Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 October 2006


Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed).

7:00 pm

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin South, Green Party)

I commend my constituency colleague for the clarity, brevity and necessity of the Bill, which my party will support.

Like Deputy Gregory, I remember an example of a road accident in which a young woman I knew was killed. Late one night in Dublin, she was knocked 50 yards by a car and died three or four days later. The example is not important, but a part of the case struck home. I went to the court hearing on the circumstances of her death. In a previous case, several thousand euro were awarded in compensation for what seems to have been a minor issue. I believe that the charge in the case of the young woman who died due to a road collision was for driving without due care rather than dangerous driving, but the fine was €100 or €200. As a young person at the time, I asked myself what we valued and what the case said about our society and traffic safety regime. I commend the introduction of the provision that requires the mandatory loss of a licence for a dangerous driving conviction.

In the not too distant past, it was culturally acceptable and commonplace to drink and drive and it will be difficult to change that culture. We have built our society around the acceptance of the use of drink in a social way. As the Garda said, it has a difficult task in policing something that is socially acceptable. Perhaps the Garda is reacting to its new powers by trying to prove a point. A number of Deputies spoke about how gardaí breathalyse people early in the morning who may still be over the legal limit after drinking the previous night. I have seen gardaí engaged in this activity on Nassau Street on Saturday mornings. While it is appropriate and prudent, the Garda should be careful, balanced and measured in its application of new legislation if it is to retain public support.

We could have a material effect in improving Garda performance in this regard through a second major provision in the Bill, that is, the mandatory breath testing of people involved in accidents. Rather than public disapproval, this measure would receive widespread public support and may be more of a deterrent than breathalysing people at other times.

The third measure I wish to commend relates to fines and their indexation. As a campaigner on the issue of transport for many years, I heard the "road lobby" group quoting endless statistics about how much motorists contribute to our society in terms of taxation. While this is the case, it is clear that our system, under which 400 people per year are killed and thousands maimed, has a cost in terms of lives, hospitalisation, insurance, repairs and road maintenance that far exceeds the revenue raised. Proper, strict and indexed fines that increase with inflation are appropriate if we are to give a clear message to motorists that they will be fined for breaking the law.

I commend the provision in the Bill to end the practice of returning someone's licence upon making an application. We need consistency. When we delivered a clear message in the form of the penalty points system, there was an improvement in behaviour and lives were saved. We must get the message out that if motorists breach legislation, the applicable penalties will not be reversed because of a legal stroke or someone turning a blind eye. When precious human life is lost and maimed to the extent it is in Ireland, we need strong measures. I commend the Fine Gael Bill.


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