Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 27 November 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
Personal Powered Transportation: Discussion
I thank Deputy Rock for asking for this matter to discussed at the committee with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Road Safety Authority.
It is important that we are going to have this discussion. I remind everybody to turn off their phones. From the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, I welcome Mr. Ray O'Leary, Ms Mary Lally and Ms Lorraine Maher. From the Road Safety Authority, I welcome Ms Moyagh Murdock, CEO, Ms Sharon Heffernan and Mr. Aidan McGinty. There is a Drogheda man down the back, Mr. Brian Farrell of the Road Safety Authority. I am sure he will not mind me mentioning him because I sat beside his father in school for a number of years. The late Peter Farrell was a good friend of mine. I am sorry, it was his uncle Peter. Peter and I were very good at doing Latin together. We used to be most efficient.
I draw the attention of witnesses 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 they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They 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.
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 outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite the officials from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to make their opening statement.
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
I thank the Chairman, Deputies and Senators for the invitation to attend today’s meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. As we initially noted when the committee issued its invitation, we are not yet in a position, as requested, to discuss the specifics of proposed legislation to deal with the emergence of personal powered transporters, PPTs, as no such legislation is proposed at this time. However, insofar as we can assist the committee to develop its understanding and appreciation of the issues which developments in this area raise, we welcome the opportunity to engage with the members. It is, I may say, an important and positive development to see the committee take such a forward-looking approach to its work.
The use of devices such as e-scooters, Segways, electric skateboards, powered mini-scooters, electric unicycles and non-pedal assisted electric bicycles on the streets and roads of cities has become more common across the world in the past few years. These various devices are often collectively classified as powered personal transporters. Because many such vehicles are not easily defined in law, their regulation, particularly in terms of safe usage on public roads and other public places where they interact with other modes of transport, varies considerably from country to country and indeed, in federal jurisdictions, within countries. The notable upsurge in the number of e-scooters used in many of the main cities in Europe and the US has focused recent discussions regarding their numbers, collisions, how and where they can be used and by whom, and the criteria in respect of the vehicles themselves. There have been particular concerns where private operators have started to offer these items for hire on the side of the street by means of mobile phone apps, without having any regard to the regulatory or physical environment in which they are doing so, but not only in such circumstances. This upsurge has been driven by new private firms, typically owned by venture capital and other private equity funds, and by a rapid increase in the production of the items by manufacturers primarily based in China. A number of main cities have moved to introduced controls to restrict their numbers and to control and even license their use. In some cases, cities have moved to ban their use, either for hire or more generally, because of the adverse impact experienced and risks associated.
In this country, section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 classifies such vehicles as mechanically propelled vehicles, MPVs. Mechanically propelled vehicles cannot be driven on public roads or in public places without the appropriate driving licence, tax and insurance. Due to the multiplicity of forms of PPTs and lack of established standards, they do not fall within the categories which we currently use for such purposes. It is therefore not permissible to tax or insure them and no category of our EU-based driving licence covers their use. Therefore, despite some opinions expressed to the contrary, there is no legal grey area and they are not considered eligible for use on a public road or in a public place. Such an approach is also that of a number of other countries, including our neighbours in the United Kingdom.
E-scooters and other forms of PPTs are treated differently in other countries. In the UK, they fall under the definition of a motor vehicle, similar to our MPV, and their use is still illegal on all UK roads, cycle lanes and pavements, although they may be used on private property. Riders found using them in a public place are subject to a £300 fine and six points on their driving licence should they hold one. Germany has recently taken a different approach. There they are classified as personal light electric vehicles. I am afraid I do not know the German for that. These have recently been provided for by the personal light electric vehicles regulations, introduced on 6 June 2019, which legalised their use. Users must be aged 14 or over and vehicles must be registered and insured. There are stringent testing procedures and conditions regarding their use. Much of this reflects the broad civil law environment where, as a lecturer told me many years ago, anything that is not specifically permitted is forbidden. Everything is very tightly regulated in these environments.
Arising from public discussion on the question of providing for legislation to deal with the emergence of PPTs on our roads and footpaths, the Minister, Deputy Ross, requested the Road Safety Authority, RSA, to conduct research into the use of e-scooters in other countries, taking account of the implications for the interaction of such vehicles with other vulnerable road users along with other normal vehicular traffic. The RSA commissioned Transport Research Laboratories, TRL, of the UK to carry out this research on its behalf. TRL recommended that if the Minister were minded to provide for their use, the use of such vehicles could be allowed in certain circumstances, with controlled and considered roll-out to mitigate against potential negative safety implications. The RSA also recommends that a restrictive approach be taken when regulating the use of such vehicles. I will not recap the details because the RSA will be touching on them in its opening statement. The RSA also stressed that the suitability of our infrastructure is a critical factor in considering whether to allow the use of these vehicles.
A number of the recommendations in the RSA report raise fairly fundamental legislative and other legal and indeed practical issues. Clearly, the additional administration required for licensing and so on would have to be funded, presumably by those who wish to avail of these vehicles. The question then arises as to where such regulation properly should lie - the report refers to both local and national regulation - and of course as to whether any such regulation can be effectively enforced, if at all. There are other key resource questions to be considered. These include the implications in terms of additional infrastructure and its cost, and most of all there are a number of opportunity costs to be considered. These include the potential loss of road space for other sustainable modes, such as public transport, walking and cycling, which are already highly competitive modes in urban areas. Some Deputies from the Dublin area would, I imagine, note how contentious issues around road space have proved in regard to recent plans for public transport. Other opportunity costs are the potential diversion of Garda resources to enforce these vehicles from wider enforcement of the law; and of course the general question of which sectors would lose out if additional funding is required.
These issues are to some extent reflected in the views of the National Transport Authority, NTA, which had a look at the issue of e-scooters some time back and took the view that they should not be allowed on our roads. That view was reached following consideration of a number of key issues, including the question of how the top speed is to be enforced as there are a number of options available to upgrade the vehicle’s software that will increase the top speed to nearly 80 km/h or 50 miles per hour for those of us who were taught in what one of my teachers called Christian units. Other key issues include the suitability of their operation after dark, as the position of lights, particularly the rear lights, on existing models can be too low to be effectively seen by other vehicles sharing the road space; as well as the question of whether the onus will shift to road authorities to provide road surfaces suitable for tiny wheels as such an engineering requirement does not exist at present. The NTA national cycle manual gives advice for road and street design based on the normal and expected road behaviour of existing road users and does not take account of e-scooters and so on. This goes back to the issue of conflicting modes.
Our understanding is that these first came to be used by adults in the context of private firm and university campus environments in the west of the US where, very often, the standard of road surface is very high. How will claims for compensation following accidents due to road surfaces, not to mind incidents involving other road users, be dealt with? Given the size of the wheels on these vehicles, the speed at which they can travel and how prone they can be to imperfections in the road surface, including drains, their use could increase the number of claims taken against local authorities, which ultimately will reduce the resources available for road maintenance and improvement. This is significant given the challenging budgetary situations faced by many local authorities. These are valid concerns and must be taken into consideration when making decisions about legislating for or regulating these vehicles. It is not a simple or straightforward matter of just legislating for them. There are many factors to be considered and road safety is of paramount importance.
