Wednesday, 18 October 2006
Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed).
James Breen (Clare, Independent)
The continuing death toll on our roads is one of the greatest shames of this country. Year after year we hear of new and vigorous attempts to tackle this dreadful situation. I support any measure which would save lives or reduce the number of people injured on our county roads. It is all very well trying to introduce tough, no nonsense penalties for dangerous driving offences, but if there is not a corresponding increase in the penalties for careless driving, and driving without reasonable consideration, it merely results in legal challenges to the Act. It also increases the incidence of skilled legal defenders applying to judges to reduce the charge to a lesser one in an attempt to achieve a lower penalty for their clients.
Last week, 411 people were arrested for drink driving. For the first six months of the year the weekly average was 305 arrests. In the clampdown for last year's Christmas season, the weekly average was 320 arrests. It is clear that the message regarding drink driving is not hitting home. Drink is a major contributor to road accidents and road deaths but we cannot realistically expect to see a dramatic reduction in drink driving incidents in rural Ireland until such time as a decent public transport system is in place. Last year in County Clare, 13 people were killed in road traffic accidents. This year, to date, eight people have lost their lives on the roads in the county. Something must be done to reduce these figures.
One aspect of the Bill which requires immediate action is the introduction of measures for the testing of substances other than alcohol to a certified level that is acceptable to the courts. With this should come the proper resourcing of State laboratories to ensure that the test results are returned quickly. Currently, many drug driving cases are adjourned in the lower courts while awaiting drug analysis reports.
The measures regarding the application by disqualified persons for the restoration of their driving licence is probably unrealistic. The Bill proposes that the courts should notify or cause to be notified, any person party to the original disqualification or affected by that disqualification. I do not believe the maintenance of such a register would prove practical in working terms. Instead a clause should be inserted to increase the amount of notice applicants have to give to the Garda as the Garda file for the original prosecutions would detail all those who need to be notified. Another feature I would like to see included is an increase in the court stamp fee for an application. The fee for an application to have a disqualification removed is €18, but a trebling of this amount would be more appropriate if the application is important.
This debate has achieved something important, that is, it keeps the issue of road safety and the damning statistics of road accidents and road deaths in the public eye, and for that reason, I compliment Deputy Olivia Mitchell.