Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 16 Apr 1997

Vol. 150 No. 18

Road Safety: Motion.

It was agreed this morning on the Order of Business that, while it was Private Members' time, there would be ten minutes per speaker. However, I am informed by the Clerk that, under Standing Orders, there must be a proposer and a seconder and then there may be ten minutes per speaker. In that context, Senator Naughten will propose the motion, there will be a seconder and the debate will then alternate with not more than ten minutes per speaker.

Before the debate begins, I welcome Ms Ann O'Brien because it is largely at her instigation that this debate is taking place this evening. We admire the effort she is making to pursue the cause which is the subject matter of this debate.

Mr. Naughten

I move:

That Seanad Éireann urges the Minister for the Environment to review and update all measures relating to road safety with special reference to information provided to tourists.

I welcome the Minister to the House for a debate which has been long neglected by legislators. I am here because no regulations have been made to date on providing information to foreign tourists on road safety and driving on the left side of the road. Had these been in place, I might still be a student in University College Cork and my father, Liam Naughten, might still be Cathaoirleach of this House. Sadly, this debate has come too late for my father and the Croatian in the other car but it is not too late for others. That is why I propose this motion this evening.

Tourism is a rapidly growing industry and predictions show it will soon become a major employer. In 1996 4.2 million tourists visited this country and 20 per cent hired cars; 1.75 million were from mainland Europe and North America, of which over 554,000 hired cars and drove around Ireland. All these people were accus-around to driving on the right and posed a major hazard to other road users, especially during the summer months.

Road accident statistics for 1995, the most up to date available, show that 11.6 per cent of all car accidents involved a driver from outside Ireland and Britain. The vast majority of these drivers came from countries where cars are driven on the right. Had regulations been in place in 1995, some of the 29 people killed and the 1,080 people injured might not have been involved in road traffic accidents. Therefore, road safety measures, with special reference to tourists, should be reviewed immediately to curb this growing problem on our roads.

A number of measures can be put in place, some quite easily, to turn these statistics around. First, signs should be erected on approach roads to our towns, in hotels and places of interest to tourists providing information on driving on the left. This proposal follows on from a motion passed by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in the name of Councillor Paddy Hand. I hope the Minister can ensure funds are made available to the council to enable it to implement the motion.

Signs like these at the point of entry are crucial to make people leaving the ports aware of the correct side of the road on which to drive. I am aware of only one such sign between Dublin and Galway, a road travelled by a large number of tourists and on which my father lost his life. This sign, in German, French and English, was erected by a family from Roscommon who lost their daughter in a car accident in that location involving a foreign driver on the wrong side of the road.

This information should also be made available in hire cars outlets, tourist brochures and hotel rooms. The only information available at the moment is a two page information sheet which makes the brief statement:

Road Conditions: Driving is on the left side of the road in Ireland. Motorists without experience in left-drive countries should be extra cautious, as tourists driving on the wrong side of the road are the cause of several serious accidents each year. Road conditions are generally very good, but once off the highway, country roads quickly grow narrow and uneven.

There must also be a concentration of efforts on the car hire industry. It has done very little to date to make tourists aware of the correct side of the road on which to drive. A number of Members had a meeting with industry representatives a few weeks ago and they said they had been examining the issue for a number of years. Their solution was to put stickers on the mirrors of hire cars stating that people must drive on the left. This is a small step but one in the right direction yet, to date, they have not implemented the proposal. The cost of implementing various proposals has been their excuse. Placing stickers on mirrors does not cost a fortune whereas it could save a life. The most effective proposal, but the most expensive, is to put an illuminated warning device into hire cars. This device could warn drivers, when they turn on the ignition, that they must drive on the left and it could also include an audio warning in two foreign languages. There are also a number of more sophisticated devices which could be installed but the car hire industry believe they are too expensive. I ask the Minister to put in place a scheme for tax relief to ensure these devices are installed as soon as possible.

