Wednesday, 5 April 2006
Road Safety Authority Bill 2004: Report Stage (Resumed).
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 6, line 26, after "Authority" to insert the following:
"but notwithstanding the transfer of functions to the Authority, the Minister shall be accountable to DÃ¡il Ãireann for the general policy of the Authority".
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 6, between lines 46 and 47, to insert the following:
"(5) Without prejudice to any other subsection in this section, the Authority shall further have amongst its responsibilities, the following:
(a) the registration of vehicles and retention of data pertaining to the ownership of vehicles;
(b) driver testing;
(c) registration of qualified driving instructors;
(d) maintenance of the national driver file;
(e) education of drivers, and promotion of educational and information campaigns for safe and responsible driving;
(f) maintenance, management and revision, as appropriate, of the Rules of the Road;
(g) maintenance of road signage and markings;
(h) policy advice to the Minister and certain other bodies as prescribed by this Act; and
(i) such other matters as the Minister may prescribe from time to time.".
The House might note in particular that section 4(4)(b) addresses the core functions of the promotion of road safety in general and the education of road users. The wording proposed for that paragraph reflects provisions contained in the establishment order for the National Safety Council whose remit will pass to the road safety authority.
I intend to revoke that establishment order formally through the exercise of my powers under the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act. Therefore, while I appreciate the overall thrust of the amendments proposed by Deputies Olivia Mitchell and Shortall, the outcomes they seek are already being addressed in this area. We discussed this on Committee Stage. The registration of vehicles is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners and it is not appropriate that it should be a function of the road safety authority.
Under section 60 of the Finance Act 1993, as amended, data on the ownership of vehicles in the national driver file is a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Section 4 of the Bill provides for the transfer of functions to the road safety authority covering the driving test, registration of driving instructors, driver education and the promotion of road safety for the sake of clarity.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 7, to delete lines 7 and 8.
These are technical amendments arising from the provisions of section 22 of the Interpretation Act 2005 which provides that a power conferred by an enactment to make a statutory instrument includes a power to repeal or amend it.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 7, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
5.âThe Act of 2002 is amended by:
(a) inserting the following new subsection after subsection (3) in section 1:
"(4) Responsibility for the maintenance, operation and alteration of the licence record shall vest in the Road Safety Authority.",
(b) deleting section 2(2) and substituting the following:
"(2) Where a person is convicted of a penalty point offence, the number of penalty points specified in column (5) of the First Schedule opposite the mention of the offence in column (2) of that Schedule shall, subject to and in accordance with the provisions of this Actâ
(a) be endorsed on the entry relating to the person in respect of the offence,
(b) be entered into the record of the Garda PULSE system, and
(c) be endorsed upon that person's driving licence by an Garda SÃochÃ¡na.",
(c) inserting the following new subsection after subsection (5):
"(6)(a) Upon receipt of a notice under section 5 of this Act, a person shall, within 14 days, surrender his or her licence to a Member of an Garda SÃochÃ¡na at any Garda station, so that the penalty points under this section may be endorsed upon it.
(b) A person who fails to surrender his or her licence under this subsection shall be guilty of an offence, which shall be punishable by a fine not exceeding â¬80 for each offence until the said licence has been endorsed in accordance with subsection (a) of this section.
(d) deleting section 5 and substituting the following:
5.â(1) When penalty points are endorsed on the entry of a person, the Minister shall, as soon as may be thereafter, cause a notice to be given or sent, by post or otherwise, to the personâ
(a) to the effect that the number of penalty points specified in the notice has been endorsed on the entry relating to the person followingâ
(i) the making by the person of a payment referred to in section 2(1), or
(ii) the conviction of the person of a penalty point offence,
and that, subject to section 3(2), they will remain on the entry for a period of 3 years beginning on the appropriate date, and
(b) specifying the total number of penalty points that, following the endorsement aforesaid, stand so endorsed and, if that number equals or exceeds 12, specifying that the person will be disqualified under section 3 for holding a licence for a period of 6 months, beginning on the appropriate date, and directing him or her to submit the licence held by him or her to the licensing authority that granted the licence not later than 14 days from that date.
(2) When a notice is given or sent to a person under subsection (1), the Minister shall causeâ
(a) particulars of the notice, including its date, to be entered on the entry relating to the person,
(b) a copy of that notice to be sent to an Garda SÃochÃ¡na, and
(c) particulars of the notice, including its date, to be entered on the Garda PULSE system.
(3) A person who does not comply with a direction under paragraph (b) of subsection (1) in a notice under that subsection shall be guilty of an offence.
(4) An Garda SÃochÃ¡na shallâ
(a) have jurisdiction to seek the surrender of a licence in the name of person to whom a notice has been given or sent under subsection (1), in the same manner as if a court order had been issued for the forfeiture of that licence, or
(b) seek a court order for the forfeiture of that licence under this Act.
As I indicated on Committee Stage, the development of the support system for the penalty points system involved significant and ongoing consultation with all the State agencies involved, including the Garda SÃochÃ¡na, the Courts Service, the vehicle registration unit of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The system involved the establishment of data linkages between the national driver file and the relevant information technology systems in the Garda SÃochÃ¡na and the Courts Service. An intrinsic part of the system is that all the endorsements of penalty points on a licence record and all disqualifications are recorded on the national driver file. There have been further allegations of loopholes in the penalty points system recently but that appears to be more anecdotal than real.
