When I heard the Minister for Local Government to-day read out the long list of amplifications and amendments that this Bill represented upon the draft Bill he found in his Department when he took office four years ago, I could not help feeling that he felt his alibi for four years delay was rather weak and required elaboration. However, the appearance even at this late hour of a Road Traffic Bill is welcome and I have no doubt the Minister will be concerned graciously to acknowledge the ample framework which he found in his Department after his predecessor had left office on which to hang the present proposed legislation.
There is one aspect of this legislation which some of us are tending to forget. In our zeal to put an end to the very cruel abuse of deaths on the road I am afraid there is a tendency on the part of Deputies to forget the fact that 99 per cent. of motorists on the roads of Ireland are law-abiding men and women who are desirous of nothing but lawfully to go about their lawful occasions. It would be a mistake if we allowed ourselves to be seized with a kind of passionate illusion that everybody who drives a motor car in this country is a potential criminal, because that is not true. The danger is that when our mind becomes preoccupied with the evil of road accidents, which we are all concerned to abate, we may suffer ourselves to be driven into imprudent extremities which are unreasonable and which in practice will create public dissatisfaction.
Our aim is to put an end to abuses, not to make the life of the ordinary law-abiding citizen intolerable. If we err in the latter direction we will do a great deal to make our own legislation ineffective for the purpose which we desire to serve. In that connection we have provisions in this Bill for a multitude of regulations to be made and there are all sorts of provisions about parking and other matters which are relatively matters of detail.
We should learn from the experience in Great Britain. In Great Britain there was a long and honoured tradition of cordial collaboration between ordinary citizens and the metropolitan police especially and, indeed, that relationship was an object of admiration for many foreign visitors to Great Britain and often of amazement at how the ordinary citizen looked upon the policeman in the streets of London as his friend. They have discovered in the last ten years that an astonishing volume of antipathy has grown up between the ordinary citizen and the police which has resulted in some deplorable incidents in which the public have refused to assist the police when attacked by thugs or criminals of one kind or another. There may be a variety of reasons for that unfortunate development but I have heard it maintained that that change is in part due to the multifarious duties cast upon the police in Great Britain to enforce minor traffic regulations which have resulted in a very large cross-section of the people being brought into collision with the police who ordinarily would never encounter the police in any other capacity than as friends and helpers.
Fortunately, in this country over the last 40 years, and in situations sometimes of the gravest difficulty, we have painfully built up a most happy and desirable relationship between the Garda and the ordinary people of the country. No Deputy familiar with rural Ireland will hesitate to pay tribute to the fact that in the vast majority of cases Gardaí are looked upon as friends, counsellors and universal helpers and there is no element of antipathy between the people and the Garda. I think the same atmosphere has ordinarily obtained in our urban centres as well.
I do not complain of the necessity for introducing somewhat more stringent parking regulations than we have had heretofore in the city of Dublin but you cannot divorce from your mind, if you are an ordinarily observant person, that there does appear to be operating in the streets of Dublin today a sort of general vigilance to detect any minor parking offences on the part of anybody and that the distribution of tickets and the rebuking of citizens for parking offences has become very much more frequent. Indeed, if one is driving a car oneself in the streets of Dublin today, where heretofore you parked your car—and unless you parked on a pedestrian crossing you had no reason to apprehend that you would get into trouble with the Guards—now you are almost afraid to park it at any pavement for fear this is an area in which you could come into collision with the Gardaí. For a great majority of people the very experience of being remonstrated with by the Gardaí for having broken the law is a disagreeable experience but if it happens again and again a new kind of atmosphere begins to arrive and the people begin to look upon the Gardaí as a menace; sections of the community begin to look upon the Gardaí as a menace who never looked on them in that way before.
This is something to watch and the Minister ought to consider whether it would not be desirable, as they have found in Great Britain by bitter experience and found too late, that minor traffic offences of this kind would be better made the concern of a body of men whose sole function would be that of traffic warden. If Gardaí must be required to patrol the streets in far greater than normal numbers in order to enforce traffic regulations, I cannot see why it should not be possible to provide that, instead of multiplying the number of Gardaí to enforce these traffic regulations, you should have a body of traffic wardens whose concern it would be to enforce parking regulations or minor traffic regulations, such as not stopping at pedestrian crossings or matters of that kind.
