Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Wednesday, 1 Nov 2006

Road Safety: Presentations.

Chairman: The next item on our agenda is a discussion with Mr. David Stanley of Convenience Advertising, Australia. He will address the committee on the issue of roadside drug testing in Australia. I draw his attention to the fact that members of the committee have absolute privilege, but this same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. Members are reminded of the parliamentary practice that members should not comment on, criticise, or make charges against any person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I thank Mr. Stanley for the DVDs and information booklets he has supplied to the committee. Unfortunately, there are not enough for every committee member, so we will try to have them copied and distributed to the members.

Mr. David Stanley

I thank the Chairman and the committee members for the opportunity to present some information on Victoria's programme of random roadside saliva testing for illicit drugs. I have discussed the supply of extra copies with the clerk and the committee will receive them in about a week.

In 2003, Victoria's road toll was the lowest since records started in 1951, yet 330 people were killed on our roads. As we all know, one life lost is one too many. Community measures to reduce the road toll were, and are still, an imperative in Victoria, as they are in Ireland. To further reduce the road toll, in 2004, a trial was legislated for to introduce random roadside saliva testing for THC, Delta 9 — THC is the active component in cannabis — and methamphetamine, commonly known in Australia as speed. As we all know, drug driving seriously increases the risk of being involved in a crash. In 2003, 31% of drivers killed in Victoria tested positive for illicit drugs.

A person under the influence of drugs is more likely to take risks. Drug driving causes significantly reduced attention and a lessened ability to concentrate on the driving task. THC and methamphetamine are two of the common illicit drugs involved in Victorian road fatalities. Research shows that both these illicit drugs increase a driver's risk of being involved in a crash. Drivers who have recently consumed THC or methamphetamine run the same risk of having a crash as a driver with a BAC level of above 0.05. We know that cannabis slows the body's functions, including reaction time and memory. It dramatically diminishes a person's ability to drive a vehicle safely. Research evidence is that three-dimensional spatial judgments are seriously impaired at 0.02 BAC and that impairment in driving ability works on a one-to-one ratio.

In relation to alcohol, Victoria's policymakers selected a high level of impairment, 0.05. With alcohol, the policymakers moved from a specific deterrence based on individual impairment to per se law based on the science of accident risk. This policy is also the foundation of the random roadside saliva testing legislation.

The saliva drug testing device detects recent use of cannabis within a four-hour period, which we know has a significant impact on a person's ability to drive safely. Methamphetamine is from the psycho-stimulant class of illicit drugs and accelerates the body's functions. The devices selected by Victoria for random roadside saliva testing do not detect prescribed and common over-the-counter drugs, such as flu and cold medications. Testing only detects THC and methamphetamine substances not legally prescribed in Australia. Drug driving tests are random. Victoria police are using a drug bus and marked and unmarked police vehicles.

In the pilot drug test, drug driving tests were random. However, they were targeted at the public, truck drivers and entertainment precincts. The process of testing requires selected drivers to undergo a preliminary test for alcohol. This takes about 20 to 30 seconds. Where there is no or low alcohol presence detected, drivers or riders are asked to provide a saliva sample, which is screened at the roadside, with the results determined within approximately five minutes. Drivers who do not test positive are not detained further. Drivers who return a positive saliva test are asked to accompany an officer to a drug bus and provide a second sample. When a second test is required, the total process takes 30 minutes. Where there is a positive test to the second sample, the driver is interviewed according to normal police procedure.

Once the process is complete, the driver is allowed to leave, although he or she is not allowed to drive the vehicle. The driver is provided with a portion of the second sample, which he or she may choose to have independently analysed. It is important that the prosecution and potential penalties can only occur if roadside screening tests are confirmed by state-of-the-art, mass-spectrum lab units, GC-MS or LC-MS. This takes place in an authorised laboratory and they are 100% evidentially accurate.

Where the presence of illicit drugs is confirmed by laboratory analysis, a penalty notice or summons to appear in court is issued. People who lose their licences as a result of a drug driving offence must undertake a drug education and assessment course before being eligible to get their licences back. The penalties for drug driving offences are fines up to $600 and up to three months' loss of licence for first-time offenders. For subsequent offences, there is a fine of up to $1,200 and up to six months' loss of licence.

The important points from the Victoria trial are as follows. There were 1,300 saliva drug tests conducted in the trial year, compared to 3.7 million alcohol RBT tests for that same year, on a population not dissimilar in size to that of the Republic of Ireland. In the alcohol RBT programme, one in every 250 drivers is testing positive compared with the roadside drug testing pilot programme, where one in 46 drivers tested positive.

As I explained, the first test is an alcohol one and drivers found positive for alcohol are not tested for drugs. Accordingly, the actual number of drug positives could be greater than one in 46 owing to drivers who use both alcohol and drugs.

After the first alcohol test, drivers who are not processed for illegal alcohol levels are then randomly tested with a Securetec Drugwipe device. Drivers who screen positive in the Securetec Drugwipe device then do a second drug screen in the drug bus using a Cozard Rapiscan device. All drivers who have tested positive to the Cozard Rapiscan device have their samples sent to a laboratory for the GC-MS analysis. That is 100% accurate and is evidence for prosecution. The Drugwipe device has excellent specificity. Of the 13,000 tests in the trial, only 0.01% of drivers were not confirmed by the GC-MS laboratory testing so they were false positives.

As I said, the pilot drug bus was set up in trial test sites to target the public, truck drivers and people driving to and from entertainment precincts. At each site a comparison of alcohol positives with drug positives was conducted and it was found that, among the public, 0.9% of drivers tested positive for alcohol and 1.0% tested positive for drugs. With truck drivers, 0.5% tested positive for alcohol and 1.8% tested positive for drugs. In the cases of those driving to and from nightclubs, 2.9% of drivers tested were found positive for alcohol and 5.5% were found positive for drugs. Overall, 2.5% of the Drugwipe tests indicated positive results.

Some 91% were methamphetamine, 4.7% were THC and 4.3% tested positive for both drugs. Some 16.7% of Drugwipe positive drivers could not provide enough saliva for the Cozard test and blood was taken. All blood samples taken were positive when tested later in the laboratory. Some 1.7% of the Drugwipe positive drivers refused to take a second Cozard test and were charged and received the maximum penalty. Some 94% of Drugwipe positive screens were positive in the laboratory for methamphetamine. THC positives ranged from 222 nanograms per millilitre to 6,484 nanograms per millilitre. In 5% of the Drugwipe positive methamphetamine results, Cozard recorded a negative and the laboratory recorded a negative and the driver was not detained further and drove off. This represents for the Drugwipe unit only 0.01% of drivers tested being false positives. When all tests recorded a positive, 76% were positive to methamphetamine, 19.1% were positive to both drugs and 4.9% were positive to cannabis.

The 2.5% detection rate for the pilot programme overall generated a huge media response. The media compared 2.5% positive random drug tests with 0.4% positive random breath tests. Headlines read: "Drug Epidemic Five Times Greater than Alcohol". As a result, drug driving became a community issue.

In May, random roadside drug testing became permanent in legislation and in September, MDMA, or ecstasy as it is commonly known, was included in the testing.

General deterrents based on average accident risk was the policy decision made by the Victoria government. Personal impairment took a back seat to accident risk. The policy Victoria has adopted is not focusing on drunk or drug drivers; it is after everyone using big buses with lots of lights and road presence. Victoria is the first state in Australia to introduce per se laws. Again, it is about setting a community standard based on the science of accident risk and not on individual’s impairment. The science on accident risk is commonly viewed as excellent and fits in with the community’s call for protection of all road users from road related harm.

I thank the committee for the honour of allowing me to present Victoria's work in this area. I wish the committee well in its important work.

I thank Mr. Stanley. Is it possible to take a saliva test for cocaine?

Mr. Stanley

Yes, but this programme does not include cocaine. It includes cannabis, methamphetamine and MDMA.

Whether we like to admit it, cocaine presents as serious a problem here as any of the other drugs.

Mr. Stanley

I could get some information for the Chairman on the impairment side and send it with the other DVDs.

We would appreciate that.

Is there a particular scientific reason cocaine is not included or has it something to do with the drug culture in Australia?

Mr. Stanley

I would imagine that the prevalence of cocaine use in Australia is not dissimilar to that in Ireland but it would be more to do with the impairment. It is not my area of expertise and it is why I will provide the committee with the reasons those three were chosen.

Mr. Stanley stated there were 13,000 tests carried out, of which roughly 2.5% were found to indicate positive results. If cocaine use in Australia is at a certain level, why was cocaine not included in the tests which were introduced?

Mr. Stanley

I am not qualified to answer that but I have a suspicion that it might be related to impairment. I will provide the committee with the reason. I will delve in and get the relevant information for the committee.

What is Mr. Stanley's involvement with the authorities in the testing in Victoria? What is his position? Is it a commercial involvement?

Mr. Stanley

No. I am a public health practitioner. I will leave the committee with examples of the messages we developed. These are the sorts of messages that went out across the community to alert young people to another side effect of drug use in driving. I also work here in Ireland.

Does Mr. Stanley's have a commercial involvement as such in the programme?

Mr. Stanley

No. I am a public health practitioner who designs information campaigns about these programmes.

I thank Mr. Stanley for the presentation. Unfortunately, we just received a copy of it. There was much information provided orally which was difficult to follow.

At present, in Ireland and in most of the rest of Europe there is no valid roadside drug testing system. Dr. Cusack wrote to the committee pointing out that while efforts are still being made to establish a valid roadside testing apparatus, they have not yet got one. They suggest that the situation in Victoria is different from that of Europe.

On the trials to date and the pilot scheme, is Mr. Stanley finding very different information from that which he would have picked up through breath testing for alcohol? In this country, we only conduct roadside breath testing for alcohol. Subsequently, many of those samples are analysed and a high proportion would contain drugs as well as alcohol. Is Mr. Stanley finding a trend where there is a significant number of drivers who would not have alcohol in their systems but who have one of the drugs to which he referred?

Mr. Stanley

On Deputy Shortall's initial comments, the Victoria authorities decided to separate the arguments between the toxicologists and the road safety experts, and they sided with road safety as a basic premise for this policy.

As I mentioned in my presentation, in the case of those who are found positive for alcohol there is no further testing. The only information being brought to bear in the development of the trials has been the tests in the coroner's court. I mentioned that 31% of those killed in Victoria in 2003 tested positive for illicit drugs in their systems and that really was the impetus to adopt more of a road safety model.

Was that with or without alcohol?

Mr. Stanley

These were people who were killed and there were illicit substances found in their bodies.

I am asking whether alcohol was found as well.

Mr. Stanley

No. I am just stating that 31% of them tested positive for illicit drug substances. I cannot answer whether they had alcohol in their systems at the time.

I was just wondering whether Mr. Stanley has that information.

Mr. Stanley

If someone tests positive on the roadside for alcohol, he or she is just charged with the alcohol offence. It relates really to the road safety practitioners' view of impairment. I was speaking about average accident risk as opposed to the theory of toxicology.