When this point arose on Committee Stage I told Deputies Olivia Mitchell and Shortall that I would set out the procedure for them. To clarify the penalty points disqualification procedure, any driver who accumulates 12 penalty points is disqualified for six months under section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 2002. In accordance with section 5 of the Act a driver is automatically notified by the vehicle registration unit of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on behalf of the Department of Transport that he or she has reached 12 penalty points and will be disqualified 28 days from the date of the notice. The notification also directs the person to surrender his or her licence to the appropriate licensing authority within 14 days of the date of disqualification. It is an offence under section 5 of the Road Traffic Act not to surrender one's driving licence to a licensing authority. At the same time, a copy of the disqualification notice is sent to the Garda Commissioner, the authorised officer of the relevant motor tax office and the Department of Transport. I understand the details of such disqualifications are now directly entered on to the PULSE system. Upon expiry of the period allowed for the surrender of the driving licence, a notice is issued by the vehicle registration unit to the Garda SÃochÃ¡na informing it whether a licence has been surrendered. It is an offence under section 38 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 to drive without a driving licence. To suggest that a person can continue to drive while disqualified because he or she or the Garda did not know that he or she is disqualified is untenable given the notification procedure in place. A notification of payment of a fixed charge from the Garda SÃochÃ¡na or a conviction in the courts in respect of any penalty point offence results in points being recorded on the licence record in the national driver file and the automatic notification of penalty points incurred and the total number of penalty points on a person's record.
By 31 March 2006, 34 drivers had already served a disqualification period of six months. Of the 13 drivers currently disqualified, eight have already surrendered their licences. A further seven drivers are in the process of being disqualified and will be required to surrender their licences within 14 days of the disqualification becoming active. The point is that disqualified drivers hand over their licences. There is nobody outstanding who has not surrendered his or her licence.
This amendment aims to invest authority for the driving licence in one body. There are major problems with the system and follow-up action is not being taken because there are so many agencies involved in the process, such as the Garda, the national driver file in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Courts Service and the local authorities. Communication between these bodies is poor. We witnessed the fiasco involving the failure to disqualify drivers with 12 penalty points. Under this system, people receive their penalty points through the fines system, rather than through the courts system. Vesting responsibility in one body is the way forward. The process will become very messy if it is not streamlined. The Minister spoke about the introduction of the European driver licence but we cannot wait for this development. We will continue to encounter problems until the driver licensing system is computerised.
Smart card driving licences have not been introduced. A garda cannot take a driving licence from a driver at the side of a road and gain immediate access to his or her driver history. If we want to have a truly automated penalty points system and enforce all the Road Traffic Acts, we need to introduce smart card driving licences. There is considerable anecdotal evidence that it is very easy to have between two and four licences, which is another way for people to subvert the existing system. Whatever measures are undertaken by the Minister, we need get to grips with the entire system of licensing and streamline it.
There is a valid concern in this regard. In a debate on this issue a few weeks ago, the Minister was unable to give a clear answer on the matter. His understanding was that the Garda would have access to this information on the handheld units. However, this is not the case. Relying on people's honesty and hoping that they will return their licences is inadequate. The Minister could not tell us what the situation was a few weeks ago. After it was raised in the public domain, he obtained this information and was in a position to tell us. This issue will presumably become more pressing given the additional offences. Will anyone keep track of whether licences are returned? Who will be responsible for this task? When the numbers were small, the Minister was able to obtain the information upon request but will he be able to produce it at any point in the future on demand?
Many of these problems would be resolved if we had smart card licences, which were promised several years ago by the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan. I have noted developments taking place at European level. When does the Minister envisage the introduction of smart card licences? What work has been done to date and can he give an estimate of the kind of timescale he is working to because the introduction of such a measure would solve many problems?
The major difficulty in this area is poor communication. The Garda find it difficult to obtain the relevant information if they stop a car. A young woman in my area has received a number of courts summonses in the past two years because someone passed her name on to the Garda. This young woman had never been in trouble with the law previously. The Garda knows the identity of the person who passed her name on to it but she was still forced to attend court over the two-year period. Some of the summonses related to driving offences. There was no evidence of any great urgency in dealing with these offences, which probably did not register highly on the radar screen but had a significant impact on this woman's life as she was forced to take time off work to attend court.
If a person is stopped by the Garda and it is suspected that he or she is disqualified under the penalty points system, the information must be accessible to the Garda. We are informed that, to date, gardaÃ on the beat do not have access to this information even though they may suspect that a driver has been disqualified. According to the Minister, information about penalty points will be available on the PULSE system. Will gardaÃ at a checkpoint or on the side of the road or who stop a motorist have access to this information? The system up to now has been characterised by poor communication. Difficulties have been encountered in informing people that they have been issued with penalty points because the system is quite slow. I do not know if the system will be speeded up so that people will be informed within a certain period. In some areas, certain people complained that they were unaware that they had been issued with penalty points. A number of these people appeared on chat shows and stated that they were unaware of the number of penalty points they had accrued as a result of their careless driving.
I understand the questions that have been asked and have put the facts on the record this morning. There is no evidence to suggest that people are not surrendering their licences when they have been issued with 12 penalty points. In fact, the opposite is true.
I have such evidence to hand and can quote the numbers to Deputy Olivia Mitchell. I can supply her with precise details. I supplied the figures of the total number of people who had already served the disqualification notice, which is 34, but perhaps the Deputy missed them. A total of 13 people are currently disqualified, eight of whom have already surrendered their licences. Another seven people are going through the disqualification process. Nobody who has been notified or disqualified has failed to surrender his or her licence.
