Road Safety Authority Bill 2004: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Gardaí and local authorities are aware of a number of accident blackspots, the elimination of which should be of paramount importance. We are making some progress in this area but more needs to be done. How often do we learn from news bulletins that people have been killed on roads on which fatal accidents previously occurred? Regardless of whether the blackspots are the responsibility of the National Roads Authority or local authorities, money should not be a factor in their elimination.

It is appalling that the Rules of the Road booklet has not been updated in the past ten years. The failure to update it reflects the complacent attitude taken on this issue.

With regard to Northern Ireland vehicles driving at speed in this jurisdiction, it is time that discussions are held with Northern Ireland officials to introduce an all-Ireland policy on road safety and ensure that penalty points apply in both jurisdictions. This common sense approach should be progressed at every possible level.

Drink driving is a major cause of road accidents. Last year, Garda figures revealed a 30% increase in the number of people convicted of drink driving. The culture of drink driving must change. We have heard a lot about random breath testing, which I believe is favoured by the vast majority of people in this country. However, Fine Gael obtained information from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform which reveals that only 64 Garda stations have intoxilisers, one-fifth of gardaí are trained to use roadside breathalysers and even fewer can use the evidential breathalyser equipment based in Garda stations. Under these circumstances, can the Government really claim to be serious about road safety?

These issues are indicative of what the former chairman of the National Safety Council claimed for years, namely that there is no joined-up thinking among Departments. I hope that will change because we will go nowhere otherwise. The Garda claims that since the introduction of the new penalty points scheme, 350 people per day have received penalty points. Enforcement is the key to any successful strategy and we must learn from best practice in places such as Victoria and other Australian states, otherwise we will continue to see carnage on our roads until we have proper enforcement.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Gallagher, back to the House. I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on the Road Safety Authority Bill 2004, formerly the Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill. Recently, there has been a lot of discussion in the media about the numbers of fatalities on our roads, particularly those involving young people. The issue has also been debated on a number of occasions in this House, yet fatalities continue to occur.

I welcome the appointment of Mr. Gay Byrne as chairman of the road safety authority because, if anybody can do anything, it is Uncle Gaybo. Set a busy man or woman a task and it will be done. Not a man to hang around, he intends to quit his position if he does not see results. He set out his stall and I wish him well. I commend his predecessors on their efforts, which, for whatever reason, did not work.

The issues of what to do with young people and waiting lists for driving tests have been the subject of extensive debate. There is a year-long waiting list for driving tests. People must pass a theory test before they can apply for a provisional licence. With that provisional licence they can drive for two years with an "L" plate and then sit their driving tests. Like everybody else here I have been told stories about people who are involved in car accidents on the morning of their driving tests, fail their tests and drive home, still on their provisional licences. That is no longer acceptable. We must do something that will impact on those people. If they do not pass their driving tests a restriction must be put on their driving. Those who pass their tests should be subject to restrictions for the first year. Some young drivers have monitors on the speedometers of their cars and agree with insurance companies to drive below a certain speed in exchange for a special insurance rate. Such speed monitors should be used. An RTE Radio 1 programme referred to a device fitted to cars in Sweden which reduces one's speed depending on weather conditions. It reminded me of Senator O'Toole's comment last week that in France the speed signs carry two different limits, one for fine weather and a lower speed for wet weather.

Travelling between Sligo and Dublin, as I do two or three times a week, I am always astonished by the number of young drivers who pass me in clapped-out, souped-up cars, generally with registrations from the 1980s. While I am driving at 60 mph they overtake me doing 70 or 80 mph. I immediately slow down because if they have a blow-out I will be involved in the accident. They overtake on continuous white lines on the brow of a hill. I often yearn to be a garda with a blue light in order to be able to chase some of those youngsters. I hate to think where they might end up. On my stretch of road I meet them all the time. The presence of a Garda car, even if the gardaí are only sitting in it, can be a deterrent and slow people down. It slows me down. I was interested to note last week an increase of 32% in general accidents, 350 people per day getting penalty points and an increase in drink driving offences and in the offence of driving without tax or insurance.

I want to talk about a recent inquest into a fatal accident in which the jury recommended a rider to existing legislation. I raise it here because there have been two fatalities in my constituency over the last few months. I know at first hand how distraught were the families of those two young men in their prime who were killed one night in a motor accident. The rider proposed mandatory testing for all drugs, including alcohol, for anybody involved in a road traffic accident, irrespective of whether they are in possession of alcohol or drugs. That would be a wonderful idea and, if implemented, would result in fewer people getting into their car with one or two drinks or after smoking a joint or two. Although they might not feel it impairs their judgment, it does. It would make younger people in particular more responsible. In rural Ireland, for example in west and south County Sligo and north County Leitrim, away from the bigger towns, youngsters drive after taking a few drinks. This cannot be allowed to continue. Too many families wake on a Saturday or Sunday morning to the horrific news that one of their children has been involved in a fatality.

