Wednesday, 25 April 2018
Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017: Report Stage (Resumed)
As I said last night, it would have been preferable if this was included on Second Stage and we dealt with it at committee level but, obviously, the process is required because there was a need to make sure this set of amendments were legally sound. We had patience with that because of the origin of this issue. This is not something that was dreamt up because people were looking for something to do. This set of amendments was prompted by very tragic and real circumstances in which people found themselves, ironically in rural Ireland. I think most people know them as the Clancy amendments. They are called that for a particular reason because a woman and her daughter lost their lives. The inquest recommended that this precise legislation be enacted to prevent, as far as we can prevent, the same set of circumstances arising again. I was here last night and the one thing that was not terribly obvious in the commentary last night, and tonight, is that this aspect is being taken seriously. I heard someone say last night that it was perfectly fine to down a couple of pints and then get into a car. I thought we had gone beyond that.
In the past three years, 47 learner drivers have been involved in fatal crashes. This is not a made-up number. A recent edition of "Prime Time" told us that 5.8% of fatal collisions involve a learner driver. We want to keep learner drivers safe but we also want to keep the roads safe. Even though this sometimes requires denying people a freedom they may well feel they should have, it is being done for a good reason. The programme spoke to a man called Alec Lee whose 17 year old daughter, Carol, was killed in Tipperary in 2000. He talked about how heartbroken he is and how senseless the loss of her life was - that was in County Tipperary.
I have listened to Deputy Mattie McGrath at length and he did not refer to that aspect of it at all. This is the reason we are dealing with this set of amendments. It has not been dreamed up out of thin air. It is backed by the RSA, which is not just a quango sitting somewhere trying to find things to do. It gathers information on road traffic accidents that involve a fatality or serious injury. It maps those and goes into the detail of the circumstances of each accident with An Garda Síochána, such as whether it was a wet or dry day, what the junction was like, if a junction was involved, the side of the vehicle that was impacted and what other vehicles were involved. It gathers quite a sizeable amount of information. From that, it makes recommendations as to how we can make our roads safer and reduce the number of fatalities. This is how it should be. Before the RSA existed, the local authorities used to do that and I remember the forms that had to be filled in. There must have been 100 questions on them. A great deal of information is available to the RSA.
When asked for its opinion, the AA raised concerns over how the law would be enforced, which is a valid point. It also stated that it was absolutely and demonstratively true and provable by any road data internationally that it is unsafe for learner drivers to be on the road unaccompanied. That comes from a motoring organisation that has a body of information gathered over decades, not just in Ireland but internationally.
The Road Safety Authority has stated that 5.8% of all fatal crashes between 2014 and 2017 involved a learner driver. That is less than the number of learner drivers on the road, which is 9%. The Road Safety Authority recommends this. I am inclined to look at the evidence. There is considerable evidence indicating that it makes roads safer.
Somebody, who has been involved in a collision that has caused serious harm or death to another person, has to carry that for his or her life, as do the family. There is shame associated with that. Therefore, there are injuries beyond those who are directly impacted.
I was here last night when there was quite a large crowd in the Gallery for a debate on community employment schemes. However, in the middle of that group, was a group of people who have lost family members. The lack of sensitivity in the debate was deplorable. They got that awful knock on the door. They have to live without the person or people in their families who were very central to their families. We are trying to stop that happening to other families. That is why this amendment deserves to be supported. The evidence reinforces what is being proposed here.
While most of my constituency is urban, parts of it are quite rural. While there is a difficulty for people to get to and from work etc., I do not think people want to do that at the expense of causing the kind of carnage that has been caused to families who have got that knock on the door.
I will confine my remarks to this section which is about widening the scope of the Bill. It is important to make the point that this is not frivolous legislation that was dreamt up by some official who had nothing to do with his or her time, backed up by the Road safety Authority, who is doing it for the sake of doing it. There are solid reasons for doing it. For that reason, I believe it should be supported.