I note the Deputy's concern regarding the unacceptable level of road deaths and traffic accidents. The inter-agency high level group on road safety is currently engaged in implementing the Government's National Strategy on Road Safety, 1998-2002.
Before dealing with the substance of the Deputy's question, I should state that road deaths and serious injuries are in decline in recent years and this trend is continuing in 2001. For example, in 2000, road deaths are 12.1% down on the 1997 level. Up to 31 October 2001 the number of road deaths at 332 is down 15 on the same period last year. However, the level of road deaths is still profoundly unacceptable and efforts to bring about a further reduction in road deaths and serious injuries are being continued by the Garda Síochána, my Department, and the other agencies responsible for implementing the national strategy on road safety.
In relation to enforcement since 1997, Garda traffic policing has undergone a number of changes in order to improve Garda enforcement capability. In this regard, there is a Garda national traffic bureau, headed by a chief superintendent, based at Garda headquarters. The bureau gives focus and develops policy in relation to enforcement and is represented on the high level group on road safety.
Furthermore, the bureau liaises with local Garda divisional heads on road safety initiatives, including local and national road safety campaigns. I am informed by the Garda authorities that there is a minimum of one traffic unit in every Garda division with special responsibility for traffic law enforcement. In addition, other Garda personnel are involved in traffic law enforcement through involvement in routine policing as well as specific district, divisional, regional and national traffic law enforcement operations.
Traffic unit members are not assigned to other non-traffic duties unless required to get involved in emergency duties. The number of traffic units operating throughout the State is now 29, up from 16 in 1996. Two additional units are to be established in the near future in Carlow and Cavan.