I do not say you should forbid a Guard to intervene if there is a manifest breach of the law, but that the ordinary enforcement of these offences should be taken from the Gardaí altogether and given to a body of traffic wardens. That would avoid associating the Gardaí in the mind of the ordinary law-abiding citizen with what is regarded unreasonably, I admit, but none the less in fact, as a kind of harassment and persecution. I am not suggesting for a moment that I think the Gardaí ordinarily are officious or unreasonable in the carrying out of their duties, but I believe that as motor traffic tends to grow, as the necessity for more rigid traffic regulations grows in urban centres, we ought seriously to consider committing that responsibility to traffic wardens who will not wear the uniform of the Garda and who will not be directly associated in the minds of the ordinary public with that force.
There are certain wider topics to which I want to refer, but, before I come to them, there are two details to which I should like to direct the attention of the Minister. Most of us living in rural Ireland are familiar with a new development—the extent to which young fellows coming home from Great Britain hire cars. If they come for a summer holiday or even sometimes for a short holiday at Christmas, three or four of them will combine to take out a drive-yourself car in Dublin. They will drive home in that car and the hirer will often use it during the holidays. They are obliged to have, in those circumstances, third party insurance.
I think it well worth considering whether a person driving one of these self-drive cars should not be required further to have passenger insurance because they generally carry passengers. People do not advert to these things but you will almost always find that these cars are used to bring neighbours to dances. If there is an accident and a girl or boy is injured in that accident while a passenger in such a self-drive car which is covered by third party insurance, I think I am right in saying that there is no remedy available to them if they suffer serious loss. If a person is sufficiently affluent to hire a self-drive car, I do not think it would be an unreasonable burden on him to add to the obligation that already exists to carry third party insurance, the obligation to carry passenger insurance as well.
Another detail to which I would refer is this. Persons charged with offences under the road traffic code are sometimes acquitted but, before being acquitted, they must very often bring witnesses of one kind or another to court in order to make their case against the charge that is brought against them by the State. They will have to pay their costs if they retain a solicitor and counsel but in addition to that, as the law at present stands, they must meet their own expenses even though they are acquitted in the court proceedings.
I am not opening the large question of whether a person facing a criminal charge should or should not be entitled to recover from the State the costs of the proceedings. That is a very wide question that would extend to the whole sphere of criminal law. However, if we are to regard this road traffic legislation as being in the nature of quasi-criminal law I do think it worthy of consideration that we should provide that where a person is charged with an offence under this code he should be allowed the expenses, other than the actual legal costs, to which he has been put in maintaining a successful defence to a charge that has been brought against him.
I have referred to the question of the greater stringency in regard to parking in the city streets. Has the Minister at all considered whether any steps could be taken in an organised way to persuade municipalities, where these restrictions are now required to operate, to make some alternative provision where lawful parking can be conducted? It would be a very great help not only to the business community but to people going about their lawful occasions if they could find, within reasonable distance of where they want to transact their business, a place where they could park their cars.
It is right that we should act in good time so as to provide against the development of intolerable abuse but I do not think it is sensible for us to follow slavishly every regulation that it has been found necessary to make in cities like Washington, London or New York. Our traffic problem does not approximate to the problems that exist in those cities. It has to be borne in mind that people who pay heavy rates to maintain business premises in the centre of the city find it a considerable deterrent to the transaction of business on their premises if their customers cannot come next or near where they are open to trade. It is noteworthy in that connection that some large business organisations are now moving their central offices out to the suburbs where they are in a position to provide ample parking accommodation for their employees. If that trend continues, very serious damage could be done to the established trading centres in this and other cities.
I acknowledge that is probably the primary responsibility of the municipality concerned. Still it is we who are passing road traffic legislation and it is we who are stepping up the whole process of control and, whether by suggestion or direction from this House, we should try to take steps to mitigate so far as we can the consequences of such necessary regulations as we make. One of them would be to provide alternative parking space within reasonable distance of the centre of the city so that those who wanted to use their cars could be directed there and would be able to go thence to transact their business without unreasonable inconvenience.
