I welcome the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe.
Road Traffic Bill 2016: Committee and Remaining Stages
Amendments Nos. 1 and 11 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, to delete lines 12 to 15 and substitute the following:
“(2) This Act will be commenced within 28 days of being signed by the President of Ireland.”.
I welcome the Minister back to the House. In terms of the Ireland-UK agreement signed by Ambassador Chilcott and the Minister's wish to restrict drug driving and local speed limits, I believe the Minister has the support of everybody in the House. That is the spirit in which the amendments before us, if they are of use to the Minister, are offered, particularly at this stage of the political cycle. If we were starting on day one as a new Senator and a new Minister, we could go through some of the issues here. However, they are important and Parliament should discuss them.
Taking amendments Nos. 1 and 11 together, it is noted from the explanatory memorandum that we have developed a tradition of not commencing sections of road safety legislation. As I said in the previous debate, Ministers and their Departments bring forward legislation, which is passed by the Dáil and the Seanad and signed by the President. However, the explanatory memorandum states that sections 34 to 37, inclusive, 42 and 50 of the 2010 Bill were not commenced. PARC, the road safety body whose representatives the Minister met regarding their concerns about this, would add section 44 to that list. In fact, they regard section 44 as a way of evading payment. It has referred to commencement of the third payment option - section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 2010 - to stop drivers avoiding conviction and penalty points by claiming in court that they did not receive the fixed charge notice. This is now of epidemic proportions and must be stopped.
I asked a legal friend about this and he said the worst case of failure to commence was the Child Care Act 1991, which was eventually repealed before it could be commenced. In Australia, there is a rule that a law comes into operation on the 28th day after the Governor General has approved it. Perhaps we should have discussed the issue of how legislation disappears on Second Stage.
Amendment No. 1 proposes that this legislation will not be delayed. Amendment No. 11 proposes that the parts that have been delayed, plus section 44, as proposed by PARC, be commenced. Perhaps, given that PARC has made representations on this matter, the Minister will give consideration to it prior to Report Stage. This is an urgent problem. As the Minister said on Second Stage, 13 people were killed on Irish roads between 21 and 31 December 2015. We cannot let this go. For whatever reason, the legislation was not commenced. It is in that spirit I propose these two amendments.
I thank the Senator for tabling this and other amendments. I acknowledge the point he has made, which follows on from the issue he raised on Second Stage in respect of his concern about legislation that has been enacted by the Houses of the Oireachtas but then not commenced, often for many years.
The reason the Road Traffic Acts generally state that provisions "commence on the day or days appointed by the Minister" is that, in many cases, administrative procedures need to be put in place before particular measures in the legislation can be enacted. This is a sound principle which I believe is particularly appropriate in the context of road traffic legislation. Looking at the group of amendments referred to by Senator Barrett in the context of items of previous road traffic legislation, the reason they have not been enacted is that they refer to what is often known as the third payment option, which gives people a further option to pay a fine before they end up going to court. The reason the group of sections have not been enacted is because of the amount of work that needed to be done. That work is being done now in order to put the administrative procedures in place. In this particular case, work needed to be done to put the IT infrastructure in place to then allow the enactment of the legislation. In regard to the third payment option, what was required in order for that to happen was to put in place a new piece of IT infrastructure to allow the option to be implemented. I am pleased to be able to confirm that we believe we will have this available for implementation by the middle of this year. The latter will then allow the commencement of the different sections of the previous Bill to which the Senator referred.
The reason I am not in a position to accept these amendments is that I believe it is a sound principle of policy making that we tie the commencement of particular sections to being in a place where we are ready to implement them, although I appreciate the intention behind the Senator's amendments. I would also would like to be in a situation where we can speedily enact the different provisions various items of road traffic legislation make available to us. However, it is good practice that we give ourselves the flexibility of not enacting sections until we are in a situation where we can make them happen.
I thank the Minister for his reply and utterly accept his bona fides that we are all on the same side on this. I am delighted those measures will be ready for implementation by the middle of this year. One must acknowledge that the legislation was passed in 2010 and that the years in between have been difficult, with many things happening - not least in regard to the ability of the public finances to fund all the things we wanted to do. Therefore, I will not press the amendments. Again, I thank the Minister for his reply.
Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 6, line 29, after “it” to insert “and where the drug use did not impair the person’s driving capability”.
These two amendments concern drugs and I stress that I am on the Minister's side. I am particularly conscious of the drug-related death in Cork over the weekend.
In amendment No. 2 I am looking to see if a belt and braces approach is needed. On the last occasion, the Minister mentioned the ability of the Irish legal profession to drive a coach and four through legislation, particularly where driving law is concerned. If a person is allowed to have a drug for medicinal purposes, could that lead to a defence that this drug was for medicinal purposes? If it strengthens the Minister's position, the response can be "Yes, okay we accept you had drug for medicinal purposes, but it did impair your driving." That is the purpose of amendment No. 2, if it is of use to the Minister.
Amendment No. 3 refers to drugs prescribed by a member of the medical profession and dispensed by a pharmacist, but states that will not be an excuse either if it impairs the person's driving ability.