Ms Ann O'Brien is in the Gallery this evening. She is the main proposer of these devices and has been involved in one such accident. Among her proposals for a safer driving campaign for tourists are that all hire cars should have information, especially a device to constantly remind drivers to drive on the left; automatic cars should cost the same to hire as stickshift cars; there should be stricter controls over the age of drivers with medical certificates for people over 65 years; drivers should always get automatic cars if that is what they are used to driving and Bord Fáilte, the National Roads Authority, local county councils and the Automobile Association should get together to devise a sign, which could be sponsored by local business, which should be erected at the main exit routes of towns and cities and throughout the country. These signs should also be put on exit doors or at the exits of car parks, tourist attractions, B & Bs, hotels, restaurants and pubs. The implementation of these proposals would ensure that there are fewer accidents on our roads involving foreign drivers.

Finally, I want to formally propose this motion and thank the Minister for coming into the House. I earnestly request that he implement these proposals as they would be the greatest tribute which could be paid to my late father, the former Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, and ensure that tragedies like this are a thing of the past.

I welcome the Minister to the House. This time last year he was in this House in relation to the same issue, although there was a variation to the motion. On that occasion he dealt extensively with the issue of road safety.

Every road death is needless. When one considers the numbers involved it is important that the Oireachtas continually focuses on this issue. I wish to put on record the support given by the Minister. In last year's debate he placed a concrete road safety plan before the House. Senator Naughten has raised a caveat and I compliment him. This motion is proposed in conjunction with the campaign led by Ms Ann O'Brien, who is welcome to the House. I compliment her on her campaign over the past few months on this important issue.

Five hundred thousand people die in road accidents worldwide every year. It is one of the biggest killers known to man. In Northern Ireland more people lost their lives in road accidents than in the Troubles. This puts the seriousness of this problem in perspective. It must be addressed by central government and local and regional authorities. Many of the powers and controls formally held by central and local government are now vested in regional authorities. I would welcome any proposals from the Minister in this regard.

There is a connection between people's ability to drive and their status, size and gender. Three times as many male drivers are killed as female drivers. We have a persistent problem of speeding among young male drivers. This has to be addressed by a more focused campaign directed at males between 18-25 years of age. Many of these men are unsafe drivers. The statistics speak loudly on this point. Women drivers are frequently jeered at, but the reality is that three times as many men as women lose their lives in road accidents. Men will have to address this problem. It must be addressed in the context of education. As a gender, men seem incapable of containing themselves on the roads. This is causing devastation in the deaths and injuries resulting from these needless accidents.

I agree with Senator Naughten's comments about driving on the left hand side of the road. Tourism is a huge industry in this country. There has been a mushrooming of car hire companies as a result of tourists wishing to see the Irish countryside. This is the kind of product we wish to sell, but it is important that tourists are continually made aware of which side of the road on which to drive.

I have driven in Spain and they have a more continuous system of reminding drivers than exists in Ireland. The Senator's comments should be listened to. Until we implement a consistent mechanism of reminding tourists of which side of the road on which to drive we are not going to get far.

Senator McAughtry asked me to raise the problem of street names in our cities. Many tourists experience great difficulty finding their way around. If one is in Northern Ireland street names are clearly visible at junctions and intersections. We have no uniform system of street names. It varies from one local authority to another. We should standardise this process if we are selling tourism as a major industry.

I would like to see permanent checks on the road worthiness of hire cars. The last time this motion came before the House I had three specific proposals to put to the Minister. I am glad he has enacted two of these — the extension of the car scrappage scheme and his decision not to extend tolling on the M50. He is obviously a very receptive Minister. I hope that by raising this issue we will bring home to people how significant this issue is at a time of the year when thousands of tourists are using our roads.

I welcome this motion. I am speaking earlier than I anticipated.

The real Opposition.

Somebody has to mind the shop. I worry about where the others are. I compliment Senator Naughten on this motion. He makes a compelling argument, given his personal circumstances, and this lends authority to what he has to say. The Senator is also to be complimented on the statistics he brought before us. I was not aware of many of these.

