Other Questions. - Road Safety.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

10 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if, in regard to the recommendations contained in the road safety strategy document, published in August 1998, he will outline the recommendations that have been implemented and the ones that remain to be acted on; the reason the long-promised penalty point system for road offences has not been implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18660/00]

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

44 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the plans he has to introduce the long-promised points system for road traffic offences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18650/00]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 44 together.

The Government Strategy for Road Safety 1998-2002 prioritises a systematic and co-ordinated set of measures for preventing and reducing road accidents. It establishes quantified targets for achieving its objectives, the principal of which is to reduce road deaths and serious injuries each by at least 20% by 2002 relative to 1997. Priority is accorded by the strategy to actions targeted at speeding, alcohol and seat belt wearing. A timetable for key actions in these and other areas is also set out.

The Government strategy is monitored by the high level group on road safety whose first progress report in July 1999, inter alia, details progress with these key actions. Copies of that report were circulated to all Deputies and are also available in the Library. A second progress report, incorporating updated information on key actions, will be published next month.

Good progress has been made in the first two years of the strategy's operation towards the pri mary target of reducing road deaths and serious injuries each by at least 20% by 2002. By end 1999, road deaths had been reduced by nearly 13% relative to 1997 and serious injuries from road accidents had been reduced by over 15%.

Progress is also ahead of target in providing low cost accident measures on the national road network with nearly 300 schemes now likely to be completed by end 2000. On the other hand, recent NRA surveys have shown that considerable improvement will be needed in order to achieve road safety targets for reduction of speeding and increase in seat belt wearing.

Garda enforcement activity has been intensified and improved in accordance with the road safety strategy. Over 170,000 on-the-spot fines issued in relation to speeding offences in 1999, and more than 70,000 in the first four months of this year. Fixed speed cameras are in operation in the Dublin and eastern regions. More than 50,000 on-the-spot fines have been issued for non-wearing of seat belts since the introduction of this measure in July 1999.

The road safety strategy envisages a penalty points system as a key measure in support of road safety enforcement. The scheme of a new road traffic Bill is being drafted in my Department with the principal purpose of providing for this penalty points system. However, the design of the system has, as stated in the strategy, required careful consideration because of the exclusive constitutional role of the Irish courts in the administration of justice. Following protracted examination of this legal issue, I expect to be in a position to submit legislative proposals to Government before the summer recess with a view to the earliest possible publication of a Bill after that date. I am referring to the Government's recess before the end of July.

I am glad the Minister of State has at last given a date for the submission of these proposals to Government because his reply is virtually identical to that he gave on 25 May.

How many drivers do not have a driving licence? What is the Minister of State doing to address the industrial relations problems in the driver testing area of his Department which are restricting the number of driving tests and the number of people obtaining driving licences? Does he agree one of the major contributing factors to the number of deaths on roads is the fact that up to 25% of drivers are not qualified to drive?

Part of the Deputy's question would be more appropriate to a separate question.

It is about road safety.

I am happy to give any statistical information required by the Deputy which I have given him on previous occasions.

How many people are driving without licences?

I can give the Deputy that information separately. I do not have that information with me as the question refers to the penalty points system. In case Deputies get the wrong impression, even though the Bill is finalised, in practice it will be possible to implement the penalty points system only when the national driver licence file is fully computerised. Completion of that project is forecast for the end of 2001. The strategy did not give a specific date as regards the penalty points system because certain legal issues had to be examined arising from the constitutional separation of the Judiciary and the Legislature. Hopefully those issues are being worked out and I expect to bring legislation before the House after the summer recess.

The strategy also deals with other aspects of road traffic legislation. However, implementation cannot be expected immediately on the passing of a road traffic Bill as it will depend on the new computerisation system. Unfortunately that system is taking some time to put in place.

I wish the Minister of State well in his efforts to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on the roads. We all have a responsibility to support measures which help to achieve that aim. Does the Minister of State agree that, while there is much concentration on speeding, which is one of the main causes of accidents, little action is being taken with regard to dangerous driving?

A person can drive at 50 or 60 miles per hour within the speed limit but in a reckless manner, overtaking at dangerous points, and get away with it. However, one can be fined £50 for driving at five miles per hour over a motorway speed limit at 6 a.m. I have seen lunatics on the road overtaking at dangerous points which could lead to serious accidents. Are there any proposals for additional mobile patrols to watch for dangerous driving and to take immediate action against drivers where it occurs?

I agree with the Deputy's comments. Part of the Government's road safety strategy is that there would be a substantial increase in Garda enforcement of road traffic regulations. There is a fairly extensive range of offences and the law is quite strong. I am sure the Deputy will have seen reports, and from the figures I have given in reply to this question, that there has been a very significant increase in the level of Garda activity enforcing road traffic regulations.

With respect to speeding.

The enforcement level has increased substantially. The Garda has substantially increased the number of highly visible vehicles on the roads and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has substantially increased investment in this area. This is part of the Government's strategy and is outlined in the published programme. Annual reports on progress will be compiled.

The more Garda manpower and vehicles that can be provided the greater level of efficiency it will achieve in terms of enforcement. However, we must appeal to our fellow citizens to exercise due caution when on the roads. This involves a personal decision but, unfortunately, younger drivers form the largest category of drivers who suffer serious injury and death. I must appeal for more care by all road users.

If speeding is the primary problem, is it not possible to introduce governors into cars which would prevent them going over 70 miles per hour? Surely that is the most logical approach. When will a proper penalty points system be introduced which would act as a disincentive for reckless drivers?

I have been answering the second part of the Deputy's question concerning the penalty points system. Legislation is being finalised but the implementation also depends on the computerisation of driver licence records. That will be towards the end of 2001.

There are governors in some commercial vehicles and there are arguments for and against such a measure. In some cases I am sure the lack of ability to accelerate could be a problem. A Member of the House lost his life in a car accident which resulted from a similar situation. I would require detailed scientific and professional advice on this measure before recommending it to Government. However, we could examine the issue.

I will allow Question No. 11 but there will be no time for supplementary questions.