As regards both amendments, I am asking the Minister to consider if there is a loophole concerning the use of permitted drugs for medicinal purposes. Can the use of such drugs be excused because they were prescribed for medicinal purposes, even if at the same time driving is impaired? In case there is a gap in the legislation, amendment No. 3 states that prescription drugs are not an excuse if the person is incapable of driving.
I support the Minister on the issue and offer those two amendments if they are of use to him in strengthening the Bill.
This Bill deals with three aspects of the road traffic legislation, including the section on drugs. People have been in contact with me concerning drugs that are forbidden, as listed in Schedule 4, such as cannabis, cocaine and heroin, or derivatives of those drugs. Where people are prescribed a medicine which may be a derivative of cannabis, for example, to treat some illness, are they allowed to drive if there is a prescribed drug in their system? I will let the Minister explain to the House how big a part 1 ng is.
I thank the Senators for their different points. On Senator Pat O'Neill's last point, 1 ng is a nanogram. As regards prescribed substances, the consequence of this law, if it is enacted, is that for those particular drugs the presence of the drug within the system means the users should not drive. The purpose of this law, therefore, is only to look at road traffic incidents and making our roads safer. If people are consuming the drugs that are laid down here as being prescribed, having those drugs in their system alone, is a road traffic offence. The direct answer to the Senator's question is, therefore, leaving aside any of the criminal or other legal matters concerning the consumption and presence of the drug, from a road traffic legislation perspective, if people consume these drugs and get behind the wheel of a car they are committing an offence. Therefore, if they consume these drugs they should not be driving on the roads.
I will go back to some of the figures quoted earlier on Second Stage. Figures from County Kildare concerning a large number of tests that were carried out showed the presence of drugs within the system, which was a contributory factor to either road safety incidents or risks being created on the roads.
I will now comment on the points made by Senator Sean D. Barrett, the common theme of which was whether a loophole would, in any way, be created due to the drafting of the Bill. Before I deal with each of his amendments in turn, the common thread in his question and my reply is that currently the Road Traffic Act 2010 allows the prosecution of people for driving while intoxicated. In each case, the 2010 Act provides for an anchor law for dealing with anybody who is suspected by the Garda of driving while intoxicated. This Bill strengthens that law by focusing on the intoxicants that are drug based.
Amendment No. 2 in the name of Senator Sean D. Barrett would amend the provisions around the proposed medical certificate exemption by introducing the concept of impairment. The purpose of the medical certificate of exemption is to allow an exemption from this new offence for people who are prescribed Sativex, which is a medicinal form of cannabis. This refers to the new offence of presence only and I believe that adding a reference to the concept of impairment at this point, where it is not relevant, might create confusion.
Let me return to the answer I offered to Senator Pat O'Neill when dealing with this group of drugs. We have delineated these drugs from other groups of drugs that could include prescription drugs and are saying that we judge the mere presence of these drugs alone to be so serious that it is a road traffic offence in its own right. It is for that reason I would not want to introduce an amendment which states: "where the drug use did not impair the person’s driving capability”. That dilutes, and could be a direct contradiction of, the objective of this Part of the Bill, which states that the presence of these drugs alone is a road traffic offence.
I will now deal with Senator Sean D. Barrett's third amendment on prescription drugs. I acknowledge that the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications considered this in some detail in its discussions at the pre-legislative stage. The main worry of the joint committee was that individuals might be concerned about taking their prescription drugs for fear that it might lead to impairment. The conclusion we have reached on the Senator's amendment is that it addresses the other side of the coin, that is, that some prescription medications can have effects which are detrimental to driving. This might include some non-prescription medication, such as over the counter cough mixtures that might cause drowsiness. However, as I said earlier, under the Road Traffic Act 2010, it is already an offence to drive while intoxicated. We would deal with many of those matters under that Act but this Bill seeks to introduce a new ability to deal with this matter, which is what we are doing here.
Notwithstanding anything the Bill is dealing with, I would make the broad point that the responsibility rests, first and foremost, with the driver, as is the case with any other area of road safety law. If a person consumes a drug, be it something that is available over the counter or on prescription and if he or she believes that the effect of the drug makes him or her drowsy and might impede his or her ability to drive the car, his or her judgment is impaired and he or she should not be driving the car in the first place. There is very little that any of us can do in road traffic legislation which will ever take the place of somebody exercising his or her judgment in a reasonable manner. However, the other side of the coin also implies that if a person takes a drug and does so in line with the advice of the doctor or pharmacist, there is every reason to believe that taking the medication would not impede his or her ability to drive safely.
I thank the Minister. I know he has been dealing with this and will do so again tomorrow as there is a section in the Public Transport Bill on people leaving the scene of an accident. The Minister has established his credentials in dealing with these issues. Prescription drugs featured prominently in a coroner's case yesterday in respect of an accident in Bansha, County Tipperary, where one of the parties had consumed prescription drugs, albeit they were prescribed for another member of the family. Perhaps the pharmacist or the doctor should state on prescriptions that people should not drive as they will cause drowsiness. The fear I have is in respect of medical exemption certificate where a drug is found to be present in a person's blood but it had been lawfully prescribed for him or her and where the certificate is signed by the doctor who prescribed it. It might not be much consolation for the party who was injured or killed that the person responsible was lawfully prescribed the drug.