According to the information I have received, they must surrender their licences to the local authority. I am dealing specifically with the penalty point issue.
The law in this regard is very robust. It is against the law to drive a vehicle without a driving licence. One can be disqualified for producing a false driving licence as it is against the law to do so. The penalties are severe.
From the information available, it would appear that this is not an issue. I have examined the matter with local authorities. We have significantly improved the administrative system. The national driver file automatically notifies the PULSE Garda system.
In an answer to a parliamentary question last week, the Minister said that the national driver file would notify the Courts Service. Last week, I spoke with gardaÃ, who told me that the national driver file was not connected to the PULSE system.
The Deputy raised the issue of how the national driver file wrote to individuals to tell them that they had X penalty points or had reached 12 points and were disqualified. The Deputy was correct in identifying that when this happened, notification did not go to the Garda. However, it is now the case that notification is given.
Deputies raised the issue of the smart card driving licence. As far as I am concerned, the sooner we can get it in place, the better. In fairness to previous Ministers who wanted to move on this process, only in recent weeks have we reached agreement at European level to move to a European smart card driving licence. Many of the large countries in Europe were against this proposal because the logistics and costs involved will be phenomenal. In euro terms, tens of millions or hundreds of millions will be spent because they do not have licensing systems such as Ireland's. They give licences for life and will need to recall 60 million or 70 million licences.
The specifications for the smart card's chip must be agreed. I am told that this process will take approximately 18 months at EU level. There is not much point in developing a chip for Ireland with a specification that could be different from the European standard. We can all agree that we should get a chip that is the same for everybody so that all the systems can talk to one another, as it were, and we do not need to replace chips later.
Ireland has always looked positively on the proposal to develop a smart card driving licence quickly. We are urgently waiting for the specifications to be agreed. As soon as Europe produces these, Ireland will immediately go to a smart card basis. As Deputies know, this could play a positive role in a range of issues, including second-by-second communications between information systems. We will be in the hands of Europe until this matter has been resolved. Ireland will adhere to the Europe-wide specifications.
It is appalling that something such as described by Deputy Crowe could happen to the individual referred to. It is probably an exception but is still unjustified. I am aware of cases in which people were given someone else's information and needed to defend themselves despite not being guilty. I hopeââ
I do not disagree with the Deputy. I faced this problem when I was the Minister for the Environment and Local Government but have the opposite problem as the Minister for Transport. The motor taxation system is linked to this matter. It is a part of local government's core funding, which is a difficulty when addressing this issue.
The Minister said that we may eventually need a different system but we cannot afford to wait for Europe to make up its mind about a system that transcends all countries. We should computerise now. I do not believe that surrendering licences is a problem because, even if local authorities get back licences, must they notify the Garda? If they do not notify anyone, do they follow up the matter? The local authorities have no procedures in place. The system is not working and until I have evidence to the contrary, I will persist in this view. Every garda I speak to says the same thing. The driver licensing system is a shambles and causes significant problems for the Road Traffic Acts.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 7, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
5.â(1) The Authority shall have policy role inâ
(a) making general road safety policy recommendations to the Minister,
(b) advising the Minister on any review of speed limits,
(c) advising local authorities on general road safety policy,
(d) liaising between any itself and any one or more of the following bodies:
(i) an Garda SÃochÃ¡na;
(ii) the National Roads Authority;
(iii) local authorities and municipal authorities;
(iv) the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government;
(v) the Department of Transport; or
(vi) such other bodies as the Minister may prescribe from time to time.
(2) The Authority shall have consultative and advisory roles in any review or reform of road categories, or in terms of their route letter and number.
This amendment relates to the policy role of the authority. While we know the authority will have a policy role, the legislation is so vague that it is necessary to insert the authority's core policy functions in the legislation in respect of, for example, making recommendations to the Minister, advising the Minister and liaising between the various bodies involved. Several bodies are mentioned in the Bill but there are others that would have an interest. It should be stated in the legislation that the AA, insurance companies and others must be consulted as part of the authority's ordinary work.
Amendment No. 30 calls for the authority to produce a five-year strategy statement, including targets and recommended actions for itself and other agencies with road safety remits. Amendment No. 31 calls for an annual review of the causes of road deaths and accidents, which is a basic policy role of considerable importance for the new authority. It would have implications for other agencies, such as the Garda, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and so on.
A topical issue raised previously is that the method of information collection tends to be geared towards prosecutions, which is important from the point of view of the Garda, but another interest transcends individual accidents, that is, the accumulation of information about accidents in general â what type of accidents occur, where they occur, the causes as far as they can be determined and the severity of the accidents. Other information would include toxicology reports, whether people died or were injured and whether there were prosecutions. This type of information is essential if we are to make the administration of the authority meaningful rather than whimsical.
On our much maligned junket to Australia, our committee discovered the extent to which that country was rigorous in ensuring every policy action was either evidence-based or the result of internationally accepted behavioural change mechanisms. Without so doing is to make policy in the dark. I have faith in the authority's new chief executive officer to seek established best practice policies that work.
In addition to introducing and recommending policy changes, the authority must ensure that changes are monitored to ensure they have their intended effect. It is most important that policy leads somewhere and achieves its intended purpose. It should not be based on a Sunday night pub chat, or learned from the media, but should be based on facts. The authority should become a powerhouse of knowledge that informs the Garda, policy and this House, in order that everyone will know that measures taken will have a purpose and an impact on saving lives and reducing the general rate of accidents.