There are two critical elements in this issue. First, people arriving by ferry driving their own cars. This can be a greater difficulty as the steering wheel is on the left hand side. I have driven in most European countries, New Zealand and Fiji and it makes it easier if the steering wheel is on the opposite side to that to which one is accustomed. This acts as a continual reminder that one should be on the other side of the road.

It is eminently sensible for hired cars to have more than a window display reminding drivers. There should be an audio signal. Volvo introduced an audio and visual signal reminding people to wear seat belts and a similar system could be incorporated into hire cars given the existing technology. Having hired cars in France, Germany, Spain, Holland and Denmark, I cannot remember a circumstance where it was explicit that I should be driving on the right hand side of the road.

One frequently picks up hire cars at an airport. There are plenty of signs adjacent to airports but there is an onus on the car hire companies to remind drivers. Senator Naughten's statistics are a compelling argument for such initiatives. Ms O'Brien is also to be complimented. It is an achievement for a citizen to bring a motion to the floor of the Seanad or the Dáil. We must take her recommendations into account.

Tourists coming to drive in Ireland have the most time to read about this issues on the ferry or plane. There is a lot of literature on aircraft and ferries. It would be appropriate if the Minister for the Environment or the Minister for Tourism and Trade could encourage Cara magazine or similar publications to include a routine section which reminds people they must drive on the left hand side. The vast majority of these accidents happen within a short distance of the ports of entry, whether airports or ferryports. This could be looked at.

There is also the question of language on road signs adjacent to airports and ferryports. They should be multi-lingual and we should not assume that everyone in the world reads English. There is also understandable confusion in the translation from miles to kilometres on signposts. This causes considerable confusion for tourists and even for English people visiting the country.

There is also the question of our behaviour at roundabouts. In France there is the system of "priorité adroit" so one keeps coming on the larger roundabouts. This causes particular problems for some of our continental visitors. Perhaps some system of uniformity could be introduced.

It might also be assumed that because visitors are driving on a motorway they will automatically be on the right side of the road. They will be in the direction they are travelling. However, they tend, as do most of the citizens who drive down the Naas dual carriageway, to stay in the outside lane and pass on the inside, which is not what they should do. They are not peculiar in that, as many Irish citizens do the same.

We should consider measures such as automatic cars being the same price as other hired cars, the manual shift, the systems in hired cars, information on ferries and aeroplanes coming into the country, signage and road safety in general.

We are self-conscious at our lack of signposting and we assume every tourist gets lost. We find them in Connemeara looking at the signposts as Gaeilge, looking at their maps wondering where they are, not only where they are going to, which brings us to the point "If I knew where you started from, I could tell you where to go." When I visited Fiji, there were virtually no signposts. One goes to countries where one does not expect to find signposts. It may be the case that many tourists who come to Ireland do not expect the same standard of signposting they would find in Germany or in France. Perhaps they do; I do not know the answer. Just as they expect to find rain, perhaps they expect it to be more difficult to drive around the country. I do not think the difficulty is on minor roads. Tourists tend to stay on the left on minor roads.

In terms of finding their way around, I am not sure about the need for sophisticated signposts. Many of them are well able to use maps. I know from my own experience, particularly in Fiji, that one follows the map, which hopefully gets one where one wants in safety on the right or left hand side of the road, whichever happens to be appropriate.

I welcome the Minister to the House. This motion is long overdue. People like Ann O'Brien, who is here today, have suffered due to road accidents. She is working hard to find ways in which the suffering and loss she has endured will not be visited on others. The leader of our party, Senator O'Sullivan will address this motion further. Ms O'Brien sent a very nice letter to our leader to remind her of this matter.

Tourists coming to Ireland are reminded at our airports and ferryports of the need to drive on the left and often this is all they hear about it. We need other signs throughout the countryside. This can be done through consultation between the Road Safety Council and the Department of the Environment. I do not expect them to put up signs everywhere, but there should at least be a number of reminders.