I appreciate the amount work the Minister has done and do not wish to delay the promulgation of this legislation; therefore, I will not press amendments Nos. 2 and 3. I thank the Minister for expressing his theories and observations. We all share what he is trying to do in this matter. Perhaps in the next Parliament, we will work on impairment and on other ways to deal with it. This is a good day's work.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 15, line 18, to delete “hour,” and substitute the following:
“hour. In areas where the designated limit is 20 kilometres per hour the guidelines may specify further traffic calming measures and shared uses of road space. There shall be public consultation between the road authorities and residents of areas where the designated limit of 20 kilometres applies,”.
In some senses, this is Jake's law, named after Jake Brennan who was killed in Kilkenny. His parents were in touch with the Department and with the previous Minister and they canvassed for signatures outside Leinster House. As I said the last day, this shows the system can work. I am delighted the Minister has introduced the speed limit of 20 km/h. This, in a sense, is a strengthening measure. People in residential neighbourhoods will be delighted to see the Minister invoking the 20 km/h limit in those areas in order that children will be safe.
Is there a need for further consultation between residents and the local authorities on how we implement this? Can we make these areas even more safe with measures other than the 20 km/h speed limit the Minister has proposed, which I fully support?
I have a certain sympathy with Senator Sean D. Barrett's amendment. I cannot begin to imagine the anguish of Jake's parents and the circumstances in which he lost his life.
I cannot be sure about the introduction of a 20 km/h or 12 mph speed limit. When one drives a modern manual car at 12 mph, one feels like one is stopped. That is why I am not sure the motive behind the lobby for the introduction of this speed limit, which is to reduce speed to the minimum, will be enforceable.
The amendment provides for other traffic calming measures. Such measures, including speed bumps, work in residential areas. I hate speed bumps even driving at 12 mph but they are effective and they work. I acknowledge the new speed limit will be enshrined in law and the Minister will not amend it but perhaps consideration could be given to the aspirations behind the amendment on two fronts. One is traffic calming measures and the second is consultation with residents and local authorities. Such a speed limit should not be mandatory in all residential areas because each residential area is different in the context of how one accesses or leaves it, where it is located and so on. One size does not fit all. I have no problem with the principle underlying the provision and I understand it perfectly. Perhaps the Minister might consider the amendment in the context of consultation and other traffic calming measures alongside the mandatory speed limits of 40 km/h, 30 km/h and, in particular, 20 km/h.
It is a testament to Jake Brennan and to his parents that the legislation has made it to the House and will be passed. This will be part of his legacy. A speed limit of 20 km/h is slow, as Senator Paschal Mooney said. The explanatory memorandum states: "Slow zones are envisaged as areas with a reduced speed limit of 30 km/h along with self-enforcing traffic calming measures such as speed bumps and road markings which seek to change driver behaviour". We do not have sufficient gardaí to enforce this on every estate. It is about self-enforcement. Local authorities will have the power to designate the speed limit on a housing estate, but they will have to install speed bumps, erect proper signage and ensure proper road markings. It is better not to tie them down and the Minister has ensured this in the legislation. They may not be able to put in a speed bump in certain circumstances because of school transport and ambulances, for example. I know of problems that have been caused for hearses because of speed bumps outside churches. It is important that we do not tie the Minister down too much in this regard. Three speed limits of 40 km/h, 30 km/h and 20 km/h are provided for, which are self-enforcing. It is up to the local authority to enforce them through proper road markings and speed bumps. We cannot expect gardaí to sit in a van on an estate with a speed camera. I ask Senator Sean D. Barrett to withdraw that provision in the amendment.
A speed limit is only good and valid if there is somebody to police it. Imposing a speed limit on an estate will not necessarily slow traffic but traffic calming measures will slow motorists down. As Senator Pat O’Neill said, there will be places where ramps and so on cannot be introduced. Some ramps in Killarney are not wide enough meaning only half the car travels over them, which is almost worse. Many people have complained about them. Traffic calming measures have to be introduced in conjunction with the new speed limits on estates.
I thank Senators for their contributions. I agree with most of what has been said. As Senator Paschal Mooney said, 20 km/h is slow.
I offer my continued sympathy to Jake Brennan’s family. When the Jake’s Legacy Campaign began, it sought mandatory implementation of this speed limit via a directive from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. I believed then, as I believe now, that would have been the wrong thing to do for two reasons. The first is the correct forum in which to set speed limits for local roads is the local authority in conjunction with the communities it represents. While it is appropriate for the Minister to have a direct role in issues relating to national roads and roads overseen by TII, the correct way to regulate speed limits an all other roads, which comprise the majority of roads, is for the Minister of the day to set down the options based on research available to him or her before the local authorities determine the correct speed limit for them. That is particularly appropriate for residential estates and areas in which many people live because it is important that the local authority goes through a period of consultation with them before the councillors set the speed limit. The reason for that, as Senators have acknowledged, is it is not realistic or appropriate to think the Garda would be available to enforce every speed limit at all times. Speed limits have to be self-regulating and securing the consent of communities for new speed limits, therefore, makes sense if one is looking for them to be self-regulating.
