Wednesday, 3 March 2010
Road Traffic Bill 2009: Second Stage (Resumed)
John McGuinness (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
On the previous occasion I was referring to the provision of the appropriate level of education for those who have not, for whatever reason, been driving for a period. It is worth reflecting on the figures in this regard. According to the Road Safety Authority, a total of 18,851 people were arrested on suspicion of drink driving in 2007. A total of 18,053 people were arrested on suspicion of drink driving in 2008. Another interesting statistic relates to the number of people who are disqualified from driving. The number of such individuals in 2008 was 12,213. In excess of 11,000 of these people received disqualifications from driving on foot of alcohol-related offences.
The figures I have outlined highlights the need to have a mechanism in place whereby the people to whom I refer - among whose number are included those who may have spent time in prison - can become reacquainted with the skill of driving. The company to which I referred on the previous occasion, which is associated with Carlow Institute of Technology, the county enterprise board and UCC, is providing such a service.
It is extremely important that we should reflect on the impact of all legislation that passes through this House. In the context of this Bill, we must ensure that something positive and tangible is done in order to ensure that those who are prevented from driving for a period - including those who, for one reason or another, spend time in prison - should be able to refresh their driving skills. The RSA has been approached in respect of this matter and it should reflect on the proposition that has been put to it. In addition, it should make some effort to ensure that such a system of re-education should be put in place in order that it might operate alongside the provisions in this legislation. I am informed that the technology employed by the company to which I refer is the best in Europe and that it is actually only available in Ireland at present. The provision of a system such as that which I have outlined is important.
Another matter of concern in the context of the Bill is the lowering of the blood alcohol level from 80 mg to 50 mg. The debate in respect of this issue has given rise to a wider discussion on rural Ireland and how we look upon it. To some degree, the matter has been taken out of context. I must declare an interest in that I have an interest in a building in which a public house is located.
The issue of connectivity to and within rural areas has been brought into sharp focus as a result of the debate to which I refer. The Minister referred to a study relating to integrated rural transport services. I accept that a body of experts may have been appointed to examine the position in respect of such services. However, I am of the view that those we should consult on rural transport are those who provide it. Private bus operators provide rural transport services in every county. Such operators have expert knowledge on connectivity within the counties they service and they should be consulted. In my county, J. J. Kavanagh & Sons provides a national bus service and it should have an input in the context of indicating how best to achieve connectivity between counties and between rural locations within counties.
The operators to whom I refer are best placed to indicate how national bus services could be connected to local bus services. Some €11 million is set aside in the Bill in respect of this matter. I am of the view that using the model I have outlined would lead to better value for money being obtained. It would also result in the provision of better services. We should discuss this matter with these operators because they have first-hand experience of providing services.
School transport services are provided in every county. Ring a Link, which operates in my county, and similar operators provide services under the rural transport initiative. Why is it not possible for the taxpayers' money provided to each of these operators to be pooled and matched with funds from the private sector in order that people in rural areas might be given access to a comprehensive range of transport options? That is the kernel of this issue. The money is already being provided. Rather than considering the issue in a narrow way, we should adopt a broader approach. I accept that a reasonable school transport service is provided. However, serious questions arise in the context of the amount of money being spent on that service and also on the type of service that is being delivered.
We should consider every aspect of transport in our deliberations. In the context of the Bill, the issue of transport has been discussed in the context of transporting people to and from public houses or other locations. We should concentrate on the provision of transport services to members of the public, regardless of where they are going or what they are doing. It would then be up to the people to support the services provided. If a service is required and has been requested, people must understand that it must be paid for and that they must subscribe to it.
The other aspect of safety in urban areas in which I am interested and where much could be done is the money available to local authorities to spend in housing estates or in urban centres. I cannot understand why there cannot be a more integrated approach between the Road Safety Authority, local authorities and other interested community groups at that level to ensure there are appropriate ramps, chicanes or other measures to reduce traffic speed and to introduce safety aspects, including in estates. It would remove from debate at local level, and in the policing committees which now exist, the ongoing criticism of road safety measures in estates. This must be part of any measure we take. It is absolutely essential that we link the spend to get greater value for money and satisfy those in communities who demand this change.
I am delighted the introduction of speed cameras will be rolled out. It is essential throughout the country. Despite criticism, work is being carried out on national roads and motorways and the travel time between major urban centres is being reduced and the journeys made safer. In light of this, the roll-out of speed cameras will take the difficulties out of the present system and put it on a more professional level. It is disappointing that certain aspects of the Bill will not be introduced until 2011, when we must upgrade certain equipment. It is amazing how quickly the private sector can recalibrate equipment and make it operational. As administrators, we find it difficult to get immediate results from projects and they turn into never-ending sagas of finding time, finding the appropriate equipment and recalibrating it. Years pass and it is not done. I urge the Minister, not only with regard to this project but also with regard to any road safety measure, that measures are planned and delivered within budget and on time and that this becomes part of the planning of our road safety strategy.
I welcome the administrative penalties and I am interested to see how they will work. Overall, the Bill will be positive in what it sets out to achieve. However, it is essential that the aspects dealing with education and rural transport are rolled out. We must also ensure greater connectivity between and within counties. It should be easily achievable with the money available.