I will briefly refer to section 22, which restricts Members of both Houses and local authorities from membership of the board. While I can understand why Members of the Oireachtas are restricted, the presence of a Member from either House would make a difference. Members of local authorities should not be restricted. Our local councillors come to me and tell me the concerns of the people. That is where I heard about the rider to the legislation that is in place. We should look to the National Youth Council of Ireland or organisations such as Youthreach and have young people on that authority because they are the people who will bring the message home to their peers. There is no point in packing the authority with people who are not out there on the ground. If local councillors and young people are eliminated, 50% of people are immediately cut off. When we come to Committee Stage I would like to see an amendment to address that.

Having spoken to driving school instructors, I know they want legislation. It is time for regulation. All professions are regulated and this profession sets up young people to get behind the wheel of a car. There should be tests for driving instructors and for the testers. Both trainees and trainers should be tested at the same level and time.

I would like to share my time with Senator Ross, who will take four minutes while I take six.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister of State. Although I missed the debate last week I want to make some points. I welcome the Bill with some reservations. It is a great idea to make one authority responsible for driving tests, schools and instructors but the responsibility rests with the Government. However, the prime responsibility for good driving lies with drivers. We have learned that this cannot be achieved without enforcement and that is the responsibility of Government. It is good value for money to invest in enforcement. Some time ago I produced figures from the US and elsewhere showing that every dollar invested in enforcing safe driving saves the government large sums of money. I will speak about one potential target for investment, namely, licence plate identification equipment. It costs money but I have seen it work. There are only two cameras in Dublin. If we invested in this equipment, we would not need gardaí to look at the cameras because they identify speeding drivers automatically and immediately. If there were ten or 20 of these cameras on the road from Galway to Dublin, they would identify, without anyone having to look at them, whether one was driving too quickly between one camera and the next. It is almost magical what we can do with technology.

We do not have to invent new ways of doing things — we can look at what other countries have done. I was in Finland last week and learned about technology that must be installed in the cars of those found guilty of a drink driving offence. Senator Feeney touched upon this in respect of Sweden. One must blow into a unit before one starts one's car. It represents further investment in technology. If one is fined for accumulating penalty points in Finland, one is fined a percentage of one's income. The week before I visited, a very wealthy and successful businessman had been caught speeding on his motorbike and was fined €200,000. Somebody else might only be fined €200. This would straighten out one's mind. In Dubai I noted sirens on taxis — maybe they were on other vehicles also — that automatically sounded if one exceeded the speed limit. Senator Cummins mentioned the enforcement of penalty points north and south of the Border. They should be enforced throughout Europe and not just on this island. This matter is typical of one regarding which all-island co-operation could succeed.

I agree with the Senators who stated Gay Byrne was an inspired choice. He is great and has threatened to resign if he does not get his way. He will not have the patience of Eddie Shaw. Eddie Shaw was marvellous at what he did — he hammered and shouted but eventually had to give up when it did not work. Gay Byrne will succeed and will step down, as he has threatened, if the Government does not solve the problems associated with road safety. It is in its power to do so and the citizens know it is its responsibility. With sufficient investment in technology, it can enforce the law as it stands. All the other proposals mentioned, including random breath testing, must also be implemented. Investment in technology is necessary so the law can be enforced to the point where we, the citizens, will obey it.

I thank Senator Quinn for sharing his time with me.

It is somewhat dangerous for us all to stand around and preach about bad driving because I do not believe there is anyone in this Chamber who is not a sinner in one way or another. I have accumulated penalty points myself as a result of some minor speeding offences. While I believe it is essential that restrictive measures be introduced and that penalty points are a necessary and sensible way of doing so, we must be wary of sitting in judgment over those we say are bad drivers. Many of us are probably pretty bad drivers ourselves and I certainly confess to being one. One of the reasons for bad driving is that once one has passed the driving test at 17, there is absolutely no compulsion on one to keep up to date with any of the rules of the road. I and others, if we are honest, will confess that we sometimes see signs at the side of the road and do not know what they mean because we have not read the up-to-date rules of the road. Apart from fulfilling certain moral and legal obligations, we have no obligation to read the rules of the road.

There is a case for testing people regularly as the time of their driving tests becomes more distant. It is a bit absurd to say people are competent to drive in modern conditions when they passed a test 60 years ago. This is not ageism but a matter of experience in that one may have passed one's test in road conditions that were completely and utterly different from those of today. Everybody knows people travel at a much faster speed, that traffic congestion is much worse and that the rules of the road are different. The Minister should consider some way of re-testing drivers who passed their tests a very long time ago. I do not believe I would pass one if I were asked to do so today. I do not believe many others would do so either, but that does not mean I will volunteer for a test — I am afraid I am not as noble as that. The NCTs would be more appropriate to people than cars and driving tests should be almost as frequent.

Several Senators referred to board membership. I am disappointed in this Bill because it follows the normal pattern established by Governments in respect of board membership. The 11 members of the board of the authority are all political appointees.

Hear, hear.

If the Minister tells me not to worry and states the members will all be appointed because they know a lot about road safety and transport, I will just tell him I do not believe him — that is no reflection on him. The experience of those of us in politics and others is that politicians appoint their friends and relations to boards, even to the boards of the most vital, sensitive State agencies and semi-State bodies. That is unfortunately true and it is treating the boards with utter contempt. It is also treating the issues involved — in this case, road safety — with utter contempt. This would have been an appropriate time to establish a board that is not appointed exclusively by the Minister, and preferably not appointed by him all. The road safety authority, like so many others, is likely to become not just a creature of the Government but also a creature of a political party. The Bill represents an unfortunate blueprint in this regard. However, this may not be the case regarding Gay Byrne.

