Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications
Conviction Rates for Drink Driving: Discussion
The purpose of this part of the meeting is to engage with representatives from An Garda Síochána and the Road Safety Authority, RSA, regarding recent media reports suggesting low conviction rates for drink driving offences. On behalf of the committee, I welcome the Deputy Garda Commissioner, Mr. John Twomey, Chief Superintendent Mark Curran, Superintendent Con O'Donoghue of the traffic bureau and Chief Superintendent Fergus Healy of the crime policy and administration unit. I also welcome Ms Moyagh Murdock, chief executive officer, Mr. Declan Naughton and Ms Denise Barry from the Road Safety Authority.
I wish to draw our guests' attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l)of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if witnesses are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Any submission or opening statements witnesses have made to the committee will be published on the committee website after the meeting.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or persons outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I ask Deputy Commissioner Twomey to make his opening statement.
Mr. John Twomey:
I thank the Chairman and the committee for the opportunity to address them on matters relating to drink driving convictions. While there have been significant changes in the drink driving culture in Ireland over the past decade, drink driving continues to be a major contributing factor to road deaths and injuries on our roads.
Just one drink impairs a person's ability to drive. A recent survey of driver attitudes conducted on behalf of the RSA in which one in ten drivers admitted to consuming alcohol before driving in the preceding 12 months is a concern, as it shows there is still work to be done if we are to achieve a culture in which people never drive if they drink.
Since the introduction of penalty points in 2002 and other changes to road traffic legislation, such as mandatory alcohol testing and the reduction in blood alcohol limits, as well as the establishment of a dedicated Garda traffic corps in 2005, we have seen significant improvements in road safety. In 2002, there were 376 road deaths. In 2014, there were 195. To date in 2015, there have been 144 fatalities on Irish roads, a decrease of 31 over the same period in 2014.
An Garda Síochána continually conducts enforcement and other campaigns aimed at improving compliance with road traffic legislation and thus reducing the number of road fatalities. The objective of this Garda activity is to increase driver awareness, increase the number of detections for breaches of road traffic and road transport legislation, and promote an improved compliance culture among the public. Campaigns with the objective of promoting voluntary compliance with road traffic legislation, particularly as regards drink driving, are conducted nationwide. Operations to detect drink driving offences, seatbelt non-compliance and breaches of road traffic and transport legislation by heavy goods vehicle, HGV, drivers are also conducted. Through these operations, the Garda and its counterparts within the European Traffic Police Network aim to assist the European Union in reducing the death rate on Europe's roads.
In 2014, An Garda Síochána arrested 7,519 drivers on suspicion of driving under the influence of an intoxicant, of whom 6,548 were over the legal limit. Some 2,141 drivers who were over the legal limit received a fixed penalty notice, of whom 1,270 paid the fixed penalties. Proceedings were instituted against drivers who did not qualify for receipt of a fixed penalty notice or who did not pay when served. The Courts Service has indicated that, in 2014, a total of 4,123 drink driving offences were heard, finalised and decided upon by the country's District Courts. This resulted in 3,488 convictions and 635 acquittals. The conviction rate is therefore 85% and the acquittal rate is 15%.
By 30 October 2015, the Garda had arrested 5,951 drivers on suspicion of driving under the influence of an intoxicant this year, of whom 5,281 were over the legal limit. Some 757 drivers who were over the legal limit received a fixed penalty notice, of whom 522 have paid those fixed penalties to date. Proceedings have been or will be instituted against drivers who did not qualify for receipt of a fixed penalty notice or who did not pay after being served with a notice. The Courts Service has also indicated that, for the first seven months of 2015, a total of 2,334 drink driving cases were heard in full and decided upon by the District Courts. This resulted in 2,021 convictions, with 313 dismissed. The conviction rate is 87% and the acquittal rate 13%. Where proceedings are instituted, prosecution files are prepared by the local district officer and prosecuted in court by the district officer, local inspector, local State solicitor or a representative from the Chief Prosecution Solicitor's office.
Regarding the management and oversight of drink driving cases, the use of IT systems is key to effective and efficient management, and a PULSE incident management function, under PULSE release 6.8, became effective on 1 November 2015. The introduction of the PULSE incident management function will allow investigating members, supervisors and district officers to monitor and have greater oversight of drink driving incidents. This function is an aid for investigators, supervisors and management and facilitates accountability, governance and oversight at all levels. Its aim is to provide a standardised, systematic and consistent approach to incident management throughout An Garda Síochána.
The Road Traffic Act 2014 saw the introduction of the status of novice driver, changes to the endorsement of penalty points and changes in respect of intoxicated driver offences, including impairment testing and the taking of blood from unconscious drivers. Changes to the penalty points system were introduced on 1 August 2014 and again on 8 December. On 1 August, the most notable changes involved an increase in penalty points for speeding, not wearing a seatbelt and using a mobile phone while driving. A further significant change is that a person taking out a first learner permit after 1 August will be disqualified on reaching seven penalty points. The same rule will apply to a person taking out a full licence for the first two years of that full licence. This is the two-year period while someone is considered to be a novice driver.
