Written Answers. - Road Safety Offences.

Derek McDowell

Ceist:

94 Mr. McDowell asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to comments made by the Chairman of the National Safety Council that Garda enforcement capability regarding road safety offences, and particularly regarding drink driving legislation, was being hindered by a lack of resources and limitations in legislation; the steps he intends to take to address these points; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27654/01]

Road traffic legislation, including the law on driving under the influence of an intoxicant, comes within the remit of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. Enforcement of the traffic legislation is a matter for the Garda Síochána. I am informed by the Garda authorities that they do not consider that there is any lack of resources or limitations in legislation which hinders the enforcement capability of the Garda Síochána.

The House will appreciate that my responsibilities in relation to road safety are mainly in the areas of the provision of Garda resources and Garda traffic law enforcement. In relation to resources, the Garda authorities have sought and have obtained my Department's sanction to purchase a range of equipment, including mobile speed detection equipment, which is used to detect road traffic offences. My Department gives full consideration to all reasonable Garda requests for such equipment. In addition, the requirements of the Garda Síochána in relation to the introduction of penalty points for certain road traffic offences are being taken into account in the development of new Garda computer facilities. I appreciate the importance of this project and it will be progressed as quickly as possible.

In relation to manpower, the Garda national traffic bureau, headed by a chief superintendent and based at Garda headquarters, was established in 1997 to give greater focus and direction to Garda road safety campaigns. There is a traffic unit in every Garda division with special responsibility for traffic law enforcement. These are full time and dedicated to traffic issues, unless required to get involved in emergency duties. The number of traffic units is now 29, up from 16 in 1996. Two additional units are to be established in the near future in Carlow and Cavan. In 1996 there were 40 sergeants and 272 gardaí dedicated full time to traffic. In 2001, the total is 58 sergeants and 369 gardaí. In addition, all uniformed gardaí throughout the State are involved in traffic law enforcement as required.

The enforcement priorities of the Garda Síochána are in line with the key targets of the Govern ment's national strategy on road safety 1998-2002 i.e speeding, drink driving and non-wearing of seat belts. The implementation of this strategy is being overseen by the inter-agency high level group on road safety which includes the chairman of the national safety council.
Since the introduction of the strategy, Garda enforcement and detection, in relation to road traffic offences has increased significantly. The principal Garda enforcement campaign is "Operation Lifesaver", which is focusing primarily on speeding, drink driving, seat belt offences and vulnerable road users. Specifically in relation to drink driving offences, the number of detections in 2000 at 10,433 represents a 24% increase on 1998. I am informed by the Garda authorities there have been more than 9,000 detections this year to date for suspected drink driving.
On the issue of drink driving legislation, this is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. I refer the Deputy to the Road Traffic Bill, 2001, which is due to be debated in the Dáil this session. There is provision in the Bill for extending the grounds on which a Garda may require a driver to provide a preliminary breath specimen to include situations where a driver is involved in a road accident or where the Garda considers that a road traffic offence has been committed.
Other initiatives taken in relation to drink driving under the national strategy include the extension of evidential breath testing, EBT, to 25 Garda stations by the end of 2000. It is intended to have this form of testing available in 40 stations by the end of this year. The use of EBT avoids the need for a doctor to take a blood or urine sample from a suspect, though this remains an option. The EBT machines are supplied by the medical bureau of road safety.
I also refer the Deputy to my reply today to Priority Question No. 83 on the issue of traffic law enforcement. I assure the House that I will continue to give consideration to any request from the Garda authorities for additional resources to aid the enforcement of the road traffic laws.