At an EU level, anecdotal evidence on the high number of accidents is hardening, with many member states calling for technical harmonisation to improve the quality of the vehicles themselves. As a consequence and recognising that the RSA and TRL, along with most researchers in this area, encountered significant difficulties in carrying out research due to a lack of robust evidence being available at this time, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport initiated a public consultation process which asked whether their use should be legalised. The consultation process sought to investigate from a purely Irish perspective the conditions under which e-scooters and their like might be legislated for in this country, as well as the fundamental question as to whether the public interest, in terms of resources, public safety and sustainability would be served by legalising them. The consultation concluded on 1 November and in excess of 500 submissions have been received. The Department is currently examining those submissions with a view to submitting a comprehensive report to the Minister in early 2020 at the latest, at which time a decision will be made as to whether to amend existing legislation and if so, to what extent it should be amended.
I am happy to answer any questions members may have but I will not claim to have hard answers, as noted in my statement. This is an area in which sound, research based evidence is limited and we must rely on our best analysis of the facts that we do have. I thank members for their attention.
We all have black markers but I appreciate that having to use one 500 times is not easy. That said, people only write their name once so we are talking about blacking out 500 names and addresses. I say that respectfully. I wish to raise one other small point. It relates to an item of correspondence, an email from the private secretary to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport notifying the committee that officials from the Department are available to attend should the joint committee hold a meeting to engage in pre-legislative scrutiny of the toad traffic (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. While the committee would welcome engagement with departmental officials, it is our view that the Minister should also attend such a meeting because the issue is so important. I am sure members will agree with me on that point. While the email does not say that the Minister will not attend, we should make it clear that we believe he must. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I now invite Ms Murdock from the RSA to make her statement.
Ms Moyagh Murdock:
I thank the Chairman and members for the invitation to address this meeting on the issue of e-scooters. I am accompanied by Ms Sharon Heffernan, senior researcher and Mr. Aidan McGinty, the RSA's vehicle standards engineer who is fast becoming the subject matter expert in the area of micromobility and e-scooters.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport requested the RSA to research how e-scooters and other such vehicles are regulated in other countries, particularly in other EU member states. A report was submitted by the RSA to the Department for the Minister's consideration. I will summarise that report including the recommendations made by the RSA at that time. I have also included some information on recent studies, events and publications for the committee's information.
In January 2019, the RSA commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory, TRL, a world leader in transport innovation and research, to review current practice and the safety implications of powered transporters. Powered transporters were defined as a variety of novel personal transport devices which are mechanically propelled, that is, propelled by a motor, as well as or instead of being manually propelled. These include devices such as electric scooters, commonly known as e-scooters, segways, hoverboards and powered unicycles. The aim of this work was to inform considerations for future policy and regulatory framework updates by the RSA regarding the operation of powered transporters in Ireland. To achieve this, TRL adopted a two-pronged approach, first completing a literature review and then a series of international case studies.
Following a stringent search and selection process, 45 items of literature relating to powered transporters were reviewed. Although there was a noted lack of robust evidence available for review, the findings of the literature review indicated that policy and legislation should be developed to encourage the use of personal protective equipment such as helmets, when using powered transporters. This could be completed via a targeted public awareness campaign and by placing responsibility with the powered transporter providers to promote safety. It also indicated that training be undertaken by operators of powered transporters prior to their use in public, the specification of safety standards for powered transporters, for example, weight or size restrictions, minimum lighting and conspicuity standards, which could possibly be enforced through a type-approval system or certification process, as well as the specification of user requirements such as age limits, licence conditions and how and where the different devices can be used, for example footpaths, cycle paths or roads, and the rules for each of these.
It is important to note, however, that there is currently little evidence on which to base these proposed standards and requirements. Although direct evidence is lacking, it was clear from the literature reviewed that these devices have potential benefits for active transport, reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that e-scooter-related injuries increase with greater e-scooter use. It was also noted that regardless of legislation and enforcement in relation to powered transporters, in most countries there has been increased uptake by users and as such, an outright ban would not be practical to enforce.
Eleven countries were investigated for the case study portion of this report, including Ireland, the UK, the US, Germany, France, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Israel. Summaries were produced for each country in terms of current powered transporter-related legislation, if any, safety standards and policy recommendations, restrictions on usage including minimum age requirements, restrictions to certain roads and the next steps in those jurisdictions. The findings of these case studies highlighted the difficulties being faced by regulators, policy makers and the public in respect of these devices. In particular, there is a lack of consistency in how different types of powered transporters are being defined and named. The same make and model of a device can have different names in different countries.
This kind of technology is developing at a rapid pace, such that some countries have had to take a reactive approach when developing and revising policy and legislation as usage and the legislative context changes.
On the Road Safety Authority's recommendations, in light of the findings of the report, recommendations were made to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to guide the Minister if he was of a mind to legislate for the introduction of such devices. The overall recommendation is that a restrictive approach be taken in terms of regulating for these devices in Ireland in the interest of road safety. Specifically, this means applying restrictions to the devices themselves, the operators who provide these, such as the names with which we are familiar already in other jurisdictions, the roads on which they can be used and the age of user.
Specifically, we recommended that consideration be given to the following items. Electric personal mobility devices, including e-scooters, should be defined in legislation and, as such, any such definition should be sufficiently broad to be future-proof and to take account of legislation and the pace of development in this area of technology. Consideration could be given to revising the classification of a mechanically propelled vehicle, MPV, or the creation of a new category of electric MPV, an eMPV. Devices permitted on Irish roads should adhere to minimum safety standards, for example, a maximum speed of 20 km/h. In addition, design features for devices permitted on Irish roads should prioritise safety features such as brakes, lighting and audible warning mechanisms. A review of the draft EU standard, CEN, could be considered in this context. Some jurisdictions allow such devices on footpaths provided they do not exceed a speed of 6 km/h. However, from a practical perspective this would be very difficult to enforce, therefore, because of the risk these devices would pose to pedestrians if travelling at higher speeds, the recommendation is that they should not be used on footpaths.
There is merit also on safety grounds to limit their use to roads with a speed limit of 50 km/h or less. Ideally, they should not be allowed travel outside 30 km/h zones. They could be used in cycle lanes, where available. A system should be put in place whereby device operators must seek a permit for leasing these devices, either from a national authority or a local authority. They must adhere to certain guidelines, for example, the safety features of devices and the parking of devices while not in use. These proposals need to consider congestion and street littering for the granting of a permit. Each local authority should oversee compliance with these guidelines and mandate training as part of the permit approval process. They could also limit the number of permits to ensure an over-proliferation of these devices does not occur because we cannot underestimate the volume of them in cities that have permitted them.