Senator Paschal Mooney is correct that 20 km/h is a low speed limit. While I do not believe it will be broadly applied in residential areas all over the country, in many cases, the 30 km/h or 50 km/h speed limit will be implemented. Nonetheless, it could well be applicable for particular housing estates and communities based on the number of young children on them or the number of roads passing through them or their adjacency to a busier road. However, the correct people to decide on that are local authority members in conjunction with the communities who may well decide a lower speed limit is appropriate, which the local authority can then implement.
Senator Sean D. Barrett referred to the need to public consultation and to specify further traffic calming measures. The reason I do not propose to accept the amendment that contains these provisions is section 9 of the Road Traffic Act 2004 empowers local authorities to make by-laws setting speed limits and provides for the need for public consultation. Section 9(4) requires that the by-laws be published in the press or local media and be subject to public scrutiny for 30 days into which local residents can input. Local authorities can incorporate this feedback into the decisions they make.
With regard to specifying the need for further traffic calming measures, in my own experience, local authorities do this.
Regarding the lower speed limit of 20 km/h, last year we paid centrally for new signage to be available for local authorities in order that they could then implement the lower speed limit. Graphics of that new signage may have been shared in the information made available through the Oireachtas Library.
While I understand completely where the amendment is coming from, I believe it is already covered in earlier road traffic legislation, which is why I am not proposing to accept it.
I thank the Minister. This debate was also taking place yesterday in Belfast. I think the proposal in the central Belfast district is to reduce the speed limit from 40 mph to 20 mph. There are the usual complaints but the point, if I can recall the numbers correctly, was that the reduction in fatalities is about 70%. There is a massive difference between being hit by a car at 40 mph and at 20 mph. That is what the amendments are trying to capture.
Again, I thank the Minister. I hope the procedures he has described are observed. I can recall roads on which the speed limits changed without notice. There was supposed to be a committee; the matter was referred to one of the recent meetings of the transport committee. The committee members may be a bit more open in their work.
I do not wish to delay the House and will not press amendment No. 4. I thank the Minister and support him. Reducing the speed limit to 20 mph in Belfast is the correct thing to do given the evidence of the damage to the human body in collision with a vehicle at those speeds.
Just to pick up on something the Senator has said, he made the point that the United Kingdom was looking at miles per hour, whereas we of course are looking at kilometres per hour. It is a really important distinction as there was a campaign in place more broadly about the concept of "20 is plenty". That figure of 20 referred to miles per hour whereas we are implementing kilometres per hour. Perhaps the more appropriate speed limit on many estates would be 30 km/h. We are simply making the option available so that if, in any particular circumstances, they want to go lower the option will be there. As has already been said, the difference between being hit at 30 km/h and 35 km/h is life changing in terms of the potential harm.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 16, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:
“20. Each provider of road insurance shall publish data on premiums, awards and risk for each category of driver and vehicle and each type of insurance held, the cost of awards under both litigation and PIAB and the costs of uninsured drivers and failed insurance companies.”.
A number of strands are coming together and this problem is emerging as a larger one. There was an interesting discussion on the Sean O'Rourke programme on Thursday last week. The Road Safety Authority, RSA, now knows that far more accidents are taking place than we are actually recording. The information supplied by the Garda to the RSA may be about one third of the picture and, in respect of pedal cyclists, who are covered in this section, it may be about one tenth of the picture. We need co-ordinated data between the insurance industry, hospitals, general practitioners and the Garda, not just the Garda acting on its own.
I mentioned the work of Jack Short who used to work in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and then went to the European Conference of Ministers of Transport, which disappeared into the OECD. He has done work on this issue in the recent past and finds that the insurance sector is not really addressing the issues of providing data as to what the insurance market for road safety should cover. Should it cover certain kinds of vehicles or drivers? The Central Bank report on insurance seems to indicate that third party fire and theft cover, which sells more cheaply on the market, actually costs the companies more than comprehensive insurance.
We need a market in risk and need to deal with the problem of moral hazard. We need the information to tackle this area of huge social cost. At Jack Short's estimate, accidents probably cost about €500 million more than we think, including the ones not reported to the Garda but found in hospital and insurance company data. We can keep putting out public campaigns and so on but we need to get behind the numbers. That is why some of those issues arise in the discussions which the Minister is going to have with the insurance industry and which the Taoiseach is having in respect of other matters.
We need insurance which encourages people to make the right choices in terms of reducing risk. We need to deal with the cost of awards in Ireland. Road safety has been improving but the average High Court and Circuit Court awards, according to Mr. Kevin Thompson of the insurance industry federation, are up 34% and 14%, respectively, in those courts. We have a whiplash problem. We have extremely high legal costs. Dorothea Dowling, who was previously the chair of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, reckons that legal costs in Ireland add about 50% to the costs of awards. She sees a gap of over €1 billion between these awards and what would have been made by the PIAB.
