the present ten-day provision is greatly abused, it is a ruse and a way of avoiding the provisions of the law. One way of doing this is to give a false name and address to the apprehending garda which means there is no way of checking up on the person. Deputy Keogh's point is valid. Perhaps the Minister will accept her amendment or consider some alternative amendment for Report Stage because this is a major loophole. It has caused a great deal of concern in my Dublin constituency where a number of people have suffered injury in cases where drivers were given ten days to produce their driving licence and, of course, never did so because they gave a false name.

I would like the Minister to explain how it is an offence not to carry one's driving licence but one can still produce it within ten days to the local Garda station. I know the garda may or may not demand to see it but this will be a point of much legal debate in the courts. It will be difficult to clarify whether the garda actually demanded to see the licence or whether he gave the driver an opportunity to produce it. My colleague, Deputy Currie, asked me a moment ago where I kept my driving licence. As far as I know, my driving licence is at home in the filing cabinet and I would have to go rooting for it, if I were asked to produce it.

The Deputy might be prosecuted on the way home.

This Bill is not law yet. I am not sure that what we are producing here will be worth while. I can see the difficulties raised by Deputy Jim Mitchell in relation to people giving false names and so on, but surely they can be checked by the gardaí off a computer list. It should be possible to computerise this area, as is done with the ownership of cars. I understand that if my car number is typed into a computer my name and address will come up on it. It will also indicate on the computer the last time I was stopped by the gardaí. The computer can show a pattern in relation to where or why I was stopped and the number of occasions.

In relation to driving licences I can see a difficulty with people going out in the morning bringing children to school and not having the licence with them. The other problem that may arise, as in the case of one of my colleagues, is that people will leave the licence in the car. This may result in a car thief being able to produce the licence to a garda if he should be stopped in the stolen vehicle.

A photograph will be on the licence.

Late at night some of the photographs that we had taken a number of years ago for identification purposes bear little resemblance to what some of us look like now. I do not believe that will be worth while. Those are my reservations. I do not think it should be mandatory to carry one's licence at all times.

There was considerable disquiet about this section when the Bill was published. The Minister is endeavouring to achieve a balance between what people might consider too draconian a measure and too severe an intrusion into personal liberties while at the same time giving gardaí an option which they can exercise. This measure, along with other measures, relates to our trust and confidence in the Garda Síochána. That is perhaps in issue which has not been sufficiently debated. In whole areas of law enforcement the gardaí are up against the wall in terms of evasion of existing laws, people finding loopholes in various sections of laws and so forth. Generally, that inhibits the capacity of gardaí to deal with crime on an ongoing basis.

The section which Deputy Keogh is proposing to delete would, in my view, make the Bill extremely draconian. We should give that option to the gardaí to cover the instances that have been mentioned by a number of Deputies — for example, if a car or a licence is stolen. The gardaí in particular localities will be familiar with the residents of that locality. We have to allow for discretion and some scope on the part of the gardaí. If we remove that section it is an open and shut case. It will be an offence from then on in every situation.

Why can they not check it as they already check ownership of cars?

How does one check in the case of a person who gives a false name?

Usually by the date of birth.

The Deputy is under-estimating the ingenuity of the Garda and their ability to recognise deceit. The balance is right in this section. The garda may demand to see a licence and failure to produce the licence is an offence. On the other hand the garda can exercise some discretion and allow ten days for production of the licence. There is a reasonable balance there. I know there will be difficulties but it is a question of trusting the Garda to a certain degree. Nowadays there appears to be a reluctance to do that and the result is that the criminals are winning.

Up to now one had ten days to produce an insurance certificate or a driver's licence. I never carry my driver's licence because if the car is broken into, which has happened, and the licence is taken one has to go through a fair amount of inconvenience to get it renewed.

Under this law one will not be able to drive if the licence is stolen. One may get on one's bicycle until one gets one's new licence.

I would not go that far. I do not think this part of the Act would be as draconian as that. I do not carry my licence. However, if I am prosecuted under this Act and brought to court and have to pay a fine, the insurance company will note that I have been in court on an offence. If one reads the fine print of the insurance policy one sees that they reserve the right to increase one's premium and take away one's no claims bonus. Most Members of this parliament are class 3 for insurance purposes and there is a loading of up to 100 per cent on this category of drivers. In many cases open driving is not allowed and one is confined to named drivers. When I first became a Member of this House I recall remarking to my insurance company that my premium was extremely high. They replied that I was a bad risk.


