Wednesday, 18 October 2006
Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed).
Olwyn Enright (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
I wish to share time with Deputy Naughten.
I welcome the Bill and congratulate my colleague, Deputy Olivia Mitchell, on bringing it forward. I am disappointed, not for the first time, that the Government could not even accept the broad thrust of what is contained in the Bill because, effectively, it includes provisions which should have been introduced over the past nine and a half years and it really should not take a proposal from this side of the House to get the issues outlined adequately dealt with.
Road safety must come down initially to an issue of personal responsibility. It is difficult to disseminate that message and perhaps we all need to reflect on that a little. It is individual driver behaviour that we are talking about but, because personal responsibility in this area is not taken seriously enough, it comes down to a matter of enforcement and of having adequate legislation.
I understand the points Deputy McHugh was trying to make, that it is about enforcement, but I disagree with his view that we do not need more legislation. Any loopholes in existing legislation need to be closed because we cannot send the Garda out to do a job unless it has a proper legislative framework within which to do it. That legislative framework simply does not exist currently and Deputy Olivia Mitchell highlighted five key areas in which it does not exist. If the Garda is to do its job effectively, we need to make those changes. If the Government will not accept this Bill, I would like to see it bring forward its own legislation to close all of these loopholes and deal with these issues without delay.
The incident in Mullingar which was before the court last month is a lesson to everyone and brings us back to the issue of personal responsibility. There is a tendency to blame drink driving for practically everything. I am not accusing the Government of this but, in general, it is a public perception. I am not attempting in any way to lessen that because it is a severe cause of road accidents, but the behaviour that night clearly showed irresponsibility on the part of individuals and that type of irresponsible driving needs to be punished far more severely than it was in that case. The wrong lesson has gone out there, that maybe that is the type of behaviour that is acceptable or that people can in some way hope to get away with. That is certainly not acceptable and there should be severe punishment for it.
Likewise, the issue of drug testing is one with which we must seriously grapple. Last week in this House we debated the issue of drugs, drug treatment, the way society views drugs nowadays and that drugs are pervasive in society. The position is serious where there is no method for testing for drugs and gardaí do not test for drugs after accidents.
Drugs are in common use. I have no reason to believe people who are taking drugs are in any way less likely to drive than people who have consumed alcohol. Certainly, if they know they will get away with it if they do, which is very much the message they are getting, there is little deterrent for them. That is another loophole that needs to be closed urgently, not only from a road safety perspective but also so we state clearly the State's view that taking drugs is unacceptable.
When I read Deputy Mitchell's proposals on the indexation of fines I was amazed that it is a matter we must raise. It is such a basic point that it is hard to believe it has not been dealt with at this stage. It should be a simple matter and it should be done.
I very much support the idea of notification of victims of crime. We should not think that the tragedy befalling families as a result of road accidents is any different than that following any other tragedy, and the victims are entitled to be consulted and made aware of appeals of convictions or of the length of a ban from driving.
I wish to raise three other issues, the first of which relates to speed limits. I cited an example in this House in November of last year, when road works were being done on the N7. The road was quite lethal at the time, especially at night, because the traffic cones were extremely dirty and one could not see the division in the road. While the road has improved significantly, when one leaves the motorway where the speed limit is 120 km/h to go into the 100 km/h zone in the vicinity of Naas there is only a regular small sign informing one of the changing speed limit. Others have told me and I have found that one is often in the 100 km/h zone before one realises and then one must look around on the road to see a speed limit sign at that point. Shortly afterwards, the speed limit reduces to 80 km/h but I do not have a difficulty with that. I am sure there are valid reasons for there being three limits within that area, but there is a need for greater notification coming off motorways so people are aware of the speed limit changes, especially when they are remaining on the same road and not going off on a slipway.
I also want to mention the issue of speed limits outside schools. When we passed the road safety legislation last year we missed an opportunity. I understand that the power has been given to local authorities but we all know that local authorities can be extremely slow in passing this and that they are going through it school by school. The Government should have taken the opportunity to reduce speed limits outside all schools in one go and I ask it to give serious consideration to this point, even on an initial basis if it is done at opening and closing hours only. That could be implemented nationally, with people being made aware that the limits would be reduced in the vicinity of schools between 8.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. and again at closing time. That would be effective and all it would take is gardaí sitting in a few areas for a short while for the message to disseminate clearly that speeding past schools is not acceptable.
While I am not one who always states that everything needs to be done by schools and teachers must take on board every problem we find ourselves dealing with in society, post-primary school is the last chance of getting the majority of young people together and while we still have them within the education system we should take the opportunity of giving them far more education on driver behaviour and driving. This need not necessarily be done by teachers but it is a matter at which we need to look, perhaps in transition year. It need not necessarily be done in transition year because many transition year students are a few years younger than those learning to drive, but certainly it is a matter that needs to be examined because these students are of an age when one begins to think about driving and the notion of getting on the road becomes attractive. If we teach them good behaviour at that young age, they will not have bad habits when they are on the road a few years later.