I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021, a wide-ranging Bill that seeks to regulate e-scooters, e-bikes and the newly installed dynamic traffic management system on the M50. The Bill also includes measures to increase the speed of the implementation of BusConnects and underpins the investment in a much-improved public transport system.
Significantly, the Bill also introduces legislation to deal with dangerous and antisocial off-road use of scramblers, quads and similar vehicles. There are amendments to strengthen laws concerning insurance and road traffic law enforcement. These measures will help to improve road safety while helping us to drive down the cost of insurance for law-abiding drivers. These initiatives will help us to advance towards our ambitious shared EU Vision Zero objective of eliminating deaths and serious injuries on our roads by 2050.
While I generally welcome the Bill as part of the Government's efforts to introduce and encourage alternative modes of mobility, give people more options and reduce our reliance on cars, I believe there are issues with it. I hope the Minister will be open to amendments on Committee Stage.
I will deal with each of the principal aspects of the Bill in turn. Currently, both e-bikes and e-scooters come under the definition of a mechanically propelled vehicle, MPV. A person driving or riding an MPV must have insurance, tax and a licence. This has caused confusion as there is no specific licence available for an e-scooter or e-bike.
Section 16(e) of this Bill amends the 1961 Act and defines a new category of vehicle, the powered personal transporter, PPT, and sets out certain technical details characterising such vehicles. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill states, "This vehicle category is intended to encompass a range of small, lightweight micro-mobility vehicles such as e-scooters, electric skateboards, segways, hoverboards, etc. which are not accurately captured within the vehicle categories as set out in the 1961 Act due to technological innovations in the intervening years."
Section 16(b)(ii) amends the Road Traffic Act 1961 to exempt PPTs from the definition of an MPV. This means there will be legal clarity meaning PPTs such as e-scooters and e-bikes can be used without the need for registration, tax, licensing and insurance conditions, as are necessary for MPVs.
Part 12 also defines an e-bike for the first time in Irish legislation and differentiates between low-powered and high-powered models. Many of the amendments in Part 12 are technical and add the term PPT or PPTs to existing legislation. While e-bikes and e-scooters will not be treated as MPVs, there is still legislation that prohibits drink driving on a bike and speeding and this will extend to PPTs.
The Bill clarifies that PPTs are also required to be roadworthy and may be examined by a garda to ensure they do not have a dangerous defect. It will be an offence to supply a powered personal transporter to a person under the age of 16 years. This is somewhat problematic. I hope consideration will be given to reducing the age, perhaps for low-powered PPTs, or restricted-speed models, to allow children over 12 – basically all secondary school children – to use an e-bike to get around. E-bikes are popular in that age category in secondary schools.
Section 109A will give the Garda significant powers to crack down on antisocial and reckless criminal behaviour of those using scramblers and quad bikes. Provisional RSA statistics show that, in the period 2014 to 2019, three of the six people who died in Ireland as a result of an incident involving a quad bike or scrambler were aged 18 or under. The RSA statistics also show that, between 2014 and 2019, 60 people were injured in collisions involving a quad bike or scrambler on a public road. Of those killed or injured, 41% were 18 years of age or under. My Fianna Fáil colleague, Deputy McAuliffe, has already dealt with this issue in detail so I do not propose to repeat what was said other than to compliment him and my colleague, Deputy Lahart, for championing this issue in the House. The new measures will empower gardaí to enter the curtilage of a dwelling, but not a dwelling itself, to seize and remove scramblers used for antisocial activity. This is particularly welcome.
Part 4 of the Bill introduces amendments concerning the information that motor insurers must provide to the Motor Insurance Bureau Ireland and the use of this information.
Section 56 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 stipulates that every person using an MPV in a public area must have an approved motor insurance policy. This Bill will ensure insurance companies will have to provide details to the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland within five working days. This will be useful for gardaí. It should enhance enforcement and drive down the cost of motor insurance for responsible drivers.
I note improvements to fixed-charge penalties included in Part 7 of the Bill, which amends the Local Authorities (Traffic Wardens) Act 1975 and will treat fixed-charge notices issued by traffic wardens in the same way as those issued by An Garda under Part 3 of the Road Traffic Act 2010. This means a person will have another opportunity to pay a fixed penalty, at the point of summons, before the case goes to court for offences specified in the section, such as parking offences. That is particularly welcome because cases in this regard are clogging up our courts. I would say the vast majority of the cases before the District Court concern road traffic offences.
The Bill introduces provisions to deal with variable speed limits on the M50, in addition to technical amendments on novice drivers and driving instructors. All are welcome.
I hope the Minister will have regard to my suggestion to allow all second level students to use e-bikes and consider points raised by Deputies on e-scooters to ensure there is not a free-for-all. Concern in this regard was the main deterrent to introducing legislation.
It might be useful if the committee hears from experts in this area to reach a cross-party consensus. Disability advocates and groups representing older people, for example, have concerns, and they need to be heard. I hope we can amend the existing legislation. I hope we can make progress on this Bill because its provisions are certainly demanded and needed. We need regulation, but the vehicles in question are very popular and people want to see them introduced on our roads.