Road Traffic (Quads and Scramblers) Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend and extend the Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 2016 to give Gardaí the power to seize and detain quad bikes and scrambler motorcycles when being used unlawfully and to provide for related matters.

I will be sharing time with Deputy Munster, who is co-sponsoring this Bill. I have spoken about this important issue on many occasions in this Chamber. When I introduced the Misuse of Motor Vehicles (Public Spaces) Bill 2012, it was opposed by the Fine Gael Minister and his Labour Party colleagues who were in government at the time. This issue is constantly being raised by community groups, residents, councillors and local policing forums. I have been told by gardaí that they are struggling to deal with it because of a legislative anomaly. Vehicles like quad bikes, dirt bikes and scramblers are being used in many of our towns and estates by people as young as four or five years of age to threaten people and to cause many problems for the local community. Most people are responsible in their use of these vehicles but in some cases, they are used in an antisocial way to torment local communities and damage public property. The law as it stands prohibits the use of all-terrain vehicles on public roads unless they are fully insured and taxed. These vehicles have to meet other regulatory requirements. A hole in the existing legislation allows people who use these vehicles for antisocial behaviour to sidestep gardaí in public spaces and thereby avoid penalties. The issue is that gardaí have no power to confiscate or seize vehicles engaged in this behaviour on greens and parks, etc.

This Bill will deal with two issues that are not covered in the existing legislation. First, it will extend the powers of the gardaí by increasing the definition of "public space" in the Road Traffic Acts so that it covers parks and greens. Second, it will allow gardaí to deal with quad bikes that are used illegally in private properties such as parks and greens. It is not intended that this Bill will criminalise the users of these vehicles. It will allow gardaí to act when such vehicles are misused for illegal activity in public spaces, including terrain that is not designated for the use of motor vehicles. There is a clear need to address the problem of scrambler and quad use. A number of adults and children have lost their lives or have been seriously injured as a result of the misuse of these vehicles. This Bill could be introduced in conjunction with the roll-out of an information programme that would explain the rules and regulations associated with the use of these vehicles, provide safety tips and facilitate the registration that is needed. Motocross clubs should be funded and supported to promote the responsible use of quad bikes and scramblers in our cities.

The introduction of this Bill aims to fill a gap in the current legislation governing the use of scramblers, quad bikes and similar vehicles. We recognise that the vast majority of those who operate all-terrain vehicles do so safely and legally. This Bill will have no effect on those who operate their vehicles within the law. It has to be recognised that people in some urban areas are operating vehicles like quad bikes and scramblers without the correct licence, insurance or registration. Teenagers and children are known to be operating these vehicles. This poses a huge risk to their safety and the safety of others. We hope the legislation we are proposing will remedy this type of behaviour, which has led to many injuries and some deaths in recent years.

As my colleague, Deputy Ellis, has said, local communities have raised this issue on countless occasions. It is clear that legislation is required to fill the gap. This Bill will extend the definition of "public space" in the Road Traffic Acts to include parks and greens. This, in turn, will allow gardaí to sanction those who operate these vehicles illegally in such spaces. The Bill is based on public safety. We are trying to make public shared spaces in housing estates and public parks safer. Those who drive these vehicles legally will not be affected by the Bill.

People do not expect to be allowed drive on green areas in residential estates, and we are bringing other vehicles in line with this.

It is also important to note that we are not criminalising people in this Bill. It will merely give gardaí the power to seize and detain these vehicles when they have been used illegally. We do not intend to alienate anyone in these communities. We are in favour of using these vehicles in appropriate safe places such as motorcross clubs and Viking clubs. We need liaison with local councils to identify lands suitable for the establishment of more of these clubs. Therefore, this Bill will allow for people to operate these vehicles in a safe manner. Local authorities should consider seeking out suitable venues for these clubs to allow the safe use of scramblers and other such vehicles.

This Bill will correct an anomaly in the law. It is a public safety issue in many communities across the State and it needs to be rectified.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.