Car rental companies can play a big role in handling the matter through signs and advice. It would be of great benefit if the last thing said to someone hiring a car was "Drive on the left". Such reminders and the spoken word can achieve the aim of safety. The matter should also be thrashed out at county council level. If the Minister contacted each council we could come up with suggestions and solutions. Between us we could help to get rid of carnage on the road.

Private enterprise and semi-State bodies could aid heritage centres and historic sites in providing small signs in different languages to remind tourists to drive on the left. Hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs could also have cards to remind visitors to keep to the left. Entertainment venues could also use the public address system at the end of the night to ask visitors to drive on the left. A combination of ministerial directives, local authorities and the private sector could make the roads safer.

We need to standardise signs and road markings throughout the country. As one goes from county to county the signs are reasonably clear but they need to be the same. It is important that signs and lines on the road are uniform. Often the lines on roads are different colours in different counties.

When roadworks are finished and roads are clear, it is important that all signs are removed. Sometimes signs remain and the reason they were put there is gone. This makes people careless of other signs. They see signs saying "roadworks ahead" when there are none and ignore others saying the same. Sometimes the condition of roads where work is taking place is not the best, especially at night when vision is impaired. Uneven surfaces should be clearly signposted or traffic should not be allowed to travel over them.

Something should also be done by the Minister and the Road Safety Council about lights. On roads at night, one light often points to the moon and another to the ground. The use of dimmer lights is often non-existent and many people do not remember what the dim switch is for, especially when travelling behind drivers. All of these factors cause accidents. If we can reduce these, we can reduce the number of accidents on the road.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this motion with particular reference to road safety information for tourists. There is no specific evidence to suggest that tourists are a high risk category of road user. Individual accidents which we are aware of have heightened our awareness in this regard. I join with Members in welcoming Ann O'Brien to the House and the debate.

Road accident facts reports available to me do not provide information in relation to the number of accidents in which tourists are involved or the causes of such accidents. However, in 1995, while 88.4 per cent of car drivers involved in fatal and injury accidents in this country were identified as being residents of Ireland, Britain or Northern Ireland, the other 11.6 per cent were identified as other or unknown. As Senator Naughten said, it is fair to assume that some of these people were tourists.

Special precautions are taken to assist visitors in their understanding and appreciation of driving, cycling or walking on our roads. In 1996 almost five million tourists visited Ireland. The involvement of even one in a road accident that might be avoided is one too many.

Last September I introduced a new multi-lingual road traffic sign to warn drivers of the requirement to drive on the left-hand side of the road. That sign illustrates the left-hand driving requirement in diagram form as well as stating it in English, French and German. It is designed for use, in particular, at exits from ports and airports and for areas of high tourist amenity. Details of that sign were circulated to all road authorities and are also set out in the traffic signs manual which I published and circulated last December.

Provision of the sign is a matter for individual road authorities and as it was only introduced last September it may take some time for local authorities to erect it at all locations where they consider that it necessary. I will do all I can to ensure that more of these signs are erected and seen by the millions of tourists whom we welcome each year.

Another tourist specific measure is the National Safety Council's information leaflet for tourists. This is distributed free of charge to the major car hire firms, including all firms operating from airports and ferry terminals; to Bord Fáilte and to local authorities. The leaflet was redesigned and updated in 1996. The text in English, French and German covers essentials, including clear advice that all traffic must drive on the left; on motorway, information and important regulatory signs; on speed limits and traffic lights.

I understand from my colleague, the Minister for Tourism and Trade, who has a special interest in this matter, that he has been in touch with the Car Rental Council of Ireland on the availability of road safety information to tourists. That organisation has a strong interest in ensuring the safety of their clients and its members are very conscious of the need for proper information to be given to tourists about driving conditions in Ireland.

It is fair to say that the majority of tourists in Ireland speak English to some degree and I hope that at least some of them pick up on the important safety messages on radio and television which advise on drink driving, excessive speeding and the use of seat belts. These are not exclusively Irish factors in the long list of road accident causes: the messages are important for all road users.