Amendment No. 21 relates to the functions of the new authority. The Bill confers wide-ranging functions on the authority and they have a wide remit. My concern is to avoid the authority becoming bogged down by its different responsibilities. It has much work to do in the area of driver testing as neither the Minister nor his predecessor were able to complete or handle it.
This outrageous situation was allowed to develop because people did not prioritise driver testing to ensure that drivers would be obliged to be trained and qualified before taking a car out on their own. It is ludicrous and scandalous that there are more than 400,000 unqualified drivers on the roads. No other European country allows inexperienced and unqualified people to drive on their own. If we are serious about tackling the issue of road safety, this matter must be tackled as a matter of urgency.
I hope that the new authority will be successful in dealing with this matter and while I accept it is a difficult situation, it must be tackled urgently. I am concerned that the authority's myriad areas of responsibility create the risk that it will lose sight of its primary responsibility, namely, to devise a road safety strategy and to ensure that such a strategy is delivered. Members do not want the authority to be a talking shop and thus far the indications from its chief executive and its newly-appointed chairman are that it will not be so. I hope this is the case and I wish both people well in their new roles.
However, Members know from experience that agencies can become bogged down with their day-to-day business. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the principal function of the new road safety authority is to devise a road safety strategy, set performance indicators and measure performance against them on an annual basis. Irrespective of anything else, this must be the primary focus because although the aspirations contained in both the present road safety strategy and its predecessor were worthy, we fell short in delivering on the targets set.
While I will not rehearse the points made in respect of the present and previous strategies, we simply do not measure up and do not perform as we should in respect of road safety. It is important that this legislation states that the primary function of the road safety authority is to set the strategy and ensure that we measure the performance of the various bodies and people who have a role to play in this regard on an annual basis. This is the only way to reduce the figures. We have not done so thus far. Questions about the present strategy have been kicked to touch continually, with statements to the effect that the end of the strategy has not yet been reached and that hopefully such targets will be achieved at its conclusion. The Minister is aware that in several respects, the targets will not be reached by the end of this year. In other areas, such as the information which the Garda is meant to keep in respect of serious accidents, no such information is kept. The Garda does not have the figures for last year or previous years. How can we meet targets without having figures? The focus must be kept on performance measured against the road safety strategy. Hence, it is essential that it is made clear that this is the authority's primary function. I hope the Minister will support this amendment.
I support the points made by Deputies Shortall and Olivia Mitchell. The final point made by Deputy Shortall is important. According to the Bill, the authority's functions include centrally managing the licensing system and, as a secondary responsibility, the information systems in respect of road safety, the public campaigns and so on. Section 7 of the Bill contains the concept of road safety programmes. Do such programmes constitute the road safety strategy? If so, in addition to conducting publicity campaigns or producing advisory notes, will this authority have the requisite authority, presumably with the Minister's agreement, to inform bodies such as the National Roads Authority or whatever, that they are obliged to amend their strategies to meet the criteria of our central strategy? There appears to be a lack of clarity as to the authority's functions. It has a road safety programme function as well as its original functions. I agree with Deputy's Shortall's concluding comments. If this authority has the power to set the road safety strategy, this must be made clear publically and it must be provided with the powers required to enforce it.
The answer to Deputy Eamon Ryan's last point on the authority's role is "Yes". Moreover, the road safety authority will represent Ireland in Europe and will deal with technical issues. Hence, I will assign the entire gamut and remit to it from an Irish and a European perspective, in order that it will lead the debate in setting standards, both nationally and internationally, and in trying to secure higher standards throughout the European Union. This is an extremely powerful role.
Section 7 of the Bill provides a clear legislative provision that ensures that the road safety authority has a lead role in the development of strategies and measures to advance the road safety agenda. Road safety comes under the remit of different Departments and agencies. In consideration of its extremely extensive remit, the road safety authority will be in a position to engage with all those contributory bodies to develop and monitor the delivery of a comprehensive road safety programme.
In the context of "programmes" the strategy forms part of that. However, the road safety authority wants greater responsibility than simply producing a strategy. It seeks responsibility for the entire gamut of programmes and everything within them. Hence, Deputy Eamon Ryan is correct to state that the strategy forms part of that matter.
The authority will play a major role in the development of future road strategies within that context and will submit this programme for approval to the Minister of the day. It is envisaged that the programme will form the basis of the Government's road safety strategy. I also envisage that the road safety strategy will compile reports and will address policy recommendations across a range of road safety measures. I wish to return shortly to a point made by Deputy Olivia Mitchell in this respect. The authority will have a role in overseeing the implementation of the programme of the Government's road safety strategies and in that context it will regularly participate in the Cabinet sub-committee on road safety, in addition to all the other relevant statutory committees.
I suggest that it is unnecessary to make provision in the Bill that the authority should set performance indicators and measure performance against such indicators as this is implicit in its role. I do not know how it could set out a strategy if it did not set performance indicators. In addition, it must have service level agreements. Hence, this will operate both ways.
The public is openly measuring our performance, as are the Opposition and the media. Hence, performance measurement cannot be avoided. The issues are quite clear. People's perceptions of the success or otherwise of our performance is clear. I agree with some, if not all, of their points. It is becoming difficult to have no more than 300 deaths on our roads in 2006. Given the bad start to the year, that figure is becoming more unlikely.