On 8 December, changes were made to 25 penalty point offences. Fourteen new offences were introduced, nine offences had the existing level of points increased and two offences had procedural changes in that points could be applied without a court conviction. Among the most significant changes are that learner drivers driving unaccompanied or not displaying L plates or motorcyclists not wearing L tabards now receive penalty points. Penalty points also apply to novice drivers who do not display N plates or motorcyclists not wearing N tabards.
We have supplied some data on the figures to date: in respect of using a vehicle without an NCT certificate, 7,700 notices have been issued; for non-display of L plates, 3,529 notices have been issued; for learner drivers unaccompanied by a qualified driver, 4,864 notices have been issued; for non-display of N plates, 165 notices have been issued; for non-display of a yellow fluorescent L tabard on a motorcycle, 83 notices have been issued; and for non-display of a yellow fluorescent N tabard on a motorcycle, two notices have been issued.
On 22 June 2015, the Garda was given new powers to arrest disqualified drivers on the spot if they are found driving any vehicle in a public place. Up to that date, it was not possible to arrest a disqualified driver at the time of interception. The only option available was to make that person amenable by summons or charge at a later date. This new power enables gardaí around the country to arrest these high-risk offenders immediately, convey them to the nearest Garda station, charge them with the specific offence of driving while disqualified and bring them to the earliest available court sitting. By the end of October, 456 disqualified drivers had been intercepted, arrested and charged under these new powers. Many vehicles had also been seized and impounded for being uninsured. In addition, 725 drivers had been charged for failing to have a driving licence.
The principal measures in the new road traffic Bill will address driving under the influence of drugs, and include the following: a new offence of driving or being in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle with the presence of certain specified drugs in the blood; provision for preliminary drug testing at the roadside by An Garda Síochána; and empowerment of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety to test, select and procure devices for use by An Garda Síochána in preliminary drug testing.
As members are aware, the road traffic legislation falls within the remit of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and there is ongoing contact between the Garda and departmental officials, with monthly meetings taking place between the Garda national traffic bureau and officials from the Department's road safety division. An Garda Síochána is committed to the enforcement of drink driving legislation, all other provisions of road traffic and transport legislation and regulation, and working in collaboration with our partners in road safety, both statutory and voluntary, with the aim of reducing road fatalities and serious injuries on our roads.
Ms Moyagh Murdock:
I thank the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications for extending its invitation to me to speak on conviction rates for drink driving offences. I welcome the opportunity in the lead-up to Christmas to call on drivers not to drink and drive. Drink driving is a serious road safety issue. Those drinking and driving have killed and injured road users and, in the process, destroyed families and communities. The relative risk of being involved in a fatal crash as a driver is up to ten times greater for drivers with a blood alcohol level, BAC, of between 0.05 g/dL and 0.07 g/dL compared with drivers with zero alcohol in their systems.
We know from a nationally representative survey of 1,000 motorists conducted in November 2014 that one in ten drivers, representing almost 300,000 drivers, admitted to drink driving in the preceding 12 months. We also know that only 62% of drivers believe it is not safe to drive having taken any alcohol on board. We can take from this that there is still ambivalence and, in some cases, contempt among some drivers about drinking and driving. We also know that those who drink and drive are more likely to speed, which is another killer behaviour. Taken together, these significantly multiply the chances of a collision and the risk of injury or death.
There has been press comment in recent times about the rate of conviction in our courts for drink driving offences. This has led to unease about the effectiveness of law enforcement and concern that drink driving is being taken lightly. I believe, and have said so in the media, that some of the data quoted appeared to be out of context and was misinterpreted. I note that this position has now been clarified. A recent statement by the Courts Service clarifies the position by stating:
Recent reporting, and commentary on drink driving cases and conviction rates, has been inaccurate: simply due to the extrapolation of conviction rates from the wrong set of figures. This has distorted the actual outcomes in cases heard, and in no way reflects the conviction rates in the District Courts. Conviction rates are actually over twice the 40% reported and commented upon recently. In figures compiled over the past week by the Courts Service - it is clear that the average figure for convictions each year is between 85% and 88%.
The simple error people made in commenting on the recent figures, was made by comparing convictions to summonses requested, printed and issued - and then comparing them to the UK figures - which relate to cases actually heard and finalised - not the number of summonses in the system at one stage or another.
There are two important aspects to take away from this finding. First, our conviction rates compare favourably with UK rates. Second, it gives those caught a clear message that if one engages in drink driving and ends up in court, one has a nine out of ten chance of being convicted.
I shall give a brief update on the road safety situation in Ireland as of this month. As the deputy commissioner, Mr. Twomey, has mentioned, there have been 138 fatal collisions on Irish roads this year, resulting in 144 deaths. This is 26 fewer fatal collisions and 34 fewer deaths than the same period last year, which represents a decrease of almost 20%. The average number of fatalities for 2015 to date stands at 13 deaths per month, compared with an average of 16 deaths per month in 2014. Should the reducing trend of 13 deaths per month continue for November and December, of which we are hopeful, the year would end with 156 fatalities, thus representing the safest year on record. It will bring Ireland back into line with the longer-term trend of decline observed since 2005. The death toll for 2014 was 193 deaths, compared with 188 deaths in 2013. The safest year was 2012, when we had 162 deaths.