I am considering what further measures might be introduced in our effort to avoid the involvement of tourists in road accidents and I will support in whatever way I can any proposals for the fitting of signs or devices in hired cars which I understand are being developed. We must continue to have regard also to the provision of information to the increasing number of tourists who bring their own cars and this is where the provision of information on road signs, in leaflets and through all tourists organisations is crucial. A very positive comment has already been made regarding the use of airlines and ferries to provide on board information for those travelling to Ireland. I will bring this issue to the attention of the Minister for Tourism and Trade.

Road safety with a specific focus on tourists is not the complete picture; we cannot look at that in isolation. Our road accident record for the past two years is not good. The decline started in summer 1995 when accident numbers shot up in comparison with previous years. That rising trend has continued despite the trojan efforts of Government Departments, the Garda, local authorities, the National Roads Authority and the National Safety Council. Since I spoke in response to a similar motion in this House almost 12 months ago, more than 400 people have died as a result of road accidents and many thousands have been injured. This is the equivalent of a small village being eradicated, a sobering and staggering fact.

Because of my concern when the rising accident trend became evident, in 1995 I had a review of road safety policy undertaken. This involved all responsible agencies and was carried out under the auspices of my Department's high level group on road safety. Following that review in May of last year I launched a new road safety strategy entitled "Road Safety Together". It focuses on all responsible agencies, namely, my Department, the Department of Justice and the Garda, the National Roads Authority, the National Safety Council, the Irish Insurance Federation and the local authorities, working together with the road user to increase the effectiveness of our enforcement, education, engineering and encouragement measures.

If experience over the last ten years has shown us anything it is that there are complex factors which influence road accident trends. There are no simple magic wand solutions. It takes time for new measures to achieve positive results. Trying to reverse the upward spiral is a challenging task for all of us. The very sad and disturbing reality is that most accidents can be avoided by the road user whether they are a driver, pedestrian, cyclist or motorcyclist.

There are many established road safety measures with which we are familiar, all of which are aimed at supporting the safe use of our road network. It is important to ensure that increased levels of road safety are brought about by making it safer for people to move around and not by curtailing their freedom to do so. In recent years there has been major investment in road infrastructure, with record spending on both national and non-national roads. Intensive high profile road safety promotion campaigns have highlighted, in particular drink driving, excessive and inappropriate speeding and the importance of wearing seat belts. These campaigns mounted by the National Safety Council are updated as necessary to accommodate changing accident trends, changes in road user behaviour and changes in advertising and media styles. Improvements in vehicle safety include statutory increases in tyre thread depth, compulsory fitting of seat belts in front and rear car seats and fitting of speed governors in heavy goods vehicles over 12 tons and in buses. Changes in vehicle design and demands for higher safety levels in vehicles tend in many circumstances to be consumer led. This has the great advantage that changes are more readily and speedily accepted.

An intensive review and update was applied to drink driving legislation in 1994 and 1995. This resulted in a comprehensive restructuring of drink driving laws based primarily on the adoption of a limit of 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood and the adoption of one of the most stringent penalty systems in the EU.

There has been a reaction in the past week to the announcement by the EU Transport Commissioner that the Commission will examine, as part of its new road safety programme, the harmonisation of blood alcohol limits in the Union to a level of 0.5. The Commission has suggested that in certain circumstances such a measure could result in a reduction in accidents of between 5 and 40 per cent. While I have no plans to change the limits in this country and it will be some time before there are substantive developments in Europe, if any, we cannot ignore the fact that drinking and driving continues to be a significant contributory factor in road accidents both at home and throughout the EU.

Established road safety measures must continue to be maintained, developed and enforced. I agree that this is not enough and I have recently taken measures in the context of the continuous review and updating of road safety policy by Government. There is no room for sitting back or for complacency. The problem requires us to be continuously proactive in seeking new answers, suggestions and solutions.

