This Bill, following its enactment, will allow for the early introduction of significant provisions in road traffic legislation to support and reinforce the existing drink driving enforcement regime. Its provisions will further communicate the message that drink driving will not be tolerated. Drivers who, in the opinion of the Garda, have consumed intoxicating liquor and are involved in collisions where injury is caused will be required to undertake preliminary breath tests following the enactment of the Bill.
This is the seventh major legislative initiative taken on traffic law in the past decade. The legislative progression during that time has seen the introduction of the fixed charge and penalty points systems, a new structure of speed limits based on metric values, the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing checkpoints, the establishment of the Road Safety Authority, the introduction of the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between this country and the United Kingdom and, most recently, the roll-out of a network of privately operated safety cameras. This year will also see the introduction of lower blood alcohol concentration, BAC, levels for drivers and preliminary impairment testing by the Garda Síochána for drug driving enforcement. Ongoing initiatives such as the introduction of safety cameras have had a significant and positive influence on road user culture. It is fair to say our roads have, without question, become increasingly safe for all users in the past decade.
Since 2001 Ireland has seen a rapid improvement in road safety, with the number of fatalities down by 41%, following the implementation of a comprehensive set of road safety measures, some of which I have outlined. The number of road deaths per 1 million of the population was halved from 107 in 2001 to 54 in 2009. That downward trend continued in 2010. Despite the significant gains in recent years, however, it remains unacceptable that so many still die on our roads. It has never been more important for all of us to ensure complacency does not set in. The Bill will help us to keep people safe on our roads.
I will turn to the specific provisions contained in the Bill. My commitment to endorsing mandatory breath testing at collision sites where injury is caused is again being represented in the Bill. I want the necessary legislation in place as quickly as possible in order that no driver can avoid being tested for alcohol intoxication where serious road collisions occur. The legislation will also serve a dual purpose by sending a strong message to all drivers who still contemplate drink driving.
The Bill allows for the bringing forward of consolidated provisions relating to the obligation to provide a preliminary breath specimen that are planned for commencement later this year under the Road Traffic Act 2010. Senators will be aware that new evidential breath testing instruments will be necessary to measure the lower BAC levels provided for in the 2010 Act. The Medical Bureau of Road Safety is well advanced in procuring the new evidential breath testing equipment for detecting and measuring the lower BAC levels. Once equipment has been selected, a significant amount of testing will be required before the instruments can be put to use. A detailed training programme for the Garda Síochána in the use of the instruments will also be undertaken. It is estimated that the testing and training programme will be complete and instruments distributed to Garda stations in the autumn.
Section 9 of the 2010 Act provides for the mandatory breath testing of a driver who, in the opinion of a member of the Garda Síochána, has consumed intoxicating liquor or been involved in a road traffic collision that has resulted in an injury. Section 14 of the Act which is linked with section 9 provides for the mandatory testing of a driver of a vehicle involved in a road traffic collision where the driver is injured and removed to hospital. It provides that a member of the Garda Síochána shall test that driver in the hospital unless, following consultation with a doctor treating the driver, such testing would be prejudicial to the person's health. There is a close interrelationship between sections 9 and 14 and the provisions in the Act for lower BAC levels. I have been advised that because of this link it will not be possible to commence sections 9 and 14, either in part or in their entirety, until the new evidential breath testing apparatus of which I spoke is in use. I would prefer if the mandatory testing provisions were introduced earlier than this. However, this was the strong view expressed when we discussed the 2010 Act. Therefore, the Bill provides for the amendment of existing legislation, namely, sections 12 and 15 of the 1994 Act, to reflect the provisions contained in sections 9 and 14 of the 2010 Act, thereby providing for the early introduction of these provisions. The Bill also provides for the amendment of section 4 of the 2006 Act, dealing with mandatory alcohol testing, to reflect the amended provisions in section 12 of the 1994 Act as a result of section 2 of the Bill.
I have been asked to explain why there is no provision to test drivers involved in all road traffic collisions. I have explained the reason before but it bears restating. In many instances, collisions result in material damage to vehicles only, are generally minor in nature and settled by the drivers concerned. Sending gardaí to each such collision would be a bad use of Garda time and resources that could be used for other road safety and security issues.
The issue of mandatory testing of drivers at collision sites was the subject of much debate during the passage of the Road Traffic Act 2010. During that process it was acknowledged that road traffic legislation, particularly the provisions relating to intoxicated driving, was one of the most challenged in the courts. This necessitates that the drafting process for any new legislation must also focus on making the provisions as robust as possible. Consequently, I am acutely aware of the need to strike a balance between the practicalities of the mandatory testing provision and the need for any change to be consistent with existing intoxicated driving legislation.
While drafting the 2010 Act and debating it in this House a concerted effort was made to consolidate all intoxicated driving legislation in a cohesive format that would be robust enough to withstand future challenges. In this context, it was important that the mandatory provision was knitted into the fabric of this legislation. I sought legal advice on the relevant drafting of the Bill before us, given the association with so many other vital provisions in the Road Traffic Acts. I did not want an oversight in providing for mandatory testing to undermine the entire testing regime and undo all what we were trying to achieve together.
Owing to this detailed examination of the likely impact on other provisions and following the advice of the Attorney General, sections 2 and 3 of the Bill also recognise the powers of arrest conferred by law on the Garda Síochána, the interaction between these provisions and the requirement for the preliminary breath-testing of drivers. This necessary and explicit clarification will avoid any possible undermining of the provisions when introducing mandatory testing. It will also need to be reflected in the related intoxication provisions of the 2010 Act. As Senators are aware, it is intended to commence all of the intoxicated driving provisions of the 2010 Act later this year. Accordingly, it is my intention to amend sections 9 and 14 of the 2010 Act in a new road traffic (No. 2) Bill 2011 to be drafted soon. This will ensure all of the necessary initiatives will come on stream together.
The key determinant of road safety performance is the behaviour of road users. Consequently, the primary focus of our road safety strategy is to influence that behaviour positively. This can be achieved through various initiatives across a range of areas, including the enactment and enforcement of laws that promote good road user behaviour. Such laws must also be underpinned and supported by the application of fines, prison sentences and driving disqualifications, as well as the necessary technological resources. The Bill is yet another element of that overall programme and will undoubtedly build on the achievements of recent years. It will help to deliver additional improvements in the manner in which all drivers interact with the road system.
Senators will make worthwhile suggestions for other road safety initiatives for inclusion in the Bill. While these may or may not fall within the parameters I have set for this legislation, I am particularly anxious to secure the passage of this short Bill as quickly as possible to allow for the early introduction of the provisions contained therein. However, all suggestions Senators might make will be afforded consideration within my Department with a view to their inclusion, where appropriate, in the next road traffic Bill to be introducedd later this year, on which work has already commenced.
I thank Senators in advance for their co-operation in facilitating the taking of the Bill and, I hope, its speedy passage through the House.