As per the Road Safety Strategy 2013-2020, the target is to reduce deaths to 124 or fewer by 2020, which is equivalent to 25 deaths per million population. The lowest fatality rate, equating to 35 deaths per million, was achieved in 2012. Unfortunately, that figure rose 42 deaths per million for 2013 and 2014. In order to meet the target set for 2020, a 36% decline in fatalities is required between 2014 and 2020.
Reviewing the number of fatalities per month in 2015 to date, April was the safest month of the year, with eight deaths, which is a commendable figure, although unfortunate for the families who lost a loved one. April was the safest month since November 2012. Compared with 2014, most months had a lower number of fatalities and were safer in 2015. The only exception was July, which had 20 deaths compared with 18 deaths in July 2014, and September 2015, which had 15 deaths compared with 11 deaths last year. The summer of 2014 was a particularly dangerous period on our roads, but this danger period has not materialised to the same extent in 2015.
To date in 2015, 65 drivers and 24 passengers have lost their lives on Irish roads, compared with 75 drivers and 35 passengers over the same period in 2014. Overall, this represents 21 fewer vehicle occupant deaths compared with the same period last year. Sixteen of the 65 drivers, or 25% of those killed, and eight of the 24 passengers, or 33%, were confirmed not to have been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the collision. That finding is hard to believe.
Deaths among vulnerable road users, which include pedestrians, motorcyclists and pedal cyclists, represent almost half of all deaths on our roads so far this year. There has been an overall decline in deaths among vulnerable road users since last year. However, it is important to note that motorcyclists and pedal cyclists remain as high risk as last year, particularly around this time of year. The decline noted among pedestrians must be viewed in the context of the move to this time of year. Pedestrians walking during the hours of darkness must be careful and pay heed to the risk involved. To date in 2015, there has also been a significant decline in the number of deaths among children under 15 years, which is welcome.
I shall list the interventions that I believe have contributed to the overall decline observed to date in 2015. The RSA held its international conference on child safety earlier this year following a bad year last year. The transfer of the Go Slow campaign, carried out by the RSA and the Garda Síochána, to the high-risk period of summer proved particularly effective. We also had a high-profile launch of the RSA's fatality review in July. As Mr. Twomey mentioned, there were a number of legal interventions and increases in penalty points for specific offences in August 2014, which has had an impact. Road safety has featured heavily in media reporting in second half of 2015. Regardless of what the story is, we need to keep road safety front and centre in the public's awareness. We have had a number of very high-profile RSA public awareness campaigns and advertisements.
An analysis of the profile of road users killed shows that the following areas of intervention remain critical if the reduction in fatalities is to be sustained in 2016. We must highlight the role of alcohol as a contributory factor in serious and fatal collisions; highlight motorcyclist safety, especially in summer months and with reference to speed control; promote the wearing of high-visibility clothing by pedestrians; promote safe behaviours by young and older drivers, particularly young male drivers; convey the importance of wearing seatbelts, because there has been an incredibly high rate of deaths among vehicle occupants caused by not wearing a seatbelt, in some cases in relatively minor collisions; and continue to reduce the incidence of unaccompanied driving by learner drivers. RSA figures show that unaccompanied learner drivers are involved in five times more fatal collisions than accompanied learner drivers.
Finally, I must ask drivers, as we approach this festive season, not to drink and drive and wreak havoc on families and communities this Christmas. We have seen that happen so often in recent times with the Treacy family and Christina Donnelly also. I also appeal to passengers in cars to step up and take responsibility to ensure that their friends, partners or spouses do not drive when they have taken a drink. There is a collective responsibility when it comes to drink driving.
I thank Mr. Twomey and Ms Murdock for their opening presentations, particularly for the facts and clarifications. Ms Murdock was correct when she said that there had been misinterpretations. It was as a result of that that we discussed the matter here and decided to invite the witnesses to come before the committee. It is good to give them an opportunity to clarify matters. It is great to see that the trend in fatalities is going in the right direction again. We were all worried because the number seemed to be moving upwards for the past couple of years. I say "Well done" to all of the witnesses on the part that they play in this work. A couple of years ago the committee visited the headquarters of the RSA in Ballina, County Mayo. On that occasion we saw in detail what the RSA does and the way it analysis statistics, which is important. Another important aspect mentioned by both witnesses was the ambivalence that people have towards drinking and driving. There is a still a long way to go in tackling such a mindset, and nobody can be complacent. It is a lesson to us all, from the point of view of media reports and the way figures are sometimes interpreted, that it is important to get the correct facts, and we have them today.
I welcome both delegations and thank them for their helpful presentations. I wish to put this debate into context.