I agree with Deputy Cosgrave when he says disqualification is the most effective sanction under this code but I shall make a point about that. There is no doubt it is most effective but I have found on divers occasions that it has not been an equitable sanction. There is all the difference in the world between saying to a well-heeled undergraduate that you will disqualify him for a year, or five years, from driving a motor car because of misconduct and saying to a man whose livelihood it is to drive a lorry that because he has had a traffic accident he is to be disqualified from driving for 12 months. I should find it very hard to complain if any driver found driving under the influence of drink was disqualified from driving or to say there was any injustice but I have known drivers of motor vehicles, who depended on their ability to drive for their livelihood and the livelihood of their families, to be disqualified as a result of a traffic accident. I have known them to be disqualified as a result of an accident in which there was no allegation whatever of insobriety or anything to do with drink.
I knew of a case where a chap was driving his own private car and he carried merchandise which was part of his stock-in-trade. For that he was summoned. The case was proved against him and it was established that, constructively, he was driving uninsured because the policy of insurance he held did not cover the car which was engaged in the course of his business. It could have happened to myself and I should never have adverted to it. He was fined and disqualified from driving. It happened that he was the proprietor of a premises and so could afford to hire a driver but, suppose that was a man whose livelihood was driving, what becomes of his wife and family?
I have some experience of men who are employed as lorry drivers; lorry salesmen is an analogous term. If you deprive them of the right to drive, in effect you deprive them of the right to earn a living, because they have very little other skill and they are not able for heavy manual labour to which they are not accustomed.
I think one of the essential qualities of a just law is that all men should be equal before it. I admit at once that it is not possible to realise that. It is always true that if a man comes from a soft background, shall we say, as opposed to a man coming from a hard background, six months in jail may mean a very different thing so that you cannot make punishment always absolutely equal. But we ought to bear in mind that automatic deprivation of a driving licence is a very heavy penalty. I understand this Bill provides that penalty if there is more than one offence, involving the use of a mechanically propelled vehicle—exceeding the speed limit, careless driving, breach of general or local traffic bye-laws, parking in prohibited areas, parking too near a bus stop, failure to stop, etc. All may involve withdrawal of the driving licence. I am not quite sure if the withdrawal is mandatory in these cases, but it seems to me to be harsh even if a man is convicted three times in one year, perhaps once for parking with part of his car projecting into a taxi rank—cross my heart, I think it happened to myself.
I know I have stopped unwittingly on a pedestrian crossing in the middle of the Christmas rush in a frantic effort to buy a last-moment present in Dame Street and, to his eternal credit, the Garda who was waiting for me when I returned said: "Do you know what a man has just said—that the owner of that car must be a very inconsiderate person?" I felt that was a very tactful Garda and I was quite conscious that if he had said much more I should probably have reacted vigorously but in the circumstances I think he said less than the truth and I was correctly chastened. But do we mean to say that if that happens once and if, three months later, half your car projects from the ordinary parking place into the taxi rank, or that you inadvertently stop at a bus stop to let off your wife who wants to run into the chapel, you are to have your driving licence taken away? Surely it should not be mandatory—I doubt if it should be permissible—to take your driving licence away in those circumstances? Vexatious as that would be for a private individual, it would constitute a grievous hardship on the man depending for his livelihood on his ability to drive. I think moderation requires that that provision should be reviewed.
When we come to Section 40, it provides in a new provision that a Garda can arrest without a warrant a person who gives a name or address which he has reasonable grounds for believing to be false. Under the 1933 Act he must know that the name and address are false. I fully appreciate the difficulty the words "knowing a name and address to be false" create for the Garda but the power of arrest is a very formidable one and to be arrested on the public street and brought to a Garda station is a very distressing experience for any ordinary law-abiding citizen. I should much prefer, however, to leave the difficulty on the Garda, even at the cost of his failure effectively to apprehend somebody who has given a false name and address, than create the situation in which a person who had, in fact, committed no such offence should suffer the indignity of public arrest and of being brought to the Garda station.
