Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 October 2006


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

8:00 pm

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)

I thank the Minister, the Minister of State and all the Members who contributed to the debate on this Fine Gael road traffic Bill. The contributions made were cogent, thoughtful and reflected the seriousness of the sense of responsibility everybody has in respect of road traffic. I ask the Minister even at this late stage to consider allowing this Fine Gael Private Members' Bill to go forward to Committee and Remaining Stages.

The Government parties think that all the good ideas and knowledge reside with them but the reality is that the impetus for many of the measures implemented, which I hope are beginning to show an improvement in our road safety figures and for many of which Ministers and backbenchers take credit, came from this side of the House. The Minister may remember when his predecessor was in office we were told a ban on the use of mobile phones while driving could not be imposed because a proper definition could not be formulated for a mobile phone, which is difficult to believe. When I on behalf of Fine Gael introduced that Bill, suddenly there was no problem in the Government introducing a Bill and formulating a definition for a mobile phone.

Similarly, the Minister might remember his lack of enthusiasm for mandatory breath testing. The Government and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform had to be dragged kicking and screaming to accepting that was a good idea and worth pursuing. First we were told it could not be done and then we were told we did not need to do it. Now with all the zeal of converts the Ministers have adopted this idea as if it was their own in the first place and all the backbenchers and Ministers are claiming credit for it.

This side of the House does not care where the accolades go but we ask the Minister to accept that sometimes the Opposition has and is capable of generating good ideas, particularly in the area of road safety. I remember vividly being vilified by a Minister and backbenchers on radio because I asserted it was unacceptable to have a driving testing system that drivers never had to pass and that it was unacceptable that learner drivers would not be subjected to any restrictions in terms of road use. It is now accepted as a common sense suggestion that there should be restrictions on learner drivers and that is espoused by the Road Safety Authority and Government members. However, a few months ago it was regarded as a positively seditious idea and that we should not dream of introducing such restrictions because they would change the way of life.

I wish to refer to a number of issues raised during the debate but time constraints do not permit me to do so. However, I wish to make one point which might seem a little strange in the context of a road safety Bill. If the Road Safety Authority is successful in its work and if our legislative efforts to change driving behaviour are successful, particularly in ending drink driving, a cultural change will be needed not only in the way we drive but in the way we socialise. The local pub, which has long been the centre where friends and families meet to socialise and be together, will no longer be accessible in the way it was in the past. Access on foot to pubs for people who live in rural areas in particular and in the sprawling suburbs is not possible. Public transport, certainly late at night unless one is in the city centre, is almost unavailable. If the change in attitude that we are beginning to see is to be internalised by society, we must start thinking outside the box in terms of providing some kind of opportunity for a public transport service or some form of transport for people who want to socialise. We need to think outside the box by perhaps giving publicans access to bus licences. People are changing. We are conscious that we need to stop drinking and driving. I hear people say they will not take even one drink because it is not safe to do so. It is great to see that change, but that does not mean we have to give up having fun and socialising. It is important, particularly in light of the fact that hundreds of pubs around the country are closing. While we want to change behaviour in this area, it does not mean we must change completely the way we socialise. Publicans have a responsibility to come up with ideas as to how they can help, for instance, in providing drivers for people, rather than buses or cars. The rural transport initiative is another possibility as a means which could facilitate social activity in the country, particularly outside the cities. The aim here is not to end socialising but to try to make it safer for people to socialise.

The measures we propose in this Bill are necessarily tough on the transgressors of our traffic laws, those who drive dangerously, abuse drugs and endanger themselves as well as others. A softly, softly approach to abuse on our roads is no longer acceptable. I commend the Bill to the House.


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