I was one of the people who initially proposed that the witnesses come before us. The statistics that were presented were really shocking to all of us and to society at large. I accept that the Courts Service has subsequently clarified the matter. Any time the Garda gets an opportunity to come before this committee it makes it into the media. It has been shown over a considerable period that greater media focus on drink driving, death and injury on the road, or any new legislation that is brought forward, has a knock-on effect on the conscious minds of all drivers. It is helpful in that regard.
A lot of the issues and concerns have been clarified in the intervening period or in the witnesses' presentations. My understanding is that there is a conviction rate of about 97% in the UK. We have a little way to go. I think we are at 85% to 87% this year. We are well on our way, but we have to try to get the next piece. It is the old story: the last 10% is always the hardest.
I was taken by what the deputy commissioner said about the new tool that was rolled out in November of this year. It will provide the Garda with much better data, and once that data is in place, maybe we can enact the legislation to go with it. Is there any general idea or breakdown of why cases are dismissed? Perhaps Mr. Twomey could come back to us if he does not have that information. We have all heard anecdotally that summonses are poorly prepared or there is some other issue and the cases fall between the cracks. If the reasons can be identified more clearly, we have a better chance of pushing the conviction rate higher.
I compliment Ms Murdock on her continued efforts. We try to operate in a bipartisan way in this House, as we all share the same desire to surpass the RSA's targets as set out in its strategy. However, there is always a desire to try to do more than we can, faster than we can.
I do not want to get into the GoSafe issues, as we have covered them with the Garda before. Apart from those issues, there is a whole series of cases caught in a quagmire. It was reported in today's paper that individuals have been able to avoid conviction as a result of documents not being produced in Irish. Has Ms Murdock any comments? Is her organisation in a position to go through the statute with a fine toothcomb in order to flag any future potential loopholes that might emerge? Without doubt, when stuff like this happens, as politicians we have to accept our responsibility too. There are things that we all clearly missed in the drafting of the legislation or at the back end in its implementation.
Mr. John Twomey:
On the first point about data, the new Pulse release will certainly give us the answers to those questions and we will be able to provide the facts around that. It will also help us look at management. There are many steps along the way from the time of interception on the side of the road to the final conviction in court. The new process will enable us to monitor and address those issues. We will probably be able to provide more detailed facts in due course.
That is really helpful. The average citizen finds it virtually impossible to comprehend how, when the Garda has a sample that is clearly above the prescribed limit and an individual from whom the sample was taken, that individual could walk out of court, sit into his or her car and drive home. That is most difficult for those who have suffered at the hands or wheel of a drunk driver. We all have that shared responsibility. The Garda's information will be helpful to us in providing the laws that will stand the test of the courts.
Mr. John Twomey:
I would add that there is currently an appeal process taking place before the Supreme Court for some cases which are awaiting the Supreme Court decision. There may be other opportunities available at different stages.
While we are talking about compliance and enforcement, I would like to take the opportunity to say that those who drink and drive put everybody on the road at risk. It is an important message. Forums such as this committee allow us to raise the profile of this issue by highlighting the risks and increasing awareness, which is very important.
Ms Moyagh Murdock:
Going back to the Deputy's first point about the anomalies or gaps in the legislation, as the Deputy Commissioner mentioned, that case is under appeal with the Supreme Court. We would welcome that. It has been said multiple times that the road traffic legislation and offences under it are among the most challenged in the legal system. It is a citizen's right to make such a challenge. The length of time it takes for a case to go from detection right through to conviction can be very frustrating, with the number of adjournments and the like on each individual case. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has mentioned recently that the whole corpus of traffic Acts, which go back to 1961, will be reviewed and consolidated. It is very important that we do that. There is a new road traffic Bill practically every year and that leads to opportunities for people to challenge legislation when a new situation arises.
Where the Road Safety Authority comes into the prevention of road deaths is in raising awareness and undertaking promotional activity. We would rather not see anybody in court. We want to stop it before it gets to a court case. Unfortunately, too many of those who are appearing in court for drink driving offences are not doing so for the first time. They have probably been able to get away with certain behaviours and continue to drive when disqualified. They continue to engage in risky behaviour. We would like to prevent that. We want to see a societal and cultural change in people's attitudes. It is unacceptable now to drink and drive, but there still seems to be a societal acceptability with regard to driving when disqualified.
One of the initiatives we are hoping to introduce early next year is publication of the names of drivers who have been disqualified in a court of law. This should act as a deterrent to anyone who is contemplating doing something that will result in disqualification. Communities, society and employers will then put the pressure on individuals, which means we will not have to depend on wide-scale enforcement at every corner. It is a cultural thing which we need to change. When people are disqualified, that is it, and they need to stay off the road. The Road Safety Authority is looking at ways in which it can create that public awareness and knowledge for the future. That would act as a major deterrent to risky activity.
I thank the Garda and the RSA for their presentations. It is worrying that one person in ten has admitted to drink driving in the surveys that have been done. That is a massive number. I thought we had moved on as society. The attitude of the 62% who seem to think there is nothing wrong with drink driving is also shocking.
Sorry; that is what I meant. It is very worrying.
