Wednesday, 4 October 2006
Road Traffic and Transport Bill 2006 [Seanad]: Second Stage
Seán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I listened to the Minister speaking about the reduction in the number of deaths and so on and we all welcome that it is a decreasing trend. I have the Garda national traffic bureau's statistics with me. In February 2003, there were 21 deaths whereas there were 31 deaths in the same month this year. The important fact is that the current figures are decreasing. I have the figures for 2000 to 2006 and I guarantee that each of the Deputies present has attended a funeral of one of the individuals killed in this way and has gone through the trauma of families affected. Meeting the survivors of serious accidents has affected me as a public representative. Our statistics do not delve into the matter of survivors.
Deputy Lynch spoke about taking a journey in Ireland. Driving a car is taking one's life in one's hands due to bad behaviour, dangerous driving and so on. Anyone who drives from this House to Cork, Donegal or wherever will encounter at least one incident of someone breaking the rules of the road, taking crazy risks or doing something that might result in a person being killed. Perhaps it has something to do with my getting older, but I find the road is a frightening place because of speed and so on. While we are discussing changes to sound legislation, road safety comes down to the personal responsibility of people who decide to get into cars, trucks or vans or onto motorcycles. We can have the best laws in the world, but those people need to take responsibility for their own driving.
I agree with Deputy Eamon Ryan about the need for extra resources. I would not say it is embarrassing to be discussing this matter again, but it sends the wrong signal to the crazy drivers. On my way here this morning, I saw a four-car pile up on the Cheeverstown Road in Tallaght. On the same road last night, there was another four-car pile up. People say this is down to bad driving, but it is also down to people's frustration with trying to get out of traffic, get to work or take their children to school. Being caught in bottlenecks causes problems.
I agree with the consolidated Bill concept and the call for extra resources for the Department of Transport, particularly legal resources. There is something wrong with society when all these intelligent members of the Law Library seem to spend most of their working lives thinking up ways of getting around existing legislation. Considering what is happening on the roads, there is something wrong with society when supposedly the best brains in the country spend so much time trying to find loopholes in laws, and that is why I agree with the idea of extra resources.
I have seen the extra levels of enforcement and all of us will agree they are welcome. I have been stopped a number of times going home from this Chamber. I see greater visibility of gardaí on the roads and that is welcome. I also still see gardaí with cameras at the usual spots. Maybe that will change, but a mentality exists to build up the conviction figures and get so much in fines at certain spots on roads where I have never seen accidents or where there is rarely an accident, but we do not see them at accident black spots.
The legislation also requires that applicants for an operator's licence must be of good repute, of appropriate financial standing and have professional competence. While I can understand the requirement for professional competence, I presume financial standing means that the person is not bankrupt. Perhaps the Minister will expand on that. What exactly is meant by a person of good repute? For instance, is it to do with someone who may have a criminal conviction? I listened to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform speaking about someone from his constituency who was convicted of an offence 20 years ago and said he was looking at ways of changing matters to take account of circumstances where such a person has learnt his or her lesson and has gone on to be a good citizen. What does the Minister mean by "good repute" in the Bill?
A colleague of mine in Donegal stated that one of the best forms of enforcement was where a local garda sergeant comes out in one village in Donegal with the traffic gun. It is well known in the area that one sergeant in that Garda station comes out on a regular basis and people in that area slow down going through that village on the basis of that garda's initiative. Other gardaí, if they are listening to this and maybe do not have something better to do, might come up with similar initiatives.
On the issue of road safety, high visibility works. The Garda authorities need to concentrate on those areas and times where there are difficulties on the roads, particularly in the hours after midnight, rather than spending the time on public order, high visibility on the street etc. We probably also need in equal measure Garda checkpoints in those particular areas.
The legislation covers road safety and road haulage. EU rules state there should be places for truck drivers to rest, sleep, eat and wash, and many haulage drivers here experience difficulty in that regard. While I recognise there is talk of change in that regard, when one asks the Minister a question it is ruled out of order because it relates to the NRA. Tired truck drivers on our roads will increase the likelihood of accidents and it is a matter to be addressed.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues again. I hope we can close all the loopholes this time.