After all, all traffic offences must be committed in association with a vehicle which has a registered number. The Garda can always take the registered number of the vehicle and then approach the driver or person in charge of the car and if he gets a false name and address it cannot take very long to track him down. He can go to the owner of the car and say to him: "Where was your car at such and such an hour on such a night?" I should imagine that in 999 cases out of 1,000 the Garda can establish who in fact was in charge of the car at the time the offence was committed and, by giving his description to the owner of the car, he can command the co-operation of the owner in assisting to identify him. If it then becomes manifest that the man identified has, in fact, given a false name and address, suitable steps can be taken to apprehend him and charge him. To give any Garda the right to arrest in the street because of the giving of a false name and address is, I think, excessive.
My experience has been that the young Garda coming on duty in general behaves admirably. But we are all human and one must appreciate that the powers given under this code are given not only to experienced sergeants but to the youngest Garda on the beat and it is to the hands of the younger men usually that enforcement of these minor regulations is committed. A young Garda can easily lose his head and exercise the power of arrest that a more experienced member of the force would avoid exercising. I suggest careful consideration should be given to whether these words "reasonable grounds" ought not to be struck out and we should return to the terms of the 1933 Act, which I believe are, on the whole, better.
Section 41 provides that a member of the Garda may request a person to sign his name in a book. I suggest that is a very good test of sobriety, if a rough and ready test is wanted. A good test would be to ask a man under the influence of drink to write his name and address and compare that entry with one written before or subsequent to the accident in respect of which he is brought to the Garda station.
Section 49 deals with drunken driving. Nobody has more consistently advocated reform in this direction than myself. I brought the matter to the attention of two successive Ard-Fheis of the organisation to which I belong. It is a matter which requires urgent attention, but the very urgency of the problem indicates the necessity for prudence and discretion in approaching it. I want to urge on the House that the general tenor of this Bill shows that we are approaching the problem from the wrong direction. Whenever any society is faced with a common offence the instinctive remedy to the minds of most people is to step up the penalty energetically in the belief that, as the penalty becomes more Draconian, the occurrence of the offence will tend to diminish. But that is very rarely true in fact. Experience suggests that that does not always happen. What is invariably true, however, is that the certainty of detection prevents the recurrence of common crime.
I would much prefer to see provisions in this Bill to carry conviction to the minds of all that it is virtually certain, if you drive a car under the influence of drink, even though you are not drunk, you will be caught and, if you are involved in any kind of accident, responsibility will certainly be brought home. One of the weaknesses of our present road traffic legislation is that, in order to prove a man is drunk, you have to demonstrate a degree of insobriety which makes it almost miraculous that he was able to drive a car at all. I do not believe such a man is a source of many accidents at all.
I believe the man who is most dangerous in a car is the man who is under the influence of drink to the point where he is belligerently concerned to persuade one that he is not. It is in that frame of mind that he proceeds to demonstrate to himself, and everyone else, that he was never better able to manage a car. And it is in the process of such demonstrations that a great many serious accidents happen. Yet such persons are not deemed to be drunk and, in the ordinary acceptance of the term, they are not drunk, but they are certainly offending gravely against the code which requires that those who drive should not drink and those who drink should not drive.
Is that a code which we consider to be excessive? I do not. I think this House should concern itself to lay down the principle generally that those who drink should not drive and those who drive should not drink. I do not think that is any hardship. If you are going out in a party of four or five fellows—I look back over many such parties in my day—there should be a prior agreement that one of the party will go "on the wagon", and the rest can enjoy themselves as much as they like. The man "on the wagon" undertakes to drive; there will be another day when the man "on the wagon" can enjoy himself in the assurance that a companion will be "on the wagon" on this occasion. What is truly indefensible to me is where four or five go to a place of entertainment, be it a publichouse, club, restaurant, or anywhere else, and drink to the point of extreme conviviality and then go out, sit into a six-cylinder car and sail down the road at anything from 50 to 60 miles per hour, confident that there are no circumstances that can arise with which the driver is not uniquely capable of dealing; and some other person, going upon his lawful occasion, is struck by the master driver who is primarily concerned at once to demonstrate that no skill on his part could have avoided the consequences of the other man's folly. Very frequently his eloquence and emphasis in demonstrating that point can be almost deemed to be evidence that he is not drunk within the meaning of the Act.