In some countries an age restriction applies to the user, depending on the power of the device. This is a pragmatic approach that should be considered, for example, a minimum age of 16 for use of a device with a maximum speed of 20 km/h. This does not include, however, making personal protection equipment, PPE, mandatory. Users should be encouraged to wear helmets and high visibility clothing, as per our recommendation for cyclists.
Rather than regulating for the use of these devices at national level, it may be appropriate for local authorities to pass by-laws to regulate for these as they also have powers to introduce by-laws in terms of speed zones, depending on the suitability of local infrastructure. Local authorities will need to give consideration to the future-proofing of infrastructure to account for the growth in popularity of these devices.
Overall, from a safety perspective, it is critical that Ireland’s infrastructure is fit for purpose to accommodate the safe use of these devices and that dedicated parking spaces are provided or adequate collection measures are implemented, such as the city bikes systems, to avoid a proliferation of hazards on pavements or roads and cycle lanes. The Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016 - 2035 calls out the inadequacy of the current infrastructure in section 3.2. Consideration must be given by transport planners to ensure the current infrastructure is enhanced for all vulnerable road users and capable of accommodating electronic personal mobility devices.
Finally, legislation will need to be considered to give An Garda Síochána the necessary powers to enforce the safe and legal use of electric personal mobility devices, and any legislation will have to be enforceable.
With regard to personal transporters and casualties, from a safety perspective it is widely acknowledged, both nationally and internationally, that there is a lack of data in this area on collisions and injuries resulting from the use of powered transporters. This is typically due to the difficulties in classifying the various powered transporter devices when they are captured in national collision data. Definitive statistical information on safety and also mobility patterns, for example, modal shift and the proportion of modes that are being displaced by powered transporter trips, are needed to further inform policy and legislation regarding powered transporter use. A series of studies referenced in the Transport Research Laboratory, TRL, report on electric personal mobility devices provides snapshots of injury rates from powered transporters. For example, Kim et al.in 2018 reported that 65 patients were admitted to hospital in Korea between January 2016 to December 2017, while Do et al. in 2016 reported on 35 cases in the Canadian hospitals injury reporting system. That was between 2015 and 2016.
There are other recent publications and events. There was a micromobility conference in Ljubljana, in October. A recent European Commission conference highlighted the need for renewed planning to ensure road safety as the popularity of these devices continues to grow. Among the topics the conference participants discussed was the need to integrate micromobility solutions into public transport, such that they can be complementary to one another rather than replacing or displacing it. Tailored infrastructure to accommodate this will likely be needed, which may be city or jurisdiction-specific.
The need for a minimum technical standard for powered transporters was also discussed, as was the recommendation that different modes of transport be kept separate to minimise potentially dangerous interactions with other road users. It was suggested that over-regulation be avoided but that a common regulatory framework must be drafted which addresses safety aspects such as speed limitations, guidance for parking, minimum age requirements and technical requirements.
The European Transport Safety Council, ETSC, PIN Flash report 37, Safer Roads, Safer Cities: how to improve urban road safety in the EU, was published in June 2019. It examined how best to reduce road traffic collisions that occur on urban roads, the majority of which involve vulnerable road users. It focuses in part on the safety challenges facing cities and towns across Europe in light of the rapidly changing means that people are using to travel in urban environments. The need for tailored infrastructure, education and awareness campaigns, and national legislation and city-level regulations to accommodate growing use of shared and personal powered transporters, is highlighted, as is the unfortunate lack of data to further inform policy and legislation regarding their usage. Given the often restricted space in urban areas for travel, this must be used efficiently to ensure road users are not put at increased risk.
Key recommendations regarding the use of powered transporters, particularly e-scooters, included that traffic regulations on space sharing be defined, for example, whether e-scooters should travel on the pavement, cycle paths or on the roads with motorised traffic, that e-scooter collision data are collected, and that further research on the road safety implications of powered transporters be conducted.
A report by the International Transport Forum, ITF, in August 2019 considers how new, app-based mobility services, including car-sharing, bike-sharing and e-scooter sharing services, can be effectively regulated to ensure innovative forms of urban mobility deliver their full benefits for society while ensuring the safety of road users. Based on an ITF round table discussion, this report discusses the various benefits, including cheaper, more comfortable and timely transport options and risks, including safety and security concerns and cluttering public spaces with bicycles, e-scooters and associated vehicles with app-based mobility services. Among a series of recommendations, the authors propose that the broader urban policy environment is taken into account when designing regulations for app-based mobility services. Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, reducing congestion, improving air quality and enhancing mobility particularly through the promotion of active travel are of substantial societal benefit and regulatory design for mobility services should account for such factors. In line with this, it is recommended that suitable infrastructure is invested in to ensure these benefits are maximised while reducing road user risk.
I thank our guests for coming in today. This is an important issue of discussion. It is future-focused and relates to something we see happening right now on our roads, particularly in our cities. This exists and is real. There are many hundreds of e-vehicles, if not thousands, on our roads and it is therefore good that we have a proactive, rather than reactive, approach because it is clear these devices are in use and, therefore, giving them a safe framework within which they should work is a useful exercise.
It is obviously something I am interested in seeing happen and that is why I proposed to the committee that we have this discussion today. As Ms Murdock said, we can iterate on the experiences of other countries. Having a head-in-the-sand approach is not beneficial to anybody and we need to put legislation in place.
As I said, these vehicles exist and have environmental benefits. They have benefits for public transport and can enhance catchment areas. We have metros and BusConnects planned and catchment areas can be widened by allowing a service user to complete the first mile to get to the public transport, or the last mile to get from the public transport to their place of work or wherever they wish to go, on an e-scooter or e-bicycle.
My first question is fun and is directed at everybody. Have any of our guests ever used an electric scooter? Mr. McGinty has. How did he find it?
That is good. That is ticking the legal check box, just in case there are gardaí at the gates. E-scooters are obviously legal in private spaces and I understand that business and university campuses are considering trialling them. My own local university, Dublin City University, will be commencing a trial of them in the coming weeks. That is, of course, perfectly legal because they will not be on public roads and, with technology, one can do interesting and exciting things like geo-fencing them whereby one would be unable to take them off the campus even if one so wished. We await the beginning of that trial with interest.
It is probably more appropriate that Deputy MacSharry asks this, but Mr. O'Leary said in his opening remarks that there is no legislation in this area. There is, of course, a Fianna Fáil Private Members' Bill on the matter. Is Mr. O'Leary familiar with that?
I am not remotely offended. My concern is the fact that the same pair of hands that goes through the 500 submissions is the only pair of hands that got a hold of the Bill. That Bill came back with an instruction to kick it out and that is what the Government did. That Bill is officially before the House. What was voted on was that the Bill not be read a Second Time for a period of three months from the day in question. Mr. O'Leary has been very helpful to me in the past but I feel he has inadvertently exposed the Department's failings and process failings in that this was never going to happen.
