Dáil debates

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Road Traffic and Transport Bill 2006 [Seanad]: Second Stage


12:00 pm

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)

I do not believe anyone in the Chamber wishes to hold up or place an obstacle in the way of having this legislation enacted. Ultimately, many people, including many Members, travel by road. Thus, the laws governing road safety are vitally important.

The day that penalty points were introduced it was evident that the same type of overtaking did not take place. I refer to the road from Dublin to Cork. Most definitely, there was a sense of security and safety on the roads at that time but this very quickly evaporated. It soon became clear that this particular section of road legislation was not being implemented. I am sure the Minister would accept this point. Behaviour on the roads reverted to how it had been previously. This makes it unsafe for people who travel by car due to the persistent and constant danger on the road and gives rise to a sense of unease which leads people to look to other methods of transport to get from A to B.

I do not think anyone would disagree that road traffic legislation is vitally important. However, road traffic legislation is not what road safety in its entirety is about. It is also about behaviour, standards and what one perceives to be the purpose of roads. While legislation is a pivotal element, it is about more than legislation. I accept that it is vitally important to enact this amended legislation.

Deputies Olivia Mitchell and the Labour Party spokesperson on transport, Deputy Shortall, have consistently said that consolidation in this area is vitally important. It is about more than fragmented items of legislation. Joined-up thinking is crucial, not only in the area of legislation but also in related areas. A programme of education is required, especially in regard to young people and resources.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell correctly pointed out, and Deputy Shortall previously made the point in regard to the earlier legislation, that sufficient time is not provided to discuss the legislation. It is evident that the Department does not have the necessary resources in order to produce legislation that is not flawed. We are not blaming anybody, merely stating that the resources are insufficient. Surely a Department that relies so heavily on a legislation-based approach should have its own senior counsel. We are only now trying to come to terms with road traffic offences and we desperately want to get it right. Expert advice is required on this specific area. We should not always have to rely on the Attorney General's office, which we know from past experience cannot always be relied on.

It is of the utmost importance that the kind of joined-up thinking that is required in this area would come together in one Bill. I accept that such a Bill would be weighty. When such legislation comes before the House, sufficient time must be provided for it. Widespread consultation is also required, in addition to an appendix of ancillary services, not just relating to penalties and the implementation of the law. This point has been previously made in the House by all those concerned with this matter.

The Labour Party has tabled two technical amendments to the Bill which Deputy Shortall hopes the Minister will accept. They are concerned with ensuring that the citing of the legislation in the Short Title will facilitate people in navigating the legislation. This brings me back to why we are here today; so that people who need it can find out about the legislation and how it links into other legislative measures. That is the sole purpose of the amendments. People from other jurisdictions researching legislation down through the years find it virtually impossible to wade through the maze of legislation that exists, how it was enacted etc. It is important that we would bring some regulation into the system.

Deputy Shortall asked me to refer to an issue she previously raised — the citing of European legislation in regard to car testing. She still has significant doubts on this matter. Now that the legislation has returned to the House she hopes the Minister will re-examine the issue. If someone got it wrong in respect of breath testing then it is possible that he or she also got it wrong in this area. She remains concerned about this matter. She believes the legislation is not cited properly and that a problem could arise at a later stage. While we do not wish to put anybody wise to it, we believe the matter should be examined carefully. Deputy Shortall is most anxious that the Minister would review the matter.

The consolidation of road traffic legislation was supposed to have been completed by the end of the year. Will the Minister indicate if that is still likely to be the case? The legislation is likely to be weighty and, despite the fact that no one talks about the elephant in the room, we are in the run-in to an election. This legislation is important and we need to take our time over it. Nobody wants it to be rushed. Is it likely that the legislation will appear this side of Christmas or will it be after Christmas? Will it be dealt with before the election? It is important that we would know. If the Bill will not be ready before the election, will the heads of the Bill be published?

Two reports have been produced by a committee of the Oireachtas on road safety and traffic and they are well worth examining. They refer to experiences in other countries. We need to adopt approaches similar to those in Australia and France. While legislation is at the heart of the matter, implementation and resources are of crucial importance. I hope the Minister will take this point on board.


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