First of all, I should like to say that the Department of Local Government welcomes this debate because, apart from the attention which it gets from the Seanad, undoubtedly it has focussed the attention of the general public on the question of road safety with particular reference to speed. Having listened to this debate for one and a half hours, I should say that the question of speed was not accented, but I do not think that is objectionable. It is necessary that the whole question of road safety should be debated because, undoubtedly, the public have become very uneasy in recent months as a result of certain accidents that have occurred. It may be a coincidence that these accidents have occurred within a period of a few weeks but in any case there is public uneasiness and this House, and we in the Department should demonstrate to the public that this is a matter of grave concern for us.
I shall quote figures in respect of persons killed in road accidents and Senators will be able to see for themselves that the number of people killed in road accidents is again on the increase. While the number decreased during the war years, it is, unfortunately, at present increasing, not to a very alarming extent but, inasmuch as it is increasing, it should be the concern of everybody to try to ensure that these figures will be kept as low as possible.
In 1938, the number of people killed in road accidents was 226; in 1939, 192; in 1940, 204; in 1941, 156; in 1942, 176; in 1943, 110; in 1944, 130; in 1945, 115; in 1946, 166; in 1947, 195.
There is a reason for the decrease between the years 1939 to 1945. No doubt, Senators will remember that many private cars were off the road and there were petrol restrictions. The evidence is that traffic is increasing to a very great extent. In 1939 there were 70,000 vehicles on the road. In 1947 there were 90,000. There was an increase of approximately 8,000 lorries between 1939 and 1947.
Again, I say we should be concerned about the whole question of road safety because it is reasonable to assume that these figures will grow and grow. We always hope for better rather than for worse, and it is not unreasonable to expect that petrol will be available in large quantities in the near future. It is reasonable to expect that the price of motor cars will fall and that they will be made available to more and more people.
We have travelled a long way since the time when it was necessary to walk in front of a motor car with a red flag to warn people of its approach. We have come a long distance since the time when we had very bumpy roads, humpback bridges, and things like that. The improvement in roads and general motoring conditions should indicate that the problem of motor traffic especially will become even greater for us in future.
I said, at the beginning, that the question of speed was not accented in this debate. Senators gave many other reasons for road accidents. I propose, at the outset, to say a few brief words on certain of the points which were raised. I am in agreement with the Senator who said that there is a lack of road signs in this country. There certainly is. It would be of benefit to the motoring public and to the public in general if there were more of these road signs, especially those indicating that there is a village ahead, and that there is a major road ahead. I am a motorist and I find it very difficult indeed, especially in the City of Dublin, to know when I am coming out on a major road. I am very reluctant to pull up at a dead stop. I happened to be involved in a slight accident. I did not understand that there was a major road ahead and I just went through and, in doing that, I had an accident.
Senator Summerfield, while he seemed to be very pro-motorist, made what I consider some very admirable points. He made special reference to pedestrians and pedestrian crossings. I had the very same experience as Senator Summerfield had in that respect. There are certain pedestrian crossings in the City of Dublin that are marked by a line of studs about ten or 12 feet apart, between which the pedestrians are expected to cross and they have a guarantee of safety when they are between those particular lines.
But no later than two nights ago I happened to be in the same place which Senator Summerfield mentioned, and I saw that these pedestrian crossings were totally disregarded by people crossing from Amiens Street Station to the far side. After all, there is no use in the public sending up a general shout about the necessity for road safety if they do not take advantage of certain safeguards which have been put there and of which they will not avail.
To my mind the question of the camber on the roads represents one of the most important aspects of this question of road safety. It is, of course, the primary function of the Department of Local Government to see that the roads are put in a condition to allow of the normal course of traffic. It is one of its functions to see that the camber of the road is proper. I must say that up to quite recently— when I say recently I mean a matter of the last eight or ten years—sufficient attention has not been given to the question of putting a proper camber on the roads. I think motorists in this respect have been treated very badly indeed. I venture to remark that two recent accidents in this country were caused, in my opinion—and I give it as a personal opinion—because of the fact that there was not a proper camber on the road. I happened to travel that same road on many occasions and I found it difficult to travel round the bends. I was invariably pulled across to the wrong side. Senator Bigger mentioned about the bend at Lough-linstown, and I am in entire agreement with what he said.
I think it is something which could be remedied in a very short time and remedied at every little expense. I mention these two points to show the House that even in my experience the road camber is a very important matter, not alone from the point of view of pedestrians but from the point of view of motorists.
Some Senators were inclined to blame new drivers for many of the accidents and advocated that there should be some sort of test for a prospective driver when he is making application for a driving licence. There is something to be said for that all right, but on the evidence and the statistics we have compiled, new drivers are not to be blamed for even a small fraction of the accidents which occur. I think it has been the experience of any member of the House who drives a car that, when he started to drive first, he was very careful indeed and that he was very conscious of the dangers to be met with on the roads, because prior to making his application for a driving licence he happened to be a pedestrian and he knew what it was to have a car racing round the corner at high speed towards him. I do not think there is anything in the suggestion that new drivers, or, incidentally, as Senator Miss Butler suggested, that young men under 30 are mainly responsible for accidents. It may be a coincidence that some young men under 30 happen to drink and that there is a good percentage of accidents due to speeding where motorists are found to be drunk, but I do not think the Senator's attack on young motorists under 30 was altogether justified.