Mr. O'Leary referred to the legal grey area, saying, in effect, it does not exist. Let us dive into that. E-bicycles are obviously considered legal and road safe by the Department and are, in effect, treated like regular bicycles. What is the difference between an e-bicycle and an e-scooter? As Mr. McGinty will testify, in order for me to commence my journey on an e-scooter, I need to manually kick start that scooter into action. I need to achieve a speed of 5 km/h in order for the electric engine, or motor, to kick in and commence. Therefore, no journey can be 100% completed by mechanical propulsion. No matter for how long or how far I continue a journey, only 99.9% of it will be mechanically-propelled. Where does the figure live? Where does the number live? If I am on an electric bicycle, for example, a certain percentage of that journey is mechanically-propelled. What is the difference between one and the other, where is it set down in law and what led the Department to come to such a definitive conclusion that there is no grey area given that, as far as I am aware, no prosecutions have to date been enforced by a court?
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
There were reports of a conviction a few weeks ago.
There have been amendments within the domestic code relating to e-bicycles. There is also an EU legislative context whereby they fall within recognised categories of mechanically-propelled vehicles which then allow us to make the appropriate provisions in the domestic code. There are standards and models of vehicular standards at EU level from which we can work.
I think, although I might be mistaken, that Ms Murdock spoke in her contribution about how e-scooters can reach 80 km/h. That was in one of the contributions, although I cannot remember which. E-bicycles can achieve the same so I am confused, frankly, at the distinction between the two that has been made to date domestically and the reluctance to group them into a similar category as other countries have done.
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
I understand that most of the other countries that were looked at distinguish between them. As noted in our contribution, and as I said earlier, there are vehicular standards at EU level and international consumer standards for bicycles and e-bicycles. E-scooters do not have an international standard on the quality of manufacture or their durability. That is acknowledged by the hardware companies which are trumpeting the fact that they are now providing vehicles that last more than three months; most of the vehicles that have been put on the street have tended to be quite short lasting in life. There are questions over their durability and environmental and safety standards.
There is also simple physics involved in the safety considerations as highlighted by the National Transport Authority, NTA. The geometry of, say, the wheel size of a scooter creates a vulnerability that does not exist for somebody using a bicycle or e-bicycle in terms of the impact of road surfaces. Road surfaces tend to be an area of great interest to bicycle riders.
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
It is an acknowledgement that the standards for road surfaces reflect their usage by cyclists and our existing mechanical vehicles. We acknowledge that we are still trying to get back to the stage where we can fund local authorities in meeting their obligations, where they need support from central Government. That is not the case for the Dublin authorities. There is a challenge. The National Oversight and Audit Commission has highlighted this in respect of local authorities and we do not pretend other than that we are making our way back to a stage where we can maintain the existing infrastructure. This is our great challenge. What some of my colleagues call "steady state" or what I would call "asset protection" is one of our great challenges. In doing that we have a standard already if we are to try to maintain an asset for a much more delicate instrument that has further resource implications. Often what seems a simple question can lead to other challenging ones if it is thought of in the round.
I agree with Mr. O'Leary to an extent. Safety is a paramount concern. Given that these vehicles are already in use I feel we are coming at the same thing from different sides to an extent. Road safety is paramount for me, the Department and the Road Safety Authority, RSA. These vehicles are in use. There is somewhat of a reluctance to enforce actions against them. Mr. O’Leary does not need to speak on this. When they go through the city centre, they pass gardaí. They go down Kildare Street and Merrion Street and they pass gardaí but they are not stopped. There is no framework of standards because they are all, in the view of the Department and the prosecution, illegal. Therefore, there is no distinction between someone who is doing 40 km/h on one and someone doing 15 km/h or between someone using the footpath and someone who is not. By enabling their legalisation and enforcing adherence to a certain framework of standards, we would be in a safer place.
In her statement Ms Murdock said: "Overall, from a safety perspective, it is critical that Ireland’s infrastructure is fit for purpose to accommodate the safe use of these devices...". She might just as easily been talking about a bicycle.
Absolutely. I am glad Ms Murdock agrees because I see the enabling of the use of electric scooters as complementing the safety of cyclists and that of scooter users as well. It puts an onus, focus and impetus on the idea of developing cycling infrastructure in a cohesive holistic way which to date has not happened. I do not know if Ms Murdock agrees with that point. There are many roads in this great city that are sufficiently wide to accommodate a cycle lane, path or track, physically separated from the rest of the road with armadillos as they call them, or the rods we see around the city now. Merrion Street is an example of that, as are Griffith and Collins Avenues in my constituency. This could have been done yesterday but they are not being done. Does Ms Murdock feel that enabling the use of scooters on our roads would put a greater focus on the need for this infrastructure to physically separate people on cycle tracks from the rest of the road and that therefore it might actually improve the safety of our roads?
Ms Moyagh Murdock:
I have put forward in my submission recognition of the need for several measures that must happen in parallel and while infrastructure is one of those I would not underestimate the need to review the legislation required to legalise these devices. While the pedelec is a mode of transport covered under road traffic legislation and the machinery legislation, our concern about these devices is that they are not regulated by any standard even if they had been legalised. In no jurisdiction in Europe are they defined under the machinery Act. They are coming in from manufacturers in China and other far eastern countries where there is no safety standard for machinery, covering structure, devices, brakes, lights and all of that. We need to consider that as well.
Ms Moyagh Murdock:
The EU fully recognises that. It is playing catch up in terms of regulating for them with an EU standard. DG GROW and DG MOVE are looking at this to come up with the equivalent of a Comité Européen de Normalisation, CEN, standard for these devices but that has to go in parallel before they can be legalised under a road traffic Bill.
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
We have used the work of the RSA as the basis to engage in consultation where we hope to meet them all as a collective, including the proposal from Fianna Fáil, and we will try to put everything together to try to come to a conclusion before we make a recommendation to the Minister and he makes a decision. We will never get all the wisdom on one piece of paper. We will try to draw as much together and make the best recommendations we can on the appropriate next step.
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
The Minister is ambitious to at least get to a position where we can make a recommendation before Christmas. As good civil servants we of course tell him it will be early 2020. We hope to be in a position to at least give him some advice certainly by early 2020, possibly beforehand, depending on the various demands on all our time and any other significant information. We have to keep our ears tuned to what may happen. Safety is very important. People are dying using these in many jurisdictions and circumstances and while I would not want to single out any individual case I noted that one of the first fatalities in the United States was a young man from the Chairman's constituency and on behalf of the Department and the Minister we would like to express our condolences to the man's family. These things happen and we have to consider their context, even if we do not have the depth of evidence to draw scientific conclusions we have to acknowledge what has happened in trying to make the best judgment.
The Deputy made a good point about the challenge of trying to manage competing demands for road space and relieve the pressure on the shared infrastructure for cycling and buses, and the impact of additional demands on the current users. Last week, the Department was very clear with the NTA that the ideal solution is completely segregated facilities but that requires space, investment and time. At the moment we, the NTA and the local authorities are trying to manage the challenges around road space. It is much the same as the money end of things, if we do not have enough we try to make the best use of what we have, accepting that it will always fall short of the ideal.
