Wednesday, 18 October 2006
Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed).
Charlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this discussion. It is traditional on these occasions to compliment the Deputy who moves the Private Members' Bill and I do so tonight more sincerely than usual because Deputy Olivia Mitchell shares a constituency boundary with me and previously represented part of my constituency. I acknowledge her work on this Bill and the ongoing support she has shown in regard to legislation on road safety and our collective need to provide the necessary leadership in this area.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, who recently attended a seminar at the Red Cow Hotel at which Deputy Curran and I were present. Neither Deputy Curran nor I are ever sure on which side of our common constituency boundary that hotel is located. The excellent seminar, which was organised by the South Dublin Chamber of Commerce, dealt with issues relating to road safety and other issues. The Minister of State made a fine contribution and it was good to have him there. I hope he will come to both of our constituencies soon again.
One of the greatest challenges we face is that road collisions are inevitable, that somehow road deaths and injuries are a deeply regrettable part of daily life. However, this need not be the case. Nine out of ten road deaths in Ireland are as a result of bad driver behaviour. Speeding, drink driving and the non-wearing of seat belts are high on the list of the main killers. To bring about positive change in road safety requires a combination of initiatives by a number of people and organisations. The Government, road users, the Garda Síochána, the National Roads Authority, local authorities and the Road Safety Authority have an important role in this regard.
Something that has clearly contributed to this change is the penalty points system, which is working. The public responded when they were introduced in 2002 by slowing down and obeying the rules. Since the introduction of an additional 31 offences last April, specifically focusing on matters of driver behaviour, we have seen further improvement. It is clear that penalty points have made a positive contribution and this will continue through ongoing Garda enforcement.
I am informed that the total number of drivers with penalty points as of 30 September stands at more than 274,000, with 83% on two penalty points. Drivers who receive penalty points are clearly taking notice. Many road users do not realise the value of their driving licence until faced with the prospect of losing it. Penalty points will not impact on drivers who obey the rules of the road. Those who break the rules, however, thereby putting lives at risk, will face the loss of their licence and will feel the pinch in their pocket with increased insurance costs.
The Government established the Garda traffic corps, a dedicated unit headed by an assistant commissioner, which is focused solely on road traffic matters. By the end of 2008, 1,200 gardaí will be deployed to the traffic corps. The growing presence on our roads of a dedicated, highly visible corps of officers will promote a greater level of general deterrence against the type of behaviour that leads to road collisions. The Government has also invested massive resources in roads. Better roads have a major road safety dividend. Every community is benefiting from improved, safer roads.
To achieve greater integration across Departments, the Taoiseach has established a new high level road safety committee under the chairmanship of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, comprising also the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Finance, Health and Children, the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Education and Science, with the Attorney General and the Garda Commissioner. The Road Traffic Act 2006, which passed through the Oireachtas before the summer recess, provides for mandatory alcohol testing as well as other drink driving initiatives. Many in this House are aware of the excellent work being done on a regular basis by the Garda in implementing this legislation.
The other key measures contained in the Act include the provision of more speed cameras through the privatisation of speed camera operation, the ban on driving while using a hand-held mobile telephone — I think we all warmly welcome that, a court alternative fixed fine and six-month driving disqualification for first-time drink driving offenders, increased fines and driving disqualification periods, increased powers to allow gardaí impound unlicensed, untaxed and insured vehicles, including foreign registered cars and reforms of the driving licence regime. The latter will be implemented only once the current driving test backlog is reduced. There has been much criticism in that regard. It is an issue that is often brought to my attention by constituents even though there is a driver testing centre in Tallaght.
It is important in discussing this legislation that we say to the Minister of State and his senior colleague that the issues highlighted in the Minister's speech last night and in the contribution of Deputy Olivia Mitchell are issues that are raised by constituents on a daily basis. I tell people in my constituency to use the Luas in Tallaght so that there is no need to worry about the roads. However, that is another day's work.
The Road Traffic Act 2006 leaves nobody in any doubt about the Government's seriousness on road safety. The severity of the punishments for those found guilty of serious driving offences underlines that commitment. Combined with increased Garda enforcement, these new measures will help stamp out irresponsible and dangerous driving and, in doing so, will save lives.
I have often said that, like some colleagues, I bring my life experiences to politics. I have generally been lucky on the road but I was in a crash more than 30 years ago, amazingly, in the village where the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen was born. He had nothing to do with it, but I remember my little crash every time I see the Minister. Luckily enough, my family and I were fine, but one can never forget such an incident, just as one will never forget a burglary, for example. Many of us have seen the terrible effect on individuals and families of horrific road accidents. We have all encountered people who are disabled as a result of the injuries they sustained in road accidents. A couple of people came to my clinics in recent times who enjoyed normal mobility before being involved in horrendous road crashes and becoming wheelchair bound. It is when we meet people like these that we realise the seriousness of the business before us.
We all have an obligation to continue to promote road safety. Even though political points must sometimes be made in regard to some of these issues, most of us agree that what is being done is progressive. To improve road safety, we must win over the hearts and minds of ordinary people and change their attitudes by emphasising the importance of driver behaviour. It is important that we continue to support what the Minister and his Department are trying to achieve.