I do not know whether it is a good idea to amalgamate these agencies or what is going on behind the scenes but it strikes me as particularly regrettable that no opportunity was taken to relieve the Minister of some of his extraordinary power of political interference in this issue. There is not a paragraph in the Bill that does not mention the Minister. Even the plans the authority makes must be subject to the consent of the Minister. Why the hell should they? Why can the board not comprise people of undoubted abilities and talents who would be given a budget and told to get on with it? In every paragraph, the Bill states that the appointees must seek political approval. Road safety should not be subject to day to day political approval. There is a Government policy on road safety but the Government should not be micro-managing road safety down to the last sign, budget and penny.

My proposal regarding political interference should also extend to the appointment of the chief executive. Why the hell should the Minister, once he has appointed the board, also have to consent to the appointment of the chief executive, which amounts to the same thing? The chief executive is possibly being chosen for his ability regarding road safety but also because of his political acceptability. Road safety, an issue of such importance, is now right in the middle of the party political arena.

Let me refer to another extraordinary clause that is included in all Bills such as this. All board members must make declarations of interest, a pattern followed in most of these Bills. I hope the Minister does not reply by stating that this is standard. That would not be an acceptable reply. Declarations of interest are made only to the board and no member of the public can know what these are.

Like Independent Newspapers.

Why are such declarations not made in the same way Members of the Oireachtas declare interests, available to the public? Why is there one law for political favourites and another for Members of the Oireachtas? These declarations should be utterly transparent.

Not for the first time, Senator Ross has drawn himself up to his full 5 ft 7 in. of indignation and is completely wrong.

Not totally.

The chairperson of the board is Mr. Gay Byrne, whom we all know to be an estimable man, well capable of doing this job. Other members include Ms Áine Cornally, director of customer support services, Bank of Ireland; an employee of a firm of solicitors, a former Secretary General at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; an employee of Dublin Institute of Technology; and a RoSPA motorcycle inspector.

They are all political appointees. The fact that they have other qualifications is camouflage and makes no difference. Members of the Progressive Democrats are the worst offenders for this behaviour and have their snouts in the trough to the same extent as Fianna Fáil.

Senator Ross, please desist. We have heard your contribution. Allow Senator Dardis to continue without interruption.

I thank the Acting Chairman for her protection. I tend to provoke the worst in Senator Ross. Other members include the former county manager of Westmeath County Council; a rally driver; the general manager at Cork University Hospital; and a former assistant director general of FÁS. Surely all of these people are well qualified. The Minister will take political responsibility if things go wrong.

If that is the case, why have the party's friends been appointed?

Why is Mr. Byrne taking responsibility?

It is a feature of our democratic system that politicians take responsibility when things go wrong.

As the Progressive Democrats do in all cases.

Those who have been appointed to the board will do the job very well. I endorse Senator Feeney's point about excluding public representatives. Two Bills were amended, including one while Deputy Michael D. Higgins was Minister, to allow local public representatives to be included on such boards. They should not be excluded, although Members of the Oireachtas should be. Local public representatives are well qualified——

It is because they are the Senator's constituents.

They are not. Senator Ross is wrong again.

Senator Dardis is a nominee of the Taoiseach. He got in through the back door but he hopes local public representatives might be his constituents in the future.

Senator Ross stated that road safety is not a matter for political approval. The Minister will not be involved in approving road safety issues.

Members of the Joint Committee on European Affairs visited Tallinn in Estonia recently. If one has an accident in Estonia and has alcohol in one's system, one is presumed to be culpable. That is the way it should be.

The State can improve signs in Ireland. Directional signs have improved but, as representatives from Waterford will agree, one sees signs placed beyond the junction on the N7. How do engineers manage to do this? The driver is past the junction when he or she sees the sign. In that case, he or she stops and reverses on the motorway, which is a lethal manoeuvre. Members of local authorities frequently make the same point.

Roadworks signs are erected but not removed after roadworks have been completed. As a result, drivers do not slow down when they see these signs because they are used to passing them when work is no longer taking place. Oil spillage signs are erected throughout the country yet I have only seen an oil spillage on one occasion. The people responsible for discredited signs should get their act together, a matter that is within the remit of the State.

Differing speed limits are in effect in wet and dry conditions in France. Speed limits here are discredited. A dual carriageway leading to Newbridge was the national primary route but since the motorway was built it has become a national secondary route and a speed limit of 80 km/h applies. Roads where the speed limit should be no higher than 80 km/h have limits of 100 km/h. Although a national system is understandable, some flexibility must be allowed.

We have discussed the contributory factors to accidents. We must be far more rigorous on the standard of driving required. Over the years we have been casual but there are now far more people driving powerful cars that can travel at high speed. Reference has been made to vehicle quality and we are not as rigorous as we should be with regard to the capacity of the vehicle to stop within a certain limit.