The cost of uninsured drivers and the failed insurance companies must also be considered. I know that has gone to the Central Bank now. How Setanta, a Maltese company, got to cost Irish road users €92 million I just do not know. There may be court cases pending on it. As we found in the banking inquiry, which mercifully reports tomorrow, we have an insurance industry which needs a stricter set of controls and to provide the information with which we can make better decisions. That is the purpose of the amendment.
I understand Senator Sean D. Barrett's frustration with insurance companies. My insurance is due in the middle of next month. I have received my documentation and just noticed that it went up by 23.5% in 12 months. It is worrying. I do not know whether the legislation under discussion would help people in that situation. The biggest problem is that the awards are too much, as the PIAB states. I do not know if the Minister can commission a report or if it is even a matter for his Department.
We all know that whiplash in Ireland is worth €15,000 when in the United Kingdom it is worth £3,000. People are going to be priced out of the market. As Senator Sean D. Barrett has pointed out, uninsured drivers are a big problem. If costs continue to rise, people will not be able to afford insurance. It is going to be like health insurance, except that there is a public system in place so that those without health insurance get treated. If a driver crashes into somebody without insurance, it will be the rest of the general public who will pay for it.
I do not think the Minister can provide for these matters in the Bill. I hope he will be back as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, in which case I would ask that he commission a report on the insurance industry and why the costs have risen so much. The general public and young people are being priced out of the market and the PIAB has always said the awards are too high. I do not think we can put it into this legislation, but I accept and understand Senator Sean D. Barrett's sentiments in this matter.
I thank the Senators. I admire the ability of Senator Sean D. Barrett to look at all of the different legislation coming through and to see if there is an opportunity to progress matters about which he feels strongly.
Of course, he is correct, as is Senator Pat O'Neill, to be concerned about the fact that insurance premia are going up. As Minister who has responsibility for road safety it is a matter I have to be aware of and monitor because people having insurance is an important element in allowing us to deal with the consequences of incidents and collisions on the roads.
The reason I cannot accept the amendment is that my Department does not play a role in many of the matters to which Senator Sean D. Barrett is referring in his amendment. The Central Bank, which on 1 May took over responsibility under the auspices of the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority for the regulation and prudential supervision of insurance companies in Ireland is best placed to deal with these matters in terms of monitoring the costs of insurance, including motor insurance. As this amendment relates to matters that my Department does not deal with, nor does this legislation, I am not in a position to accept the amendment.
I thank the Minister.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 16, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:
"(a) in subsection (1), by the insertion of "driving licence," after "his or her" where it occurs,".
The Minister is dealing with cyclists who previously would not give their name and address to a garda, as I understand to mean by the amendment of section 7 of the principal Act. I have tried to tie that down. Why are not people required to produce driving licences, carry them with them, bring them to court and have them there at all times? If it is important - I fully support the Minister on this - that cyclists cannot be anonymous. Surely drivers must have identification. What I have run up against on this issue is some belief that it is invidious to ask somebody to carry his or her driving licence with them, that it is an infringement of human rights. This matter is too serious. It is an activity that kills 166 people per year. I am seeking a requirement that people must have a driving licence with them when driving. The garda knows who they are, as he or she is about to know who the pedal cyclists are with whom the Minister is dealing.
The power to which the Senator refers is already available under section 40 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. The Senator is correct to say the Garda needs to have the power to require production of a driving licence, but that power is already available under section 40 of that Act.
Are we satisfied that the failure to produce driving licences has been fully addressed? It was still in the ether, certainly in the term of office of the Minister's immediate predecessor, Deputy Leo Varadkar, when about 40% of offences, at one stage, were alleged to have been committed by people who were not licensed at all, but they pretended not to be so as to escape the system. I accept the Minister's assurance if that has been addressed. That was the problem in recent times. It is a great step forward for road safety. On that basis I will not press the amendment.
I would not say to the Senator that this is always a matter that is addressed because it is always something we have to keep under review. The provision is in the 1961 Act giving the Garda the power required for the production of a driving licence. I should say in regard to the Senator's amendment, sections of the Bill focus primarily on cyclists. An unintended consequence of this would be that the Garda would require the production of a driving licence from a cyclist. That, I do not believe, would be appropriate and I am not proposing to bring in a licensing regime for cyclists. On the more substantive point, I can assure the Senator I am satisfied that under section 40 of the 1961 Act, the right degree of power is in place for the Garda in respect of individuals who are driving mechanically propelled vehicles.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 16, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
"(c) by inserting the following subsection after subsection (5):
"(6) Trailers and semi-trailers referred to in this section shall require a separate certificate of roadworthiness of each trailer.".".
