Wednesday, 18 October 2006
Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006: Second Stage (Resumed).
Shane McEntee (Meath, Fine Gael)
In 2000, 415 people were killed on our roads; in 2001, the figure was 411; in 2002, 376; in 2003, 335; in 2004, 374; in 2005, 396; and to date this year, 292. However, interestingly, in August last year, 24 people were killed but the figure reduced to 17 this August; in September 2005, 31 were killed but the figure was down to 23 in September this year; in October last year, the figure was 44 but it reduced to 13 this month. Long may that progress last.
As the Minster, Deputy Cullen, stated, it was very difficult to read the newspapers on a Monday morning. As deputy spokesperson with responsibility for road safety, I felt the same. In the past three months, the situation has improved and I congratulate everybody responsible for implementing what has taken place. We could claim that some people should not have died but I hope the numbers killed before the end of the year will be small.
I am disappointed that the Government might not support the Bill. I am also disappointed that an aspect of this issue has not been tackled, although when the matter was raised previously, it was claimed the truth was not being told. We can reduce the number of deaths, which this year stands at 292, by a further 30%. Drink-driving, speeding and unqualified drivers are big issues but they are not the only issues. I drove yesterday in counties Tipperary, Laois, Kilkenny, Westmeath and Offaly. Our road conditions are not good, for many reasons, but partly because much heavy traffic has moved onto our byroads. This is particularly the case in the east, where conditions have worsened in the past week due to heavy rain. Such conditions will cause more accidents.
Investment must go further. There is no such thing as an acceptable level. We were at a low level — perhaps 17th or 18th in the EU — but I have no doubt we will move to perhaps fifth or sixth if the current figures continue. We have to aim to get to the top. As Fine Gael spokesperson on safety, I promise the House that when we are in Government next year, we will reduce the numbers killed by another 30% by not being afraid to go the whole way. We will put our money where our mouth is and invest in road surfacing. We will have an audit carried out on every road the length and breadth of Ireland to ensure they stand up to scrutiny. We will introduce speed limits appropriate to the roads. We will also erect road signs. I noticed that regardless of the roads I travelled yesterday, when I came to dangerous crossroads the road sign was at the crossroads, when it should have been some distance from the crossroads. We will invest money in our roads to ensure they are safe for our young people.
In regard to drink driving and accidents, we will ensure an investigation unit is set up to investigate the cause of every accident that occurs. Testing for drink driving must be compulsory, as must testing for drugs as many young and middle aged people take drugs and then drive. The drugs problem has escalated out of control. I did not realise the problem had escalated to such an extent until the past six months. Drugs are rampant in every part of the country and people drive having taken drugs. Some people who do not drink take drugs. It is essential that tests are carried out on all those involved in every accident that occurs.
It is important that we continue to support Government policy in this area. We could say that a fifth of the people who died on our roads should not have died, but those accidents happened and those people are dead. The road fatality numbers must continue to drop. Irrespective of who is in Government, the saving of lives must be the number one priority.
As Deputy Naughten said, this is the time of the year when a far bigger road safety campaign should be under way. A major road safety campaign must be put in place in the next week or ten days, as people are killed on our roads when the first skite of frost appears. I remember some ten or 15 years ago two girls who worked in a Chinese restaurant in Navan were involved in an accident on a bad stretch of road in the middle of October when the roads were frosty. Motorists should be made aware of such dangerous driving conditions. I ask the Government to engage in a campaign in the next ten days to alert motorists to check their tyres, and for councils to grit the roads in preparation for frosty weather. There should be no slippage in such preparation, as happened when the penalty points system was first introduced.
Providing a training centre for our young people is essential. People have come forward with plans in that regard. I am aware of a person in the Oldcastle area who wants to present a plan to whatever Government is in power for a testing area for the entire north east. The idea is that young people would be brought by their parents to learn how to drive because they cannot do that in built up areas like Navan, Dunshaughlin, Ashbourne, Limerick, Cork or elsewhere. They must be brought to an area where they can drive and get the feel of a car.
The Minister said the waiting time for the driving test is far too long and I know every effort has been made in some form to address that. I realise people do not want to respond in that regard. There is little point in interviewing people if they are then not taken on. The waiting time for the driving test must be reduced. People who apply to do the test today must be assured they can do it in 12 weeks' time. Otherwise, young people who take driving lessons will become disillusioned. People pass their driving test because they drive correctly, and they will always remember that. It is like winning a match. One will always know that one did it right and such motorists will try to drive correctly for the rest of their lives. Young people have no belief in the system but it is something on which everybody should work.
Road fatalities have fallen to 292 and I hope this figure will continue to fall. However, I ask the Government to ensure that over the next ten days, which as Deputy Naughten said is a crucial time in terms of dangerous road conditions, people are alerted by radio and other means to grit the roads and check their tyres.
Some of our small villages have been almost destroyed because of heavy transport vehicles. A bypass for Slane has been put on the back burner and it is gridlocked. Large lorries use Slane and Duleek because they do not want to pay tolls. Something must be done for those small villages and towns because small businesses are closing as people cannot park in these towns. The tolls on toll roads should not be charged for a period to determine the number of lorries that are not using the toll roads because of the cost. Lorries are destroying our back roads and byroads. I ask the Minister to consider not charging the toll for a month, for example, on the M1 as Slane is a complete mess, to ascertain how many lorries use that toll road. Drivers of these heavy vehicles drive through Bellewstown and across from Collon. They are destroying our small towns.
I am disappointed the Government does not back some of our proposals. We have done everything we can to put forward proposals to improve road safety. The number of road fatalities have fallen and they can reduce further. I hope at the end of this year the figure will be at an acceptable level, but I give a guarantee that when Fine Gael gets into Government it will reduce that figure by another 30%. We will spend money on roads because 30% of the accidents in which people are killed are caused by dangerous roads.