I have a natural and instinctive reluctance to require any ordinary person to submit to scientific or quasi-scientific tests. I believe that the only way in which this problem can be really met is to require persons who have met with traffic accidents to undertake tests, designed scientifically, to estimate the alcohol content level of their blood or breath, or whatever other physiological test is reasonably acceptable and which can demonstrate objectively the true condition of the driver in relation to his consumption of alcohol.
I am conscious of the fact—I am very conscious of it—that even such objective tests as establish the level of alcohol content of a man's blood have this flaw in them: the alcohol content may be identical in the blood of two different men, and yet it may be objectively true that one is partially intoxicated and the other is not. Therefore, we must content ourselves, as is so often the case in this imperfect world in which we live, not with the second best but with the second worst, that is, to provide that there shall be a blood or breath alcohol content above which a man will be deemed unfit to drive a car, and below which a man will be declared to be blameless in so far as alcholic consumption is concerned in connection with the particular accident in which he has been involved.
I believe that until such regulations are worked out—and it would require very careful examination to get regulations which will be effective and acceptable in a free society, but I believe it is possible to find them—we will not be able to inject into our traffic legislation that degree of certainty of detection which I believe to be the most effective deterrent to traffic accidents which, I understand, constitute more than 50 per cent. of the more serious accidents that occur. I believe that if the driver who is affected by drink could be effectively eliminated from the roads, 50 per cent. of the traffic accidents which take place would not take place at all.
I understand that in the Scandinavian countries such tests have long been in operation, and I gather from the current newspapers that in Great Britain some similar tests are in contemplation. We should turn our minds to the practicability of establishing some tests of that kind for drivers who have been involved in accidents and who the Garda have any grounds for believing have consumed alcohol prior to driving their cars.
I come now to Section 53 which causes me acute alarm. Section 53 creates a new statutory offence in our criminal code which carries with it a maximum penalty of five years' penal servitude. This offence turns upon the definition of "dangerous driving," which, to the best of my knowledge and belief, never has been defined, and the nature of which I do not understand. Am I driving dangerously if I drive my car at 50 miles an hour down a straight trunk road and someone comes out of a side road, without any signal, as is quite possible? If I say in open court: "Yes, I was driving at between 50 and 60 miles an hour down a straight clear trunk road and, knowing there was a small side road, a by-road," am I driving dangerously? I do not know. Does anyone? Does any legislator here in Dáil Éireann know what he means by "dangerous driving"? Unless we do know, we should pause before we create a new statutory offence, the nature of which we ourselves do not know and which carries with it a penalty of five years' penal servitude.
Manslaughter is a criminal offence —the killing of a person by an action deliberately taken against another person without the intention to kill. No one could be convicted of manslaughter if his elbow inadvertently struck a man and broke his neck. No one could be convicted of manslaughter if he were running on a track and a child ran out in front of him, and he stumbled over the child and killed him as a result of the collision. No one surely could convict any man of manslaughter, which is a criminal offence, unless it is established that he was concerned to do something to the victim who was dead.
Let us not lose ourselves in legalistic phrases because we are not lawyers in this House, or, at least, we are not here as lawyers but as legislators. Surely we understand in manslaughter the element of a guilty mind which may have meant to do something, in itself wrong, something which fell far short of murder but which had fatal consequences. There is in our minds or very present to our minds, the guilty mind, the mens rea, in connection with manslaughter. In these cases, one often feels a deep sense of sympathy with the person who struck the blow, a person who never had any thought or wish to inflict a serious injury. Through some strange chance, the blow results in a death, the possibility of which has not occurred to his mind at all, and yet he finds himself confronted with a charge of manslaughter.
We are vastly widening this field, this tragic field, in which someone to whose mind a criminal thought had never occurred is in a moment brought within peril of five years' penal servitude. That is no light decision to take. Unless there is some closer definition of what dangerous driving is deemed to be, this provision requires to be looked at again.
