Wednesday, 18 October 2006
Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed).
Arthur Morgan (Louth, Sinn Fein)
As the carnage on our roads increases, there has been much media hype surrounding recent legislation and other proposals to improve road safety. However, such legislation has been partial and lacked a comprehensive approach to road safety.
The Twenty-six Counties' national road safety strategy aims to reduce deaths on our roads to 300 in 2006, but unfortunately that figure may be eclipsed because 292 people have already lost their lives this year, a shocking figure. Behind these statistics are families and friends who have lost loved ones, but it is a sad fact that many of the deaths were preventable.
My party believes that the most effective way to improve road safety is an all-Ireland response. That there are two systems for drivers hampers road safety. Sinn Féin is calling for the harmonisation of speed limits, road signs, driving standards, penalty points and the licensing system. The artificial Border should not impinge on driver safety. Those in Border areas are disproportionately affected by road traffic accidents. The only viable option to address this pressing issue is an immediate summit involving all the major stakeholders, North and South, with a view to establishing a fully resourced and financed island-wide organisation.
Providing for a mandatory disqualification from driving for at least six months seems fair in the case of people convicted of dangerous driving. There has been outrage concerning such drivers receiving little or no punishment for their involvement in high-speed racing and reckless driving. We support the minimum disqualification provision where the Judiciary can use discretion to impose lengthier bans proportionate to the seriousness of the offences. Drivers so charged should undergo a driver education course as part of a rehabilitation programme to ensure that they respect road safety in future.
The mandatory breath testing of drivers involved in accidents seems a logical step in conjunction with random breath testing. It is surprising that the matter has not been addressed by legislation.
Drug driving is another phenomenon endangering lives on our roads. Scandinavian evidence suggests that of every 100 drink drivers detected, half have consumed other drugs. The problem of drivers coked up, as it is called, and driving recklessly needs attention. Gardaí must be sufficiently trained and have the proper resources to test suspected drugged drivers. In this regard, there must be a balance between protecting the public and ensuring that human and civil rights are not impinged upon.
Driver education is a pillar in improving road safety and reducing the number of road fatalities. While everyone seems to be supportive of the concept, there has been little progress. Ireland has consistently failed to reduce its number of road deaths in the past five years, but France has reduced its numbers by 35%. That it introduced a driving scheme for 16 years olds in the early 1990s and has made noteworthy achievements in improving road safety is no coincidence.
The explosion in car usage and the reliance on private cars has contributed to our poor road safety record. For decades, successive Governments have failed to invest in adequate public transport. Consequently, commuters face congestion, frustration, road rage and more accidents on a daily basis. The absence of an integrated all-Ireland public transport system has ensured a significant proportion of people are compelled to rely on private cars. Chauffeur-driven Ministers presiding over our current ailing public transport system need to provide the travelling public with viable public transport alternatives. Instead of merely filling gaps in legislation, we need an all-Ireland response to the question of road safety, with education, awareness and suitable training at the core of that policy.