Wednesday, 18 October 2006
Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed).
Pat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
I thank Deputy Olivia Mitchell for introducing the Bill and ensuring the continued interest and genuine concern of all sides of the House to reduce the level of deaths and injuries. In the short time available to me, I will try to address as many of the issues as possible.
With regard to the driver testing backlog, while the Road Safety Authority, which is now formally established, has responsibility for the delivery of the driving test, I agree that the waiting list for the driving test is at an unacceptably high level. The target is to bring this to a reasonable level of approximately an average of ten weeks by mid-2007. A range of measures have been put in place to achieve this result. There are 11 additional driver testers and seven extra staff from the Department of Agriculture and Food, a bonus scheme has been put in place for driver testers, which is expected to deliver 40,000 additional tests, and we are aware of the outsourcing of up to 45,000 tests, which is in place.
Waiting times for tests have begun to decline but the total number on the waiting list is still approximately 133,000. The outsourcing operation will bring five new test centres into operation this month and a further six centres will commence in December. Some 10,000 applicants have already been sent to the contractor and testing will begin next Monday, 23 October.
Many speakers made reference to dangerous driving and some expressed concern about the legislative provisions relating to dangerous driving, particularly in light of a recent well publicised case. They supported Deputy Mitchell's proposal in this regard. Depending on the gravity of the offence and the discretion of the court, there are already a number of legislative provisions dealing with this issue. These range from powers to arrest without warrant, large fines or imprisonment, or both, and disqualification from driving. Deputy Mitchell proposes a mandatory disqualification for driving for a period of not less than six months on conviction for dangerous driving offences. There is already a provision in the Road Traffic Act 2006, which was enacted in July last, that addresses this issue. Therefore, I am strongly of the view that it would be premature to consider other adjustments to the legislation relating to this area until the provisions in the 2006 Act have been commenced and implemented for a period.
Much reference was made to speed cameras during the debate. Members commented on various aspects of the speed cameras initiative, such as delays in privatisation, the location of cameras and the revenue that may be generated to the operator. The purpose of this initiative is to enhance overall road safety and help reduce the number of speed-related deaths and serious injuries on our roads. I assure the House that the central focus of this initiative is on saving lives, not earning income. There is no link between the two. There will be no direct link between the fee paid to the private operator and the number of detections. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has commenced the tendering process to select an operator and has indicated that the outsourcing is expected to take place in the first half of 2007. When the system is fully in place, the intention is that there will be 11.1 million speed checks on vehicles annually, as outlined in the national road safety strategy.
Reference was made to speed limits. Credit must go the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, who has provided substantial funding for lighting outside schools in all CLÁR areas, as well as funding through the local authorities for other roads. Drivers must take their responsibilities seriously. There are flashing lights at many schools. When drivers see these lights early in the morning or in the afternoon when children are going to and from school, they must immediately realise they are approaching a school. This issue is not only about legislation alone but about the responsibility of all road users.
Unfortunately, I do not have time to deal with all of the issues. However, I take the opportunity to remind the House and the wider public that the principal factors which result in accidents, deaths and injuries are drink-driving, speeding, non-use of seat belts and fatigue, which is also important. I respectfully suggest that all drivers should comply with the simple rules that are laid down, as these will be highly effective if drivers take responsibility in their own hands. We should remember that one's destiny could be around the next corner.
This issue concerns not only drivers but also passengers, pedestrians and other road users. As Deputy Naughten noted with regard to rural areas, if one is not wearing armbands or a reflector, one is putting one's life at risk as well as the lives of other road users.