I welcome Mr. Stanley. Mr. Stanley indicated that coroners discovered that 31% of people killed on the roads had taken illicit drugs or substances. Were tests carried out to see if those individuals had also imbibed alcohol?

Mr. Stanley

That is a good question but I cannot answer it. I am not qualified to speak in that regard, but I would imagine there are some issues that arise in respect of that sort of testing. What was found in those people's bodies might not necessarily have impaired them or caused their deaths. Some 31% of them were found to have illicit drugs in their systems.

What type of effect did drug testing have on the community in general?

Mr. Stanley

In light of the time constraints involved, I could not provide that information to the committee earlier. Two surveys that were conducted, which I will make a point of sending to the committee, showed that there has been a substantial, double-digit reduction in attitudes and also in people reporting as driving under the influence of drugs since this matter became policy. The visual and targeted approach that has been taken in the pilot scheme has also played a role. Since the legislation was introduced, the "booze buses", as we refer to them in Victoria, are being refitted and will in future be known as drug and alcohol random testing, DART, units. By June of next year, eight units will be in operation. On an annual testing rate of 3.7 million, the fact that people can also be tested for drugs should bring a road safety approach fully to——

In other words, it will bring more sanity to bear.

Mr. Stanley

The system has been improved to bring it into line with what is required in modern times. A Drugwipe unit costs approximately €20, so there are issues of cost involved. However, both VicRoads and the TAC have been buoyed by the results and the change in attitudes that is being experienced. As the Deputy is aware, it is difficult to obtain gains in respect of road safety and, therefore, this offers some real promise.

We will now take questions from Deputy Glennon, Senator Dooley and Deputy Peter Power, in that order.

I join colleagues in welcoming Mr. Stanley. As one of those who had the pleasure of visiting Victoria earlier in the year, I thank him and his colleagues for the manner in which we were received. Our trip was hugely informative.

I wish to explore the aspect of targeting members of the public, truck drivers and nightclub drivers. Were they in order of priority?

Mr. Stanley


Were truck drivers the priority?

Mr. Stanley

One of them. Australia is almost the same size as the United States of America, with approximately 20 million people living in areas on the coasts. There are huge distances involved in certain trips and infrastructure issues relating to long-haul transport arise. The research carried out in this area indicates that approximately 67% of long-haul truck drivers use some form of "stay awake" assistance or drugs.

On our visit to Victoria, we found that statistic striking. When Mr. Stanley states that 67% of truck drivers——

Mr. Stanley

Long-haul truck drivers.

Will Mr. Stanley define what is meant by the term "long-haul" in the context of the trips these drivers make?

Mr. Stanley

They drive interstate or perhaps as far as the border between states.

What sort of mileage would be involved?

Mr. Stanley

One would be referring to trips lasting a minimum of two hours and involving what people here call articulated trucks. We refer to such vehicles as semi-trailers or B-doubles.

Such vehicles would not be dissimilar to those in use in Ireland.

Mr. Stanley


Mr. Stanley's estimate is that 60% to 70% of those drivers use some form of "stay awake" stimulant.

Mr. Stanley

It is not my estimate; it comes from the research.

I presume that such stimulants could include something such as coffee.

Mr. Stanley

No, coffee is excluded.

What about Red Bull?

Mr. Stanley

That is also excluded. We are referring to——

Therefore, we are discussing something chemical in nature.

Mr. Stanley

Exactly. Something in the area of illicit substances.

Is speed the most basic?

Mr. Stanley

We are talking in the main about amphetamine to methamphetamine. It might be ephedrine and other extracted substances from over the counter cold and influenza tablets.

Is "nightclub drivers" a reference to nightclub patrons who drive to and from the venue?

Mr. Stanley


They are targeted at a specific time but is there a specific period during the day when the public is targeted?

Mr. Stanley

No, it is random.

I recall being told there tended to be a higher detection rate in the morning among the public. Is that correct?

Mr. Stanley

That probably relates to people leaving raves, etc. A strong part of the strategy focusses on people leaving all-night events. It might not be, for example, the nightclub precinct but there might be a weekend event or a Saturday night event that might be in the country. That venue would be targeted externally and then the TAC has a van called Vanessa——

What is the TAC?

Mr. Stanley

The Transport Accident Commission in Victoria. It has a van that goes inside the event and allows people to test themselves so that they can work out whether they need a designated driver or when it is appropriate to leave. Work is being done on both sides.

A proactive as well as a reactive approach is being taken. The two approaches are adopted in tandem. Are the approaches balanced?

Mr. Stanley

Vanessa attends all major events. A positive step in that regard is that local government areas are issuing permits for concerts that include a clause under which the owners must pay to have the Vanessa van at the event or the permit is not issued.

Is it a condition of the event being held that the bus must be sited at the venue?

Mr. Stanley

Yes. The TAC developed it and seeded it into everyone's consciousness. There is a strong campaign involving local government area offices that issue permits to ensure this van be made a condition of events at which alcohol may be on sale.

Victoria has eight "booze buses".

Mr. Stanley

The name is being changed to DARTs — Drug and Alcohol Random Testing buses. They are being refitted because, during the trial, only one was used.

What is the population of Victoria?

Mr. Stanley

Approximately the same as the Republic.

How many vehicles are licensed in the state?

Mr. Stanley

I do not know but I could get that information for the committee.

I welcome Mr. Stanley. With regard to the impairment issue, he indicated his results are based on the testing of the participants in accidents. Have comparative studies been conducted on the level of impairment owing to the consumption of alcohol or drugs? Has drug testing been helpful in the detection of drug trafficking or in identifying drug taking trends? Has it led to significant drugs finds in his jurisdiction? Is testing conducted randomly or is a specific time targeted daily?

Mr. Stanley

I will gather the impairment research and forward it to the committee. Drug testing is clearly concerned with driving. The TAC legislation is not concerned with what people might do personally. The message is crystal clear that whatever one does, one should not drive. It is not tolerated by the community. A clear message and policy are being put forward, but I cannot speak for how the police may deal with the information.

It would be very helpful if Mr. Stanley could provide information from the police force in the area and submit it to the committee.

Mr. Stanley

It is a clear part of the policy that it is solely related to the traffic division of the police.

My final question related to the random nature of testing.

Mr. Stanley

In terms of targeting those three groups, I am sure the traffic police would use all the strategies available to ensure they are effective and that the community feels the full weight of the testing programme.

Is the approach based on target groups rather than on a particular time?

Mr. Stanley

No. In identifying the target groups, the police would consider time because different groups operate at different times. As the policy matures, I anticipate they will look for evasion and other issues. Clearly, the groups are targeted and the police would consider wisely the times that would give them the best opportunity to drive the message home to those groups.

What are the figures for the reduction achieved in road deaths and accidents?

Mr. Stanley

I do not think anybody has put numbers on what has been achieved. The legislators have taken a brave step. It is worth pointing out to this committee that there is common ground and a united front on the issue. Gate-keepers and poachers, the unions, the employers' association, the police, etc., are working together. Across all the stakeholders in Victoria there is a strong collective will to see this work.

The booze bus – is that what it is called——

Mr. Stanley

Formerly, and currently. The new name I gave the committee is information the Victorian public does not have.

Am I correct that this is not a police car at the side of road conducting tests, but is an elaborate piece of machinery? What exactly does it entail?

Mr. Stanley

This poster shows the drug testing bus and the sort of message put out to the public about it. The bus is a single testing unit but when it goes out lights are set up hundreds of metres before and after it and police vehicles are set out in the streets ahead and behind it and in the side streets. It has a very visual and loud pronounced presence.

I was getting to that point. This is a significant visual presence and everybody knows it is there. It is not like a random police car waiting at the side of the road for some type of road traffic offence. This visibility is specific to this area.

Mr. Stanley

The police also use unmarked police cars. The full force of the transport division of the police is employed. However, in terms of the eight booze buses, which seek to spearhead the change of behaviour, there is a visual presence.

Are the capital costs available?

Mr. Stanley

I will provide that information for the committee.

In terms of assessing the effectiveness of the programme, has Mr. Stanley any qualitative data on before and after implementation?

Mr. Stanley

We have some, but not for after because we have just introduced it.

What has been the reduction in incidents from two years ago until now?

Mr. Stanley

I cannot give those results. This is a trial that has just commenced, so we have identified a baseline of data. If we go back 20 years, we see that there were 1,034 deaths in Victoria. That is now down to 330. The drug testing programme now seeks to drive down the deaths even further.

Will Mr. Stanley repeat those figures?

Mr. Stanley

We reached the waterline mark politically when the figure reached 1,034.

I will provide the exact timeline for the committee but about 20 years ago it became one of the top two political issues in the state. It is now down to about 330 deaths per year, 20 years later. We have some baseline data from the first year of testing. We present the number of deaths each day as a number at the bottom of the editorial section in our national newspaper.

Can the delegation provide a car-to-death ratio equivalent, in other words, the number of deaths per vehicle? We have a lot of recent data on the number of deaths per vehicle. Is the ratio one to 5,000 vehicles or one to 10,000?

Mr. Stanley

I can provide the committee with that information. The number of vehicles over 20 years has increased.

It is common knowledge that drugs are everywhere in the country, in villages, towns and cities. Does Mr. Stanley believe that drug testing could reduce road deaths in Ireland? Does he know of any reason why measures could not be immediately introduced? Has this method of testing been challenged in the courts?

Mr. Stanley

It has been challenged in Victoria. I do not believe Irish people are much different from Australians.

Has it stood up in court?

Mr. Stanley

It has. It is an exciting opportunity for us in Victoria to be leading out in this area. It has attendant risks and we had a slip-up at the start but it offers great potential in this changing world in which we live. Substances other than alcohol are becoming more prevalent.

Will it help to reduce road deaths in Ireland?

Mr. Stanley


Could it be introduced with immediate effect?

Mr. Stanley

I am not qualified to answer that question.

Has Mr. Stanley his own opinion?

Mr. Stanley

I am really not qualified to answer that question.

That is a political question. Witnesses are not expected to answer those questions.

I welcome our guest and apologise for my late arrival. I also castigate this committee which has once again scheduled this meeting at 2.30 p.m. to coincide with the Order of Business in the Seanad. This means I find it very difficult to play a reasonable part. I have been deprived by this committee of the advantage of hearing the submission because my primary responsibility is to the Order of Business in Seanad Éireann.

The Senator received the agenda for today. We have dealt with the problem of the sitting times of the committee. We have decided to adjust the time to meet at 3 p.m. rather than at 2.30 p.m., to facilitate the Members of the Upper House. If the Senator had read the agenda for today's meeting, he would have seen this was an item and I had hoped he would attend to deal with it.

I could hardly treat the Seanad with respect and attend the committee meeting.