However, I am glad the conviction rate has been clarified, because everybody nearly had a heart attack when we heard it. It is approximately 80%, which is below the European average so we must increase that. We have been conveying the message as much as we can, but obviously it must be done more extensively. We must look at every angle. Undoubtedly, we have come a long way from the earlier years.
The witness did an analysis of what interventions would be critical, but there was no mention of the amount of drug driving and what statistics there are in that regard. I believe its incidence is probably greater than we realise in terms of accidents. We do not have figures for accidents, and it remains one of the issues on which it is very difficult to get figures. The testing has started, but are there any figures on that or is there any type of pattern in terms of how much that is affecting the figures?
The other issue is vehicle failure. The witness mentioned the NCT. Recent laws have introduced new rules and regulations in that regard. However, I have always been worried about vehicle failure and how it affects these figures. Some of the advertisements have been very good and graphic. The more graphic ones have a big impact. They are put on at the right time in spite of many children viewing, so some of them have had a very good impact.
With regard to school interventions both by the Garda and the RSA, is greater consideration being given to that and trying to get through to people at a younger age? If we do not do that, it will be difficult to achieve a change in these figures. That is the key to trying to get the figures down.
Finally, what resources are needed? From the Garda point of view, are there enough resources such as van and road checks? Has that led to a static situation, if the witnesses understand me? If there were more resources, would we get the figures down or the number of people caught and convicted increased? Is that a big issue?
Mr. John Twomey:
Regarding drug driving, we have an impairment testing facility available to us and that is being used at present. I do not have exact figures with me today. The new legislation proposes the introduction of screening devices, which will be testing equipment that we can use at the road side. That will come in with the new legislation and it certainly will streamline the process and enable more effective and efficient enforcement of the drug driving legislation. After the implementation of that legislation we will be able to give more information to the committee.
In the context of schools, we conduct a variety of schools programmes where we talk about public safety in general, and road safety is a key part of that. We accept and agree with the Deputy's suggestion that the earlier one gets to these younger people, the greater is the opportunity to influence their behaviour on the roads. Children are great at influencing parents and telling adults and parents what to do regarding seat belts. Certainly, we see that as a real opportunity and we do a huge amount of work on it. We also do much work with the Road Safety Authority in terms of ensuring there is a consistent message from all of the agencies involved. There is a close working relationship. There is plenty of communication and media being used to ensure we are talking at every opportunity about improving personal responsibility on the roads. Enforcement is one element of the approach to road safety but personal responsibility and ensuring people are aware of the risks and dangers in that regard are equally important. We put a great deal of time and effort into that, both through our schools programme directly and also working in partnership and collaboration with the Road Safety Authority.
The Deputy asked about resources. Our resources are currently approximately 738 but that is being reviewed in light of the ongoing recruitment. Every opportunity will be used to examine where we can improve. On the deployment and use of our resources. we conduct much detailed temporal analysis which gives us very good information in terms of the times of the day, the days of the week and the profile of the drivers and we use targeted interventions specifically focused on that information. That has contributed to the reduction in road fatalities this year and the fact that over the past few years, since the introduction of the Garda National Traffic Bureau in 2005, there has been a considerable reduction in the number of road fatalities. We continue to work in partnership and to attempt to avail of every opportunity possible, from both an enforcement and an educational perspective, and we will continue to do that.
Ms Moyagh Murdock:
On the Deputy's first question regarding drug driving and while it is still very early days, we have the findings from Professor Cusack of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety from a survey of the coroner's court in Kildare. The findings were that of the fatal collisions involving alcohol, 50% of those involved also had drugs in their system. It is a significant portion. Other than that, we do not have more detailed information at this point. However, we believe it is a major factor. Where somebody is drinking there is also a strong possibility that drugs are on the scene too.
I welcome the Deputy's comments on our advertisements. Our behaviour and attitudes surveys indicate that it is one of the most effective means of getting the message across. Our two most recent advertisements, "Don't look back", dealing with parents who get distracted by children in the back seat, and the one dealing with the anatomy of a split second, with the most recent one demonstrating the dangers of using one's mobile telephone, have been very successful.
Regarding school interventions and education, we fully agree that it is important to reach children early. We start in the maternity wards with our packs, so it is quite early. We also have our "Check it Fits" campaign throughout the country. That deals with a big issue, the importance of proper child restraints. Tragically, yesterday we heard the outcome of an inquest where a child restraint was inadequate. We cannot get the message across that four out of five child seats are not fitted correctly.
We have ten road safety educational officers who travel around all the schools in the country, both primary and secondary, to get the road safety message across. We have situational role play and different activities. We also conduct a major back-to-school campaign every year in which we distribute 80,000 high visibility vests in primary and secondary schools. We have a large amount of educational material available. In fact, we have just finished developing a new syllabus for a junior certificate course that we hope will be introduced, subject to the teachers and the educational boards adopting it. The syllabus is ready and it is an optional subject on road safety for the junior certificate. It is comprehensive and we believe that it will prove very effective in making young people aware of the importance of road safety. It deals not just with road safety but also with the physics and mathematics of road collisions.