I suggest including a prescriptive requirement in regard to the determination of annual targets which could have a negative influence on the pursuit of strategy objectives. In the past, all-consuming aspects have become a narrow focus whereby everything is geared towards achieving a figure, and one loses the whole context of what one is trying to do in a programme. Achievements appear to be all about statistics and smoke and mirrors. However, I agree with Deputies that the independent-minded people who have been appointed to the authority will not operate in that vein.
Deputy Mitchell raised an interesting point. It is vital to know what is happening on our roads. It is too simplistic to say someone crashed into a wall, someone was speeding or someone had drink taken. Other countries carry out a much more in-depth examination into the causes of accidents. The chairman of the new road safety authority raised this issue with me and said it is something he wants to pursue. There needs to be a holistic approach to this factual information. The chairman wants to examine what went on in the two or three hours before a person was killed. He wants to know what they were doing, for example whether they were in hospital or in a distressed state. If one has this information when managing a programme, one can fundamentally target it rather than just working on the basis of anecdotal evidence. The chairman said he wants to put resources into establishing these facts. For the first time, we have given all the statistical information to one body, rather than giving responsibility to three or four bodies. However, he wants to go much further. My attitude is that it is the road safety authority's call on a whole range of issues. Equally, he is very exercised about the whole driver testing aspect, as is the chief executive. This is a much bigger issue in terms of tackling the idea of people driving with some kind of a licence, going for a test on a provisional licence, failing it and then getting back in the car and driving off merrily. There is no doubt that how one gets a licence and what it entitles one to do merits a root and branch examination. The system is nowhere near the best of international standards. The chief executive and the chairman have said that how to tackle this is a core issue. They made it abundantly clear that they want to begin in that vein. In parallel with that, we must end the current driving test backlog. Everyone accepts the current system does not have the capacity to do so. I must seek outside assistance for a short period to resolve the issue. This may lead to examining more fundamentally the driving instruction system.
While not wanting to be prescriptive, the remit under sections 7 and 8 is very broad. The members of the authority can call in whoever they like because there will be no limitations on them. I understand why the Deputies have taken this approach. However, mine is a much broader approach and I will not be prescriptive. I believe on balance we have achieved the correct approach.
I fundamentally disagree with the Minister. While he refers to responsibility to do this, that and the other, including programmes, activity and so on, it is precisely because people have all these responsibilities that there is a need to keep a clear focus on a strategy. There is no reference to a strategy in the legislation. The Minister talks about programmes and the fact that the Minister may require them to produce a programme. The requirement needs to be much stronger than that. There needs to be a strategy. We have been working with strategies. Programmes are different from a strategy. There needs to be a national strategy on road safety. It should be the principal function of the authority, which should be spelt out clearly. The Minister has not given a reason for not accepting the amendment. He said he agrees in principle with the sentiment in it. Why not state this specifically in the legislation because it is what we need to focus on? It should not be just at the whim of the Minister of the day to request programmes and so on, which is the case currently.
It is all very well to say we regard it as an important issue with which we are dealing. The reality is that if one looks back to 2003 and most of 2004, we did not have a road safety strategy, because the Minister was busy doing other things. Priority was not given to a strategy for road safety. It must become the primary function of the new authority. There is no point having a strategy unless the Minister puts in place a mechanism for measuring performance. We have been very weak on this aspect in the past. The Minister is saying, on the one hand, that he is giving power to the authority to collate all the information, build up the different data required and, on the other, he is saying he does not expect the authority to do anything in particular with the data. The data must be used to inform the strategy and performance indicators must be set to ensure everyone is doing their part, particularly the road safety authority and all the other agencies involved. It is a key part of what we understand to be the role of the new authority, so why not say so explicitly?
One of the main points I made on Second Stage was that, while I welcome the authority and so on, I did not know what it would do because there was no clear indication of its role, function and so on. There was much about what the Minister may do in future. While he has indicated what is in his head, it may be different from what is in the legislation. The Minister's intent and what is in the legislation may be two different things. I hope the legislation will survive the Minister.
As Deputy Shortall said, the purpose of the legislation is to set up a mechanism whereby we will have a road safety strategy, based on firm information and so on. For the provision of any kind of programme to be at the discretion or whim of the Minister is not satisfactory.
I agree with the Deputies because the strategy should be the central function and there should be programmes to implement it. The Minister appears to be saying the strategy is within the programmes as outlined in section 7. It would give a much stronger sense of direction, purpose and function to the authority if it was given the central function of setting out a road safety strategy, followed by programmes on how to implement it as set out in section 7.
I do not disagree with much of what the Deputies said because it is already included in the Bill. However, while there appears to be a different approach on how to frame the Bill, we all know what we are talking about. The function of the road safety authority has been made abundantly clear. The reason the programmes have been included is that I was strongly advised by the experts that strategy was too narrow a focus. Because I tried to meet the requirements and change to a much broader interpretation of programmes, I am being criticised for being too broad based.
I had a breakfast meeting with the chairman this morning. He knows the current strategy will end at the end of this year and that a new strategy must be in place as part of a much bigger programme for next year.
I am surprised at the Deputy. She wants to limit what the authority can do while I want to expand what it can do. I will not limit its functions. I have given it the widest possible responsibilities. We have enunciated them on Committee Stage, in the House and in the public domain. In the way it is written, the Bill allows the authority members to do everything they might want to do. It is not for me, if they are independent, to say they must do it my way. It is for them to decide, and I have given the body the widest possible remit for the members to sit down as a board, with the chief executive, and decide for themselves on the priorities.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 7, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
5.â(1) The Authority shall have responsibility for the management and standards of driver testing in Ireland.
