Wednesday, 3 March 2010
Road Traffic Bill 2009: Second Stage (Resumed)
Christy O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this very important legislation but it is important we get it right from the beginning and that it is seen to be fair and balanced. By and large, I agree with most of what is in this Bill. I appreciate the hard work that has gone into getting it to this point but there are aspects I would like teased out more before it is passed into law.
I have been struck by the contributions of many speakers which bear personal testimony to the devastation brought about by road traffic accidents. I am not immune to this. My brother, who may well have been destined to be a Member of this House, was killed in a road accident in 1993 and I know first-hand how this affected family and friends.
I wish to make a few points, which are important to this debate. There are equally valid viewpoints that must be taken into consideration. Rural isolation cannot be ignored. There are people in my constituency who may have to walk for a half an hour before they reach a public road and walk for well over an hour before they get to the nearest village or town. There are no street lights, no buses and no taxis for them. These are the people about whom I am concerned.
The people most affected are usually the older generation who have spent the week on their own perhaps working the farm and getting on with life. We cannot say to them not to drink and drive and leave it at that. We must consider ways in which we can alleviate the isolation they feel on a daily basis.
There are no statistics to show that the person in rural Ireland who goes to his or her local and has one or two drinks is the cause of accidents. The Bill we pass should not have the side effect of further damaging rural Ireland. God knows, it is damaged enough already. Ways must be found to enhance and protect this rapidly diminishing way of life.
I do not condone drink driving but there are other factors which must be taken into account when considering this Bill. For instance, it is impossible to ignore the bad condition of our roads in recent months which is due, by and large, to unprecedented weather conditions. This legislation must reflect that because the condition of our national, secondary, regional and county roads are a major factor in, and the cause of, road accidents. People now have the added difficulty of trying to avoid large potholes which, in itself, is an extra hazard.
The main artery from Cork city to west Cork is the N71 which has been neglected through the years and is in desperate need of upgrading. Anybody who has travelled this road will know what I am talking about. Now that the Cork Swansea ferry service is about to recommence, there will be more pressure on this very important road.
We talk a lot about statistics which show speeding is a major cause of accidents on our roads. Speed is the main factor contributing to road deaths in Ireland. More than 40% of fatal accidents are caused by inappropriate and excessive speed. Young males under 25 years of age driving late at night or early in the morning are involved in a large number of fatal accidents and this is an area to which we must pay more attention.
Car crashes are the number one killer of young men aged 16 to 25 in Ireland and driving at excessive speed is the primary cause of these crashes. I am not here to place all the blame on young Irish males. Any Bill we introduce, which affects our youth, should also endeavour to enhance and protect them. In this regard, we should actively provide facilities and events to enable young people to enjoy driving in a safe and proper environment. Facilities should be also provided for them to learn to drive and practise driving before taking to the roads. This could be done in transition year or final years. Similar practices have proven successful internationally.
All of us have witnessed careless and reckless driving behaviour, including drivers who are unable to concentrate because they are using mobile telephones, people overtaking five or six cars at once and drivers overtaking on double white lines. We must target such persons because they present a serious threat to road safety.
Before we adopt this legislation, we must be confident we are doing everything in our power to eradicate bad driving habits. We also must be sure we are not placing greater stress on those who live in isolation in country areas where public transport is not available. We must discourage people from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or at excess speed. In doing this, we must ensure we act in a fair and balanced manner.