Using a trailer or semi-trailer with a maximum permissible weight exceeding 3,500 kg without a licence is an offence. As for dealing with those trailers, I agree with the Minister. The amendment seeks that the trailers and semi-trailers should be subject to the NCT. I can recall accidents where a trailer broke free and killed pedestrians. In the economics of road space, if the trailer lengthens a truck by a factor of two, many economists would say there should be two charges for that vehicle in terms of adding to road space and that the trailer should not be going free. In terms of safety, are we satisfied that in dealing with this aspect the trailers on the roads are tested to the same NCT standards as the vehicles?
Ireland's commercial vehicle road worthiness testing, CVRT, regime is fully in compliance with European Union roadworthiness testing directive 2009/40/EC and operates within a framework of EU legislation which stipulates the testing standards for member states in regard to various categories of vehicles. In accordance with current EU requirements, not all trailers are required to be roadworthiness tested at the CVRT centre. Presently, goods trailers, which are categories 03 and 04 with a design gross vehicle weight in excess of 3,500 kg are tested. The design gross vehicle weight refers to the gross weight of a vehicle laden with the heaviest load which it is designed to carry. In view of current EU roadworthiness testing requirements it would, therefore, not be appropriate to align the roadworthiness testing requirements for all traders with a DGVW in excess of 3,500 kg with current obligations to licence such as trailers and semi-trailers which are being used on the public road.
What we have from a roadworthiness testing perspective is currently compliant with best practice in the European Union. I am very satisfied with the regime we have in place. I have a further concern that if we were to extend that further, it would be a further piece of regulation and a potential cost that we would extend to the owners of different vehicles who are in a very competitive sector. I would be concerned that might have cost consequences and impose a regulatory burden, matters which are close to the Senator's heart, that might not be proportionate to the benefit the State would get from us. I would be particularly concerned at the effect it could have for smaller businesses and employers in the agricultural sphere. For those reasons I am not accepting the amendment.
I am aware that this year's budget was warmly received by the owners of those vehicles because it provided for a substantial reduction in taxation. One would hope that did not occur at the expense of safety and perhaps that is something which might be taken up on an EU-wide basis. I am concerned about the number of vehicles being towed which do not have the same registration plate as the one doing the towing. This is a matter the Minister may wish to keep under review because we cannot be too careful in terms of safety. I thank the Minister for his response. If it is necessary for Ireland to take a lead on some of these aspects compared to the rest of Europe that is fine. Perhaps it is also something at which the Garda may have to look. I do not know what law applies in the situation where there is no relation between the vehicle being towed and the registration of the vehicle that is doing the towing.
Will the Minister assure the House that the Garda will continue to place importance on the visibility of cyclists, particularly in urban environments? I know that sounds strange because rural environments have less public lighting. Anecdotally, we know - I notice it occasionally when cyclists pass by Leinster House - that many cyclists do not have lights on their bikes. I understand that gardaí are under severe pressure in a variety of areas but traditionally down the country, gardaí were the bane of cyclists because if there was anything wrong with one's bike, one was done. I remember as a child that District Court cases were more about the fella not having a light on his bike when coming home from the pub than anything else. That issue appears to have gone down the list of priorities.
I appreciate gardaí have a very important job and I am fully supportive of them but in the context of this Bill, a number of cars have wonky lights. Cars will have one strong beam and one weak beam. We have the NCT but some issues arise between tests. It might not even be a car which is due to do the NCT, but it might be negligence or a costs issue. However, it is certainly a safety issue. It is greatly irritating to drive at night and to find oncoming cars have one beam very high and another very beam low. Obviously, the balance is wrong.
I raise these issues in the context of Senator Sean D. Barrett's amendments on driving licences. All of this, as the Minister would testify, is about improving road safety, saving lives and trying to ensure that motorists and cyclists comply with the law as much as possible. I wish to be reassured that gardaí have not allowed these issues to slip down their list of priorities.
In regard to Senator Paschal Mooney's question on cycling, it is in recognition of the risks outlined by the Senator that last year, I made the decision to allow fixed charge notices to be applicable to a number of offences relating to the use of a bicycle. Two of the offences relate to a cyclist riding a pedal cycle without reasonable consideration and having no front lamp or rear lamp lit on the bicycle during lighting up hours. Some 547 fixed charge notices have been applied to date to cyclists, of which 110 have been applied for not having a lit lamp on a bicycle during a lighting up period. That provision was brought in and covers the points made by Senator Paschal Mooney.
In regard to the issue of lights on vehicles not working correctly, that is the reason we have the NCT. A light which does not work would be a reason for one's car not passing the NCT.
Amendments Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 21, after line 40, to insert the following:
Measures to improve vehicle safety
26. The Minister shall under the Innovation 2020 and other programmes cause to be conducted research on vehicle safety such as alcohol locking devices, vehicle immobilisation where seat belts are not worn, driver exhaustion recognition, obstacle recognition and driver distraction.”.
Jack Short's study of cyclists states the injury understatement for vulnerable modes, such as cycling, indicates that the number hospitalised with clinically serious injuries is ten times higher than the police serious injury figure. We must have a suite of policies to deal with this problem. The Minister will be in the House again tomorrow to deal with this.