(2) The Authority shall put such structures in place as it deems necessary to ensure that the standard of driving in Ireland is maintained and improved.
(3) The Authority may put such pre-conditions in place as it deems necessary, for candidates who wish to take the driving test. Such pre-conditions may include, but are not limited to, a requirement that candidates undergo a prescribed number of driving lessons before being allowed to sit the driving test.
(4) In carrying out its functions under subsection (2), the Authority shall review and update the driving test and driver theory test so thatâ
(a) each examination conforms to international best practice,
(b) the driver testing process reflects safe driving practices,
(c) each examination has regard to persons whoâ
(i) are hearing impaired,
(ii) do not speak Irish or English as defined by the Official Languages Act 2003,
(iii) have literacy difficulties, or, in the case of the driver theory test, difficulty operating a computer, or
(iv) have a physical disability,
(d) a detailed report of the results of the test, including all of the following:
(i) whether the candidate passed or failed the test;
(ii) where he or she made errors;
(iii) what areas the candidate could improve;
(iv) in the case of a candidate who has passed, what further actions he or she must take to obtain a licence; and
(v) in the case of a candidate who has failed, how he or she can reapply for the test, is made available to each candidate.
(5) On a regular basis, the Authority shall produce and update, a drivers' training manual, which shall containâ
(a) the Rules of the Road,
(b) advice on safe driving, and
(c) such other information as the Authority deems necessary,
and such drivers' training manual shall be subject to the provisions of section 10 of the Official Languages Act 2003.
This is another amendment which tries to clarify the functions of the authority, which, being so vague, have been entirely left to the discretion of the Minister. In many ways the legislation is enabling legislation, and does not clarify what it is meant to do. The idea of amendment No. 17 is to clarify the functions of the authority with regard to driver testing. To give anyone the responsibility for driver testing is to give him or her a poisoned chalice. I have made the point many times that it is a national scandal that the system has been allowed to deteriorate to the point where 140,000 people are awaiting tests and 400,000 people are driving on provisional licences. No banana republic has been as inefficient as we have been in producing a testing system for its drivers.
Clearly this cannot be allowed to go on for much longer. If we are to have a road safety strategy, fundamental to it is a system of proper instruction of new drivers, proper testing and licensing. For the few people who manage to get a test, the testing system is completely out of date, and hardly relevant to road conditions any longer. The Minister knows the system needs to be completely overhauled, based on best evidence and practice.
The Minister said it would be unfair to set up the new authority with the backlog of people awaiting tests. He said one could not have any kind of reasonable road safety strategy while up to 20% of the driving population is on provisional licences. However, we have now arrived at the situation whereby the legislation will be passed in this House tomorrow if not today, though it must also go to the Seanad. It is likely to be law within the next few weeks, yet there is no sign of any resolution to the problem.
It is an outrage that 100 people can hold the entire system to ransom. That is not acceptable. I made the point to the Minister during Committee Stage that if there is a clause in Sustaining Progress which allows this situation to persist, it must be changed. It is not about looking after the providers of services but must be about providing services. Those who get the services rather than those who give them must be stakeholders in the process and must be considered. The situation is undoubtedly a cause of more and more accidents and deaths on our roads. The view that neither the licensing system nor the testing system matters gives a message of official indifference. Accordingly the road safety authority has no prospect of any success until we deal with that fundamental problem. As far as this legislation is concerned, I want the responsibility for the testing system given to the authority.
Amendment No. 18 also calls for the responsibility for the training and quality control of driving testers to be given to the authority. That area has not been touched for years and the authority should set in place a register. Testers should have to undergo regular quality control, testing and retraining, as decided by the authority. In the meantime, until the backlog is cleared, there is no prospect of this authority having any success.
I do disagree largely with what Deputy Mitchell said about our driving tester system. Sadly, it is clearly not capable of delivering on the demands made on it. As Deputy Mitchell asked, what is this doing in the public sector in the first place? That might have been fine in the past but there are now major issues in terms of managing the situation in the future.
I will not begin to discuss the sort of work practices involved. The number of tests being delivered by each person isââ
It is more than diminishing. The Deputy would be shocked at the average number of tests delivered. The system is quite untenable. In all my years in public life I have never seen anything as bad. The more one digs, the more one becomes appalled. Deputy Mitchell is correct in saying this is grossly unfair to the customers out there trying to get a test, and it is also having a major impact on road safety. I appreciate the level of unanimity in the political spectrum that the current situation is not sustainable, and that it is utterly wrong that one small group has used every system available for more than 12 months to block the delivery of a solution in terms of removing the backlog of people awaiting driving tests.
The driving tester service operates under the provisions of section 33 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 and in accordance with the regulations made under that Act. The driving test is also governed by requirements of EU directives â something we all forget â which stipulate the EU-wide maneouvres to be carried out, which are also set down in regulations under section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. As the regulatory and legislative framework of the driving test service is consigned within the Road Traffic Acts, it would not be appropriate to include the amendments in this Bill. I am however considering bringing amendments to this section and I am sure Deputy Mitchell will have tabled some amendments for the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill which I will bring to the House shortly. We will deal with the issue under that Bill in the next few weeks.