I assume that in Australia, just as here, there is a tragic but very clear profile of those who are killed: young males, country roads, early hours of a weekend morning, poor roads, driving too fast, no safety belts and alcohol. In the majority of cases in Ireland, at least 60% of those factors are present. We know very clearly what the target group is because it is the same every weekend. Last night on the television news there was a rather moving roll-call of people who had died. The names were read out with a visual backdrop of a car crash. Virtually every single one of those, with the exception of an 84 year old woman, was below the age of 30. If they had given the circumstances of the accidents, I am sure the profile I have outlined would have appeared.

A small group is involved and it is a question of targeting that very clearly self-defining group——

Could the Senator put a question and not make a statement. The ground he is covering has already been covered by other members and we are dealing solely with the issue of drugs and not alcohol with Mr. Stanley.

I apologise for that. Does Mr. Stanley have to deal with precisely that kind of profile? Despite the fact that some of these circumstances are tragic — it is always tragic even if people are foolishly playing chicken by driving at each other at very high speeds — is it not true that one should thank God that an innocent bystander was not killed in some of these accidents? Instead of castigating society we should address——

Senator Norris should ask questions instead of making statements. I call Senator Paddy Burke.

I welcome Mr. Stanley. Have the authorities in Victoria been successful with all kinds of drugs, or are tests only carried out for certain kinds?

Mr. Stanley

First, I am not saying that we are successful. We are presenting the results of the trial. It has now been legislated for and the results are yet to come forward. However, it is very encouraging from the data we have received and what we have learned. Three substances have been identified and have appeared in coroners' reports. They are methamphetamine, or speed, as it is commonly known; tetrahydrocannabinol or Delta 9, which is the active ingredient in cannabis; and MDMA, or ecstasy.

Do they test for heroin?

Mr. Stanley

No. However, on the point of heroin and methadone, some of the information campaigns go to methadone dispensing populations to let them know. Some interesting cracks appear when one looks at, for example, dispensing methadone to recovering heroin addicts. Information programmes are targeting those groups. Additional programmes have been developed. For example, 69 people over the age of 60 were killed two years ago in Victoria. We have information programmes targeting the over-60s about the effects of prescription drugs combined with alcohol. A person might only have two drinks in a day but with different prescription drugs they need information to understand the effect it might have on their driving.

The figures for deaths on the roads in Victoria are similar to those here. Despite some people's statements, considerable progress has been made in this country. While this progress is not as great as we would like to see, it proves that we are practically down to the levels in Victoria. While it is not acceptable to anybody for even one to occur if it could be avoided, we all know there will be accidents. I thank Mr. Stanley for his forthright answers to questions. I appreciate that he will later forward responses to the questions he was unable to answer today.

Sitting suspended at 3.33 p.m. and resumed at 3.34 p.m.

I welcome Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy, Assistant Commissioner Eddie Rock and Superintendent O'Brien to the committee. I wish to draw attention to the fact that while members of the committee have absolute privilege, the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. Members are reminded of the parliamentary practice that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses, or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Members are also reminded that members of the Garda Síochána, while giving evidence to a committee, may not question or express an opinion on the merits of any Government policy or policy objectives, or produce or send to a committee any documents in which a civil servant, a member of the Defence Forces or a member of the Garda Síochána questions or expresses an opinion on any Government policy or policy objectives.

I propose that we should hear a short presentation from the Commissioner, after which we will have a short question and answer session. Given that Mr. Noel Brett will also address the committee, members should limit themselves strictly to questions.

Commissioner Noel Conroy

Dealing with the mandatory alcohol testing, Garda enforcement activity is continuing to be enhanced through the allocation of additional personnel and resources. The introduction of mandatory alcohol testing has been extremely beneficial to the Garda organisation and, I believe, to the public generally in tackling drink driving. The legislation underpinning the mandatory alcohol testing was introduced on 21 July 2006. In August 2005 we detected 976 cases of drink driving. In August 2006 we detected 1,480 drink-driving cases, a 51% increase. In September 2005, 935 cases were detected, whereas this year 1,602 people were arrested for drink driving, a 71% increase.

Since August, I have deployed additional resources to the enforcement of drink-driving legislation, particularly at weekends during the hours between midnight and 8 a.m. Widespread use is being made of the mandatory alcohol testing powers. There were 11,552 detected drink-driving incidents recorded on our PULSE apparatus between 1 January and 30 September this year. This compares with 8,639 for the corresponding period in 2005, a 33% increase. There were 459 drink-driving incidents recorded over the October bank holiday weekend. Provisional statistics indicate that more than 100,000 breath tests have been conducted at mandatory alcohol testing checkpoints, with almost 2,700, or 2.7%, resulting in an arrest for drink driving.

The willing acceptance and co-operation of the public regarding the legislation is evidenced by our personnel on a daily basis. Fewer than 20 drivers have refused to provide a breath test at the mandatory alcohol testing checkpoints. Unfortunately the test statistics overall indicate that there is still a culture of drink driving, in spite of our enforcement, and the media and education campaigns conducted with our partners in road safety.

Between 1 January and 21 July, when mandatory alcohol testing provisions came into effect, 20 more people were killed on our roads when compared with the corresponding period in 2005. From 1 January to today, 310 people have been killed on roads, 12 fewer than in 2005. Since the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing in July until the end of October, 32 fewer people have been killed on our roads. While the rate of fatal road traffic collisions has fallen significantly, it is too early to say if there is a sustained trend, or if the change is directly attributable to the mandatory alcohol testing legislation. It cannot be denied, however, that 23 fewer fatal collisions have taken place this year, compared with last year. I have deployed additional resources to enforce the drink driving legislation, particularly at weekends between 12 midnight to 8 a.m. because there is a disproportionate ratio of road fatalities to traffic volumes at such times. I am conscious that the incidence of drink driving detections tends to be in proportion to the incidence of fatal collisions during these hours. Statistics on fatalities are of no comfort to the families, friends and communities which are left behind following a fatal traffic collision. Having said that, the Garda Síochána as an organisation will not be found wanting in its efforts to sustain the downward trend in the rate of fatal traffic collisions. Therefore, I intend to continue to prioritise resources in the enforcement of road traffic law during the coming years.

I thank Commissioner Conroy for his statement. I would like to raise one or two issues before I invite the members of the committee to speak. There has been an increase of 71% in the number of people who are tested. How many people were tested? Commissioner Conroy probably does not have that figure with him. I accept it if he does not. How many people would have been tested to produce the figure of 1,602 prosecutions for September of this year? It is quite obvious to those of us who are out at all sorts of hours that random testing is targeted at certain times at weekends, as the Commissioner has said. It is accepted by everybody that there are more problems at weekends. Many people have contacted us to express their annoyance about breath testing the morning after one has been drinking. It is only fair that I should mention the matter at this forum. Many people feel that they should not be tested in the morning if they did everything right the night before. We have to accept that very few people are found to be over the limit in such circumstances, thankfully. If we examine the number of people who are tested and compare it with the number of people who fail the test, we can see that the campaign is working.

Can the Commissioner tell the committee about the Garda's approach to speeding at night? We are all familiar with the problems in that regard. A great deal of very dangerous driving takes place at night, perhaps as a result of the consumption of alcohol. If one examines any stretch of extremely good road on a Sunday morning, one will see nothing other than doughnut marks made by people who have been using the road as a speedway. In the context of the drink driving campaign, can anything be done to focus a late-night and early-morning campaign specifically on speeding, which is the second biggest problem in this regard? Such an approach might help the Garda's overall campaign. Perhaps Commissioner Conroy can comment on that.

Commissioner Conroy

As I said, over 100,000 people have been breath tested since the introduction of mandatory breath testing. Approximately 2% of those tested were subsequently arrested, which is line with the international average. We are meeting our targets. Before the introduction of the new system, the people who were arrested recently would have got away with driving under the influence of alcohol to the extent that they might not have had full control of the vehicle. If we had continued with the system whereby a garda had to form an opinion before undertaking a breath test, a certain proportion of the people who were arrested recently would have slipped the net. Since the introduction of mandatory breath testing, people who used to engage in drink driving but were able to convince the garda at the checkpoint that they were not under the influence of alcohol have been dealt with to good effect under the new legislation.

The Chairman asked about activities such as speeding which take place in the early hours of the morning. He also referred to breath testing in the early morning. When one examines the road death statistics, one notices that many fatalities take place early on Saturday, Sunday and Monday mornings. I refer to accidents which take place between midnight and 6 a.m. The Garda has increased its level of enforcement at such times. It is deploying additional people in every Garda division in the early hours of the morning. Certain financial resources were made available to me to employ people at such times and I have been doing that. We are getting results.

It can be difficult to enforce speed limits, particularly in rural Ireland, because young drivers use mobile phones to tell each other where patrol cars are being deployed. People inform their friends that it is okay to speed on a certain road because the gardaí have gone another way. Some chief superintendents have chosen to hire cars to be used for speed checks which are not recognised by drivers as being Garda cars. We have done work of that nature. We will continue to adapt our approach. We are increasing the number of unmarked cars because gardaí in such cars have a better chance of detecting people who are doing doughnut turns, for example, on our roads. I do not doubt that we will make inroads in that regard.

I thank the Commissioner. The last time he was here, we raised the question of unmarked cars and he gave us a commitment that he would increase their number. I think that is to be welcomed because gardaí in such cars definitely have a better chance of detecting certain problems. I would like to ask a question about night speeding. Does the Garda have enough equipment, such as night radar, to carry out late-night speed checks?

Commissioner Conroy

We are in the process of acquiring a great deal of new equipment, such as Gatso vehicles, which involve cameras being positioned in cars in certain divisions. We are upgrading our Gatso technology because the lifespan of the technology we have is coming to an end. The new technology that is coming on board will look after all those matters.

I thank the Commissioner.

I thank the Commissioner for his presentation. I welcome the increased level of Garda activity in respect of drink driving. Some members of this committee believe that the increased visibility of the Garda acts as a deterrent to the public, even when mandatory testing is not taking place. We are finding that that is certainly the case. The increased general awareness of drink driving is welcome.

I would like to ask about the cases which have been detected by the Garda in recent months. Has the force undertaken any kind of analysis of the figures, for example, in respect of gender, age and driving status? Such details might not yet be available. It would be helpful if we could access such information. Does the Garda have such data now? Does it propose to provide such analysis in the future?

While the detection figures for August and September are encouraging, we need to examine what is actually happening in the courts. The last report of the Courts Service indicated that the number of drivers who end up being disqualified for drink driving, after the legal process has concluded and they have been through the courts, is quite small. I do not refer to those who get custodial sentences. I think just 5% of the people in question end up being disqualified. We need to ask questions about that. The legislation that provided for mandatory breath testing was supposed to ensure that people who were found to be over the limit at the roadside test would automatically lose their licences and would be subject to fines. Although the two Houses rushed through the legislation, section 5 has not yet been brought into force. This may be more of a political question but does the Commissioner know the reason for the delay in bringing in automatic disqualification for people who fail the breath test? Is it his view that this is something which is urgently needed in order to further the campaign against drink driving?

Disqualification is mandatory on conviction for drink driving.

No, that is not the case.

It is mandatory.