Mark this—and I draw the Minister's attention very especially to it—the provision is where the offence "causes death or serious bodily harm." How long? What period of time is to elapse between the offence and the death of the injured party, to create this new statutory offence of dangerous driving? I understand in ordinary criminal law the period between the act done and the consequences is deemed to be one year and one day. Of that, I am not certain—I am not a practising lawyer —but we surely ought to be able to be clear in our own minds when this new offence which is being created arises.
If a man is knocked down by a car, suffers injury, recovers damages in a civil suit, and dies two or three years later as a result of a disease process which is traced back to the accident in which he was involved, does a charge under this section then lie against the driver? Does he then become liable to five years' penal servitude? This provision appears to be loosely drawn and will require very material revision so as to make it more precise and more restrictive than it appears to be.
Section 55, I take it, covers the problem which we sought to bring before the House recently in the Traffic Bill of the inadequately lighted lorry parked beside the road. Why that has not been dealt with years ago I find it hard to understand. It has been a very pregnant source of danger. Many people have lost their lives as a result of large lorries without adequate rear illumination being parked at the side of dark roads.
The mention of lorries brings me to another point to which I can find no reference here. Possibly it is the Minister's intention to deal with it by regulation. I would direct his attention to it in a very specific way. I refer to the operation of lorries with trailers. Leaving or entering Dublin city can be a nightmare. There are queues of lorries. The nightmare becomes vastly intensified if, in addition to trying to negotiate your way past heavily-laden lorries, you encounter immense lorries drawing immense trailers.
These vehicles are on occasion, I imagine, 40 feet long when you allow for the front lorry, the connection and the trailer behind. To find any part of the road on which it is safe to pass out such a monster is extremely difficult. Usually, when I pass one of them, I ask myself: "Is this safe driving?" The alternative is to stay behind them for 100 miles of the road. By their very nature, they do not travel more than 20 or 30 miles per hour. You are also aware that if you stay behind them, you make a 40-foot into a 50-foot obstruction because anyone trying to pass out must pass you, the trailer and the lorry.
I do not think it would be an unreasonable restriction on carriers to provide that they should not be entitled to use lorries with trailers annexed thereto. A man ought to be content to operate a lorry. Lorries with trailers might legitimately be prohibited. Maybe I am overlooking some aspect of this case and am unduly preoccupied with the anxiety of an ordinary driver meeting that hazard on the road. However, it is a hazard of such dimension as to justify the prohibition of the use of public roads for such vehicles.
Section 83 deals with taximeters. Can any Deputy read a taximeter? Can any Deputy looking at a taximeter know what he owes the taximan? I remember that when you sat in a taxi in the halcyon days of old, if you looked at the taxi meter, you knew what you owed. To that, in the old days, you added 3d.—now it is 6d. or, if it is over 5/-, a little more. Looking at a taximeter now, I have not the faintest notion of what I owe the taximan and I should be afraid to ask him. The taximeter would show two and threepence but then I would be told that there was an allowance for an extra passenger, an allowance for this and an allowance for that, so that the amount owed was 3/9. I am not in a position to say with any degree of certainty that that is true. I am not alleging against taximen that they overcharge. I do not think they do.
I have driven between two points on the one evening, going and coming. Deputies will understand the circumstances in which that was done. If you drink, you should not drive and if you drive, you should not drink. To my astonishment, going cold sober to my assignation, I paid 2/9d., whereas, returning on exactly the same road, refreshed, I have had to pay 3/6d. On neither occasion has the clock given me the slightest indication of the appropriate fee. My modest suggestion is that at regular intervals we ought to make the clocks show the comprehensive charge. Whether that suggestion is feasible I do not know but the matter requires examination.
In Part VIII, there are provisions concerning the parking of vehicles and the parking attendants. I want to make a special plea for parking attendants. They are hard-working persons who must be out in all weathers. They have family responsibilities. Owing to the peculiar circumstances of their way of living, they are deemed ineligible for inclusion in the social security code. Surely we could surmount that obstacle and provide that these men would stamp a card and be entitled to sickness benefit and the other benefits enjoyed by subscribers to the social security code? Whether they would be deemed to be employed by the Commissioner or by somebody else is, I think, a matter of indifference. At least some constructive employment relation ought to be established with somebody which would entitle those men to stamp a card, albeit if in a special category and at a special rate.