I do not know why the Minister does not agree to specifying that role for the road safety authority, so that it would take responsibility for the entire area. It is all very well for the Minister to wring his hands now and say the situation is disgraceful and indefensible. There is no doubt it is indefensible, but the situation in the driver testing section of the Minister's Department has been allowed to continue like that for several years, and to deteriorate. No serious effort was made by anyone to modernise it. At this point the Minister has the benefit of the consultants' report by Farrell Grant Sparks, which highlights the need to rationalise the number of testing centres. Given the size of the country it is crazy that there are so many centres, and in large part that has led to the crazy work practices, where so much time and money is spent on travelling and subsistence and so on. Is it the Minister's intention to introduce the reforms recommended in the Farrell Grant Sparks report? Responsibility for that can be spread over a number of different Ministers who were responsible during their terms of office and who are currently responsible for overseeing the operation of that service. Also the staff members involved have dug their heels in. All of this has led to young people not having a proper driver testing service. That is indefensible.
Is it the Minister's intention to implement all the recommendations in the consultants' report? Does he intend to move on it or does he envisage the new authority biting the bullet given that no progress has been made? Notwithstanding the problems of work practice, the Minister's assertion is that there is a sufficient number of testers, including the ten people being recruited. On the basis of commonsense it is difficult to make that assertion given the huge increase in car ownership and greater wealth leading to more people driving and the fact that there was an under provision of driver tests for many years. I do not know how the Minister can say the present number is adequate to meet the underlying demand for driving tests and that this is a hiccup that has just arisen and we need to clear the backlog. There is more than that involved. I do not know the basis for that assertion.
Would the bones of a resolution be in place in the event of a change in work practices, a rationalisation of the different centres and the number of driver testers being increased in line with the ongoing underlying demand given the increased population and a greater number of people driving? I am not sure whether giving all this work to an outside agency would work. The basic premise of what the Minister is saying may not be accurate in so far as I am not sure there is a sufficient supply of driver testers. Could not the huge backlog that has been allowed to develop be dealt with by temporary staff within the existing service, provided there were major changes in work practices?
When the arbitration board ruled against his office, the Minister said he would speak to the unions. Has such a meeting taken place? The union leadership never anticipated that particular clause in Sustaining Progress would have this impact and prevent the proper governance of the country. I do not believe the unions expected that or could stand over it themselves, nor could they stand over the payment of benchmarking to people who have performed so appallingly against the public interest. Has the Minister spoken to the unions? Apart from the fact that they never intended this to be the outcome, they must see that their own members want to take driving tests and that their own members are being injured and killed on the roads. It is in everybody's interest that this matter is resolved. Has the Minister spoken to the unions since the arbitration hearings?
Deputy Shortall raised two issues. The immediate challenge of getting rid of the backlog is fundamental to doing anything on all the issues on which we have both enunciated. That issue has to be sorted out immediately. The road safety authority will be given responsibility to devise a new system, taking on board the good reports and recommendations available. If I got all the money in the morning and 100 people I could not put them into the system. The system itself would not allow it. There is a simple reason for that. For example, if somebody does not turn up at 10 a.m. for a test or telephones after half an hour, nothing happens. They all sit back and wait until somebody arrives whereas in modern systems that I have seen in other countries texting systems are in place. They have lists of people who are ready to take a test at short notice. In this way the system can continue to operate.
Yes, and also personal commitment. Even within the existing system nobody can justify what is going on. That is a statement of fact. I do not think the Deputy or anybody else is trying to justify it.
I met the leadership of the unions. In as straight and robust way as I could I made my position clear. I am somewhat disappointed I am not getting a positive response, given the urgency of the matter. So much is happening in the Department of Transport that I cannot recall if it was last week or the previous week that I met them. A reasonable amount of time has passed since I spoke with them. I have urged them to respond, given the issues involved and notwithstanding a technical result in terms of a judgment on a narrow piece of information. The arbitrator was keen to point out they were not judging the issues and felt there was a real problem and a danger to road safety if the issue was not resolved. This is an opportunity to send a message again today. I am anxious to hear proposals which will include the shortest possible timeframe to remove the backlog.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 7, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
5.â(1) In carrying out its functions as provided for by the Minister, in regulations, under section 4 of this Act, the Authority shall assume responsibility for the training and quality control of driver testers.
(2) The Authority shall put in place such structures as it deems necessary to regulate driver testers and shall maintain a register of those who are qualified to conduct official driving tests.
(3) Driver testers shall be obliged to undergo regular quality control testing and retraining at such intervals as may be prescribed by the Authority.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 7, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
5.â(1) The Authority shall, in the exercise of its functions as prescribed by section 4(1) of this Act, be responsible for setting training standards and ensuring quality control of driving instructors.
(2) Without prejudice to subsection (3) of this section, the Authority shall assume such functions in respect of driving instructors as are conferred on the Minister by, and in accordance with, the Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 2004.
(3) The Authority shall put in place such structures as it deems necessary to regulate driving instruction and driving schools, and shall maintain a register of those who are qualified to give certifiable driving lessons.
(4) Driving instructors shall be obliged to undergo regular quality control testing and retraining at such intervals as may be prescribed by the Authority.