We had a debate with the Minister of State with responsibility for science and technology in which it was stated there is no transport section in Innovation 2020. A section for transport could offer valuable contributions on topics, such as the alcohol locking devices used by some bus companies, vehicle immobilisation when seat belts are not worn, driver exhaustion recognition - when the car will set off an alarm if it sees the driver blinking and which is already fitted in some models of cars - obstacle recognition and on the general problem of driver distraction.
I support what the Minister has done in regard to making phone calls and texting while driving. Senator John Crown brought legislation through this House on smoking in cars. Any technology which inhibits driver distraction will save lives. That is the purpose of the amendment. Complex factors need to be addressed. The Minister has already accomplished much regarding drivers but the vehicle has a role to play and we have listed those factors which may be on the agenda in terms of road safety in the next semester.
Amendment No. 9 will address the improvement of road infrastructure safety. That was a topic on "Today with Sean O'Rourke" recently. We have roads with design faults or maintenance faults and some are not being addressed. Maintenance of roads is the function of county council engineering departments. Have we overlooked their contribution to the deaths and injuries? Should there be a liability on local authorities which do not maintain their roads to a certain standard and which become hazards? The scope in this regard is quite large. Road accident rates on dual carriageways are half those on single carriageways because head-on accidents are eliminated while the figure is halved again on motorways because junction accidents are eliminated. We must ensure that in planning, design and maintenance of roads, we do not have infrastructure which adds to the problem the Minister is addressing.
Amendment No. 10 deals with the subject of adequate data. PARC and Jack Short state we are seriously underestimating the safety problem which the Minister has tackled so thoroughly. Rates are probably an average of three times for injuries and ten times for pedal cyclists. That was admitted by the Road Safety Authority on "Today with Sean O'Rourke". We must get the data in order to fully comprehend this problem. What I am doing here is allowing Parliament to endorse this. The problem has been hidden away by inadequate data but it has caused the kind of misery we have all seen and much misery which perhaps we have not yet seen or of which we are not aware because it is in data general practitioners, hospitals and insurance providers have. Let us have comprehensive data. I hope the Minister will be returned after the general election in order to tackle to the problem with comprehensive data and more tools in the toolkit to deal with vehicles and road or highway conditions. That is the purpose of the amendments.
There is much for us to tackle, although much has been tackled, including the drugs issue, the Northern Ireland interchange, the UK interchange and the 20 km/h speed. There is another agenda we may need to face. PARC seems to think so, as do many of those families who have suffered personally from road accidents.
We need the comprehensive picture of data to address road conditions and any other measure needed to improve the safety of vehicles such as driverless cars. We are good at other aspects of technology, but we have to get up to speed on this one.
The matters which are the subject of the amendment are all important. Carrying out research on road safety issues is one of the responsibilities of the Road Safety Authority, RSA, which has conducted a great deal of relevant research on a wide range of matters, including some of those listed in the amendment. Likewise, the availability of relevant information in statistical form and analysis of factors in road safety form essential components in improving safety on the roads. While I agree with the intentions of the amendment, I do not believe legislation is the place in which to specify the research that is appropriate. If we were to do so, we would find ourselves amending the law repeatedly, as new priorities and concerns emerged.
On the matters of road signage and conditions, since August 2007 it has been standard practice for a Garda forensic collision team to close a road following a collision resulting in a fatality or serious injury and undertake a detailed investigation of all relevant matters and the location where the collision occurred. It includes taking detailed measurements at the collision scene, including the measurement of the skid resistance of the road surface. A LA16 form is completed jointly by the Garda and local authority engineers following each collision resulting in a fatality. The purpose of the form is to record factual information on such collisions and quickly establish if there were road factors which may have contributed to the collision and which need to be remedied. When completed, LA16 forms are sent to Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, formerly the National Roads Authority, for analysis and ultimate decisions on any necessary remedy to address these factors. Examples of such factors would include missing signs, faded road markings or poor skid resistance results. By formally notifying TII of such results, the agency will be well placed to indicate to the road authorities what remedial works are needed or to undertake further investigations.
This post-collision investigation compares favourably with that carried out in other leading countries in terms of road safety. Where appropriate, a file is forwarded by the Garda to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is in the context of this latter action that I cannot give consideration to publishing such reports, as to do so would undermine any decision taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions to initiate a prosecution or a hearing of the case as a result of serious road traffic collisions resulting in a fatality.
One of the changes introduced under the current road safety strategy which runs from 2013 to 2020 is that for the first time we are focusing not only on road fatalities but also on serious injuries. By extension, it is necessary to have the required data. The road safety strategy addresses this issue and notes the importance of additional information from the health sector. As emphasised in the strategy, the definition of a serious injury is problematic and has been the subject of widespread discussion at EU level, as well as in the wider international community. We need to ensure we are measuring the same factors as others are internationally. A serious injury is defined as such by the Garda at the scene, based on one or two factors, namely, an injury for which the person has been detained in hospital as an inpatient, or injuries, regardless of whether they lead to detention in hospital, including fractures, concussion, internal injuries, crushing, severe cuts and lacerations or severe general shock which requires medical treatment. That is the official definition of a serious injury, based on how the Garda should assess injuries. However, in practice it may be difficult for the Garda to assess the second aspect of injury. Hence, the challenge with under-reporting of serious injuries. Anything that does not fall into the categorisation listed is assessed as a minor injury. There would need to be one serious injury for a collision to be categorised as serious. It is no news to anybody working in the area of road safety that there are cases reported to hospitals of injuries on the roads which are not reported to the Garda. Being clear on what we are measuring when we talk about serious injuries is, therefore, essential. However, it is not appropriate to limit the RSA by writing into law what it should take into account.