Section 5 of the 2006 Act provided for automatic disqualification, plus a fine, for all those found to be over the limit.

Everybody I know who went to court in recent years on a drink driving charge has always received a mandatory disqualification. That is the position.

That is not the case.

The Deputy has asked the Commissioner to get involved in a political question regarding section 5. That is not appropriate. I am sure the Commissioner would point out that everybody who is convicted is——

Perhaps the Commissioner could be allowed to reply without his answer being filtered by the Chairman.

Commissioner Conroy

There is an automatic disqualification for persons convicted in the courts of drink driving offences. The punishment varies according to the level of alcohol and whether it was a first time offence for a driver. The length of disqualification varies. In regard to section 5——

The percentages that end up being disqualified are small.

Commissioner Conroy

I would be very surprised if that were the case but I do not have the statistics with me. We went through those figures on the previous occasion we were here. The Deputy may recall there was a dispute in regard to one District Court area in Cork——

Where there were dismissals.

Commissioner Conroy

What I said at the time turned out to be correct, in so far as the conviction rate was as I guessed it would be. In Cork, two offences were proffered against a driver who was arrested for drink driving. The driver was convicted of one and a nolle prosequi may have been entered in respect of the other offence. When the Courts Service examined the data on the offences in which a nolle prosequi was entered, they showed the detection rate to be below 50% when in fact it was above 70%. There is something wrong with that information. My information is that the conviction rate in the courts is well over 70%. I am only expressing an opinion but I would be happy to research the matter and return to the committee with the information if that is required.

In respect of section 5, which relates to automatic disqualification, the Garda is part of a group that is sitting to decide on the matter. We are ready to implement the measure whenever it is decided to introduce it.

Will the Commissioner comment on the analysis of those figures?

Commissioner Conroy

I cannot comment. We do not collect that type of analysis. If the Deputy examines the legislation in this area, she will see that we are not permitted to go down that road.

I wish to return to the question the Chairman asked the Commissioner on the 1,500 detected incidents in August and September. Are there statistics on the number of mandatory checkpoints in the morning compared with at night? I welcome the fact that increased Garda resources are being deployed between the critical hours of midnight and 8 a.m. When we hear about the toll of fatalities on local radio or read about them in the newspaper, we see that the vast majority take place at those hours when the discos or other events are over and people are travelling home.

Good policing depends on a high level of co-operation, goodwill and the Garda being fair and using common sense. Since the legislation was introduced there has been a general acceptance that it is for the public good and, as the Commissioner stated, there has been a high level of co-operation between the public and the Garda. However, there is a perception in rural areas that in some instances the Garda is being unfair to young people who are responsible enough to leave their cars and get taxis or book hotel rooms, yet when they travel to work, mass or a match the following morning, in some instances, they are caught out by a random breath test.

Nobody can tolerate drink driving at any time of the day but there is a perception of unfairness, especially by young people, for whom we are trying to change the culture. We need their goodwill and support and for them to encourage their peers not to drink and drive. Is the level of resources invested in morning checks counterproductive? Do we have statistics to show there is a high level of drink driving in the morning between 9 a.m. and 12 noon?

Commissioner Conroy

What we all want to achieve is for people who drive, no matter what time of the day or night, not to have any alcohol in their system. It would be wrong for me to send out any other message to the public. While I have no doubt people have made such points to Deputy Lowry, his mission is similar to mine in so far as he is a legislator. Our job is to enforce that legislation. We do not want to be seen to discriminate against people of any age but ultimately, it is all about the safety of the individuals who sit behind the wheel, day or night.

We have been criticised time and again for a lack of enforcement but in recent months we have had individual gardaí working into the early hours of the morning at what we consider to be the danger hours in terms of fatal traffic accidents. I would be most surprised if there were a major campaign against stopping people on their way to work. I would not expect that to be the message coming back from the public. While we are trying to up our game as far as enforcement is concerned, I cannot very well tell gardaí to change their approach. I would hope they are reasonable. However, ultimately, my message is that if one intends sitting behind the wheel of a car, one must be free of alcohol and not be impaired in any way in one's driving.

I thank the Commissioner for attending. As other speakers stated, the Garda presence on the ground is effective. The public is aware of it, which is good in itself. Constituents have told me that when they phone the Traffic Watch number it is continuously engaged. People do not think it is in operation.

Another common complaint I receive, to which Deputy Lowry alluded, relates to the goodwill of the public. Last Saturday I heard about three young people in a car who were drinking cans of beer. The car mounted a footpath, and the occupants took containers out of the car and went into a flat. When this incident was reported to the Garda the caller was informed that they could not do anything about it other than to put a ticket on the car. Was that a correct response for the Garda to make? The Garda must ensure it has the goodwill of the public. Members of the public feel there is no point in phoning a Garda station because they receive no feedback if they report a crime. They feel the information they are imparting is not valued.

I heard of a case last week in which a garda, on receiving a report about a certain incident, took the relevant details from the individual concerned. However, the name and address of the individual were accidentally omitted from the form and it obviously was not scrutinised at all. The individual therefore felt it was a waste of time.

How does the PULSE system operate? Perhaps the Commissioner could show it to the committee members some time. I am a little confused because some say it is not working and some gardaí say they do not bother with it.

There are many problems in Dublin, especially in open spaces and beaches, owing to youngsters gathering at night from approximately 8 p.m. until 1 a.m. They engage in rallying and do handbrake turns, etc. Deputy Glennon will be familiar with this phenomenon in Dublin North. I have rung the gardaí about it — I do not blame them because they probably do not have sufficient resources — and have noted that it can take them up to three quarters of an hour to reach the scene. When they come, they do so in a marked car with the siren blaring. The youngsters, however, use mobile phones to warn each other about their arrival. In the case I have in mind, a youngster at the top of the long access road to the beach rings the ringleader below and all the activities cease. It is not effective for the Garda to deploy resources in this way because the activities recommence as soon as the gardaí leave the scene. This is a great problem, particularly around north Dublin.

I thank the Commissioner. The Garda is doing a good job and the people recognise the presence locally.

Commissioner Conroy

We did have problems with the response to telephone calls through Traffic Watch. However, we have changed the system and the calls are now answered by dedicated call-takers in Castlebar. The information goes straight into the PULSE system. The minute somebody rings about a dangerous driver, the call-taker enters the information straight away into the command and control facility as it is being reported. There is now a definite procedure in place and complaints are followed up.

Where a complaint is made without the backing of a statement, there is very little a garda can do. At best, he or she may caution the alleged offender. If the individual who witnessed the dangerous driving or other form of offensive behaviour does not back up his or her report with a statement, gardaí must operate using hearsay evidence. Some gardaí have had the door slammed in their faces when they call to individuals in such circumstances.

Reference was made to gardaí having to cease pursuing an individual drinking a can of beer if he or she enters an apartment. The garda who furnished the Deputy with this information is correct. We have no authority in such circumstances, as the Constitution protects an individual in his or her own home. Unless we could say the beer the individual was drinking was stolen and some of the stolen drink was in the apartment, we could not get a warrant to go after that individual. The best a garda can do in such cases is knock on the door and hope he or she will be received courteously such that he can explain the nature of the complaint to the individual. One would hope that if the case involved a young individual in the company of parents, the parents would do something about the problem in future.

I would be very disappointed if gardaí were not offering feedback to those taking the time to report incidents. It is disappointing for me to hear this is happening. The Garda has an onus on it to deal with a complaint made by someone over the telephone and we should give feedback to such persons over the telephone. The person should be told the Garda has no role in the matter, if this is the case, and what service provider can help. We have said this to our members time and again at meetings at management level and we have even told our students in Templemore. This message is drilled into all the students before they go out on the street.

We had problems with PULSE early on. I guarantee the Deputy that the technology involved is as good as that used by any police force in the world. If members want to see the system in operation, I will have no difficulty showing them.

If somebody is reported as missing, we can scan in a photograph and send it to stations throughout the country. If somebody makes a call to us, it is entered into the system. We can state the time such an individual made contact with the Garda on a given matter. The technology is excellent and it is a pity we did not have it ten or 15 years ago. If we had, we would not have the problems we have today.

Does the Commissioner agree that although individuals report incidents such as dangerous driving, they do not make statements for fear that the thugs involved will burn down their houses? It is as simple as that. That is my point but I know where the Commissioner is coming from. It is obviously the case that if one can get in one's door when being pursued by gardaí, one is grand.

Commissioner Conroy

Perhaps I can correct that. If the individual is involved in a hit-and-run incident with a car, we can clearly obtain warrants and deal with the matter. We cannot do so in the case the Deputy described because there is no law to deal with it. I doubt that such a law applies in other countries either. This is my honest opinion but I could be wrong.

I compliment the Commissioner and his team on how they took on the challenge of enforcement. It has been discussed at this committee and raised on a number of occasions. The statistics the Commissioner has provided have set out clearly the willingness of the Garda to enforce the law when the necessary resources are made available to it.

Has the Commissioner any difficulties with the legislation as it has been enacted? Have legislative problems created potential problems for the Garda, in terms of enforcement or processing in the courts?

I strongly support Deputy Lowry's point, which is significant. The Chairman raised it as well. A particular cohort is getting caught, perhaps between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. The Commissioner indicated that his target time in terms of additional resources is between midnight and 8 a.m. There has been considerable public concern over this and comment thereon. Does it square with the concept of proportionality that was very much part of the guidelines on mandatory alcohol testing? Many people who had been consuming alcohol for a number of hours prior to going to bed have been tested for alcohol when going to work early the next morning. While they may have been over the limit, there is an argument that they were not as impaired as they would have been had they been breathalysed on the way home the night before. That is a cause for concern in many areas. I take on board the Commissioner's point but there is a scientific issue related to impairment. If someone is detained by gardaí for a suspected offence, that person must be processed within a three-hour period. I presume that is to ensure the person's condition has not improved to the point where he or she would be in a position to drive. There is more work to be done.

The previous speaker mentioned targeting drivers coming out of nightclubs and late-night pubs. I have always believed that targeting those drivers where they are coming from would prevent road deaths and save on the deployment of gardaí in various rural locations. High visibility policing in villages would prevent people from attempting to drive in the first place. Are there any proposals for more visible policing at specific locations where people gather in a manner that would prevent people from even getting into their cars?

I welcome the Commissioner and his colleagues to the committee and endorse everything that has been said to welcome the new, high profile policing on the roads in recent times. We might ask why it did not take place before.

Part of the difficulty with the drink-driving regime is the perception in many areas that it was one thing to have a high level of detection but securing convictions and obtaining disqualifications was entirely different. That weakness in the enforcement of the legislation from the roadside to the court has always been a problem for the whole drink-driving campaign. The presentation mentioned drink-driving incidents, breath tests and huge increases in detection but the key figures are the numbers convicted for drink driving; that is the real figure. We all welcome increased levels of enforcement but conviction levels must match them. The figures for August 2002 are available, 976 convictions, but that should be to hand because it is the bottom line. What is the conviction rate now? Are there still problems securing convictions and disqualifications?