I agree. What happened to the individual from the Chairman's constituency is very regrettable. Unfortunately, it is a sad reality and fact of life, no matter the mode of transport there are accidents. This meeting is to tease out and investigate the issues around this mode of transport and to learn from other countries. Mistakes have been made. Paris is cited as one of the worst places in that regard, where they are unregulated and unlicensed. It is a complete mess. We can learn from that and build out something that negates some of the congestion difficulties Mr. O'Leary mentioned. It could be a net positive if we see it in that way and do not take a head in the sand approach.
I thank the witnesses for their engagement today.
I welcome the witnesses from the RSA and thank them for a great briefing I received recently in Ballina. Anybody who has not been there should make an appointment to go. In light of comments made in the media recently, which I do not want to go into, based on my experience, I can speak about how impressed I am with the organisation, its approach and the professionalism of its team.
I can take the gloves off now having covered that.
I know it does not seem like a lot but I have read it and I would say all the witnesses could probably have written it on their lunch break. It is a literature review so anybody with access to any university library and Google could have written it. I am not saying it as a criticism of the witnesses in particular but this is the culture we have in the public service. There is a significant deficit in terms of being prepared to make a decision and back oneself and one's own capabilities and research. There is nothing in the report that was not already in the public domain. Deputy Rock and I enjoy beating each other up on political issues. A figure of €30,000 might not do very much but I am sure it could fill a hole in some aspect of some Department. That approach is being replicated in every State agency under the aegis of the Department week to week, month to month and year to year.
Ms Moyagh Murdock:
I would like to respond to that point. Obviously, we had to do the research in a short period. We do not have those kind of academic experts to hand in house. We have Ms Heffernan, who is our senior researcher, and one or two other people with a very full diary of commitments in other areas of research such as cycling and road safety. TRL is the global expert in innovative transport modes and collision analysis and data so it is the go-to body to get independent research because not everything that the RSA produces sits well with people who will say something is not independent because the RSA did it. It is important that we conduct independent research produced by experts who are respected in that area internationally, and it was not that much.
I hear Ms Murdock but with the best will in the world, there was nothing in the 46 pages that said that TRL thought the RSA should do "X". TRL set out what happens in the US and Belgium, the case studies, the 40 pieces of literature it reviewed and its recommendations. I do not think there is anything in the recommendations that was not in my Bill and I only read this in recent days. Ironically, TRL was set up to be the road safety authority in the UK in 1933. It is famous for the bouncing bomb and the Disney bomb and for developing armour in World War II. I know it is a big consultancy firm and that it was privatised in 1996. I also know that was done so it could get funding from the private sector and that it is controlled and operated by 80 sectoral people. My view on the report is that there is nothing in it that we could not have done ourselves. Far from it being an RSA or departmental problem, it is a national culture where we throw good money after bad for fear of having to make a decision and the need for plausible deniability whereby we can say that independent research said something and that, therefore, a certain course of action should be taken. I am cut from the type of cloth where I prefer to back myself. Give me the advice and I will make the decision, get on with it and save as much money as I can. Rant over, but I think it is a valid point.
Ms Moyagh Murdock:
I continue to disagree with that position. The remit of the RSA involves conducting research into any policy decision we will recommend to Government and we did not have that research. This is such a new topic that other jurisdictions are playing catch-up. We do not have any evidence other than what we conducted during that report. Time is of the essence. We must come back to the Oireachtas with information that will help formulate policy. We would not have been able to do that on our own.
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
In my experience, such work can be usefully commissioned externally in two circumstances. One is where there is a particular level of technical or research expertise that it would not be in the taxpayers' interest to have permanently on the books of a particular authority but that is needed for a particular task while the other is where a particular task needs to be done quickly and a concentrated investment of human resources is required that, again, would not be justified as a permanent fixture. I am sure members of this committee would be the first to criticise us if people were sitting around twiddling their thumbs for nine months of the year doing a three-month report. If I might make a slightly personal comment, when I worked in the tourism sector, I took great personal pride in the fact that we managed to produce a tourism policy report in respect of which the only expenditure was on tea and coffee at the regional consultations. I made sure we did not spend a penny on a consultant. I always feel that this was a personal achievement that I try to bring to bear as much as I can in my job. I cannot speak for the entire public sector but we bear in mind that there are always better things to use our money on than our own work.
It is a great report. The next time the RSA is throwing around €30,000 and wants a report like that, it should give me a call because I, and many people like me, would happily pull it together for that kind of wage. Regarding the opening statement, it is a case of 20 lashes for whoever drafted it. No legislation is proposed at this time. It was not just produced. Regarding its template, it involves everything in that report and everything Deputy Rock had come up and it is still there. As I understand it, it is to re-emerge on 31 January. It is suggestive of the fact that nobody really looked at this. We are here today to talk about e-scooters and Deputy Rock had to tell the witnesses that there is legislation. The statement said that we do not have legislation. "We" are the Oireachtas, not the Department and not the Government for that matter.
Indeed I am and one of the things I learned from being around for the length of time I have and one reasons I have grey hair is because I have a bit of wisdom in these things. The Deputy is quite right to make his points. They have been made. The Department and the RSA have responded. One of the key points about committees is respect for the witnesses.
Statements we make and questions we ask must always be fair, objective and respectful, notwithstanding the disagreements that arise. There are clear disagreements.
The Deputy can say what he likes about me but I am trying to be fair. I just do not like the way he is behaving now. I find it unacceptable so I ask him to stick to the agenda. I do not need any lectures from the Deputy about anything.
I certainly do not need them from the Chairman. The Chairman's hair has gone grey but I am afraid mine has fallen out. There is a bit of wisdom there, too. If I have speaking time, I should be let speak.
Let me move on. TRL is wasting money. The Department does not know what legislation is before the House. We have dealt with those issues.
Is the RSA's local authority suggestion workable in terms of a local authority such as Sligo County Council saying it would like to legalise the scooters as part of a pilot in its area? That was said in the address. I am interested in that point.
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
I would be reluctant to say at this stage whether it would be workable because these are very new ideas. We should bear in mind the transmission of views from the RSA's consultants, who are drawing on international experience. I am referring to the question of what legislation would be entailed. The Deputy will have had this experience with his. It would be a matter of creating an environment for regulating the items and then a matter of regulating their use. One could have a system whereby the items come under some sort of regulation, with or without a recognised standard. Their use, and particularly where they can be used, could then be provided for, subject to a permissive by-law regime. We would have to sit down, scope this out, work with our colleagues in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and consult our colleagues in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. As the Deputy knows, the road traffic law code pertains to a mix of areas that are regulated nationally and at by-law level. By-laws cover parking and one-way streets, for example. Certainly, it is possible to have a mix of national and local regulations. The other option would not be a common manoeuvre in the Irish context. It would involve some kind of private legislation for a particular area. In a sense, it would still end up with the same generic questions in terms of the vehicles themselves and so on. I would not rule it out. I am always slow to rule out an option until I have had a chance to draw out how it could work and its implications. That is as much as I can say at this stage. The aspect under discussion was a more surprising aspect of the conclusions but I believe it would be seen in the context of either the scope for a pilot or another context. It relates to an earlier point we were making. Not only is there the matter of how the user uses the vehicle but also the matters of the basic mechanical standards that need to be met and the safety fittings required. Then the question arises as to what constitutes the best use of the road space that the vehicle might occupy. Generally, the regulation of road space is led by local authorities. There is, in a sense, a road-space aspect to this that might best be addressed at local authority level. Equally, however, we do not want to put an excessive burden on local authorities. It is a matter of striking a balance. As ever, we are always trying to strike balances, accepting that we never come up with the perfect answer.