They were proved wrong. I was a very good risk. I can understand the Minister's dilemma in regard to this part of the Bill. Many people steal cars and use them and we know the consequences. I understand the Garda may be in a dilemma in that regard also. I would like the Minister to tell us how the law is to operate. A licence similar to a credit card could be carried in one's coat pocket. The present driving licence is larger and many people may not be inclined to carry that with them. I never carry my driving licence but I have one and could produce it within ten days. I have an open mind on this question but I am aware of the difficulties. Some gardaí will be extremely understanding in this matter but all may not be. I am concerned that if one does not have one's driving licence when it is requested by a garda he then has the right to prosecute on the spot if he sees fit. The question is whether one's no claims bonus can, as a result be taken away by the insurance company. If one is paying £1,000 per annum for insurance cover — as most Members here with comprehensive insurance are paying—will that premium then be increased to £3000? This is a serious matter. The insurance companies reserve rights to do that. That is the only reservation I have. I can understand the difficulties caused by the theft of cars, especially in the greater urban areas.

The point should be made that a licence to drive a car does not attach to the car itself; it attaches to the person, whereas an insurance policy relates to a particular car. I ask Deputy Keogh and the other people who have spoken in favour of this amendment to reconsider it. If one spouse in a two car family was driving the car that they normally do not drive and their licence was in the other car, they would be in difficulty if asked by a garda to produce their licence. This section, inserted by the Minister, gives the gardaí the discretion to deal reasonably leniently with people in such cases and they can be asked to produce the licence within ten days. Such a system works extremely well. The Garda records are extremely good and it is possible to determine whether a person did or did not produce their licence and insurance certificate within the ten days. Deleting paragraph (b) on page 19 would worsen the situation. The Garda must be able to exercise discretion. There are many other situations, where for some reason or another a person would not be able to produce a licence on the sport, for example, in case of an emergency where a person might have to drive a car not necessarily theirs and their licence is not in that car. This section, amended as proposed, would be unworkable and a person would be guilty or an offence per se under that section in circumstances such as I have ourlined.

What is contained in the Bill is fine. Motorists can if they wish, carry their driving licence in the car. Otherwise they can present it at a local Garda station. Deputy Martin spoke about trust in the Garda. It is interesting to reflect on the viewpoints expressed and to note that people in Dublin City would have a different viewpoint from those in rural Ireland. In places like County Limerick or County Leitrim there is a tendency for the gardaí to have a good feeling for their county and a good feeling towards the people within the county and if people say they will present the documentation at a Garda station at a later stage that is acceptable.

There is a conditional factor involved here. We hear much about car thefts etc. particularly in large urban areas and naturally people would be concerned about their driving licences being stolen. I would not be in favour of deleting this provision. I would like that safeguard to remain in the Bill.

I should like to refer to section 25 (1) (a), (b) and (c) as distinct from the amendment which deals only with section 25 (1) (b). My difficulty with section 25 (1) (b) is that it appears to negate section 25 (1) (a). Section 25 provides that the driver of a mechanically propelled vehicle must carry his or her driver licence and produce it upon request to a member of the Garda. Otherwise they shall be guilty of an offence. In other words, drivers must carry their driving licences while they are driving and must produce it if requested to do so. Section 25 (1) (b) negates section 25 (1) (a) in that it affords the usual ten-day period within which a driver shall produce his or her driving licence to the Garda station nominated by him or her.

It appears that section 25 (1) (b) will afford a defence to a person who commits an offence under section 25 (1) (a). That could cause conflict and our courts could be clogged unnecessarily dealing with such relatively minor issues. I should like the Minister to address that point. Is there a risk of section 25 (1) (b) being used as a defence against an offence committed under section 25 (1) (a)?

Section 25 (1) (c) provides that in any proceedings a certificate, supposedly signed by the member in charge of a Garda station nominated by the defendants, stating that the licence was not produced within the ten-day period shall, without proof of the signature of the person purporting to sign the certificate or that he was the member in charge of the Garda station, be evidence until the contrary is shown of the facts stated in the certificate. Many of us, particularly the legal people among us, will be aware that over the years many people have produced driving documentation at their local Garda station which, due to human error, was not recorded and those people were subsequently prosecuted. I would like section 25 (1) (c) to be modified or to provide for a very clear record system to be maintained by the Garda which should be available for public inspection.