I have noticed a proliferation of cars with "for sale" signs on the side of the road. It is no longer politically correct to use the term "non-national" but people coming into the country buy such cars and do not demand any documents. They are driving in uninsured and untaxed vehicles. This trend, which seems to be increasing, must be examined.

People must take responsibility because the State cannot be a nanny state. If one is afraid of being caught, one will slow down. Over the past fortnight cars seem to have slowed down, particularly on the motorway at Portlaoise. Fewer cars overtake when one is travelling at 120 km/h. This is due to the increased visibility of the Garda Síochána and the fear of being caught.

Traffic calming is a major deterrent and should be examined in urban areas. One will not travel over speed ramps because of the consequences for one's car. Much has been done, particularly in Dublin city, but more must be done in rural towns, particularly around schools. I understand why it cannot happen on national primary routes where heavy volumes of traffic use the road. I wish Mr. Byrne and the authority well. I hope it will have a positive effect. I know the authority will be vocal and will have no difficulty telling the Minister where to get off, if this proves necessary.

I welcome the Minister of State. As legislation passes through the House it is important that the Government receives co-operation across the political divide on an issue such as this. Mr. Gay Byrne was interviewed by his successor on the "Late Late Show" on Friday night and the show was repeated last night; perhaps the Minister of State watched it. I would strongly disagree that he was an inspired choice to lead this authority. It was a public relations stunt on the part of the Minister to appoint someone whose record of arrogance we well appreciate from his pronouncements on "the box" on numerous occasions and from his failure to accept criticism at any time of himself or his views. He made a statement the other night that a raft of legislation must be introduced before the summer recess, of which this Bill is part. I am not too sure if he has read all the promises made since 1998 on legislation which have all been broken. He said he would walk within one year so I ask him to look at the 15 promises made, almost all of which have been reneged on or which have not been followed through.

I would also like an apology from Mr. Byrne who said, in respect of legislation being brought before the Houses of the Oireachtas, that he hoped the other crowd would not make a political football out of it. That is a dismissive statement and is arrogance beyond belief. For the success of his chairmanship, he should withdraw that statement and apologise to Members of both Houses who may have an opinion to offer other than his own or who may wish to contribute in some way to the legislation before the Houses.

Senator Burke has made his point. The person cannot defend himself in this House.

He is a Government appointee to a very important body. By making such a statement, he knowingly criticised Members of the Oireachtas on national television. I concur with what Senator Ross said that this person, like many others, is a political appointee to that agency.

Senator Burke has made his point very well. Perhaps he would move on.

I will move on but I ask the Minister of State to talk to the chairperson and request him to reconsider the statement he made because he branded Members of both Houses in such a way. That is not acceptable for a person who is looking for goodwill and co-operation from the Houses of the Oireachtas and other bodies which have an interest in this issue.

I ask for Senator Burke's co-operation.

There are known blackspots throughout the country. Anybody who ever drove from Dublin to Galway will remember the 25 crosses on the side of the road between Ballinasloe and Loughrea where 25 deaths occurred. Tragically, despite numerous deputations to the National Roads Authority, it failed to respond to the wishes of the people that something be done as a matter of urgency. Every excuse in the book was given. I drove that route twice a day for 25 years and on many occasions, I witnessed a number of horrific accidents. As a response to the request of the people, the NRA eventually acquired some land to realign part of the N6 route. As it was so slow in going ahead with the work, many deaths occurred in the interim. That land was supposed to have been used to bypass this particular treacherous blockspot but, thankfully, a new road has been proposed from Ballinasloe to Oranmore which will travel north of the N6. This is another example of the number of road deaths which must occur to get agencies to respond.

Some 15 measures were promised by the Government but only three have been implemented, including the increase in the number of penalty point offences and the breath testing. The chairman of the new authority said he got a commitment from senior Garda authorities that 60 gardaí out of every Garda class would be assigned to road safety. Can the Minister of State confirm that the Government has agreed to this or is it a case of the chairman going on a solo run on this issue? If it is, it is a bit early for him to be going on a solo run. The Minister of State should check the record with RTE but the chairman said he obtained a promise from the Garda Commissioner that 60 gardaí out of every Garda class for the next number of years would be assigned to the traffic corps, which would be very welcome. However, when put in the context of the history of the assignment of Garda personnel to this division, it must be corrected or confirmed that this is Government policy.

Many Senators said one cannot teach an old dog new tricks. It is of paramount importance that schools are used to change the mindset of potential drivers and to teach about road safety in general. Co-operation between the Departments of Transport and Education and Science is important so as to introduce a slot, whether weekly or otherwise, into the school timetable to educate young people about road safety. Hopefully, young people's understanding of road safety will be visible at a later stage.

All this legislation will be judged on whether it is a response to the terrible carnage on the roads and it will mean nothing if it does not result in a reduction in the number of road deaths. Unfortunately for many families, it is a question of whether the deaths of so many will be seen as the catalyst for success in eliminating the carnage on our roads.