My colleague, Ms Denise Barry, can comment on the importance of vehicle testing and the NCT.
Ms Denise Barry:
With regard to vehicle failure, the national car test and commercial vehicle test, which are conducted periodically, are very important road safety preventative measures. They are conducted once every four years or two years, or once a year for a commercial vehicle. As the assistant commissioner said, the owners, users and drivers of these vehicles have responsibility to ensure they are in good condition for the rest of the time.
As regards the national car test, the Minister introduced fixed penalties in August 2014 and there was a great deal of pressure on the NCT as a result. It mainly came from people whose tests were overdue and who were seeking a test very quickly.
As a result, the number of people who are overdue a test has decreased from 330,000 late last year to 130,000 this year.
In regard to commercial vehicles, we have reformed the commercial vehicle testing system and the number of tests being conducted since 2012 has increased by 28%. We expect 600,000 commercial vehicle tests to be conducted this year. We have also introduced maintenance obligations and our enforcement officers now go out to inspect premises to ensure commercial vehicle operators and owners implement proper maintenance regulations, do walk-around checks on vehicles and have defect rectification systems in place. In regard to the NCT, it is the responsibility of every private vehicle owner to ensure his or her vehicle is in good condition. Checking vehicles is very important for both private and commercial vehicles, particularly in regard to tyres.
It is important tyres are of a good standard as they are the main part of the car in contact with roads. There is a concern in respect of tyres and we are considering doing work to ensure car owners are aware of the condition of their vehicles and tyres so that they know when having their cars serviced or buying tyres that they meet the minimum requirements. They should also be sure they are getting value for money when buying part worn tyres because these might only have a certain thread left and may not last as long. The Department is also working on putting in place fixed penalties for vehicle defects because while owners have responsibility for maintenance, we need to be able to support the Garda in enforcing this. Fixed penalties have proved to be effective and we are seeking these.
I welcome the members of the Garda and the Road Safety Authority to the meeting. I wish to comment on the issue of tyres. I know from recent debate in the Dáil that there has been significant discussion with independent retailers and wholesalers. I am sure I am not the only person who would not have a clue about the quality of tyres. Instead, I trust implicitly the person from whom I buy my tyres. This trust has built up over years of dealing with the same person and, touch wood, nothing bad has happened. There is a major issue in regard to buying second-hand tyres. I was not aware that there is a difference between winter tyres and warm weather tyres. Perhaps some people would find that startling but I am sure I am representative of many drivers who feel that when they go to buy tyres, the person fitting the tyres will look after them. However, there is work to be done in that regard.
I feel strongly also about the other issue raised. As a recent and first-time parent, I have become aware that anybody who has to go and buy a child car seat is absolutely bamboozled by the variety of such seats available. I know from speaking to many young parents that cost is one of the main factors in determining what car seat they buy. I would encourage the RSA to do something on this issue, because each variety of seat is fitted differently and it is unlikely that a seat from one car will fit the base of the seat in another car. We talk about the European Parliament introducing a directive to provide for a universal adaptor for a mobile phone but we do not have similar provisions in respect of car seats.
I have a question for both the Garda and the RSA on the issue of speed detection and the number of summonses not being served on people in regard to penalty points. In the first three months of the year, approximately 5,000 fixed notices were not being served for one reason or another. Can we have an update on the position now? Another issue I have raised previously concerns the location of speed detection vans and I have been approached by members of the public regarding these being located on private property, in gateways and on private property off the sides of roads, like some sort of attempt to shoot fish in a barrel. I have come across an example of this on the route to Kerry. As one enters Abbeyfeale on the N21, a wide stretch of road with a 60 km/h speed limit, the speed van is there morning, noon and night. To be honest, it is there purely as a revenue-generating exercise. This sort of practice annoys people, that they see speed detection vans in locations that are not synonymous with fatalities but in locations where revenue can be generated. What is the Garda and RSA response to that?
Another issue I have raised previously is that of ludicrous speed limits. There are parts of the road from Abbeyfeale to Killarney and on to the Ring of Kerry that are too narrow for cars to overtake and in places it is barely wide enough for one car, yet the speed limit is 100 km. This is bonkers. Some of our speed limits are not in keeping with safety. On the flip side, some dual carriageways across the country have 80 km/h limits and speed detection vans on them raking in revenue. I understand there is a road safety issue in regard to speed, but there is frustration among the public that the measures introduced to save lives in regard to speed are now seen as just a revenue-generating exercise.
Mr. John Twomey:
I will begin with the final question regarding speed vans and their locations. The GoSafe vans are deployed solely in areas where road fatalities have occurred. These locations are based on an analysis of five years of fatal and serious accident data. A review has been conducted and some of the locations have been changed. This process is ongoing and because of increased compliance, improvements in road safety and a reduction in fatalities and serious injuries in certain areas, locations have changed. These particular areas were responsible for approximately 30% of all of our fatalities, but as a consequence of the introduction of the GoSafe vans, additional enforcement hours and the additional capacity this provided to An Garda Síochána, this percentage has now reduced to 16%. Therefore, there has been a considerable decrease in the number of road fatalities and serious injuries in these areas.