In the case of the amendment, I note that there would be no obligation on hospitals or doctors to provide the RSA with information. We need the right data on which to base policy decisions and measure policy impacts. That is a given. On road safety, the RSA is the right body to collate data. However, nothing would be gained by specifying in law particular sources of data. Inevitably, there would be other sources of data available. We will have better law if we leave the data sources open to be selected and changed, as appropriate, over time. Otherwise, we would find ourselves constantly amending the law as data sources and priorities changed. For these reasons, I cannot accept the amendment.
I do not intend to pursue the amendment. However, it is useful in Parliament to ventilate, as the Minister has, that there are other sources of data that we need to consider. I hope hospitals, general practitioners and the insurance industry will always co-operate in this regard. This is a matter on which we are all on the one side and the data should be as comprehensive as possible. The amendment is intended to have the issue debated in Parliament because it has been debated outside by groups referred to by the Minister. If 166 people were to be killed in a single event, it would be a national emergency. That is the number killed on the roads every year. We cannot be vigilant enough in collecting data and examining all of the causes of road traffic fatalities. It is an immense tragedy for so many. There is also the large number of road traffic injuries, of which we are not aware because they are categorised in different statistics.
The Minister's bona fides in this area need no endorsement by the House. He has established his credentials and done an immense amount of work on the issue of road safety, with more to come tomorrow. I thank him for his response and the way he is always willing to discuss the issues we raise. This is a good and noble cause.
When is it proposed to take Report Stage?
It was proposed to take it next Tuesday. However, would it be possible to take Report and Final Stages now?
The order of the House only provides for the taking of Committee Stage today.
As Acting Leader, I ask that we take Report Stage now.
I thank the Minister and my colleagues.
I thank Senators for what they have just done. The passage of the Bill through the Seanad is immensely helpful in dealing with the issue of road safety. Every Senator has touched on the fact that every life lost on the roads is one too many. The country has made huge progress in reducing the loss of life. At its awful peak in dealing with this tragedy, over 600 people a year were being killed on the roads. We have reduced that figure over a number of years and it is to the credit of all Governments that this matter has been pursued. Driving while intoxicated and with the presence of drugs in one's system is a new offence in pursuing the agenda of road safety. The Bill passing through the Seanad is a very important step in making progress in that regard. It is my hope that, owing to the fact that we will implement this legislation and empower gardaí to deal with the matter, there will be people alive at the end of this year who would otherwise not be. I genuinely thank the House for dealing with the Bill in the way it has.
I acknowledge the work of all my officials on the Bill. While on the surface the Bill may appear quite simple, as one Senator described it, the work done on it has been anything but simple. I thank my officials and everybody involved in the Department for the huge amount work done in producing the Bill.
All Ministers, regardless of party, have a primary purpose in mind when they take office - to get through a body of legislation. I fully acknowledge the work done behind the scenes on the Bill and compliment the Minister's officials who I am sure are equally pleased that it has not been delayed further. We, in Fianna Fáil, are more than happy to accommodate its swift passage because, as the Minister quite correctly said, if it saves one life, it will have been worthwhile and will be the Minister's legacy. I wish him well in pursuit of a similar outcome in the Dáil and hope he will have time to achieve this. A continuing theme of Senator Sean D. Barrett's contributions on the proposed amendments was ensuring the legislation would have a speedy passage and be implemented into law as quickly as possible. I compliment the Minister on ensuring this. I am happy to accommodate him and compliment his officials on drafting what is a very significant body of work.
I do not want to delay the House as we have another Bill to deal with. I said a lot on Second Stage, but I would like to compliment the Minister and his officials. As I said, he is very proactive as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. He summed it up when he said that if the Bill saved one life, its passage through the House would have been worthwhile. The Bill deals with three issues, including driving while under the influence of drugs, which is a serious offence and has to be dealt with in a serious manner. We now have Jake's law which is Jake's legacy. There is also cross-border co-operation with the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. It is now about enforcement. We will continue to try to make the roads safer. I compliment the Minister on the passage of the Bill through the House. We had a good debate on it and we will see him again tomorrow in dealing with the Public Transport Bill 2015.
I agree with all Senators. I am delighted that Report Stage was taken today and I am aware of the Minister's satisfaction in that regard. I thank him and his officials and wish him well.
On behalf of my Labour Party colleague who has been active on the Bill throughout but could not be here today, I compliment the Minister and his officials on bringing it forward. I am delighted that it has passed through the House during the term of the Government. If we had not done it today, who knows whether it would have been passed during the term of the Government? As the Minister said, one life is worth anything.