It would be great for the committee if we could start to read some of the submissions online ourselves. Other consultation material tends to be published. I certainly ask that it be done sooner rather than later.
Deputy Rock was told the date could be the end of this year but would more likely be early 2020. A formal recommendation would be made on whether to go with what is proposed, and on how to go about it if it is to proceed.
On the timeline, and with the legislation before the Dáil deemed not read for a Second Time until three months after the date in question — I believe it was in October but I just cannot remember which day — will we be ready for action?
May I run it by the Chairman and he can decide whether we should leave it for today? It has to do with proposed legislation and penalty points. I agree with the Chairman, based on our chat yesterday in a public forum, that it is probably a matter for the justice committee, but since representatives from the RSA and the Department are here-----
At a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts a fortnight ago, representatives of the Courts Service were in and one of the things that came up was the collection of fines. This has totally to do with the Department of Justice and Equality and the Committee of Public Accounts and it is not relevant here but there is a link with enforcement given that many fines are road traffic fines. The service is down by 38%, according its own figures. Approximately €27 million is outstanding. There are in the region of 90,000 related court cases backed up. We were trying to get our head around this at a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts and we were asking how it could be. It is not the fault of the Garda. It is doing its job and the GoSafe vans are engaging in enforcement at the required level. The issue, however, is with the Fines Act. The Act was to ensure somebody who could not pay a €50 fine because he or she did not have the means would not go to jail and would instead be able to do community service. The Department of Justice and Equality was advised the measures could not be implemented. In the meantime, there is the unintended consequence of a huge drop in enforcement. Can the delegates help this committee in any way in this regard? Clearly, we know we need to take the matter up with the Department of Justice and Equality and its Minister. Is there any assistance the delegates could give us while they are here today? If they cannot answer, that is 100% acceptable. I wanted to mention this while the delegates were here because the matter is in the media.
Finally, I sincerely thank the witnesses. I have an evocative style in questioning. It is never personal. The Chairman is, outside the ring, a personal friend and a fantastic Chair. That is just my style.
I monitored the deliberations with the departmental officials on the screen. I welcome them here. I also thank Deputy Noel Rock for acknowledging that it was Deputies MacSharry and Troy who initiated proceedings to push this legislation forward.
The TRL report is where I pulled most of my questions from. When I googled them, I learned more about these scooters than I did from the TRL report. The report left more questions unanswered than answered. Are the witnesses any the wiser from that report?
Scooters are mechanically propelled vehicles and they should be subject to the Road Traffic Act 1961. Currently, if a garda pulls a person on the road with an e-scooter, could he or she be prosecuted for having no lights or indicators? Are such scooters illegally on the road at present?
We are making slow progress. The public consultation submissions are still being assessed. We have no core recommendations on maximum speed requirements.
I concur with Deputy MacSharry on the TRL report. It is like match boxes. The report does not even tell us whether they should be used, and have access to footpaths, bicycle lanes or even roadways. We have no idea what way we are going forward with it and who will win the argument.
As for the good and bad scooters, down the road who will determine a roadworthy e-scooter? We are miles off it, from what I can gather, and yet we can bring in other legislation the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport wants, such as to amend the Road Traffic Act, and that seems to be pushed through quickly. The e-scooter issue did not arise this year. It has been on the agenda in the past couple of years. Why does the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport cherry-pick the legislation it wants to push through the Dáil when there is cross-party consensus on regulating e-scooter use?
Ms Moyagh Murdock:
For clarity, they are considered to be mechanically-propelled vehicles. For clarity, a mechanically-propelled vehicle must be taxed, insured and have passed an NCT. That is why it is a black-and-white issue. They are not legal on the roads.
Deputy O'Keeffe talked about Google and the TRL report. If people google these devices, they will find some outlets and suppliers reassuring the public that they are legal and that they have been approved. That is why we needed a quality report to inform us of what is legal in each country and where we should go.
The purpose of the TRL report was not to give us a recommendation on what way they can be used. It was to assess what was happening in all of the other European jurisdictions and other countries further afield so that we could inform our own decision-making. We were not asking TRL to come back and make a recommendation as to how to implement them. That was only to tell us what other jurisdictions were doing.
It takes time. There are little data on injuries and deaths on these because they are so new on our roads. I do not accept that these were around for a long time. We have very little information, especially in this country, on injuries. Thankfully, there are infrequent occurrences of serious injury and death in our near neighbours as well because they are not legal and they are not out there. The downside of not having them out there is that we do not have good research. That is the reality of it.
I have a question about enforcement and compliance. At one time, gardaí were able to use their discretion in common sense cases. Now, when a garda leaves the barracks, he or she is subject to mandatory checkpoint sign-off by the sergeant in charge. If those gardaí put up a standard checkpoint on St. Stephen's Green to stop everyone, when scooters approach them, do they just look left and then pass by? What happens if, down the road, a girl coming out of school has an accident? Has the garda failed in his or her duty there?
Could we get statistics on that? That will inform the debate. We also want to know the outcomes of the court cases. Obviously, we do not want to know not the personal details, but the outcomes. I refer to the generic detail.
I was lucky enough to visit Paris during August where e-scooters were ubiquitous. In fact, they were on the footpaths. They were coming at me in open spaces. Everywhere I went, I was at risk. No matter where I went, they were dumped on the side of the street outside shops. They were abandoned at traffic lights and there was chaos.
Notwithstanding the importance of the issue, whatever we do, we must be organised in terms of where they can and cannot go and provide the dedicated lanes. I would be most concerned about safety, particularly that of pedestrians because they may not expect e-scooters to come out of the blue.
Can we see the medical evidence in the statistics published by the health authorities in Paris or wherever?. I am not picking on Paris; I happened to visit there. I am sure there are many significant accidents.
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
Picking up on the Chairman's point, I draw a distinction. The quantum that is there, and even the time periods that they came along, has meant that what one might call academic research is not available. I have seen press coverage of critical comments from medical professionals in Paris about the availability of e-scooters and their impact on the French equivalent of emergency departments in terms of injuries.