The Commissioner made the point that despite increased enforcement, there is still a culture of drink driving. Is increased enforcement the only way to change that culture? Does the Commissioner believe the high profile regime evident in recent weeks needed the legislation we introduced during the summer, or could it have been done 12 months ago under the powers as they existed then?

I welcome the Commissioner and his colleagues. In Australia, they go out of their way to have marked cars, booze buses and road blocks, it is highly visible and has been a success. Here, we are using more unmarked cars. Would we be better using the Australian system where they go overboard to prevent people from driving? We seem to prefer catching people by using unmarked cars instead of preventing them from driving in the first place.

I mentioned the low disqualification rate. The Courts Service report states that of 14,000 drink-driving offences last year, there were a mere 724 disqualifications. That is different from the number of convictions, because a large number were fined but there were only 724 disqualifications out of 14,000 offences.

My understanding is that disqualification is automatic on conviction. There should be no difference between the two rates.

Commissioner Conroy

I would like to check that. Many prosecutions are entering the courts and not all of them will be dealt with during the year they enter the system. There may be challenges. Many prosecutions are entered by way of a summons. If someone is arrested and released, he or she is summonsed. It is a matter for the defence to seek remand or adjournments. Perhaps because some individuals are challenging the legislation, the courts, owing to the amount of work on their books, cannot deal with it.

There is a significant difference between the number of prosecutions and the number of convictions. I will come back on that because I did a trawl earlier and the conviction rate was over 70%, although it was lower in the Dublin metropolitan area.

I accept what the Commissioner says about convictions but I am talking about disqualifications.

Commissioner Conroy

Convictions for drink driving automatically lead to disqualification. To be fair, the Deputy got her information from the Courts Service, so it is only fair that I can check with the service and ask what it based its records on.

We are happy with the mandatory alcohol testing legislation, it has improved our detection rate and led to drink-driving prosecutions. In the past, a garda at a checkpoint would stop people who had consumed alcohol but would not be in a position to form an opinion that the individual was incapable of proper control. With mandatory alcohol testing, the section of the population who were drink driving are being dealt with.

It would be unfair for me to talk about concerns about the courts system other than to say we detect cases and submit the evidence. It is for the court to deal with the evidence and decide whether to convict an individual.

Has the Commissioner encountered any difficulties to date with this legislation or is too early to say?

Commissioner Conroy

I doubt if any of the prosecutions under mandatory breath testing have come into the system and one hopes they will not. There are lawyers who will——

I was interested to know whether the Commissioner had encountered any significant challenges.

Commissioner Conroy

No. Between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., 26 people have been killed, between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., 16 people have been killed, and between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., the figure is 26. There is a high proportion of people being killed in the early hours of the morning. That is why we have switched our focus to the hours during which there is a high number of fatalities.

Deputy Peter Power asked why the number of arrests has gone up since the introduction of the new legislation. That is owing to the new provision on opinion. Our members who stopped cars could not form an opinion as to whether the driver was intoxicated to the extent that he or she was incapable of having proper control of a vehicle. The new legislation has bridged that gap, and we are surmounting that problem.

Extra funding was made available to me to employ members of the Garda which has improved detection and our profile. We focus on the crucial hours to try to effect a change in the number of fatalities. Our aim is not to catch people but to prevent them causing harm. We now use unmarked cars because we were not apprehending enough of the young drivers, the "boy racers". One need only stand in any town in Ireland for a few minutes to see the type of cars they drive and the profile of the drivers. I have told our young members, particularly, to knock on the doors of the people driving this type of cars and try to instil some common sense into them and their parents and change their attitude to speed. We do not appear to be succeeding in that effort but we will continue our best efforts. More unmarked cars will be on the roads before Christmas and will, one hopes, deal with these individuals. We have acquired several new cars.

Are these really unmarked cars, or do they have a Dublin registration plate and two aerials?

Commissioner Conroy

I will not expand on that.

We will not go into that. Will the Commissioner answer Senator Paddy Burke's questions please?

Commissioner Conroy

The Chairman spoke about the number of fatalities in Victoria in Australia. When compared, however, with the number of fatalities here relative to the population, the difference is not great. That does not mean that we are happy about the number of fatalities on our roads and we will play our part, as will other agencies involved in road safety, and the media, to tell people that safety is a matter of driver responsibility. Enforcement will, one hopes, help to change people's minds but it is up to people to change their attitudes and make the roads safe, because they can do that.

Six members are waiting to speak. I will take the three committee members first.

What is the Garda procedure in the event of a traffic accident and how do the gardaí treat drink drivers? This has caused much consternation because I understood that a driver connected with an accident in which there was a fatality or injury would be routinely tested for alcohol content. Is that routine and if not what does "at the discretion of the Garda officer" mean? One would think it an absolute necessity to make a routine alcohol check, if somebody had died or been injured.

Commissioner Conroy

The priority for gardaí at the scene of an accident is the health of those involved. If, for instance, two drivers are trapped in two vehicles, their health is the number one priority. They will be cared for and we do not interfere with that. I subscribe to the Deputy's view that in an example such as he gave the driver should be breathalysed. The legislation provides that such drivers "may" be tested. I have spoken at management meetings about that and issued a new directive to our members to the effect that unless the health of the individual is in question, breath tests should be taken.

They shall be taken.

Commissioner Conroy

I cannot override someone who gives a reason for not doing so but it should be done.

Most of the population, myself included, would expect that to be done.

Commissioner Conroy

I fully agree.

Can we take it that the Commissioner has issued a directive to his officers on the ground that drivers involved in accidents should be breathalysed?

Commissioner Conroy

I must be conscious of the person's health and of the legislation. As far as I and the director of traffic, Assistant Commissioner Rock, are concerned, that is the situation.

I welcome the Commissioner and his colleagues and wish them well in their onerous task. I congratulate them on the figures they have achieved to date. Some of my colleagues have referred to visibility, proaction and reaction. The Commissioner heard our visitor from Victoria mention his friend Vanessa. Vanessa is basically a booze bus which is on-site at all major concerts and events. It is excellent from the point of view of detection and prevention. It is also an excellent exercise in public relations in getting the message about drink driving across.

How far are we down the road towards such an excellent idea as Vanessa? Some tragedies occurred this summer with people returning from major venues. I accept we are moving from a state of being reactive to being proactive. Public support for the campaign is crucial and has been won over. We are at last witnessing a culture change towards drink driving. Essential to that public support is respect for the law and its implementation by the authorities.

An old bugbear of mine is inappropriate speed limits. The speed limits on the Lucan road have gone into folklore. There are others I will not mention but which are also in danger of going into folklore. Often, after roadworks are long finished, the signs for the temporary speed limits are left there. What is the Garda's role in the designation of permanent and, more importantly, temporary speed limits?

I welcome Commissioner Conroy and his team. I wish them well in their difficult job. It is obvious there is a greater Garda presence. Although it is early, there have been results. One area that requires special attention is that of boy racers. The marks from the carrying on of these young men can be seen on the roads. The delegation spoke about the role parents should play, but it can be difficult to deal with young men. Several visits by the Garda to the home of a boy racer could have a great effect. It has immense potential to save lives. I know it would be an extra job for the already overstretched Garda but home visits could bring many results. If talking was not good enough, perhaps stronger action could be taken.

Commissioner Conroy

The law states the Garda should be consulted in determining speed limits. Recently, I had reason to get in contact with one local authority, through a local superintendent, on the limits in a certain area. Senior officers often consult county managers on limits and a major review will soon take place. We will supply any information we can to help arrive at reasonable limits. It is to be hoped that in the not too distant future there will be changes in this area.

Major problems arise if the Garda does not have public support in an area of policing. I have heard anecdotes from officers about parents going into debt to insure their children to drive. Instead of waiting up at night worrying about their children being involved in accidents, they might have been wiser to wait a year or two before allowing their children on the road. From the statistics, one often finds that drivers involved in fatal road accidents had previous driving prosecutions. These are warning signs and, unfortunately, those people did not heed them. Apart from drivers, innocent people, such as passengers, are killed. One must appreciate the feelings of those families that have a lost a member who was an innocent party.

Assistant Commissioner Eddie Rock

There is nothing to delay the introduction of a booze bus and it does not require legislation. Subject to discussions with the Commissioner, such a system can be arranged quickly. It is simply a question of acquiring a vehicle and alcometer.

With regard to speeding, we are all aware of the fish barrels, as they are known. I recently had the experience of coming across one where a garda had set up just 200 m outside a 60 km/h zone. To me, it was the nearest to trying to catch people. Setting up a speeding checkpoint on a stretch leaving a zone is the wrong place. It highlights the inappropriateness of some speed limits. I saw two individuals being caught. While I accept they had broken the law, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. To make matters worse, I came back the same road three hours later and two different gardaí were parked in the same place. On the first occasion there was only one.

Commissioner Conroy

Perhaps Assistant Commissioner Rock might address that, as we have looked at collision-prone areas and we do know whether——

I could identify the place, but I do not believe it would be fair to anybody.

Assistant Commissioner Rock

I have reviewed the analysis and trends as regards our detection records for speeding offences. A significant majority relate to people driving 10 km/h or more in excess of the speed limit. The great majority, however, relate to people driving 20 km/h or more in excess of the speed limit.

That is not acceptable.

Assistant Commissioner Rock

Those are the facts.

I do not think anyone driving at 20 km/h above the speed limit is acceptable.

Assistant Commissioner Rock

My apologies.

We could not accept that. We have been tolerant enough, but to be fair to gardaí, they normally use their discretion in such cases.

Assistant Commissioner Rock

There is no doubt there are perceptions for a variety of reasons, but we looked at the trends as recently as last week for a particular reason, namely, that we were getting so much publicity about it. The fact is that only a very small number of people are being prosecuted, perhaps too few for that matter, for offences within the 10 km/h margin above the speed limit. It is debatable whether the figure is too small. Certainly, the "fish in the barrel" theory is a non-runner. However, I take the point about concern when people see our cars in a particular area, although the "fish in the barrel" syndrome is not relevant. We are not prosecuting people for being a tiny number of kilometres over the speed limit.

That is accepted by everybody.

Assistant Commissioner Rock

While not wanting to repeat myself, the majority of prosecutions are in respect of speeding offences of 20 km/h or more above the speed limit.

I suppose all the questions have been asked, but perhaps I can put them in a different way. I congratulate the Garda on the amount of work that has taken place in the past three months. I say that not in my role as a Deputy but as someone living in the country. It was great to see the figures for road fatalities coming down and while there was a massive peak last week, as long as we have drink, speed, drugs and bad roads, the death toll will continue. What is welcome since the Garda received extra resources, financial or whatever, is the existence of speed traps on rural country roads because that is where people are being killed.

It goes back to the Chairman's view that it would be a very popular request if there were more such speed traps on country roads rather than in the cities. It causes great offence in urban areas where there are no accidents. People would like to see more speed traps on country roads. As my father always said, there is a "loo-lah" in every parish and until he is caught, people will be killed. The other question, as asked by Deputy Connaughton, was whether the Commissioner had issued procedural guidelines to local forces in respect of mandatory testing.