This amendment similarly lays down in greater detail the functions of the authority. It seeks to delete "may" and insert "shall" in requiring that the authority would ensure quality control of driving instructors, would assume such functions in respect of driving instructors as are conferred on the Minister and would require them to undergo regular quality control testing and retraining at such intervals as may be prescribed by the authority. Like the Minister and other Deputies we have been inundated, over the years, with requests from driving instructors throughout the country who have participated in a Government-sponsored voluntary scheme. They have been left wondering about the future for that voluntary scheme into which they have put considerable effort. At least they have made some effort to regulate themselves. Clearly, I do not consider that self-regulation is the way to go, at least it must be validated in some way by the new authority. Their concerns that there should be absolute quality control and regulation of the sector is a valid point. I am anxious that the authority do this at an early stage. It is part of the broader area of instruction, testing and licensing. Perhaps the authority will, in time, introduce graduated licences and so forth. The standard of those providing instruction must be regulated and instructors must be aware of the standards applied in the new test. For these reasons, I seek to amend the Bill to require quality control for driving instructors.
The Deputy and I appear to be at cross-purposes because the objective of the Bill is to introduce, for the first time, proper standards and regulation of driving instructors. This is the purpose for which the road safety authority will be established. The authority will be designated as an approved body to issue instruction certificates as envisaged in section 18 of the Road Traffic Act 1968, amended by section 19 of the Road Traffic Act 2002. In accordance with regulations made under these provisions, which will provide for all matters referred to in the proposed amendment other than the regulation of driving schools and the retraining of instructors, section 4(1) states that the road safety authority will have functions in regard to the registration of instructors which will be designated in regulations made under the Road Traffic Acts. This provision was drawn up following extensive discussions with instructors and we are now moving to regulate all training standards for driving instructors. The road safety authority will be an approved body which can issue instruction certificates for the purpose of regulating driving instructors.
As I indicated during discussion of amendment No. 6, the Road Traffic Acts do not provide powers to regulate driving schools, an issue Deputy Shortall raised yesterday, as the provision in section 18 of the Road Traffic Act 1968, as amended by section 19 of the 2002 Act, is intended to regulate individuals while giving driving instructions. Instructors will be tested at regular intervals and removed from the register if found not to meet the required standard. They will not be given a certificate and left to their own devices but will be subject to constant monitoring. It will be a matter for instructors to take appropriate steps to ensure their standard of instruction is up to that required. On that basis, the amendment is not necessary.
The amendment proposes to provide that the authority "shall" carry out specific functions as opposed to "may" exercise them at the whim of the Minister. It is vital that these key functions are set out definitively in the Bill.
I support the amendment because it is important that the Bill clearly specifies the functions of the new authority, although I accept the Minister's undertaking to provide for this matter in the next road traffic Bill.
I wish to add to the point I made yesterday in respect of driving schools. In the United Kingdom it emerged that while individual driving instructors were licensed and regulated, driving schools were not so regulated. As a result, anyone could set up a driving school and no regulation would apply to such matters as accreditation, claims about pass rates and the types of vehicles and signage used. Another issue highlighted in the United Kingdom was the inability to ensure adequate standards and quality control applied to those driving schools which claimed to provide off-street training for HGV vehicles or buses.
The competence or otherwise of the driving instructor is not the only issue which arises in this regard. Research in the United Kingdom identified a series of other issues connected to driving schools, as a result of which action was taken to regulate and license driving schools and driving instructors. The failure of the Bill to provide for such regulation here is a missed opportunity. I do not know who is responsible for this failure but it indicates that someone is out of touch. The Minister claimed yesterday, for example, that most driving schools are one-person operations when this is patently not the case, at least in the Dublin area.
Various driving schools make all kinds of claims in advertisements about their competence and success rates.
It is a practice that must be eliminated. Driving schools must be regulated by the road safety authority. Having missed an opportunity to provide for this in the Bill, I hope the Minister will do so at the earliest opportunity in other legislation.
We all agree on the need for regulation given that the quality of instructors ranges from excellent to very poor. The inclusion of a requirement that the new authority "shall" rather than "may" carry out certain functions could be a way forward. From anecdotal evidence, driving instruction appears to be getting worse rather than better. Anyone can establish himself or herself as a driving instructor and, while I presume they need to have a full driving licence, I am not sure that this is checked.
Deputies are ad idem on this issue. It is clear that the main issue is that anybody, regardless of whom they work for, must have a certificate of competence to give driving instruction. The Bill will address this by regulating and certifying all those who take learner drivers on to the road to learn to drive.
I will address that matter in a moment but first I will focus on the core issue, as highlighted by Deputy Crowe. The standards applied will be regulated and certified and those providing instruction will be certified and monitored. The question of who owns the company providing the tuition is a different issue. The issue before us is the competence of the individual providing driving tuition and whether he or she has achieved the required standard. Under the Bill, which goes much further than legislation in the United Kingdom, instructors will be required to meet standards. Whereas HGV instructors are not registered in Britain, they will be registered here, which is another step forward.
Driving schools providing driving instruction to learner drivers are not registered in the United Kingdom. It has, however, an approved register of driving instructors similar to the register the road safety authority will establish. On the training of instructors, Britain has a voluntary register â the official register of driving instructor training â of large driving schools which provide training for potential driving instructors. We will go much further because the legislation requires all instructors to be registered and to hold a certificate of competence.
The official register of driving instructor training, known as ORDIT, was compiled in the UK following discussions between the driving standards agency, DSA, and representatives from the driver training industry. It contains a list of establishments which, following inspection by the DSA, have satisfied inspection criteria under the voluntary scheme of minimum training standards. This Bill will go much further.
I reiterate the importance of introducing statutory regulations to govern quality control of driving instructors. While the Minister believes Deputies are ad idem on this matter, nevertheless I would prefer if the word "shall" rather than "may" was included in the legislation.