I propose to take Question Nos. 115, 149, 153 and 187 together.
An Agreed Programme for Government states that a three-year road safety strategy will be developed and will target speeding, drink driving, seat-belt wearing and pedestrian safety to reduce deaths and injuries. At my request, the high level group on road safety has prepared a draft new strategy for the period 2004-06 and I have recently received approval from Government to publish the strategy. Arrangements are being put in place to provide for printing and publishing of the document as soon as possible.
The preparation of the new strategy has taken account of the achievements in meeting the targets set out in the Road to Safety Strategy 1998-2002, a comprehensive review of that initiative and further positive trends established in 2003, and the evolving developments in relation to the EU Third Road Safety Action Plan. The strategy, which includes a report on progress achieved during the term of the previous strategy, will outline a range of issues it is intended will be pursued over the period in question. In overall terms, measures will focus on the areas of education, enforcement, engineering and legislation and will target the key areas of speeding, driving while intoxicated and seat-belt wearing.
New legislation is being prepared in my Department which will provide support for the deployment of key initiatives in the area of speed limits and drink driving and will further enhance the enforcement capacity of the Garda Síochána.
The number of fatalities resulting from road collisions since the start of the year is a cause of particular concern. The total for the first two months is 29 higher than for the same period last year. This situation has been exacerbated by the fact that nine lives were lost in two tragic incidents, of which the House will be aware.
The difficult start to 2004 will be given particular consideration by the high level group to ensure that the measures recommended in the new strategy will be implemented as quickly as possible. In addition, the group will monitor the ongoing effects of those measures and recommend adjustment to the focus of the strategy.
I am determined to pursue a strategic approach to the improvement of road safety to achieve long-term sustainable reductions in road casualties. The forthcoming strategy will set out a comprehensive range of measures to ensure that we can build on the success of recent years — a reduction from 472 road fatalities in 1997 to 341 in 2003, a fall of 27.8% over a period when the number of vehicles, drivers and kilometres travelled on our roads have increased significantly.