A driver presenting driving documentation, in this case a driving licence, at a Garda station, should be able to obtain a certificate from that station. This is not provided for in the Bill but the Minister might consider including such a provision. This certificate would confirm that they had produced the required documentation within ten days or the prescribed time. I ask the Minister to address those two points; first, the need for certification of the production of a driving licence at the relevant Garda station within the ten days required so that there is not a subsequent prosecution due to human error and, second, the possibility of section 25 (1) (b) being used as a defence against an offence committed under section 25 (1) (a).

Every driver should carry a driving licence. Notwithstanding that, this section should be left as it is. Discretion should be given to the Garda in certain cases. For example, if a garda at a check point knows that the driver of a car has a driving licence, having carried out a similar check the previous week, but the driver does not have his driving licence with him on this occasion, the garda should have the discretion to decide whether to prosecute that driver. It would be nonsensical to prosecute a driver in such circumstances. From a practical point of view, discretion should be left to the gardaí to make the decision in such cases; they should be able to use their common sense and not prosecute their neighbours if they know they have licences.

Even for tail lights?

Section 25 (1) (b) should be left in the Bill. I understand the requirement to produce a driving licence on demand was included in the Bill to ensure that people whom it is suspected have no business on the road, for example, juveniles who buy cars for £100 or £150 and drive around in them, could be caught. I do not think it was ever intended that the 99 per cent of ordinary people going about their business should run into serious trouble with the law merely by virtue of the fact that they do not have a licence in their possession at the time they are stopped. Checks on tax, insurance, licences, etc. are regularly carried out and it could happen that a totally genuine person will have forgotten to renew his licence. While this is an offence for which drivers should be prosecuted it is not a very serious offence. I understand that the Bill is not designed to target such people. As was pointed out, people who live in rural areas are known to the local gardaí and while it is only correct that people should carry a driving licence it would be wrong not to allow a certain discretion to the gardaí as to whether they should prosecute a driver when they know everything is in order. I am a little bit puzzled at the wording of section 25 (1) (a) and (b) when they are taken together. I am not a lawyer but if I am stopped by my local garda who asks me for my licence and I say I will leave it into the Garda station within the next ten days, I will still have committed an offence and under section 25 (1) (a) he will be obliged to prosecute me for not having a licence at that time. The garda has no discretion in such cases. I should like the Minister to clarify that point because questions will be raised about this provision. Having a licence is one thing but having it with you is another. I understand that this provision is included in the Bill to empower the Garda to stop people whom they have good reason to believe never had a licence, do not have a licence and are not eligible to have a licence and arrest them there and then if they refuse to give their name and address. It is not specifically stated in the section that a garda will have the power to arrest somebody who refuses to give their name and address. Maybe the Minister could clarify that point.

I should like to make two brief points. Deputy Ó Cuív's last point was a valid one but section 25 (1) (a) states that it "shall be an offence" for a driver not to carry a licence. However the garda may decide to use the provisions in section 25 (1) (b). As a number of Deputies said, frequently the gardaí will know the people involved. That may be true in rural areas — I suspect this is not the case to the same extent now as it used to be — but it is certainly not the case in city areas. The Minister should consider making the provisions of section 25 (1) (a) subject to the provisions in section 25 (1) (b) and making the provisions in section 25 (1) (b) subject to the garda being reasonably satisfied as to the correct identity and address of the person. Otherwise this will be a major loophole through which every criminal in town will drive a coach and four.

There is a genuine difficulty with this section which will lead to enormous difficulties in the courts later on. Under section 25 (1) (a) a garda can ask a driver for a licence and if he does not produce it he will have committed an offence. However, depending on his mood the garda may allow the driver to produce his licence at a Garda station within ten days. This means that what was an absolute offence a few minutes earlier suddenly is not an offence. This will lead to extraordinary difficulties. For example, arguments may arise between lawyers as to whether a garda who refused to give a driver those ten days grace was reasonable. Did he give the last 20 drivers he stopped ten days grace and why did he not give a particular driver ten days grace? Can something that is an absolute offence suddenly not be an offence depending on the attitude of a garda on the beat who may be severely harassed? There is a difficulty there. It should not be beyond the ability of the Department and the Minister, with all of his advisers, to reconcile those provisions in some way and achieve what he is seeking in a much tighter legal form.

I am grateful to Deputies for their support for this provision which requires people to carry a driving licence with them at all times. With the exception of Deputy McGrath, nobody has spoken against that provision. The new EC ceadúnas tiomána can be easily carried and has a photograph of the driver. In future the difficulties experienced by a garda in trying to establish the veracity of the details given to him by a driver will be removed and the ability of the garda to enforce these provisions will be much improved. I am grateful to all sides of the House for their support for that provision.