I welcome the Minister of State and his officials to the House. The Road Safety Authority Bill is welcome and has the broad support of the House. The greatest problem on the roads is speed. While it would help for Government to reduce speed to a maximum of 50 km/h that is not possible because people must get from A to B, and go to work. We have improved the standard of the roads and our speed limits match the norm in Europe but unfortunately many people do not observe them.

One sees people drive at alarming speeds on the road from the west or the midlands to Dublin but because there is a well-publicised speed camera at the end of the motorway in Lucan, these drivers slow to 80 km/h. It is not a problem to slow to that speed, even in heavy traffic. Maybe there should be more portable cameras. Placing camera bases, even without live cameras, at black spots would immediately improve road safety.

People blame drivers with provisional licences but many provisional licence holders are careful and safe drivers. Blaming them is often an easy way out. People complain about the numbers holding provisional licences but this is a wealthy country. A few years ago no one needed a provisional licence, unless for a bicycle, because people could not afford to buy cars. Today, people have the money to buy cars and therefore need provisional licences. There may be a backlog in the driver testing centres but provisional licence holders are not the real problem.

The use of mobile telephones in cars is also raised as a road safety issue. While people have hands-free mobile telephones in their cars, many people drive cars and trucks with one hand on the steering wheel and a mobile telephone in the other. This continues, regardless of the advertising and warnings issued by the Department. That is not acceptable. People should act responsibly but unfortunately do not do so.

As a pioneer I should perhaps not comment on drink driving because people criticise me for knocking drink drivers but nobody should drive when under the influence of alcohol. Garda records show an increase in the numbers caught drink driving in recent months, due to good detective work and having more gardaí on the beat. The Government and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform deserve credit for ensuring there are more gardaí in the traffic corps.

Drivers fear getting penalty points. Unfortunately, however, there are cases of people who come from outside the 26 counties who get away with dangerous driving. The story goes that Irish people who are caught give the names and addresses of friends from the North. That problem, however, is being tackled and hopefully people coming into this country will observe the speed limits here or, if not, receive penalty points on their licences.

At weekends, when traffic is heavy with people driving to matches or whatever, it is unreasonable to have a full lane dedicated to buses as there are few buses on the road. That should change — some bus lanes are open at weekends but most are not.

I notice many people driving left-hand drive cars. They come here to work and are welcome. When they earn some money it seems they can bring in old cars from their own countries, which are left-hand drive. Recently, I drove behind a person in one of these cars in a small town. The driver tried four or five times to pass the van in front of him. In order to see the oncoming traffic he had to put the front of his car out on the road but each time had to pull back because traffic was coming against him. The consequences of pulling out in that way can be serious as recent accidents, in which carloads of people have been killed, show.

We welcome the increased number of gardaí but it is wasteful for the garda who has caught someone breaking the law to have to attend in court because often the solicitor will seek and be granted an adjournment. A chief superintendent or sergeant should be able to go into court on behalf of that garda and look after the case. One sees many gardaí in the courts. We must deal with that problem.

I wish Gay Byrne and the road safety authority well. They will do a good job. No matter who was appointed, people would shout that he or she was the wrong person. He and the authority need a chance to prove themselves, as does the Minister of State in his new role. There has been some improvement in road safety and we will soon see more.

I, too, welcome the Minister of State to the House. I wish to make some comments on this Bill, which I welcome and I wish the road safety authority success. There has not been a glorious history of success in this area. The Government has been confronted by the resignation of Eddie Shaw who addressed the Joint Committee on Transport of which I was a member. He was fairly trenchant in his criticism and he laid down a list of things he felt should be done. I hope the Government will make available to the incoming authority those recommendations of Mr. Eddie Shaw because they would be valuable. The Government should not discard the work already done by a very able and honourable man.

Unlike some of my colleagues here, I heartily approve of the appointment of Gay Byrne. He is an ideal person because he is well known and well loved. He has a very keen and shrewd intelligence. I worked with him on a few occasions in broadcasting. He is one of the most efficient people I know and a great disciplinarian. If he is set a task he will make it his business to get it done.

The Senator is saying nice things about someone who cannot reply in this House but I have had to stop people saying unpleasant things so I cannot allow the Senator to either praise or blame someone.

"The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on." I cannot recall the verse but I understand the Chair's admonishment and the reason for it.

The road safety authority is to be welcomed. The primary aim must be to make Irish road users respect the law. In order for that to happen, we must give them laws they can respect because this is not the case at present. Many of the laws are a tissue of nonsense. Having centralised responsibility for road safety, the Government should go further and centralise control of road management as well. I am sure the Minister of State may find it in his heart to at least secretly agree with me that there is a huge amount of inconsistency regarding speed, for example. How can anyone respect the speed limits? They are inconsistent and capricious and are governed by local authorities. It is completely absurd that as a motorway passes through different jurisdictions the speed limits change. We all know of instances where the gardaí literally lie in wait under a bridge in a place where the speed limit does not meet the circumstances of the roadway. This is like shooting fish in a barrel.

By some miracle I have not yet acquired any penalty points although it may be tempting providence to admit it. The Government needs to have a coherent set of speed limits and this can only be achieved through a centralised body. It is not appropriate for every local authority in the country to make its own decisions about roads that are part of a national transport system. We are not dealing with boreens anymore but with major national highways which should be dealt with in a professional manner.

