Thursday, 18 November 2021
Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important Bill. There are a lot of great provisions within the Bill that will have positive implications for road users.
I want to focus on scramblers first because this is an issue that affects many of my constituents. I note that the Bill commits to introducing measures to address the antisocial use of scramblers and that is a positive development. The use of scramblers, and their links to antisocial behaviour and sometimes to organised crime, presents a threat to law and order in urban communities. In my area of Dublin Mid-West, the use of scramblers is of particular concern. An awful lot of anxiety is associated with the revs and roars of these vehicles being used in areas where they simply should not be used. It translates into intimidation and fear in communities where scramblers and quad bikes are used irresponsibly. They are sometimes used as part of antisocial behaviour campaigns, to fuel illegal behaviour or sometimes to help in organised crime. This is simply unacceptable. I am pleased, therefore, that the Minister has drafted this legislation which will allow for the seizure of these vehicles when they are used in public places. My colleague in Clondalkin, Councillor Kenneth Egan, has done considerable work to shape policies on this and I thank him for his work.
The public do not want to live in places that feel unsafe. They want communities, parks, streets and canal paths that are safe. Communities have had enough of the revs, roars, intimidation and antisocial behaviour associated with scrambler misuse. The legislation the Government is finalising will change that. It will make a real difference to our communities across Dublin and in urban areas throughout the country.
I welcome the commitment to tackling this problem where it counts - on our streets, in our parks and along our canals.
I also welcome the provisions in this Bill that will regulate the use of powered personal transporters, such as e-scooters. Whether we welcome them or not, e-scooters are already on our roads. That is a fact. They are being used by people every day but up until now, the lack of legislation has put those road users and those scooters in a dubious legal space. Their personal use has led to a plethora of unsafe habits from some, but not all, users. It is right that we regulate the use of e-scooters. However, I share concerns around safety and accessibility.
A recent study commissioned by Transport for London indicated that riding an e-scooter could be 100 times more dangerous than riding a bicycle. The study also found that a person who uses an e-scooter regularly will on average require medical treatment for injury sustained by use of an e-scooter every three years of use. Anecdotally, an accident and emergency nurse I know told me that over the past couple of years e-scooter injuries are becoming so common that she sees at least one e-scooter related injury every shift. They range from cuts and sprains to more traumatic injuries, such as head injuries, and the risks are real. It is vitally important that the rules around e-scooters are strongly enforced and that the public knows the responsibilities are there should they choose to use an e-scooter, which, as many colleagues have pointed out, are a quick and eco-friendly way of getting around congested places such as our city centre.
The rules and the responsibilities need to be looked at too. They should not be used to transport more than one person or to carry goods. Mobile phones should certainly not be used while driving an e-scooter and they should not be allowed on pathways or pedestrian areas. Those laws must be enforced by the Garda.
In terms of accessibility, I support the proposal for the introduction of a scheme similar to the Dublinbikes scheme. This would be the best possible way of making e-scooters accessible in public and a similar approach to that taken by other European countries. It is also the best way we can encourage their use, ensure scooters meet all the safety standards and make them a viable alternative to cars. When used safely, e-scooters and e-bikes offer an excellent alternative to car travel. Reducing the number of cars on our roads and our emissions is a focus and a commitment of this Government going forward.
However, more needs to be done to encourage their safe use among the public. For example, I would support allowing e-scooters to be brought on board public transport where space allows. It would make it easier for members of the public to incorporate e-scooters into a hybrid commute where they may choose to use a scooter for part of a journey and opt for public transport for the rest. If you are living further outside Dublin you might hop on a bus to get to halfway in and as traffic congestion starts to build up, hop off the bus and onto your e-scooter. That needs to be a real option and an alternative for people. They are small enough vehicles. Many of them can be folded and picked up easily. They should be allowed on public transport where possible but, of course, their transportation should not in any way affect the availability of space for wheelchairs, which must be prioritised at all times.
I thank the Minister for bringing forward this important legislation. It is a flagship for the Department and I welcome it. This Bill has the power to revolutionise how we get around Irish towns and cities while also reducing emissions and tackling congestion. I very much look forward to Ireland having one of the safest and most accessible e-scooter regimes in Europe.