Section 25 contains a new provision which requires a person to produce his or her driving licence on demand to a garda. It also retains the existing provision allowing the garda an option to demand production of a licence at a Garda station within ten days. The ten-day option could be used as a reserve power where a garda wished to caution a driver rather than prosecute for the offence of not producing the licence on the spot. Most Deputies are familiar with circumstances where offences are specified in law. The discretion of a garda to act on that or to issue a caution arises in many other instances also. Section 25 (1) (a) stands on its own; it provides that a person "shall be guilty of an offence" if prosecuted. Section 25 (1) (b) also stands on its own.

It does not.

I will give an example. If a garda stops a driver and asks to see his licence but he is not carrying one he will have committed an offence. If he says he will produce the licence at a garda station within ten days the garda has the discretion to decide what to do. Both provisions stand separately. It will be a matter for the garda to decide.

Why do we have to move in this direction at all? It would be a grand world if we did not have any problems with the identification of people, the possibility of people giving false names or the names of relatives. Deputy Mitchell touched on this matter earlier. We do not yet have a computerised data register system for driving licences. This will take a few years but we will achieve it. We have such a system for car ownership but we do not have one for licences. Even if we had such a system, we could not trace a person who gave a wrong name. We have to be serious about what we are trying to achieve.

This provision is not about following the ordinary citizen or making it difficult for a woman who is taking a child to school. Rather it is primarily to deal with the problems that have arisen over the years in relation to these matters. It will be open to the garda to decide whether or not to push for a prosecution. The two provisions stand separately. This amendment would take away that discretion from the garda. I do not think Deputy Keogh wants to give rise to a situation where the garda would ultimately have no discretion.

The garda will have discretion in such instances under section 25 (1) (a).

As they have in so many other areas.

That is what I am saying. Should they have discretion to decide which provision to apply? If a garda has the discretion to apply the provisions of section 25 (1) (a), is there a necessity for section 25 (1) (b)? I am not sure there is. Obviously we have a difference of opinion on that point and perhaps the Minister's best advice is that we need section 25 (1) (b).

I will take the general position first. We want people to carry their driving licences. This is not a big burden. The photograph in the licence may be used as a form of identification. This is not a problem in the rest of the Community. In most countries of the world people would not even question that type of provision. As I said earlier, I am grateful to the House for not opposing that provision. In legal terms we have to have a general provision of this kind. Over the years very many people have objected to such a provision but there is no way out. In order to deal with the type of problems to which Deputy Mitchell and others have referred, it is not possible to have a particular provision which exonerates everybody else and deals specifically with a certain type of individual. One has to have a general provision. That is why this development has come about.

I do not think there is a million miles between the Minister and most of us here inasmuch as we are trying to nail the unlicensed driver, the joyrider or the car thief if they are apprehended by the Garda. They are the people who are most likely to give a false name and address. If a driver gives a false name and address and a garda decides to prosecute him under section 25 (1) (a) because he does no trust the person to produce the relevant documents at a garda station within ten days, apart from taking him into custody until the court case arises the garda will have no way of catching up with him under section 25 (1) (a) because he will not know who the person is. I am not sure how much better off the gardaí are going to be. Under section 25 (1) (a) it will be an offence not to produce a licence upon being asked for it by a garda. A person cannot even negate the offence by subsequently producing the licence at a garda station within ten days. If a garda is satisfied about the identity of the driver and believes the licence will be produced at a garda station within ten days, no offence should be deemed to have been committed under section 25 (1) (a). Section 25 (1) (a) and (b) are not linked in that respect. I listened carefully to the Minister when he said that both provisions stand alone. That is not the case. Under section 25 (1) (a) it will be an offence not to produce a licence on demand even if you subsequently produce it at a garda station within ten days. Once the garda is satisfied about the identity of the driver, failure to produce a licence should not be an offence under section 25 (1) (a) provided it is produced at a garda station within ten days. If the garda is not satisfied about the identity of the driver and is given a false name and address how much better off will he be if he decides to prosecute him under secion 25 (1) (a)? How will he catch that person if he does not turn up at a Garda station.

If I were to accept what Deputy Doyle has said, there would be no obligation on anyone to carry a licence as they could produce it at a Garda station within ten days.

What is the Minister's interpretation of what I said?

If a person can produce his licence within ten days then there is no need to carry a licence in the first instance. This would negate what we are trying to do. As I understand it the amendment does not intend to do that.