In 1996, I published a guide to road safety engineering in Ireland which has become known as the "blackspots manual" and that is literally what it is. It is a code of good practice for the treatment of high accident stretches of roads by means of low cost engineering measures. Such measures will have been noted by Members of the House as they travel around the country. The guide will assist local authority engineers, draughtsmen and technicians in identifying, analysing and treating high risk sections of road and dealing with accident blackspots on the road network. Up to the end of 1996, almost £2 million pounds were spent by the National Roads Authority on the programme of low cost safety measures at high accident locations. A further £1 million will be allocated to the programme in 1997. These works are of direct benefit to all road users, Irish citizens and tourists alike.

Last year I also published a comprehensive traffic signs manual for the guidance of local authorities. It is a good code of practice which will help to ensure that we have an effective and well maintained traffic sign system in this country. This is fundamental to the operation of a safe and efficient road network. One of the thrusts of the manual is the use of less text on road signs thereby getting messages across more directly to road users, whatever their native language.

Some people suggest that enforcement is the most important element of any road safety strategy. I would agree that high levels of highly visible enforcement by the Garda Síochána is a vital and critical element of the strategy. There is a continuing need for unrelenting attention to traffic law enforcement by the Garda. Last year they undertook to provide vigorous and sustained levels of enforcement as part of our national Road Safety Together Strategy. My colleague, the Minister for Justice, confirmed earlier this year in the Dáil that enforcement of traffic law remains a high priority for the Garda and that they would continue to have the necessary resources, both in personnel and equipment, to carry out this task. The Minister also assured the Dáil that the Garda authorities are committed to rigorous enforcement of the Road Traffic Acts, including the law on drink driving, on a year-round basis.

I am particularly pleased to have been informed by the Garda Commissioner that he proposes at an early date to set up a national traffic policy bureau, in relation to traffic policing on a national basis, to ensure a co-ordinated and policy driven approach by all gardaí to the issue of traffic law enforcement. My most recent update of road traffic law was to introduce fixed penalties, commonly known as on-the-spot fines, for speeding offences from 1 December 1996. These fines are only applied by the Garda to minor speeding offences because there is no question of avoiding court prosecutions and appearances for serious and repeated breaches of the law. The aim of these regulations is twofold: to act as a clear, visible and instant deterrent to those drivers who travel at excessive speeds and to reduce the amount of time the Garda have to spend in the courts, thereby allowing them to spend more time on the roads and streets to enforce the law.

At the end of the day we are hugely dependent on the road user in improving our road safety record and in eliminating the scourge of traffic accidents from our society. One of the effects of a prosperous economy is that we have evermore vehicles coming on stream. Increased volume of traffic means more accidents.

All the measures we have taken are directed at the road user, some are passive and some are active. It is up to all of us to receive the message, to use the information provided and to heed the warnings. With regard to tourists I have outlined the measures in place and I have undertaken to support others whenever I can. We can expect up to five million tourists to visit this country during 1997. Those who drive cars will encounter Irish people whether it be when they are buying petrol, hiring cars or looking for directions. Those Irish people who meet the driving tourist can play a part by giving a friendly reminder about driving on the left in support of our efforts at official level. I remain open to any further proposition or suggestion from Senators which would bring about an improvement in our unacceptable road accident record.

There is very little in the Minister's speech with which anybody could disagree. However, he has lost sight of the proposition in this all party motion which seeks to update all measures relating to road safety with special relevance to information provided to tourists. There is only one way we can avoid some of the major problems associated with tourists driving on our roads. We must look for a common driving system where everyone would drive on the left. There may be a small state where drivers drive on the same side of the road as they do in Britain, Ireland and Malta but all other drivers drive on the same side of the road. The five million tourists who will visit Ireland this year, excepting those from Britain and Malta, will think they are driving on the wrong side of the road.

This motion has nothing to do with the specific road safety aspects of drink driving, speed or the law as it stands in Ireland. It specifically seeks to ensure that a method is found to inform tourists that this is one of the few countries where drivers drive on the left. Tourists coming off ships or planes will hire cars, find that the steering wheel is on the "wrong" side of the car and will feel they are driving on the wrong side of the road. Irrespective of what one says to tourists, they cannot be detained for an hour at the car hire location and taught that, as they leave it, they must drive on the opposite side of the road to which they normally drive.