Part IX of the Bill relates to the right of a wide variety of Ministers to make regulations—the Minister for Justice, the Minister for Local Government, the Commissioner of the Garda and several others. Two considerations arise in that connection. Under the 1933 Act, a number of regulations were made. Most people find it extremely difficult to find gathered together anywhere the complete code of the 1933 Act, with all the regulations made under it. Yet we are all liable to stringent penalties including imprisonment if we offend against the regulations made under this code.
I want to make the suggestion that, in so far as it is possible, we ought to avoid legislating by regulation, that we should try, in so far as it is humanly possible, to foresee all the matters that require to be dealt with and incorporate the requisite provisions in this Bill. But, in so far as that proves to be impracticable, then I think there is a clear duty upon us to provide that this Bill, when it becomes an Act, will be readily available in the Government Publications Office and that there shall be an annual obligation on the Minister for Local Government to codify all the regulations that have been made since the date of the passing of the Bill and publish them in an annual traffic booklet, so that those concerned to know the law will be able, shortly after the 1st January or the 31st March, whichever date is chosen, to get from the Government Publications Office the current number of the codified regulations made under this Act in the certain knowledge that, when they get that, they at least know the law as it is up to the relevant date.
That would have two very desirable consequences. First, it would enable people to ascertain with certainty the law; and, secondly, it would operate as a check upon the over-zealous bureaucrat, who is always prepared to make regulations at the drop of a hat. If it is pointed out to him "If you can manage to get around this without making new regulations, we would not have to reprint the booklet of regulations," he might be persuaded to hold his hand, and so the infinite multiplication of regulations would be in some degree restricted. Whether that restriction operates or not, it would be eminently desirable—in fact, I think, essential—that at the end of each year a codification of all regulations made should be published and available to all.
The last matter of detail to which I want to refer is this question of fines on the spot. That is a most unfortunate formula, "fines on the spot". If the proposal in this Bill were a proposal for fines on the spot, I would fight it with my last breath. I think the idea of sweeping away casually in a Bill of this kind the fundamental right of citizens to be tried by a court of competent jurisdiction and to defend themselves would be quite horrible; but, as I understand the Bill, no such proposal is made. Whoever thought up the term "fines on the spot" did a very bad job of public relations for this proposal.
As I understand the proposal, it is a reasonable and sensible proposal, designed to remedy existing evils. Under the existing law the courts of summary jurisdiction, particularly in the cities, are cluttered up with trivial traffic offences. They are dealt with in a very cursory way, which gives little cause for edification and does little to vindicate the majesty of law. I understand the pressure is so great and the circumstances are such that you may have as many as 50 cases of trivial traffic offences disposed of in an hour in the Dublin District Court.
The proposal, as I understand the Bill—I should like to be corrected if I am wrong—is that under the new dispensation the Garda detecting a trivial traffic offence can hand to the offender, or affix to the vehicle, a notice that he suspects a traffic offence has been committed, that the penalty for that offence on conviction is, say, 10/-, and that the person believed to have committed the offence can either pay that penalty at the Garda station and get a receipt for it or do nothing, in which event a summons will issue in due course, which he is free to meet in the court of appropriate jurisdiction and to context there, if he wishes.
If that is the proposal, I think it is unobjectionable. There is no question whatever of the Garda having the right to deny a citizen access to the courts and there is no question even of the citizen having to demand of the Garda the opportunity of going to the courts. On the contrary, all the citizen need do is to ignore the notice he has received from the Garda officer, whether by personal service or by sticking it on to the vehicle, and in due course he will receive the ordinary summons which he would otherwise have received and be free to attend court and meet the charge, whatever it may be, in a court of competent jurisdiction.
I would urge on the Minister at the earliest possible opportunity to disown the description "fines on the spot," to emphasise that there is no question of setting aside the jurisdiction of the courts and that anybody who does not care to be associated with this procedure is not required to do anything except to sit tight, unless and until documents in the ordinary from issue under the ordinary law. Then he is required to do no more than he would have been required to do if this Act had never been passed by Oireachtas Éireann.