I am not speaking specifically to the amendment. I am referring to section 25 (1) (a), (b) and (c). The amendment is a slightly different matter and while I sympathise with the point Deputy Keogh is making I do not actually support the amendment as it is worded. I am speaking of the relationship between paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), particularly paragraph (b) apparently being able to be used as a defence to any offence committed under section (a). Is that intended?

Let me clarify this. I did not think we would have such a lengthy discussion on this issue. If one is going to be prosecuted for an offence in the first instance, what is the point of being required to produce the licence within ten days? It is a bit confusing.

Take the case of a person who does not have his licence with him when stopped by a garda and says he will produce the licence within ten days but for one reason or another the garda does not accept that. If that person does produce the licence within ten days the offence has, nevertheless, been committed but there is no way a prosecution would be sustained by any judge.

It would be clogging up the courts unnecessarily.

And bringing an innocent person to court as well. There is a problem here. The brains of the Department could easily solve it but they will have to tax themselves to do it. We cannot all be wrong about it.

We are with the Minister in trying to nail the person who cannot be trusted, for example, the joyrider. We have no difficulty with giving the Garda the power to hold them and not automatically allow them ten days to produce a licence knowing full well they will never do so. I am not sure how much further the wording of paragraph (a) actually brings us to resolving that problem because unless the Garda arrest people such as joyriders for not producing a licence there and then, no progress has been made because if they give a false name and address they are gone anyway.

I disagree profoundly with the idea that this provision would result in the courts being clogged up. Is it not twice as likely that that would be the result of accepting Deputy Keogh's amendment? In that circumstance the garda has no discretion and no matter what case the person made for not having a licence, he still would have committed an offence and would have to be prosecuted. Let us do away with the notion that my provisions would clog up the courts.

That point is taken by some of us. Deputy Keogh will defend her amendment herself.

It is not taken by everybody and it is better to get it straight here and now. This will not clog up the courts whereas the alternative most certainly would. In circumstances where the majority of people will feel easy about carrying their licence, which is something I and Members on all sides of the House recommend, the Deputies want to know how much better off the Garda are where they stop somebody and ask to see a driver's licence and that person gives a false name. Because this is an offence the suspicion of the Garda are aroused in a different way and they are in a position to follow up.

In whatever way that the Garda authorities deem fit in those circumstances. The garda is certainly in a much stronger position than he has been up to now.

If a person gives a false name and address where does that leave the garda? He is in no better position than at the moment. I am not so sure how this strengthens the Garda over the present position. They need help in this area but I am not so sure how paragraph (a) actually will strengthen the garda's hand over the joyrider who is going to lie about his name and address and identity anyway. Where does the garda go if he is given a false address?

He has the power to arrest.

There and then? On the spot?

Yes, under subsection (4) (b), he has the power to arrest immediately if he is suspicious. I do not want to sound too certain that I am 100 per cent right in all these things but the pattern throughout this debate has been, that where we have tried give teeth to legislation to improve the present position, we are asked to extract those teeth before we start.

Under what subsection is there power to arrest?

Subsection (4) (b).

Is Deputy Keogh pressing her amendment?

I am not pressing the amendment. I can accept what the Minister is trying to achieve and I have a great deal of sympathy with it, but I wonder if he is satisfied that there is no ambiguity and that there will be no legal difficulties. The Minister seems fairly certain about that but there have been a number of misgivings expressed and I hope he is satisfied that this section, in its present form, is correct. I said at the outset that my main reason for wishing to delete this relates to the way this section hangs together. Enough misgivings have been expressed to justify re-examining it before Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 25 stand part of the Bill."

I ask the Minister, between now and Report Stage, to look at the point made by the Incorporated Law Society and many legal people — I do not profess to be among them nor have I any particular experience in that area — who feel that as drafted paragraph (b) could be used as a defence to any offence committed in under paragraph (a). That may or may not be acceptable to the Minister. Perhaps the Minister would speak again to his legal advisers to see if that is what is intended and report back to us on Report Stage on that point.

We have had exhaustive discussions with the Attorney General's office in relation to this and we are satisfied that the provision, as drafted, is safe. I have no hesitation in looking at it again between now and Report Stage to make sure that is the position but the two sections stand in their own right.

Could we also ask the Minister to look at the possibility of providing for a specific type of certification to be handed to a member of the public once they produce driving documents of one kind or another within the required ten days at a Garda station so that the human error that has occurred in this area could be prevented?

I will look at that.

Question put and agreed to.