Road humps are idiotic things which simply do not work. As was explained to me by a resident of an area where these things were put in, they are supposed to stop kids speeding in what are called joyriding cars but these kids get an even greater thrill by driving at these humps and watching the effect on somebody else's car. Some salubrious areas of Dublin have nice, mild little humps that one would hardly notice while in other areas, such as Londonbridge Road, they are cliffs of brick which even if one drives at 10 km/h will do some damage to a car. This type of flagrant ignoring of the welfare of motorists can only inculcate contempt. I ask for consistency and coherence in this matter.

Even worse is the state of road surfaces. I have raised this matter in the House on a number of occasions. I refer to the inappropriate road surface materials used by some county councils. I have been asked not to name individuals and families in the House but the record will show that I raised this matter both in the House and as a matter on the Adjournment. I refer to the tragic case of a young girl who was driving carefully and with no drink taken. Her car suddenly hit a patch of road. She lost control of the car which went into a lorry coming in the opposite direction and she was killed.

The tragic accident involving a school bus near Trim was exactly the same. The road surface treatment was inappropriate. How many more accidents of this kind will happen? Local authorities are once again letting down the general public. In some of these instances the local authorities were alerted but even after the accident did precious little.

Appropriate speed limits should be put in place. It should be possible to drive in safety over those road humps at the maximum prescribed speed. A vehicle should be able to cross those humps in safety at the maximum permitted speed, otherwise the whole thing is a nonsense. These two terrible tragedies involved an individual driver and a party of schoolchildren. There should be some central authority to take responsibility for these matters as has been done with regard to certain but limited aspects of road safety in this Bill. We need to get road users to respect the rules of the road and the condition of the road. This can only be achieved by giving them something to respect.

I will unburden myself of another grouse with which the Minister of State, other Members and members of staff may be familiar. If one turns left having exited by the back gate of Leinster House, one rapidly hits the junction of Clare Street, Merrion Square and Merrion Street. This junction, like many all over the city, has a yellow box. It is a common occurrence for a double-decker bus to land in the middle of the box and stay there until the traffic light changes. Not one car can move as a result. I ask the Minister of State to ask the police to check this junction at rush hour over a period of one week to see if I am correct and to do something about the situation. Driving should be taught in schools, as is the case in Germany. It should perhaps be a compulsory extra subject in fifth or sixth year. They could be taught driving skills and respect for the road.

The Minister of State is from County Donegal and he must feel keenly the carnage on the roads in that county. There seems to be a constellation of circumstances in these accidents. The victims are very often young people and it happens on a Friday night and Saturday morning or Saturday night and Sunday morning. There may be a few drinks on board, too many people in a powerful car and it is in the early hours of the morning. This scenario is so often repeated as reported on the radio and in the newspapers. We know what are the elements that contribute to major road accidents and we should do something about them.

The proposal that members of the board should make a declaration to the board is very closet-like, in my view. Why are they not a bit more open about it? We as Members of the Oireachtas must make our declarations. I once made a declaration which included a portfolio of shares I had inherited from my aunt. The details appeared in the newspapers having been obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and while it was reported that I was a decent fellow and a good legislator, the reporter asked whether would one buy a share from me given all the crap I had in my portfolio. If I had to make a declaration, why can members of the board not be required to make a similar open and clear declaration?

What is the logic in disbarring Members of the Oireachtas or members of county councils from membership of the authority? I am not the biggest fan of county councils, as Members will know, but if we are to continue to allow them to have responsibility for certain areas of management in terms of roads and road safety, I do not see why by being elected, we sometimes must be penalised by being excluded from areas of service.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I have spoken on various issues related to road safety many times on the Order of Business. There has been considerable lethargy in enforcing action to rectify the difficulties that exist. It was a shocking indictment of the Government when the previous chairman of the authority mentioned that he believed that more than 200 lives a year could have been saved if proper action has been taken. After nine years in process, this legislation is better late than never. However, it is only in the past year that I have noticed a sharper focus on road safety and a consciousness of our responsibility to ensure it. Many Members would make the point that road safety is the responsibility of the individual motorist but it is equally the responsibility of Government to provide the necessary framework to ensure people appreciate what is involved in road safety and that the necessary deterrents to penalise motorists driving at speed, etc. are in place.

In every county, including my own, certain locations are noted as accident blackspots and there have been fatalities. The road from Newcastle West to Foynes is a classic example, on which there is a large volume of heavy trucks. I am sure the position is similar in other parts of the country. Following such road fatalities the council concerned tends to take remedial action by erecting red and white signs and making road markings. While all that is fine as a measure, I do not understand why the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government does not require local authorities to pinpoint the locations in a county, whether it is five, ten or 20, where serious road accidents have occurred and take proper remedial action to rectify the problems that exist at those locations. It does not take a genius to work out that if remedial action is taken to improve these locations, at least something may be done to reduce the number of accidents that occur.