Senator Quirke raised a question about dimming and with his remarks I am in agreement. I think you absolutely take your life in your hands travelling from Dublin to Bray if you do not happen to have very strong lights and you meet a car coming towards you with a very strong light. I had experience of that myself and I was on some occasions in mortal terror. Driving from Dublin to Bray on some occasions I had to consider whether I should stop my car and stay where I was, rather than run the risk of meeting cars coming in the opposite direction, especially cars with high-power lights. A regulation has recently been made which requires that every car will have, as from the 1st September, I think, a dimming device attached to it. But unfortunately—and I mean to go into it a little more closely—there is no regulation which provides that a motorist should dim. I suppose, therefore, it must be left to his discretion, but if he has this dimming device and if he is a sane or sensible man he will use it. As has been mentioned in the debate, there is something to be said against dimming when you consider that, when you dim, your vision is impaired to a large extent and you have not much chance with a dim light of picking out the cyclist who happens to be on your left hand side. Cyclists run very great danger in this respect, but let me assure cyclists that the driver of a motor-car has a very great anxiety in trying to pick out cyclists on his left hand side and all sorts of other things like straying animals. I do not think the House could do anything about straying animals unless the Minister for Agriculture might be able to do something.
I think that some Senators have been rather too hard on cyclists, especially cyclists in Dublin. Dublin has one of the biggest cyclist populations of any city in Europe; it comes second only to Amsterdam, but I do not think we should be too hard on these cyclists.
Motorists should remember that they have not the right-of-way on the road just simply because they blow their horn. Many motorists have an idea that blowing of the horn gives them a licence to go ahead at full speed. They must remember that cyclists have also a right to be on the road. One thing I would suggest to cyclists in the City of Dublin is that they might keep a little more to the left-hand side. I agree with Senator Summerfield that very often as soon as you come up against a traffic light you find that perhaps 17 or 20 cyclists drive up in front of you, put their feet on the front bumpers of your car and use them as a lever to start again, whereas you are held up for about two minutes while they are kicking off from the front of your car.
Road safety happens to come within the jurisdiction of the Minister for Local Government, and there is hardly any necessity to assure the House of our concern in that regard, but it might be no harm to remind Senators of what the Department is doing and what it has done over a period. One of our duties is to try by means of propaganda to ensure that the roads will be made safe. It is very easy to make people car-conscious. Neither the House, the Minister nor the Department has to do that. The people who make and sell cars can easily do that. I think the evidence of that is to be found in the flash advertisements which motor car manufacturers and sellers are able to have in the different magazines and in the daily and local Press. It is very easy for our people, as I say, to become car-conscious. I think the world, Ireland and Dublin are very rapidly becoming car-conscious, but the big problem which we have and the biggest difficulty which there is in the matter of road safety is to make people traffic-conscious.
I do not think that it can be said that many of the citizens in Dublin are traffic-conscious. As I said, they do not even avail of the safeguards provided for them. I do not think I need remind Senators that you will find people at all hours of the day, irrespective of what traffic there is, trying to get across the middle of College Green or across the middle of O'Connell Bridge rather than going another ten yards to one of the pedestrian crossings provided for their use. The function of the Department is to try to make these people traffic-conscious. We can only do that with the co-operation of the public, and the co-operation of the public is the main factor in ensuring road safety. We have done this, and are still doing it through advertisements. A substantial sum is voted by the Dáil each year in order to ensure road safety. Many booklets have been issued in connection with the matter and people applying for motor car licences have very admirable booklets issued to them which give them very many points in connection with driving, the use of signals, physical fitness and the fitness of their vehicles. If they would only take the trouble to read these booklets even once a year when they get their licence we could do a great deal to ensure better road safety.
The Department has made great strides lately in the matter of propaganda, inasmuch as within the last six months or so they have had a film made about road safety, which, no doubt, many Senators have seen. The title of the film is "Next Please" and from all points of view it is an admirable film and should bring home to the general public the potential danger on the roads at the present time. I might also mention that in a very short time two other films will be made. We are a film-going nation, I suppose, and the best way to get propaganda home to the people at present is through the medium of films. The last film more or less dealt with the pedestrian and, to a large extent, put the pedestrian in the wrong and showed him the error of his ways. It is suggested now that one of these films should be devoted to cyclists and the other to the drivers of motor cars, with emphasis again on speed.
In my opinion, the question of the speeding motorist is to a very large extent dealt with by legislation. I refer to the 1933 Road Traffic Act. Senator Duffy was right when he said that that Act was framed on the basis that a speed limit was not desirable. He was a little erroneous when he mentioned that there was a speed limit on certain vehicles. In order to correct any impression which may have been left on the minds of Senators, I should like to say that the only provision for a speed limit in that particular Act is for a 25 miles per hour speed limit for heavy vehicles, the type of vehicle which weighs over three tons.
There is a 25 miles per hour speed limit for single deck buses. I think Senator Duffy was under the impression that the 25 miles per hour speed limit was in respect of both single and double deck buses. There is, therefore, a speed limit for such vehicles, but I do not think the House was very much concerned with the number of accidents caused by vehicles such as these for which there is a speed limit. In my opinion the question of a speed limit can be dealt with by the Garda and the district justices under the 1933 Road Traffic Act.