I welcome the Commissioner and his colleagues. I have been listening for the past two hours and much of what we have heard is good news and is great to hear. I have a question, which Deputy Connaughton has asked already but I want to add a supplementary to it, about mandatory testing for intoxicants at the scene of road traffic accidents. The Commissioner said a moment ago that there is a new directive which requires gardaí at the scene of an accident to take a sample unless the health of the individual concerned might be compromised or whatever. When did this directive come into force and is it operating countrywide as we speak?

There is a grey area here. One is talking about people's health, etc. The Commissioner earlier talked about people slipping the net because the individual garda had to form an opinion whether somebody was intoxicated, so there is an issue about that. However, if somebody is obviously not well enough to be tested, that person would probably have to go to hospital and that is the second part to this equation. We know that after traffic accidents, many people have to go to hospital because they are ill. We also know that sometimes people use the excuse of going to hospital and having themselves admitted in an effort not to be tested.

According to the Minister in a letter he sent me some months back, the Road Traffic Acts, "place an obligation on a person to provide a blood or urine sample if in the hospital". What exactly is that obligation and what is the penalty if somebody does not do it? The letter goes on to say: "However, that can only happen within the context that either there has been an accident or the person admits themselves to hospital and [This is the part I find difficult] a member of the Garda is of the opinion that, at the time of the event the person had consumed an intoxicant." It seems to me that somebody can only be tested in hospital if he or she has been in accident, has admitted himself or herself and the garda forms the appropriate opinion. My point is that somebody could be unconscious or very ill. How is a garda, as a non-medical person, supposed to form an opinion whether somebody has consumed an intoxicant? This is a grey area and one that needs to be dealt with before we can have complete confidence in the procedure.

A final comment relates to something Deputy Lowry said earlier about morning-after testing for alcohol. Obviously this is something we must do but the law must be seen to be fair and the public must accept it. While I know it is not the role of the Commissioner, perhaps in that context we need some type of awareness campaign so that people know that if they consume so much drink and have so many hours' sleep or whatever, they may well be over the limit. By doing this we would assist them in staying within the law when they go out the evening before to have a few drinks and we would maintain the goodwill of the public by ensuring that people would not be caught inadvertently because enough information would available to them to make a reasonable judgment.

I would especially like to hear the Commissioner's views on the issue of people going to hospital after a road traffic accident.

Like my colleagues, I welcome the Commissioner and his two senior assistants. I commend Assistant Commissioner Eddie Rock on his comments on the radio about what appears to be an excellent strike rate for the Garda over the bank holiday weekend when more than 400 people were arrested on suspicion of drink driving. He said that while on the one hand it is an indication of success, on the other he would have preferred if it were otherwise, in other words, that the culture had changed. It is to be hoped that with the persistent campaign in place, the culture will change, because it simply must.

On the issue raised by Deputies Wilkinson, Connaughton, McEntee and Harkin, mandatory breath testing is something that simply must happen, as the support for it in the committee indicates. Some of the Commissioner's subordinates are already doing it, for example, Superintendent Terry McGinn in Donegal. He has insisted that when gardaí arrive at the scene of an accident, they automatically breath-test the individuals involved. It must happen because in many cases Guinness might not have been consumed and vodka, for example, has no smell. In many cases it is the capacity of the individual to absorb alcohol that is at issue. Somebody could have five or six drinks without showing any symptoms of having taken alcohol by virtue of the fact that the person might be physically large and so on and is a seasoned drinker, when in fact his or her judgment is badly impaired.

Deputy Harkin and I are probably quoting from the same correspondence we received from the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, when we took the matter up with him. He said: "Garda discretion in relation to the use of preliminary roadside tests is an integral and important element of the enforcement provision relating to the laws applying to drink driving and I do not propose to alter that position." I can see a difficulty from the Commissioner's viewpoint. On the other hand, I believe he probably has the power to issue a directive or an ultimatum to his colleagues throughout the country.

I raised this matter recently with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I have a letter, which answers to some extent the question posed by Deputy Harkin, from Sergeant Andrew S. Campbell of road policing development in the Police Service of Northern Ireland which says: "In respect of the requirement which is put to drivers involved in road traffic conditions, it is the policy of the PSNI that all involved are required to submit to preliminary breath-testing".

At the end of the letter he outlines the circumstances to which Deputy Harkin referred. If somebody is injured at the scene of a crash, on the question of whether the person should be breath-tested or blood-tested at the scene, he states the police should be guided by medical staff at the scene. We accept this. He states that in circumstances where a driver has been or is being removed to hospital prior to or upon arrival of police officers at the collision scene, officers must consider implementing a hospital procedure; in other words, a blood sample should be taken automatically in the hospital. That is the kind of regime we need to introduce here.

I again welcome the Commissioner and his two colleagues. I think he doing a good job. He should keep at it.

Commissioner Conroy

I thank Deputy McEntee for his compliments on the issue of enforcement. As Assistant Commissioner Rock has pointed out, we are making a big effort in collision-prone areas. I hope we will bring about a change and increase enforcement. Later this month we will be adding 60 extra personnel to the traffic corps. We should have a corps of 805 members by the end of the year. It will eventually grow to 1,200. We are adding about 60 personnel and new vehicles every quarter.

Are they coming from other areas of the force? Will other areas suffer?

Commissioner Conroy

No. On 16 November we will have around 270 members attested. Where increases are made in the traffic corps, we will replace the individuals concerned with the new attested gardaí. No part of the country should suffer by losing members of the Garda Síochána. What may happen is that a garda known in his or her locality will move to the traffic corps because he or she has shown ability in the area of enforcement, but such gardaí will be replaced by gardaí on probation. That is how we are building up the traffic corps.

Deputy Harkin made a number of comments about accidents. We have talked about this issue at management level and clearly the word "may" is used in the legislation. However, we have said we should not look at the word, that we should just go and do the job. When the Bill was enacted, copies were circulated throughout the whole organisation. It is also part of the agenda at in-service training schools in every division. Every new Act is part of the curriculum.

The situation on hospitals is somewhat different. Section 15 of the 1994 Act states clearly that a garda must form an opinion, as was rightly pointed out. The position is different in Northern Ireland. A garda follows the individual concerned into the hospital. He or she forms the opinion that the person concerned has consumed alcohol and is incapable of having proper control of a vehicle. He or she makes a request to the medical staff in the hospital who have to agree to this process, but there is no obligation on them to do so. However, I do not know of any case in which they have refused. We will be issuing a new directive to make sure that such a process is followed in the case of every individual involved in a road collision.

If somebody is admitted to hospital, will the directive extend to the scene of the accident and the hospital, or are they two separate issues?

Commissioner Conroy

They are two separate issues in so far as a garda does not have to form an opinion when an individual is involved in an accident. When the individual is taken to hospital, he or she must form an opinion. The directive will cover those involved in accidents or collisions.

We thank Commissioner Conroy, Assistant Commissioner Rock and Superintendent O'Brien for being very forthcoming in their replies to us. This is very much appreciated. The public also appreciates the work being done by the Garda Síochána which is being reflected in the road death figures. However, one death is one too many. I have no doubt that the extra resources made available have saved lives. We appreciate the work being done by the Garda Síochána. Any of us who has been subjected to a random breath test has found the gardaí involved to be very courteous. This must be down to the manner in which they are led by Commissioner Conroy and his senior officers. In the new year I hope we will look back on the improvement witnessed in the second half of this year.

Despite what might be said, our incidence of serious accidents and road deaths per capita is on a par with in most of the world. This is often not appreciated and is down to the efforts of the Garda Síochána. I have no doubt that the contribution of our next representative, Mr. Noel Brett of the Road Safety Authority, has also had an effect.

Sitting suspended at 4.57 p.m and resumed at 4.59 p.m.

We will now have a discussion with Mr. Noel Brett of the Road Safety Authority who will address the joint committee on the issue of road safety. I draw his attention to the fact that while members of the committee have absolute privilege, the same privilege is not enjoyed by witnesses appearing before the committee. Members are reminded of the parliamentary practice that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I propose that Mr. Brett's short presentation should be taken as read because we need to conclude by 5.30 p.m. As Mr. Brett has been here since 2.30 p.m. and must catch a train, we should try to facilitate him. Therefore, we will move straight into a question and answer session.

I welcome Mr. Brett and thank him for his comprehensive presentation which we read before the meeting. I want to raise the issue of young drivers and driver status. We have a serious problem in so far as there are more than 400,000 provisionally licensed drivers on the roads. We are probably unique in Europe in allowing provisional drivers to drive unaccompanied. As I noted in my question to the Garda Commissioner, if we are to tackle this issue we need good statistics. What are Mr. Brett's plans for improving data collection? At present, while gardaí tick a box on driver status for those involved in road accidents, that information does not seem to be collated and it is not possible to access it. To know whether drivers involved in fatal accidents were provisional or fully licensed drivers is fairly basic information. What is Mr. Brett's intention in this regard?

A periodic report on young driver accidents has not been produced in several years. What are the plans in this regard? Similarly, why has the 2005 road collision fact book not yet been published?

I want to refer to the issue of learner drivers and the promises made by successive Ministers to end the practice whereby provisionally licensed drivers can drive unaccompanied. Fundamental to tackling this and changing the regime is to have in place a driver testing system that meets demand. While the Minister sometimes talks about the backlog being 140,000 cases he does not factor in that there are 260,000 other provisional drivers on the roads who have not yet applied for a test. Given this is now to become Mr. Brett's responsibility — it is a poisoned chalice in many ways because responsibility for it is political yet it is being handed to Mr. Brett — what are his proposals with regard to predicting the demand for driving tests? It seems from a consideration of the figures that while the extra 45,000 outsourced tests are to be welcomed, they are really only a drop in the ocean in terms of what is required. By the middle of next year the waiting times will be reduced to 28 weeks but they will grown again very quickly after that. A basic aim should be to predict the demand for tests over, say, the next three years, and then to put in place an adequate supply. What work has Mr. Brett done in this regard?

Significant problems arise in the driver testing system due to the inadequacy of the computer system in place. Drivers can apply for their tests online but all of the applications must be inputted manually in Ballina, which is obviously time consuming and demanding of resources. Moreover, the last time I checked, only a small percentage of test centres had fax facilities let alone Internet facilities. Does Mr. Brett accept that updating the computer system and ensuring all of the test centres are Internet enabled is a priority in terms of getting to grips with the driver test waiting list problem? What timescale has he in mind for that?

I welcome Mr. Brett and congratulate him on his role in the reduction in the number of road tragedies. Before I ask questions, I want to comment on page 9 of Mr. Brett's presentation where he presents two tables, one relating to road victims either killed or seriously injured from 1990 to 2004 and the other relating to the growth in the number of licensed vehicles in the same period. Looking at those two graphics on the same page is particularly striking and worthy of elaboration on the part of Mr. Brett in a public forum such as this because it puts real context not only on the difficulties we now face but also on where we have come from in this regard. It is a story worth telling. Whether it gets any kind of media reaction is another issue but it is worth restating. While we take the report as read, this aspect is worthy of comment by Mr. Brett.