I was here last week to discuss issues relating to cycling and road safety. The hardest part is trying to manage the conflicts between different classes of users. In a sense e-scooter users are somewhat in the same bracket as cyclists but they are also different. On the one hand, they are vulnerable road users with respect to somebody in a larger mechanically propelled vehicle such as a motorbike, car, van, truck or bus in terms of the spaces those vehicles use but, on the other, they are potentially hazardous vehicles, whether stationary or moving in respect to particularly what one might call - this is not a technical term - the highly vulnerable user, including the person with a disability or mobility issues. We need to be incredibly conscious of those users.
We were recently preparing a response to a parliamentary question from a Deputy and we did not have the detailed information to provide on how many people with disabilities are among those killed. As I said last week, we try to think about a hierarchy in road safety, from the most vulnerable to the least. In that context, we are looking at how best to manage the arrival of this new form of mobility, as are all our international colleagues.
Ms Sharon Heffernan:
I wish to talk about the serious injuries data available. There is little evidence at the moment regarding injuries sustained in collisions involving e-scooters, but recently two research studies were published. Austin Public Health published a joint epidemiological study with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US. The sample was small comprising 192 people who were injured in collisions while they were using an e-scooter. However, there are findings on the types of injuries. For instance, 48% of these people received head injuries, 35% sustained a bone fracture and almost half had some kind of severe injury. They were interviewed and were asked for their view of what happened at the time of the collision. Some 37% said that excessive scooter speed, for instance, may have contributed to the collision and 19% said they believed the scooter malfunctioned. This is just a small example of the type of evidence that is likely to come out over the next year to two years on these.
The evidence we are hearing from everybody today is positive, but we must use proper discretion. The key point is safety for the public and for the users. We need universal standards that can be applied and that are clear.
Ms Moyagh Murdock:
As mentioned, the experience in Paris was one of a liberal approach initially. Within six months, earlier this year, they had to introduce further legislation to ensure that the cluttering of footpaths was reversed. They introduced very severe penalties of up to €5,000 for the littering of footpaths with these vehicles. They had a scheme where the public were paid to take the scooters home to charge them and then return them. We can learn many lessons to help us get it right if we are going to legislate for them.
I understand this is separate from what we are doing today. The RSA has a report due in December on its analysis of the outcomes of road traffic accidents in terms of fatalities and injuries for 2018. Is that due soon?
I ask Ms Murdock to circulate copies to the clerk to the committee as it will inform our debate. I want to get this right. The RSA makes a distinction between deaths and other injuries. It is also concentrating on how to reduce other injuries. Is that where it is going in terms of some of the policy issues? For every fatality there are a certain number of serious injuries. It is to get the point across that apart from deaths, there are other tragic outcomes of road accidents.
Ms Moyagh Murdock:
The Chairman is correct that vulnerable road users and serious injuries will form a major strand of our next Government road safety strategy. The focus in the past has been on fatalities, but serious injuries and vulnerable road users will be a key theme in the next strategy. We will do more in 2020 at the tail end of the current road safety strategy. The report on serious injuries among cyclists will come out at the beginning of December.
That is fine. This legislation the Minister is proposing on the new fine regime and so on will come to the committee shortly. The RSA is talking about details of the types of roads where accidents happen - whether it is a national road, a regional road or a local road. I believe I am quoting RSA figures in saying that of the 93 deaths up to the end of August, 70 had been on roads where the-----
I thank the witnesses for their time and engagement today. I had mentioned Paris in my contribution. It is a particularly egregious example. It is probably regarded as worst in class for implementing a scooter scheme. I notice Ms Murdoch nodding in agreement. Anyone looking at the international comparisons would recommend against doing it that way. Paris allowed every operator to operate freely with nine or ten rental companies competing with each other. Every recommendation I have read was to avoid doing it like Paris. That is an opportunity for us because it is iterative learning that we should take everything Paris did and not do that. Please God the Chairman will go back to Paris soon.
I am sure he has an anniversary or something coming up. He will then see a far improved scooter regime.
It has a reasonably functioning scooter scheme. I am sorry I cannot join the delegation on that trip.
I have an unrelated question but I imagine the Chairman will permit it. It is a technical question to which the witnesses might not have an answer, but I ask them to revert on it. Are there plans to consolidate road traffic legislation? It is challenging to draft a Bill when the legislation is unconsolidated. It makes it quite difficult for one individual to draft legislation. The Law Society recommended consolidation in 2017. Has the Minister advanced plans in that regard?
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
It recurs frequently in discussions on the road traffic law code. Clearly, it makes the lives of professionals dealing with the law much easier if the law code concerned is consolidated. That might reflect the views of certain organisations. We are not aware of any specific cases where the lack of consolidation caused prosecutions to fall. We have looked at a few instances where similarly lengthy and complex law codes have been consolidated. There are only two proper examples to date, namely the Companies Act and the Finance Act, both of which have limited criminal elements. I forget the technical term for that kind of comprehensive consolidation. Whoever lectured me in law more years ago than I care to remember would give me a slap.
There are two kinds of consolidation. One involves putting the words together and the other involves tightening up legislation without changing the substance. Both the cases I mentioned used comprehensive consolidation, where the code was put together and some amendments were made to pull it together wherever there were existing inconsistencies or imperfections. Given the scale of the road traffic law code and the investment of time required for any consolidation, that would be the best option in this case. Based on those two examples - and this is where the challenges come in - it is probably a job for a dedicated team of half a dozen people with appropriate expertise who would almost have to be locked in a room for four or five years. At the same time-----
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
At the same time, we would want the volume of primary legislation change to be minimal, because it is like painting a moving target. It is one of the things we would like to do, but we are also dealing with emerging technologies such as personal powered transport, issues around autonomous vehicles and unexpected international events such as Brexit. Our legislative efforts are focused on responding to the fact that we are not meeting our road death targets, and we are, therefore, trying to strengthen the code on killing behaviours like intoxicants and speeding. Given the resources we have, our legislative efforts have prioritised those areas. I recently had a very informal discussion with some colleagues about this matter. I am not making a commitment to the committee, but trying to show that this is something we think about. We have been considering what do in the short term, not just tomorrow. To start, we will probably need to think about getting somebody in to do some kind of project plan on this, if Deputy MacSharry will permit that. It is worth noting that we have consolidated in previous iterations of the road traffic law. For example, the drink driving code is consolidated, bar the most recent amendments. There are elements where that has happened. If one were to do a project plan for this, one would first take a part of the code and consolidate that. There are models where it might be consolidated in phases as well as one big block. There is a political bullet to bite in terms of the Oireachtas, Ministers and our own capacity to divert our resources to manage that. It has not caused any identifiable damage to the law's enforcement, but it does make it more time consuming for all parties involved.