It is remarkable that the Minister, Deputy Cullen, said in May last year that the direction of his policy in this area would be to reduce the number of people waiting to do the driving test. It is a sad commentary to think that in May of this year 10,000 more people were waiting to do the driving test than in May last year. A total of 135,000 people are waiting to do the driving test compared to 125,000 in May last year. The filling of nine driver testing positions was help up for many years because sanction was not approved for the posts. It is a shocking indictment of the Government that this number of people are waiting to do their driving test throughout the country. The latest statistics show that in driving test centres the waiting time for a driving test has extended rather than reduced.

It was regrettable that IMPACT, representing driving test instructors, recently pursued a mechanism to evade a position whereby the Minister sought to privatise the testing of 40,000 people waiting to do their driving test in order to reduce the number on the waiting lists. I do not understand the fears of driving test instructors because their jobs are guaranteed. There is no threat to the jobs in the long term given the volume of road transport and the number of people on the waiting lists. They were rewarded with extra overtime to carry out additional driving tests. The action taken by the union in using the mechanism of the partnership talks was wrong. It was able to refer to a relevant section used in the past to ensure its representatives could not be compelled to accept the private contracting of driver testing. I said recently that I hope the latest partnership talks, which regrettably have taken political representatives who have a great understanding of the whole process out of the equation, do not a allow a similar situation to emerge. I read a recent newspaper article which implied that the representatives had changed their attitude and that there may be some movement. I hope there will be positive movement, as it is important that we reduce the number of people on the waiting lists for driving tests and in that way reduce the number of motorists with a provisional driving licence.

The driving test was introduced in the early 1960s. We cannot compare the number of cars on our roads then with the number on them today. There is a driving test centre in my town of Newcastle West and instructors in the driving test schools bring provisional licence holders on the routes taken by driving testers. In my estate many learner drivers practise driving around a corner, which poses a hazard for the people living in the estate. The current driving test does not take account of the situation that exists in terms of number of cars on our roads, driving on motorways, driving at night and so on. We need to examine the format of the driving test, make it a little stiffer and ensure it conforms with the situation that pertains.

The position in regard to speed cameras is an indictment of the Government. The small number of speed cameras in Dublin has been well publicised. There is a promise to address that situation but we have to wait and see what will be done.

One feature of the penalty point system annoys and galls me and many others who often seem to be given penalty points for rather trivial offences. When I drive to Dublin from Limerick I, like many, have to grin and bear it when I see motorists particularly with Northern or foreign registrations show me the two fingers when they zoom past while I am driving at the 120 km/h limit. They know that the penalty points system that operates in the Twenty-six Counties does not apply to the motorists from Northern Ireland, the UK or eastern European countries. I have raised issues such as this, which are pertinent to North and South, at meetings of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. Motorists from the North who travel South should be subject to the penalty points system. That they are not must be galling for motorists in Border counties, such as the Minister of State who lives in Donegal, and motorists in Sligo, Monaghan and other counties where there is a large volume of traffic to and from the North. It must be upsetting for such motorists that they are obliged to be law abiding citizens and comply with the penalty points system operating here, while motorists in the North can get away with not complying with it. That position must be addressed and changed. Statistics on penalty point offences last year show that 20% of them could not be proceeded with on the basis that the offenders were from outside the Twenty-six counties and for other minor reasons.

Mr. Gay Byrne has been appointed to his new position and I will mention him only once. He is a national figure. I saw him on a television programme last week and did not like his attitude. He almost appeared to say that legislation will go through these Houses and everybody should subscribe to it immediately, accept it lock, stock and barrel and not question or probe it. He said that he hoped the other side would not object to it. The other side does not object; it embraces anything that happens in a positive fashion to improve road safety. It is up to Members in this and the other House to seriously examine legislation when introduced and to ensure that what is embodied therein is compatible with what is required outside these Houses. I wish Mr. Byrne well in his position as a supremo. He said that if he does not get satisfaction he will walk away from the job.

Perhaps many positive strands are beginning to come together in terms of road safety, especially if there is a degree of privatisation of driver testing, if more speed cameras are erected and more gardaí become involved in traffic corps activities. If we can put all the pieces of the jigsaw in terms of road safety together, of which there are many components, we could succeed.

We have to cope with the new situation as regards the rapidly expanding east European population coming into the country. Is it right that a person with a car only a few years old is subject to NCT testing? Is it right that a person from an eastern European country can come in with a very old car and not be subject to the same testing? It is obviously wrong. We are accustomed to driving on one side of the road while they are used to driving on the opposite side. We all know the difficulties involved in trying to pull out from behind a truck and get sight of the correct distance in front of us. A new potential hazard to emerge for many of these left-hand drive cars relates to the increased dangers in trying to overtake trucks. Regrettably, the fatality figures in this regard demonstrate the hazards involved.

As regards road safety policy, the changed situation and environment, the eastern European dimension etc. must be factored in so that we can see how we cope. There are even basic considerations to be dealt with, for example, the road safety book, in which miles rather than kilometres are denominated, with the then Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Howlin, still being depicted ten years later. It does not take rocket science to appreciate that this book must be brought up to date rapidly. If a person goes into a shop in Limerick and is Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian or whatever and wants to seriously learn about the rules of the road, translations should be available in the appropriate language. Let us get on with it and put all the pieces of the jigsaw together. Ultimately, the objective is to stop all the casualties on Irish roads. We are moving in the right direction but there is a good deal more to be done before we get matters right.

