Wednesday, 25 April 2018
Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017: Report Stage (Resumed)
There is a sense of déjà vuin this debate, particularly the very lengthy start made regarding recommittal to Committee Stage, because we thought approximately one year ago that section 39 of the 2016 Act was in order, signed by the President and would be commenced. There is no question but that amendment No. 29, which the Minister has tabled, is a comprehensive attempt to finally address the issue of unaccompanied drivers. It is a couple of years since a former Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, gave me information on the number of fatal and serious injury collisions involving unaccompanied drivers from 2012 to November 2016. In 2012 there were seven fatal and 22 serious collisions; in 2013, there were four fatal and ten serious collisions; in 2014, there were eight fatal and 32 serious collisions and in 2015, there were 16 fatal and 24 serious collisions. Up to that time in 2016, in October or November, there had been seven fatal and 24 serious collisions. A total of 49 people have died on our roads this year up to last Monday. If in any other area of transport there were 160 or 170 deaths in a single incident, there would be a major investigation and public inquiry. Due to the nature of road traffic crashes, with one or two people being killed or injured week after week, we in this House do not take the number so seriously.
There are people in the Visitors Gallery tonight who have suffered at the hands of unaccompanied drivers, the subject of the Clancy amendment or section 39 of the 2016 Act, including the representatives of Promoting Awareness Responsibility and Care, PARC, Ms Susan Gray and her son Steven, who lost a husband and father due to a crash involving an unaccompanied learner driver. I also welcome Fiona and Noel Clancy, as well as Louise Doyle. Alec Lee cannot be with us tonight. I agree with Deputy Catherine Murphy that the tenor of the debate last night was disrespectful to the families who have suffered and the tens of thousands of victims of road traffic crashes. It is incumbent on some of those who spoke to remember the incredibly sensitive nature of what has happened and which has traumatised families. These main amendments, and others that Deputy Troy tabled but which seem to have been ruled out of order, seek to remedy an intolerable situation and to try to bring that suffering to an end. Steven Gray was outside this House when he was a little boy asking us to address this issue and here we are finally in 2018 on the cusp, I hope, of doing that.
I listened at great length last night to our colleagues representing Kerry and Tipperary. I know south Kerry fairly well, as the Deputies Healy-Rae know. They mentioned the closure of The Shebeen, the famous pub in Lauragh. I thought also of Bunaw in Kilmakilloge, where Teddy O’Sullivan's bar, a good local hostelry, is still going strong. Rural life is continuing. The bottom line, however, is that 81% of road fatalities are in rural Ireland. Drink-driving is an issue for rural Ireland that we must address. I have always been very sympathetic to supported public transport for rural Ireland. One can take too dismal a view of the situation. I am also familiar with Deputy Mattie McGrath's constituency, having been a couple of times camped in the great town of Clonmel during famous by-elections when I was canvassing for my former party.
The arguments for the 50 mg to 80 mg drink-driving level are pretty overwhelming. Many of the studies we have seen show that people's capacity starts to decline after 20 mg. International studies are pretty conclusive on the point that having drink taken, when one's senses are impaired, is a serious deficiency in respect of operating machinery such as a car. That there are 180 arrests every week for drink driving bears out the fact that we must seek to address this issue. That is why it is right that we have recommitted this Bill to address the key elements that have not been addressed by this House and the Government. We should proceed with the business and go through these amendments as quickly as we can.