I am not suggesting that what the Minister has said here about road safety is not important. It is very important but the Minister must ensure that foreign drivers are always well informed. They must be made aware of our drink driving laws and speed limits and of the fact that they must have roadworthy cars. I have come across tourists who left Dublin Airport on busy weekends, hired cars and found they were not roadworthy. These tourists have been stopped on the road between Dublin Airport and the city centre and have been told their cars are not roadworthy and they were stranded. People should not drive vehicles which are not roadworthy and car hire operators should not rent non-roadworthy cars.

Recently, I came across a case where a well known photographer who was on the way to Dublin Airport to return a car only to find he was not insured. The garda, who confiscated the car, left him on the side of the road. He had £22,000 worth of camera equipment with him and was returning from a delayed race meeting at Punchestown. He was not insured because the car hire company at Dublin Airport rented a car from a fleet in County Roscommon which was not insured. Although the garda was right to confiscate the car, he was dumped on the side of the road.

Over the years many road accidents have resulted in deaths. These accidents have been caused by people driving on the wrong side of the road about which there is nothing we can do because people are conditioned to drive on a particular side. The Department of the Environment has made new signs available to county councils which could erect multilingual signs if they so wished. Few, if any, of the councils I contacted knew about the signs. When driving between Counties Kilkenny and Waterford one will see a sign before going under a bridge telling people to drive carefully because they may come across vehicles driving in the middle of the road. What is a French or a German person supposed to do when they see an English sign telling them they may come across vehicles in the middle of the road? They should go to the Department of the Environment to ask for a new bridge. Irrespective of the number of signs we erect, that will not solve the problem.

The only way to resolve this problem is to change to the same system of driving which exists in 90 per cent of the world. People will say that to do that would cost too much, but it would not. Approximately 90 per cent of cars in the world are left-hand drive. We must change to the system enjoyed by the rest of the world.

The aim of the campaign is to save lives but the Minister has not said anything which will do that. Special information should be provided to tourists. Where can a non-English speaking person from Germany arriving at an airport or a sea port get information? Within two or three miles of Rosslare or elsewhere, they find they are driving on the wrong side of the road and they swerve. The Minister will know about the number of people arriving in Rosslare who create problems. The problems created on the road from Rosslare to Wexford town are unbelievable.

Cognisance should be taken of these problems which will not be dealt with by the Minister's suggestion that we implement the rules of the road. Ireland, Britain, Malta and some African countries must change from right-hand to left-hand drive. Every county council should be asked to table a motion requesting a change in the rules of the road from left-hand to right-hand drive. We should drive on the same side as the Americans, Germans and French and the five million tourists who visit Ireland. If we do that, we may have a chance of preventing 10 per cent of accidents which occur within ten miles of Shannon and Dublin Airports and Rosslare Harbour. The Minister will be aware of the carnage on the road between Rosslare and Wexford because French and German and other continental tourists do not realise they should drive on the left. I ask the Minister to consider this specific motion which does not concern overall road safety, but giving information to tourists.

I congratulate the Leader of the House for tabling this motion and Ms Ann O'Brien for her courageous and determined campaign, which I am sure will be successful. We only become aware of this problem when we visit a country where we have to drive on the right. People see signs and get leaflets when they rent cars but if their mind wanders as they approach a roundabout or turn right across traffic, problems occur. There is need for constant, and not once off, reminders for people driving on the side of the road with which they are unfamiliar.

For a year and a half I lived in a country where one drives on the right and when I returned home I had to adapt to driving on the left. Those of us who have been on holiday will also have had that experience. Although I had been back in Ireland for one month and thought I was familiar with driving on the left I found myself on the wrong side of an unfamiliar road. One finds oneself in this situation when one least expects it and, unfortunately, that is when accidents occur.