I thank Senators for their contributions to the debate on the Bill and acknowledge the general welcome given to the Bill's provisions. In the course of the debate last week and again, this evening, Senators raised issues which were pertinent and directly related to the Bill and other issues as regards road safety in general. I fully understand that it is very difficult to differentiate between these elements.

The road safety authority will have primary responsibility for taking the lead in the whole area of road safety. I am confident it will open up a new era in the promotion of road safety and I am sure the authority will note the views expressed by Members of the House, on all sides., when considering how best to promote better driver behaviour, which is of paramount importance. If drivers could improve their behaviour, then without any legislation I am quite sure the number of fatalities could be dramatically reduced. We can introduce regulations and legislation. Ultimately, however, safety is the responsibility of road users, largely drivers. Others using the roads must also take responsibility for their own safety.

Although I should not perhaps make a specific reference to him, I want to refer to the chairman of the board and the criticism of him by some Members. We are very fortunate that somebody of the calibre of the chairman agreed to take up this position. If he was not working long hours as chairman of the board, he could be spending his time in a leisurely fashion in his adopted home town of Dungloe in County Donegal. I want to express the thanks of the Minister and the Government to the chairman for accepting this post. There was criticism of both him and members of the board, as political appointees. Of course they were all appointed by the Minister. When one looks at the membership of the board, however, one can see they are not political appointees. The chairman and the members are appointed by the Minister, but not on the basis of politics.

I do not have much time, but I want to refer to a few important points as regards the regulation of driver instruction. The Bill tasks the authority with the regulation of driver instruction. This will require those in the industry to meet predetermined standards which will not only cover their ability to drive but ensure that those meeting the standards will have the necessary instructional skills to deliver the message to novice drivers. The registration process will benefit driving instructors and people taking lessons will have greater confidence in the quality of the instruction being given, which will eventually lead to better and safer drivers on our roads.

The Government decided on 12 April 2006 to give priority to a new road safety Bill. I refer to this in the context of this debate because many Members have referred to random alcohol testing or random breath testing as it is known. The road traffic Bill to be introduced and hopefully enacted by the summer will deal with that. It will support the operation of privately operated speed cameras, which have been referred to throughout the debate. There will be 11.1 million speed checks per annum. It will give increased powers to the Garda to impound unlicensed, untaxed and uninsured vehicles including foreign registered cars. It will ban driving when using a hand-held mobile phone. It will increase financial penalties and introduce a system of administrative disqualifications. I am sure we will get the co-operation of both Houses in introducing this Bill by the summer.

I am a member of a road safety committee established by the Taoiseach. It is chaired by Deputy Cullen, as the Minister for Transport and the Ministers for Finance, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children, Education and Science and Environment, Heritage and Local Government are also members of the committee. The Taoiseach, who has made road safety a Government priority, attends the meetings and is fully briefed at all times. I understand speed cameras, some stationary, some moveable, will play a major role in slowing down drivers.

On the declaration of interests by members of the board, I cannot say what real difference this will make. The fact is that they will declare their interests to the board. Members of this and the other House will know that under the freedom of information legislation it is possible to establish what those interests are. I do not believe it is necessary for individual members of the board to have to make this information available to the Houses of the Oireachtas. They will make it available to the board. Anyone who knows them will realise that they are people of the highest integrity.

As regards the traffic corps, I am familiar with the temporary corps set up in Inishowen, where last year we had 31 road fatalities, half the figure for the entire county. The Garda Commissioner, together with the chief superintendent decided on a temporary basis to establish a traffic corps there. I am convinced that this has made an important input into road safety, notwithstanding the tragic multiple fatalities of the five Latvians and Lithuanians at that time. Nationally, however, we have a full traffic corps.

The chairman of the board is right, an assurance has been given, not just to the board, but generally, that the membership of the traffic corps will increase progressively by 60 members every quarter to bring the membership of the national traffic corps up to 1,200. That increase will play a major role in reducing fatalities.

This is not a debate in which to be political but I must put on record the fact that the expenditure on national roads is €1.5 billion, an increase of 500% since 1997. The National Roads Authority should get the recognition it deserves for that major increase. Investment in our non-national roads has doubled since that period. I accept there is a long way to go and we will continue that unprecedented level of investment.

I again take the opportunity to call on all drivers to observe a few simple rules; to drive within the prescribed speed limits and to ensure that all passengers are wearing seat belts. I also call on all drivers who even contemplate having a drink and driving to desist from that because their fate, or the fate of someone with whom they may come into contact, may lie just around the next corner. I look forward to debating the specific issues in the Bill on Committee Stage.

On a point of information, I asked the Minister of State if the EU directive on bull-bars had been transposed. It is in the road safety statement. He gave me to understand it had been. Are bull-bars or roo-bars legal on SUVs, light trucks and so on, because they are a serious danger to pedestrians?

That is a matter for Committee Stage.

I did not have the opportunity to address numerous questions, including Senator Henry's. The rules of the road are being updated and should be available fairly soon. I will deal with that specific question in due course because it is an important one.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 23 May 2006.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.