This is an ongoing process and we continue to monitor the zones to ensure that the original basis for deciding on the locations is valid. We will take on board the observations made by Deputy O'Donovan in regard to the road he mentioned and perhaps we will come back to the committee on that issue. I assure the committee that the GoSafe vans and deployment of speed detection equipment is decided upon on the basis of road fatalities and serious injuries and on the analysis of five years of data and there has been a considerable reduction in fatalities and serious injuries in these areas.
In regard to the speed limits, a new group has been set up to review limits around the country. This work is ongoing and areas such as the one mentioned by the Deputy will be considered as part of that review.
On the issue of the summonses, this is a challenging and complex issue. The matter is ongoing and the Garda Commissioner has spoken to this and other committees on the issue. A working group is examining the issue and it has introduced a number of recommendations for both the medium and longer term to try to address the issue. We deal with in excess of 300,000 summonses every year and the issue of serving these is a challenge that is being considered in detail. There has been an increase in the number of summonses served over the past 12 months, which was a target set out by us. The issue is ongoing and we monitor it closely and are addressing it. We continue to work to improve our figures in that regard.
Ms Moyagh Murdock:
I will go back to the point made regarding tyres. I appreciate that the Deputy said he does not know anything about tyres but this is a subject that is beginning to become more prominent for consumers.
Let me give an example, a new tyre has 8 mm of tyre thread, whereas we see part worn or second hand tyres being sold with 3 mm of tyre thread. The minimum standard is 1.6 mm. The average tyre costs €80, which equates to €12.50 per mm of tyre thread. One will pay €30 for a second hand tyre, which seems like good value but the cost is €21 per mm. One will change that part worn tyre three times before one need to change a new tyre. In simple maths, one is paying a lower price but not getting the value. It is highly suspect where such tyres come from and they are a serious road risk.
We have very good information pamphlets on the tyres, which the standards enforcement section of RSA have developed. We are working very closely with the tyre industry to get that message out. The Society of the Irish Motor Industry, SIMI, will work with us to try to raise awareness about the risks associated with the depth of tyre threads not to mention the environmental issues in regard to them. We have a concern about where the tyres come from and where they will be disposed of and we will be focusing on that in the future.
In regard to the setting of speed limits, we have seen the introduction of the new road signs on rural roads. That obviously only covers 2,000 km of roads. We cannot keep emphasising enough that speed signs are not a target but a limit and people need to drive at the appropriate speed. The Road Safety Authority does not set the speed limits. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has issued a very comprehensive guidelines book to all local authorities in tandem with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, formerly the National Roads Authority, setting out the guidelines on how to set speed limits. We work with the Department and are on the speed limit review committee to feed back information on the role the Road Safety Authority plays in communicating and promoting awareness of new speed limits and driving at the appropriate speed. I would like to reiterate Deputy Twomey's comments on the benefit of the speed vans and by the Road Safety Authority's estimate on the number of lives saved. Approximately 27 lives would have been saved since their introduction. Even if it is only one or two lives, it makes a difference. It has been proven to be beneficial.
Ms Moyagh Murdock:
So far this year we have conducted more than 6,000 road shows. We have a shuttle service that we send out around all shopping centres and areas of high footfall. We go through a very comprehensive demonstration on how to fit the car seat and to bring to the attention of parents, that it is not just a matter of switching a car seat from one vehicle to the other vehicle. We are also working with the suppliers of all the car seats and to the best of my knowledge 100% of the retailers who supply car seats provide a fitting service for parents. Obviously one would want to buy from reputable outlets because they are very committed to doing that for us. We have a booklet and CDs on it as well. We have it on our website and we can provide information for anybody who needs it. We just cannot get that message out to the public.
I welcome our visitors. Like Deputy O'Donovan, I too was otherwise engaged earlier.
Previously, when the then Minister Deputy Varadkar appeared before the joint committee, we discussed the issue of carrying the driving licence when driving. The advice was that a constitutional right would be infringed if there was a requirement to carry a driving licence when driving. That escapes me, as the driving licence is the size of a credit card. There is no requirement also to bring the driving licence to court, which is a handy way out of having penalty points attached to the licence. Has there been progress on either of those fronts? Should we as legislators look for it the next time we bring forward legislation on road safety?
Mr. Declan Naughton:
On the driving licence, there is a requirement to carry the driving licence when one is in one's vehicle. More broadly, and we said this earlier, the Minister has said that he wants to look at the generality of road safety legislation, because the large corpus of the legislation goes back to 1961, and it needs to be looked at in the round in terms of its efficiency in keeping people safe on our roads.
On the question of the need to bring the driving licence to court, there is an obligation to bring the licence to court. There were some high profile cases and challenges to it of late. I understand that following those cases a review of the process is being undertaken. The Garda, the Department and the Courts Service are all involved to see what had happened in those cases and consider how we can ensure the legislation is honoured in reality.