I congratulate Ms Ann O'Brien on the way she is conducting this campaign. She has met the relevant bodies, such as the Car Rental Council, and has approached local authorities and Members of the Seanad. I was glad to represent the Labour Party at a meeting. She has gone about it in a systematic and organised way and for that reason I believe she will succeed. I welcome the fact that the Minister has responded to the specific proposal this evening and says he will support in whatever way he can any proposals for fitting signs or devices in hired cars. That is one of the central elements that would make a difference in this regard. The Car Rental Council has also responded positively.

Some kind of electronic device is suggested that would have both an aural and visual element so that drivers would be reminded which side of the road they should be on. It would be a regular reminder which would respond to particular movements the driver may make — for example, turning or going onto a roundabout. It is a practical proposal and I welcome the Minister's response to it. It should be supported and should be available for hire cars in particular. Obviously, the person who comes in their own car is a different matter and maybe some kind of stick-on device could be used in that situation. The warning devices could also be hired by someone coming into the country and they could return them on their way out at the car ferry.

As regards what Senator Lanigan said about the person from Germany who might need a sign, the Minister said there are signs at entry points in English, French and German. I do not know whether there is a need for them to be in other languages or not, but they are certainly a help.

We could mention many other issues of road safety. Traffic calming measures are now being introduced by many local authorities which are quite effective in relation to other problems. However, I wanted to concentrate on the specific problem that was raised in this campaign. I support it fully and I welcome the fact that the Minister is also supporting it.

Mr. Naughten

Senator Dardis raised a good point concerning putting information on planes and ships. That should be implemented as soon as possible. It is crucial that when people have time, coming over on planes and ships, the magazines they read should contain special supplements on road safety.

Senator Hayes and Senator Dardis raised two points concerning signage in cities and in country areas. Most Members know from Seanad election campaigns — I did the last one with my late father — that when travelling around the country signage is very poor and street signs, in particular, are inadequate.

Senator O'Sullivan raised the matter of people bringing their own cars into the country. One way around that might be to give such visitors audio tapes of Irish music and between each song they would be reminded to drive on the left hand side of the road.

The Minister mentioned low cost safety measures in high accident locations, which is a good idea. However, he should also consider putting rumble strips on every white line throughout the country. It would be expensive but if people crossed the white line they would hear the rumble strips under their tyres and if they are falling asleep it would quickly awaken them.

The Minister said in his speech that there is no specific evidence to suggest tourists are a high risk category on the roads. Every single driver in the country, however, is aware of at least one incident in which they had a narrow escape with a foreigner driving on the wrong side of the road. Some 11.6 per cent of accidents are caused by drivers who are not used to driving on the left hand side of the road. That is a huge number of accidents. The statistics suggest that over one in ten road accidents are caused by foreign drivers.

I welcome the provision of road signs in different languages telling people to drive on the left hand side, but I hope the necessary finances will be put in place for this. There is no point in telling county councils to put these signs up without providing the finance to erect them.

Senator Lanigan's idea of changing over to driving on the right hand side of the road is pure lunacy. He said that Ireland, Britain and Malta are the only places where driving is on the left hand side of the road, but he omitted Japan, which is one of the most populated countries in the world and has left hand side driving. Senator Lanigan is suggesting the situation should be changed around so that we would all drive on the right hand side of the road. However, if 10 per cent of road accidents are caused by foreigners, how many accidents would we have with local people changing to the other side of the road? Senator O'Sullivan said she had such difficulties after living only 18 months abroad. Accidents would rise by 90 per cent if Senator Lanigan's unbelievable suggestion was accepted.

The nub of the problem comes back to the car hire companies, which have done little to solve the difficulty. Regulations must be put in place because such devices as have been suggested will not be installed willingly by car hire firms. There must be tax incentives to do so, in addition to regulations making the installation of such devices compulsory. Tilt switches could also be installed in cars so that if someone becomes drowsy and swerves to the other side of the road a warning light and sound alarm would alert them.

While I welcome the Minister's agreement to erect multi-lingual signs and to install devices, he must also create structures to ensure they are put in place. The problem to date has been that car hire companies will not install them because it does not pay them to do so. At the end of the day, that is all they worry about.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 17 April 1997.