My first question is similar to that of Deputy Shortall in that it relates to young drivers. We have heard much comment recently on the possibility of restricting either provisional drivers or drivers limited by age to a certain engine capacity. Has Mr. Brett given much attention to this question? Similarly, there have been suggestions of a restricted speed for drivers under a certain age or on a provisional licence.

Members of the Garda Síochana have raised with the committee the question of the cost of insurance for young drivers. Perhaps we are victims of our own success in this regard. Some years ago it was hugely expensive for a young driver to get motor insurance but I presume the price, as with all other forms of insurance, has dropped. I got the impression from gardaí that there is a significant issue with parents contributing financially to putting their children on the road, either by financing this, by guaranteeing finance through some lending institution or by borrowing from the credit union. I would be interested in Mr. Brett's comments in this regard because it flies in the face of society's responsibility to itself were this to be a major issue.

With regard to drugs, Mr. Brett listened to the contribution of Mr. Stanley from Victoria. He had one striking statistic on which I questioned him, namely, that 60% to 70% of long-haul truck drivers — he defined long-haul truck drivers as being those driving in excess of two hours so the geographical difference between Ireland and Australia does not apply — take some form of what he described as a stay-awake stimulant. He was not talking about coffee or Red Bull but about chemicals. Has this arisen as an issue in this country? Is there reason to believe the problem exists here? It is a remarkable statistic that two out of three long-haul truck drivers in a country whose culture is similar to ours are driving with chemical support.

I visited Victoria earlier in the year with the Chairman and other members of the committee. I was delighted to hear the Garda react so positively to the Vanessa concept and I would be interested to hear Mr. Brett's comments on it.

I congratulate Mr. Brett on the fantastic work he has done since I met him first on an individual basis. Everybody in the country knows who he is and what he is about. While, as Deputy Shortall noted, he might have been given a poisoned chalice, what is in it will not poison him and he is fit to deal with it.

Four issues must be addressed, namely, drink, drugs, speed and bad roads and signage. It is the last issue I find difficult to get through to anyone. Every time I raise the issue of poor roads, there is a shaking of heads and nobody wishes to take responsibility for it. However, many people, especially in rural areas, live close to poor roads. Has any measure been put in place to improve the quality of rural roads to a standard that will help reduce the number of road deaths?

A good friend and neighbour of mine was killed less than a year ago in a road accident. As in the case of those who were killed last week, no special Garda unit was set up to investigate the cause of the accident. Anybody under the age of 25 years who is killed or injured on the roads is tarred with the same brush. There is an unfair assumption they were either drunk, on drugs or speeding. It is crucial that an investigation is undertaken into every road accident so that the parents and family of those who have lost their lives can discover what happened.

Are there any plans to establish driving centres where people can learn to drive with adequate supervision? The Taoiseach has people to drive him around the country but young people learning to drive do not have access to such facilities. If young people were taught how to drive correctly, under adequate supervision and in such dedicated centres, there might not be so many road accidents.

The committee has been informed of statistics which indicate that 16% of motorists have an accident within three to six months of passing their driving test. Can Mr. Brett tell the committee the number or percentage of provisional licence holders who have been involved as drivers in fatal accidents? I accept he may not have this information but I expect it will emerge from the work now being done by the Road Safety Authority. My understanding is the numbers are low, far lower than for the category of drivers who have recently passed their test. This is an alarming prospect.

Does Mr. Brett believe a graded licence system is the most appropriate approach to driver training? In Australia and some parts of the United States, for example, newly qualified motorists can initially drive only within certain hours for a specified period, after which they receive a second licence that permits them to drive at more times and so on until, after four or five years, they receive a full licence. Could such a graded system make a greater contribution than anything else to making young drivers aware of the importance of road safety?

Young drivers often do not take into consideration such issues as road quality, which Deputy McEntee mentioned, and road conditions, especially at this time of year. In contrast to recent mild weather conditions, temperatures last night were below freezing in some areas and drivers may have encountered patches of black ice. Can the driver training system be amended so that instruction regarding awareness of road conditions is of equal importance to the avoidance of excessive speeding?

Mr. Noel Brett

I thank the Chairman and members for the opportunity to discuss these matters with them. I will try to respond in detail to the questions asked.

Deputy Shortall raised the issue of research and availability of data, which we discussed when I attended a meeting of the committee on 8 February. One of the Road Safety Authority's core functions is to take responsibility for, and make available, road safety research and data. The authority was vested on 1 September and we have taken on a range of functions since 10 September. I have appointed a full-time statistician and am about to advertise for the recruitment of a professionally qualified research manager and researcher. I have met members of the Central Statistics Office, CSO, and National Roads Authority, NRA. I have also consulted the Garda Síochána and am satisfied with the feeds we can get from PULSE.

We are beginning to access data from all these agencies. I have yet to meet representatives of the Courts Service, the source of desperately needed data, and have yet to meet formally the Coroners Service, from which I require a specific range of data, especially as it relates to toxicology. I wish to make the full range of data available in a one-stop useable format for any interested person or body who contacts us seeking that information.

We have taken responsibility from the National Roads Authority to publish the data in the 2005 road collision fact book. I am awaiting receipt of 1,500 CT68 forms, which are used by the Garda to record information on road accidents, and hope to receive them in the next ten days. All the other data are processed and ready to go; the CT68 data are the only information that remains outstanding and we are chasing them up from individual gardaí.

Once we receive those data, we hope to publish all the information by the end of January at the latest, or before Christmas if possible. It is critical information that tells us what must be done in terms of remedial measures. More importantly, it helps the Garda to target its enforcement and helps us to target our educational efforts. In previous years, it was later in the year before this information was made available but it is a key deliverable to which people should have access as quickly as possible.

Will driver status be covered in that?

Mr. Brett

It will not be covered in the 2005 statistics because those data are not available. I have spoken to the Garda Síochána and we are considering whether that information can be accessed and recorded, perhaps using a feed from PULSE. That box is often not ticked at the scene of a collision because it is not immediately discernible. That is why I wish to validate the data with a feed from the Courts Service.

I do not have the important data on the numbers or percentage of provisional licenceholders who are involved as drivers in road accidents, but it is an issue I am discussing with Assistant Commissioner Rock and his team. In regard to demand prediction, if we are to manage driver testing effectively and provide an adequate customer service, we must be able to map the demand. We know the numbers coming into the country and the numbers of babies born, for example, and it is not rocket science to map that data forward. I have already had discussions with the CSO on this matter, especially in light of the recent census. It is the right approach to take. We must plan for the future so we do not continue to find ourselves in the situation into which we have fallen.

Some 428,787 persons hold a provisional licence and, of these, 137,000 have applied to take a driving test. The figure about which I am most concerned is the number of people holding provisional licences. It is immaterial to me whether they have applied for their test; they are an at-risk group. Interestingly, 33,500 of these motorists are on their fifth or subsequent provisional licence. It seems there is a cohort of drivers, particularly older drivers, who for some reason have not taken or passed their driving test and who may need particular assistance in this regard.

The driver testing system is an old DOS-based system, purchased in 1989, into which on-line applications are manually input. Ten full-time clerical officers are employed for this task. A new system has been developed for us by a software expert, which allows all on-line applications to go straight into the system thereby freeing these staff from this mundane work. Some 30% of driving test applications are submitted on-line and our aim is to increase this to 80%, assuming that some applicants will be unable or unwilling to use this method.

Under the current driving test application process, one applies for the test, pays the fee and then waits up to a year before being told when to present for testing, at a time and date that may or may not be convenient. I am unaware of any other service where one must pay up-front but wait up to a year for delivery. We want to achieve a situation where customers can book their test on-line and select the date, time and location of their choice. The average waiting time across the entire country is 28 weeks. The longest wait, in Navan, is 60 weeks and the shortest, in Cavan, is ten weeks. I have even had some complaints from parents that their sons and daughters are being called too quickly for their tests. At the other extreme, however, a waiting time of 60 weeks is unacceptable.

There has been much media coverage of the outsourced driving tests. The company concerned, SGS Ireland, which also runs the national car test, NCT, service, commenced testing on 23 October and the first 10,000 applicants have now received their appointment. The outsourced testing is specifically targeted at the long-wait centres, which are predominantly on the east coast. This will have an initial impact but efforts to reduce waiting times must be continued into 2007 both on the part of our in-house testers and in terms of outsourcing an additional block of work.

I am reviewing the situation and discussing it with the trade unions because we cannot wait until 2007 to decide what action to take. We must have a clear plan in regard to the further progress to be made. The members of the board of the Road Safety Authority are adamant at our meetings that the only acceptable wait for a driving test is six weeks or less and that waiting times must be reduced to, and maintained at, that level. Realistic enforcement of the rules on accompanying drivers and the matters following on from such enforcement can only take place after this is achieved.

Deputy Shortall also quite rightly raised the issue of information and communications technology, ICT, in test centres. There are 54 test centres nationwide. First, we now have in place the base infrastructure and hardware, such as mail servers and web servers. We also now have a roadmap to implement a proper IT system for the driver testing system. Its purpose will be to manage the processing and scheduling of applications, as well as the feedback from such activities. Interestingly, at present all application forms are handled seven times. The system must modernise itself and an ICT system is the way to so do.

We also want all our driving testers to use hand-held devices in the field. They should be able to have a candidate's data with them and to print that person's pass or fail certificate at the time. This constitutes a major modernisation programme and the authority must put it out to tender. Initial work has been done on the specifications and I anticipate a timeframe of 18 months to two years before it is fully operational. However, if we intend to do something with the data we acquire and to process people properly, this will be important. If the authority fails to provide a better customer service in driver testing, it will continue to lose capacity. At present, 20% of our tests are lost because people simply do not turn up because they have moved address by the time they are contacted. We are trying to address this issue.

There is no penalty if they do not turn up.

Mr. Brett

As for passing information to people, we should be able to send texts to people reminding them their test will take the following week or to send an e-mail to follow up. We must have in place facilities to enable people who wish to cancel to do so and to offer that scarce resource to someone else. We have a number of initiatives to try to do so. For instance, at present two people are working full time to reallocate cancelled slots. It is fantastic that many people now so inform us. As the waiting time falls, we will begin to lose fewer missed slots.

We must also work with the trade unions regarding flexibility on the timing of slots. Nationwide, all tests happen in the same slots and, consequently, when someone does not turn up the slot is simply lost. One does not have the ability to bring someone else forward. The authority wants to stagger the appointments and is negotiating in this regard with the unions in the context of the Towards 2016 programme because we must take such measures to plug the gap. We cannot continue to lose one in five tests through no-shows.

In this context, will the Road Safety Authority end the practice whereby some people never take a test? One can simply keep cancelling the test.