There is a mixture of despair and cynicism as a result of a driving offence case being dropped because the person had not been informed in the Irish language, even though one might not be an Irish speaker. We must tighten the law because as has been said earlier one of the major sources of income for the Irish legal profession is looking at the rights of people to behave in that way, ignoring the rights of 160 or 180 people who have been killed and thousands injured. It is a very strange view of human rights, but it seems to be a view in the Irish legal profession. We must tackle it with stricter laws. I will certainly support any such legislation to deal with it in the Seanad.
On the question of road design, some of the ramps to the M50 have speed limits as low as 30 km/h which then join a stream of traffic with a speed limit of 120 km/h. Where one joins the M50 from the M4, one is travelling uphill, so trying to increase speed from 30 km/h to join a traffic stream doing up to 120 km/h is a safety hazard. I think that presents significant problems. Does the RSA have ideas on what road engineers will do?
Ms Moyagh Murdock:
As I said earlier, the setting of the speed limits is an exercise undertaken by the road engineers in the transport section of TII and the local authorities. A major consideration when they set out the initial road design is how the integrate this traffic into mainstream traffic. I trust they have done their homework in that regard. Obviously the Road Safety Authority compiles information on any serious or fatal collision and minor collisions and digitises it on its own system. That information is all fed back as part of the review exercise of speed limits in the future. That is an issue for the TII and local authorities.
Chairman, this presents problems and I could name dual carriageways, that are almost up to motorway standards with a 60 km/h limit. That brings the issue of speed limits into discredit because motorists cannot understand a speed limit of 80 km/h on small roads when the speed limit on a dual carriageways, almost built to motorway standard, was recently reduced to 60 km/h with no explanation. Perhaps the TII could issue a press release saying that it might seem safe to the driver, but for the factors outlined the speed limit is being reduced. I understand the committee on speed limits has been sitting for years but has it accomplished anything? Certainly the broadcaster, Pat Kenny has things to say about some of the examples of speed limits he has found. Could the procedure be more open? It is very difficult to enforce limits for which there does not seem to be any reason or where the reasons have not been explained to people.
I apologise for not being present earlier but I was attending Question Time in the Dáil. I wish to raise the requirement for a driver to carry his driving licence when driving a vehicle.
This is a problem I have had myself, as have others like me. A person may jump into a van and leave their licence in the van, forgetting to take it if they go on to a machine or a tractor.
Could a measure be brought in so that a person could have a clear copy of their licence in each vehicle if need be?
The driver certificate of professional competence is held over a five-year period and people are supposed to do one a year. Some people do not get to one a year and they could do two the next year, but they have to write in letters and give excuses as to why they could not do it. We need to be more flexible on it.
A major problem I have is where people who are seeking the likes of trailer licences have not attended school for years and may have little received education. They are often petrified of driving a van through towns. There are people who will go to college and there are those who will be good with their hands. Why have we not looked at a system, such as Mondello Park, where questions can be asked as to what particular signs are for and what they will be more comfortable undertaking, such as an apprenticeship or going to college?
There is a raft of legislation to be introduced in the new year dealing with trailers and machinery but there has been insufficient consultation. At the moment, from what I understand, a tractor that goes to a mart more than 30 miles away is supposed to have a tachograph on it. There is a bit of lunacy in some of the rules that are coming in. From my place to Tuam is 34 miles and I am supposed to put in a tachograph to bring my cattle to the mart. The group that represents the contractors has brought this to my notice. We need to have a bit of common sense about what we are doing.
On the question of speeding, there are people who make a living as sales reps or whatever and are on the road every day. They will get caught. There is no point in saying someone is one or two miles or kilometres over the speed limit. If a person is on the road day in, day out, they are at much greater risk. Could there not be a system for people who are only a few kilometres over the limit so that they could pay some sort of a fine-----
Yes, graduated fines. After the third time there could be a slap on the wrist and the penalty points could be applied, but before that it should be a monetary type of penalty.
I will conclude on that note. I thank Mr. Naughton for what was done in Athlone. It was very efficient.
I will. I compliment the Garda on the significant reduction in the number of road fatalities since 2002. Unfortunately, we have had a few fatalities since the statistic was given to us.
On the question of tyres, I know a lady who went to get a puncture fixed only last week and she ended up having to replace all four tyres. She did not realise how bad they were. We should encourage a programme of educating people to have their tyres checked, particularly at this time of year.
I forgot to make this point. If a person is driving with a wagon in England, if the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, VOSA, goes through their vehicle and sees a crack in a leaf spring the driver will be given a piece of paper saying that it has to be repaired in 14 days. In Ireland, it is a low loader. We have to think of businesses as well. We must engage common sense in what we are doing. Are we looking at what VOSA does in England?
I thank both of you. I apologise for rushing at the end. It has been a very informative meeting and it has clarified many issues and facts where different ideas were in circulation with the media. I thank both of you for the work you are doing to reduce fatalities on the road and increase convictions. As members, we join with you in that and wish you well on it. The best Christmas present that every family in Ireland could have is a safe Christmas. Hopefully that will happen, with the public and all of you working for it.