I have heard a good deal of argument one way or another about driving tests. I am not myself sure of what their value is. I would strenuously object to any proposal to impose driving tests on persons at present in possession of driving licences. I concede that a case can be made for the introduction of driving tests for persons seeking new licences and for persons seeking renewal of a licence after having been disqualified for conduct suggesting incompetence in the management of a vehicle. But I have not the same high esteem for the whole business of driving tests as many others have. Although I have no strong views about it, I do not share the complete faith others have in the benefits that would accrue from the imposition of such a test.
I think it is a great hardship on people who are shy to have to undergo such tests. I believe that some of the best drivers in this country, if they were required to demonstrate to me, while I was wearing a uniform, their competence to drive, would fail hopelessly in a driving test. They are largely people, men and women, who ordinarily would never dream of driving over 35 m.p.h., and to whom driving can be an almost indispensable asset. I am thinking of retired people who are vigorous, who are healthy in every way, who have a small car and to whom the question of being able to get round to visit their friends and neighbours makes all the difference in their lives. If we were to ask them to drive a car and demonstrate their ability to reverse, turn and make signals under the invigilation of a traffic inspector, they would be thrown into such confusion and alarm that they would ignominiously fail.
In practice, you will find that these very people are the most scrupulous observers of the code of the road, much more so than some of the dashing performers who would make rings round an inspector. The trouble in this imperfect world in which we live is that the concern and the legitimate interests of the kind of people to whom I refer are often trodden underfoot in a flat-footed omnibus attempt to abate an imaginary evil. I doubt if the benefits we will get from a driving test outweigh the isolated hardships. Those who have licences without any record of previous accident or upset should not be required now to undergo a test in order to get a renewal of an unblemished licence which they held for years.
The last thing I want to speak about is something which Deputy Carroll mentioned and that is the desirability of submitting every car to a fitness test every year. I think Deputy Carroll qualified that a little before he sat down. Surely, it ought not be necessary to submit a car which you bought six months ago to a road-worthiness test before you can get a licence? I am prepared to say that if a car is more than ten years on the road it ought to be examined for roadworthiness. We can also get very cautious when we retire into glass cases and settle down to live on sugar and water but we cannot eliminate every human risk. If a relatively new car is liable to be precipitated into an accident, owing to some inherent flaw, what guarantee have we that a car, which has been tested, will not develop a similar flaw? You cannot eliminate every risk.
If the Garda have any evidence at all that accidents are due to defective cars, it would be only reasonable to say that that could arise only after the car had been ten years on the road. I believe that is the practice in Great Britain. To get the car re-licensed it must be submitted for examination and adjustment of anything that requires to be done. I think I am correct in saying that very few cars have been submitted for that examination in Great Britain under the ten year period without resulting in a substantial garage bill. It is also true that a considerable number of cars submitted to that test were dumped as being virtually irreparable and that their owners cheerfully accepted that verdict and said it was in fact overdue but most people who drive cars which are no longer new are people in modest circumstances.
They certainly should not be allowed to continue to drive a dangerous car. On the other hand, they should not be by statute of this House forced into premature and unnecessary expenditure on types of repair which may not be necessary for the safe operation of their cars and which may be beyond their means if insisted upon by legislation here.
Those are the views I have but before I sit down I want to reiterate the warnings with which I began. This legislation is designed for the protection of the people. In our zeal to achieve that purpose, let us not fall into the error of treating the 99 per cent. wise and prudent drivers, who are going about their lawful avocations, as potential criminals. They are not. They are responsible people who are as anxious as anyone in this House to see reckless driving, criminal irresponsibility, cleared off the roads of this country.
We should bear their legitimate interests in mind when enacting a code of legislation such as we have in hand today. We should also remember it is something of infinite importance to this society that there should continue to exist between the Garda and the public at large the highest degree of intimate reciprocal sympathy and we should not inadvertently bring about a situation in which the admirable relationships which at present exist might be frittered away. That is not an unreal danger. They have known it in Great Britain and they are gravely concerned to put it aright. Fortunately, we do not yet know it in this country and nothing we should do in this regard should hasten the day when we should make acquaintance with it.