Wednesday, 18 October 2006
Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed).
John Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the Private Members' Bill.
Irrespective of what legislation we have and what rules and regulations are in place, it is an unfortunate fact of life that there are road deaths. To the families of victims and those listening to or reading this debate, I stress that no matter what we do, it is inevitable that there will be fatalities. More regrettable, however, are the numbers seen in recent years.
In 2002, when I had been in this House for approximately six months, I remember being in Dublin Airport as I was about to head abroad with colleagues on committee business. At that point, the press releases and media attention were not on the committee going abroad — it was not a transport committee — but on the reduction in road deaths directly attributable to the introduction of penalty points. In the early days, penalty points caused a significant change in driver behaviour and attitudes. The Committee of Public Accounts, of which I am a member, concluded that in the scheme's first 12 or 14 months, 100 or more deaths and numerous serious injuries were avoided.
It is regrettable that the change in driver behaviour and attitudes that we saw in 2002 was not sustained in the following years. However, the introduction of penalty points clearly indicated that with the appropriate legislation and procedures in place, driver behaviour could be, and was, directly influenced and changed. The finding of the Committee of Public Accounts was that in the first 12 or 14 months following the introduction of penalty points, irrespective of all the flaws people might have found regarding computerisation and so forth, it contributed to saving over 100 lives on the roads, a very significant number.
It is most important when we speak about road safety that we are absolutely clear in our minds that the legislation we pass and its implementation have a real impact on what happens on the roads. Often when we speak in this House, we wonder if what we say has any effect, but in this case we have historical evidence to show what we passed and did had a direct impact. That is not political point-scoring but reality.
Since the introduction of penalty points, the number of road deaths has regrettably increased again. However, I wish to place that in context, since I do not want people thinking they have risen specifically because nothing is being done. There are several factors, and the underlying one should not be missed, namely, that we have more cars and drivers on the roads than ever before. In pure statistical terms, if there are 50% more cars on the road, one would expect 50% more accidents and fatalities. People ask how that might be and what are the numbers. In 1997, there were approximately 470 road deaths. Since then, the number of cars and motorists has risen significantly, but road deaths have fallen, primarily since the introduction of penalty points. We have seen them rise again, so the behavioural change forced on drivers has not been sustained. However, in the last few months, with the introduction of random breath-testing, we have seen a reinforcement and a return to the 2002 scenario. People are realising that there has been a permanent change in enforcement. They are paying attention and road deaths have fallen. August and September had the lowest number of road deaths in some years, despite the significant increase in activity.
When discussing road safety, we must keep those issues in mind. Our actions in recent months have brought about real and measurable change. In August, September and this month we have seen a reduction in deaths. We saw that in 2002, so it is very important to have not only the isolated introduction of random breath-testing but the extension of the penalty points system. To sustain the downturn of recent months, we must have a combination of initiatives, including education and enforcement.
I mentioned the legislation and the changes we have introduced, but there is no point making these changes if they are not enforced. I acknowledge that the numbers in the Garda traffic corps have increased significantly and welcome the fact that the corps and gardaí throughout the country are working to implement the law in line with the wishes of the House.