I know we have to stick to the agenda for the committee. Following an RTÉ programme a few years ago, I did not see the Minister or any departmental officials contradicting the comments made on television regarding violent car crashes that may have involved serious drink-driving. I did not hear officials saying the Road Traffic Act was solid enough. To this day, I get complaints from people saying that if the existing Act was enforced, we would not need the draconian laws brought in over the past 12 months. All we needed was for the previous Act to be properly applied and enforced. The consolidation Deputy Rock mentioned would have helped as well. There is a perception that, no matter what provisions are included in the Road Traffic Act, there are ways and means of getting around them. The number of cases being challenged in court also has to be acknowledged. Bringing in more amendments is not going to get rid of that cohort of people.
That is the point I have been making for three years. The Road Traffic Act 1961 has been amended repeatedly over the past 50 years and has now been left open to question within the judicial system, from the District Court up to the High Court. I know of specific cases of people getting off charges in my own back yard.
The fundamental point is that any citizen can challenge any law through the courts, and that is how it should be. I agree that we all want consolidation. Mr. O'Leary said, without giving a promise, that the Department will look at the strategy that might usefully be worked on in order to tell us what the plan might have to be. That is a fair summary.
I realise I have taken us off the beaten track, so I appreciate Mr. O'Leary's indulgence and his very thorough answer. We will park this issue.
Has the Minister discussed putting forward his own legislation on e-scooters?
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
We have had some outline conversations on it, but I think he wanted to first look at the report from the RSA to see what outcome we want to achieve. We have had some initial conversations because if we start, for example, affecting the definition of mechanical vehicle, there will be knock-on effects. I hate to say it but an awful lot of consolidation would be needed afterwards as it crops up in many places across the system. We have had initial conversations about what might be implied but we have not gone into the details because before working on what our input would be, it is necessary to have a clear idea of what we would consider a desirable outcome. We will look at the proposed legislation from Fianna Fáil, as well as what elements are needed and whether this might be taken forward, with the necessary updates and amendments.
We would start with the high-level policy stance and then work down, in terms of what is both appropriate and workable, bearing in mind the overriding objective of road safety.
I noted in conversations on this issue that a colleague advised me, because sometimes this issue is raised in the context of innovation, there is hardly another country in Europe that is more innovative in transport than the Netherlands. It has consistently been one of the leaders in intelligent transport systems and connected, autonomous and shared mobility. The authorities in that country have, following some tragic incidents, a very clear stance that safety must never be put at risk for the sake of innovation. If that is the Dutch line, it is not a bad line to be adopted by the Irish authorities. I am always a great believer in looking outside the Anglophone world. For example, all too often we tend to look to those who share the same language even if it sometimes takes more work to look at the others.
As Mr. O'Leary will know, the UK system has the most conservative approach to this issue. Nevertheless, that approach has resulted in fatalities and tragic accidents, one of which was recently prominently featured in the media. Perhaps the UK's head-in-the-sand approach is not necessarily what is required here.
There is a political imperative and I appreciate that the legislation is not the concern of Mr. O'Leary. As Fianna Fáil's legislation was parked for three months, it will be revisited early in the new year. This is the genesis of my question as to whether the Minister has plans with regard to legislation or whether he simply intends to amend Fianna Fáil's legislation. However, I appreciate the answers given by Mr. O'Leary and where he is coming from.
The report is very good and useful, and I was sorry to hear the criticisms. I do not know who could write a report on his or her lunchbreak. If Deputy MacSharry was here, I would have to query how long his lunch break would be. The report is 42 pages long, which is a tremendous lunch break and I could barely read it on my lunch break. It is beneficial that the report went outside of the Anglophone world, as was said by Mr. O'Leary. To use a word that I do not want to use again, it is a very good "consolidation" of a number of other reports that I had read elsewhere. This report is a great one-stop-shop for educating people on this issue because it can be a little diffuse, and one cannot ask Members to read 11 different reports about a topic. It will serve a tremendous use and, hopefully, will inform our debate in the months ahead and I have no doubt that it will come before us again.
I have a question for both organisations on the taxing and insuring of this vehicle. It is impossible to tax an electric scooter because it does not have a vehicle registration number and, therefore, it is impossible to tax.
Ms Moyagh Murdock:
As part of our process of research and awareness of what is happening in other jurisdictions, we have noticed advertisements from the suppliers of these devices promoting their use and saying that they are legal and sanctioned by the Garda and the RSA. I warn people, especially in the run-up to Christmas, that it is a case of buyer beware because there have been significant recalls of the devices that were on sale. There is nothing to stop someone legally selling a device but buyers should realise that these devices are not CE regulated and there is no standard safety directive to say that they have been approved from a mechanical perspective. We have analysed the types of failures, faults and, as Ms Heffernan alluded to, 20% of the injuries resulted from defective devices. Even by their design, and these devices have a long stalk of a handlebar and a short wheelbase, they are prone to natural forces and torts and thus will break easily. The brakes are not of a recognised standard plus the makers do not specify any kind of conspicuity of lighting. All of that is a warning to buyers. I do not know if there are any warranties on the devices. They just give up the ghost shortly after being bought. I urge buyers to be wary of them.
If I used such a device, even on private grounds like a university campus, am I personally liable if I injure somebody unless I have insurance? How can someone get insurance if he or she cannot legally use the device in a public place?
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
First, we must clearly distinguish between public roads and public places. One could be in a public place without being on a public road. Anywhere that the public has more or less free access to by right, or by permission, is a public place. That puts an onus on some campus environments in the Irish legal context. The Chairman made a good point. That is why the Minister made a statement at the time of the RSA consultation to remind people that the use of these devices was not legal, notwithstanding what those who were trying to sell them were saying.
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
Aside from the road safety or vehicle standards, there are not even basic consumer standards. Clearly, there are concerns from a user's point of view. Individuals and entities trying to take advantage of that in a narrow window while authorities figure out how to react and develop suitable standards.
Anecdotally, I was advised by one of my colleagues in the Department, but one of the commercial bodies under our aegis, apparently, considered these devices for in-campus movement. The senior manager decided to demonstrate it to his colleagues and proceeded to find himself with several fractures. The organisation involved is not proceeding with using the device on-campus.
The Chairman is busier than I am. Has either of the organisations researched how many accidents involving this mode of transport take place per 1,000 km travelled in comparison with other modes of transport? We all appreciate that accidents occur. Are there fewer or more accidents in this instance?
They do. If a citizen were to ride a Segway on the streets, it would be illegal at present. Is that correct?
Mr. Ray O'Leary:Again, currently if it is a mechanically propelled vehicle, it requires tax and insurance. It is not a question of a certain class of vehicle that is illegal; it is the use of vehicles in the absence of these and in the absence of clear standards.
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
-----categories they fall into in terms of the vehicles and, therefore, it is back to the absence of standards. The Revenue Commissioners, in registering vehicles, have regard to certain categories they have for registration in respect of the vehicle registration tax, VRT. Revenue refers to categories of vehicle that are largely set at an EU level with some national variations and they, in turn, are related to the motor tax levied on them.
As they have not gone through the kinds of processes that, for example, mopeds, motorbikes, cars, vans, trucks and buses have to go through before they are released onto the market, we are handicapped in trying to bring them within the regulated environment.