Mr. Brett

A total of 33,377 people are on their fifth or subsequent provisional licence and seem to avoid taking the test. Obviously, as the authority reduces the backlog, these figures will become much starker and I will be able to manage that data.

Such people will probably be targeted to clear up that situation.

Mr. Brett

Definitely. No one should be driving on a third, fourth or fifth provisional licence.

They can do so legally.

Mr. Brett

At present, they can. Our major task is to reduce the backlog and then to try to deal with such issues. It is important to do so.

As for unaccompanied provisional drivers, a number of initiatives are under way. We have already set out our proposal to regulate the driving instruction industry. The consultation process closed on 8 September and we have received a significant quantity of feedback. We hope to have approved and regulated driving instructors in place in every county by July 2007. This will provide us with a platform to address properly the issue to which Deputies McEntee and Glennon have referred regarding driver training. Once approved driving instructors have been put in place, one can implement a set syllabus and can then consider the introduction of compulsory basic training.

We propose to begin by introducing compulsory basic training for motorcyclists because while motorcycles constitute 2% of registered vehicles, motorcyclists make up 12% of fatalities. It is only a matter of time before the introduction of compulsory basic training for all drivers. In some countries, one is obliged to carry out up to 240 hours of training with an approved instructor. In Ireland, we must begin with a set syllabus.

In respect of Deputy Glennon's comments, it is interesting that many parents would put themselves into debt to buy or insure a car or to put their children on the road. This may be due to peer group pressure or may reflect another aspect of Irish society. Despite the fact that if one is in the 17 to 24 age category, one is seven to eight times more likely to be killed on the road, and despite the fact that driving a car is, statistically, the most dangerous activity any of us will do, many parents will send their child out without a single lesson. While they will spend a fortune on dancing or music lessons, they will not do so in this regard. A culture shift is required and we must work hard to educate parents and young people regarding the risks and try to provide them with the necessary tools. The authority views the establishment of a regulated driving instruction industry with a core syllabus as a good way to do so. However, we have much work to do in this respect.

As for Deputy Glennon's comments regarding the two graphs, they are significant. If one looks back as far as 1974, with a population of just over 2 million and far fewer cars, we killed 594 people on the roads without blinking. It was accepted. As the graph shows, the number of vehicles has increased by 100% since 1990. We have experienced a drop off and our population is larger. If members consider the period from 1998 to 2005, while the numbers of vehicles and licence holders has increased by 41% and 21%, respectively, the death rate has fallen by 13%. A single death is one too many and I will never try to justify the death rate by stating it was worse previously and that improvements have been made, as we must persevere. However, the aforementioned two graphs illustrate the actual number of people who have not died and the number of serious injuries that have not happened. As the Deputy noted, this was against the backdrop of an increase in vehicle numbers.

However, we can do much more. We are killing between ten and 11 people per 100,000 of population and this figure can be reduced to five per 100,000 of population. Despite one's best efforts, there is a number below which one will not go, because things happen. However, I believe that it can be reduced by considering what other countries have done. I know this committee has investigated systems in a number of jurisdictions. In some countries, such as Sweden and others, it took 20 years to reach their current position. By learning from such countries and by talking to the people, Ireland may be able to get there in five years. This can be done by avoiding the mistakes they made and by adopting best practice. While we need time to do this, it definitely can be done and we can move those two graphs downwards even further. The next road safety strategy must achieve this task.

Deputy Glennon also asked me about restricted engine capacity and speed limits. Such measures have worked in other jurisdictions and we are examining them. There are implications, in that one does not wish to stereotype all young people. Many young people are probably better drivers than many older people and the term "boy racer" can sometimes be misused. While a particular cohort of people do things with modified cars and drive their cars recklessly, many other young people modify their cars quite safely and are model drivers. Rather than stereotyping, the task is to try to establish who are the hard core of real risk takers who exhibit such behaviour to target education at such people and to back this up with rigorous enforcement.

For example, the authority had a presence at every major rock festival this summer. Our messages were displayed on the side screens and some artists read out prepared messages on our behalf. I have already met Motorsport Ireland, which has 30 affiliated motor clubs. We are targeting the fans rather than the competitors. We also sponsored a road safety piece at Rally Ireland. This was the first time at any World Rally Championship event that road safety sponsorship took place with such a message. Other countries have now come to investigate how Ireland operated that road safety piece. It targeted particular young people who are at risk. The Road Safety Authority must become much more creative about going out and being clear, which is where the statistics will come in. They will tell us who to target and how we are going to get at them. It is not simply a case of more television or radio advertisements. It is a matter of trying to get to where those people are and bringing the game to their level to try to ensure it is an appropriate message.

Deputy Glennon also referred to drugs. I do not have much data in that regard. There are data from the north east as Dr. Declan Bedford and others have carried out some work there. There is also research from the Medical Bureau of Road Safety that examined data from 2001 to 2003. This area requires much more work and two issues arise. The first concerns illicit drug use among young people. There is a worrying phenomenon of polydrug use, such as the use of cannabis and ecstasy, cannabis and alcohol or cocaine and something else. While it constitutes a small number of cases, it must be picked up early and strategies, such as those we heard earlier, must address it.

The second phenomenon, which is of equal concern, is the issue of prescription drugs. An issue arises from the toxicology, particularly pertaining to middle-aged people regarding prescription drugs such as anti-depressants, benzodiazepines and alcohol. This is an emerging issue. I have already met representatives of the Health Service Executive and the Irish Medical Organisation to implement a number of initiatives. These include trying to get proper protocols in place to assist GPs when they make a diagnosis or write a prescription. Other jurisdictions have something called a green book. Doctors making certain diagnoses are not alone obliged to tell and advise the patient but are also obliged to inform the licensing authority. When they write certain prescriptions, they must give additional information. From talking to some doctors, we know that they welcome this measure. They are in a very difficult position at the moment. They are looking at someone whose mobility they may be taking away by doing one thing or another and would welcome some assistance with this. I hope for early progress with the medical profession. This is an issue which it needs to address. We will facilitate and help but, ultimately, it needs to be designed and used by doctors. It is an issue, particularly in terms of prescription drugs. Considerably more work is needed in the Irish context in terms of better toxicology around illicit drugs. As members heard today, there are issues surrounding the use of cocaine and other drugs in this country.

I welcome the piloting of roadside checking. While there is no simple device to check for all drugs, there are devices like the saliva swab or sweat swab. I have seen these devices, they work and I would welcome a pilot programme so that we can carry out before and after work and also learn from other jurisdictions. There is no one test that checks for every drug but there are ways of doing this and we want to see more of them.

Does Mr. Brett have comments about the figure of 60% to 70% for truckers?

Mr. Brett

There are issues surrounding long-distance and professional drivers. We are slightly behind the line in introducing professional training, a certificate of professional qualification or driver vocational training for professional drivers. There is an EU directive and we are working hard to get this in place so that all drivers would have an additional syllabus over and above their basic training. This will include addressing issues like fitness to drive. I do not have any hard evidence from Ireland showing that there is an issue with "stay awake" drugs. We are working closely with the Irish Road Haulage Association and need specific research. One of the things I have learned here today is the need to possibly prioritise this as an area.

A total of 19% of the fatalities and serious injuries on our roads last year involved a commercial vehicle, that is to say, a non-private car. These vehicles, particularly the larger vehicles, drive a considerable amount of miles and because of the physics involved, when something goes wrong with a large vehicle, the outcome is worse for everybody. I will take a very strong cue from this meeting in respect of this area and will do something specific about it.

In respect of long-distance drivers and fatigue, an issue these drivers try to address by taking drugs, I have specific responsibility for the enforcement of drivers' hours and the checking of tachographs. I am staffing up to 18 transport officers who will work around the country checking drivers' hours, haulage records and tachographs. We have specifically launched a fatigue campaign which will target truck and long-distance drivers because the most recent research we have shows that across Europe, possibly up to one in five collisions are directly attributable to fatigue.

Recent research from Loughborough University shows that driving while fatigued is as dangerous as driving at or above the drink driving limit. Among the symptoms of tiredness while driving is an inability to hold one's lane position and maintain a regular speed. In particular, we are trying to target long-distance drivers. In this process, I suspect we will learn more about whether particular stay awake drugs exist. Many of our drivers drive on to the Continent. If this is the practice, I have no reason to believe that it would not also be the practice here.

If Mr. Brett wishes to get his train, I do not mind if he replies in writing to the questions I have put. I do not know what is the position of Deputy McEntee.

Mr. Brett

I will try to answer questions very quickly. I would welcome the Vanessa concept and will discuss it with the Garda. It would also be a vehicle for us to carry out educational work. We could partner the Garda in this regard and I would like to do so.

Deputy McEntee raised very interesting issues in respect of roads.

I raised this issue because I visited a site on Saturday where two people were killed last year. The road is split in two. This morning, I visited a site where four people were killed. The road, a regional road, is a complete mess. The response is that we do not have the money to do it. This is the reason I asked my question. Is it part of the programme for the Government to ensure our roads are safe?

Mr. Brett

I do not have a specific remit in respect of road design, building or maintenance, which are the responsibility of the National Roads Authority and the local authorities. They are the roads authorities so I do not have a particular remit in this regard. However, when looking at road safety, I am acutely aware of what is happening in terms of Transport 21 and road building but also the maintenance of other roads. As members can see from the presentation, 94% of our roads are local and regional roads, which, across Europe, are the most dangerous types of road to drive on. The safest roads are motorways and their equivalents.

I am watching carefully what is happening in terms of road building and maintenance and the issues now emerging in terms of the Health and Safety Authority's interventions around dense bitumen macadam and surfacesy. Clearly, if there are lessons from that which I can take on board in my organisation in terms of education or awareness, I will do so. While I do not have a statutory responsibility for these areas, I am monitoring them acutely.

Deputy McEntee mentioned collision investigation. The Garda has now established forensic collision investigation units in each Garda division. It has trained its officers up to City and Guilds level and we are beginning to obtain much better data about road surfaces and actual causes of accidents, as opposed to the prior system where someone ticked a box and made an opinion. It is much more scientific now and I imagine that over the next five years we will begin to receive a quality of data which will help us to progress matters.

The Chairman asked me about the provisional statistics. I do not have this data to hand but all the evidence I have tells me the issue is experience. It is inexperience that contributes to accidents, not whether someone holds a provisional driving licence. It is a person's inexperience as a driver until he or she undergoes his learning period and possibly gets two years' worth of good driving experience in all conditions under his or her belt that counts. This is why other jurisdictions have opted for a graduated licensing system which allows people to build up their experience in a safe and controlled way. This is a useful way to go forward.

I thank Mr. Brett and apologise for keeping him half a day. We wish him well and acknowledge the tremendous amount of work he has done since the Road Safety Authority was officially established on 1 September 2006. I have no doubt that Mr. Brett and the authority's chairman will continue to help work towards the ideal situation, namely, a further reduction on an annual basis in road deaths.

Mr. Brett

I thank the Chairman and members of the committee.

The joint committee adjourned at 5.40 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 15 November 2006.