Dáil debates

Thursday, 2 November 2006

3:00 pm

Photo of Shane McEnteeShane McEntee (Meath, Fine Gael)
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Question 1: To ask the Minister for Transport the way driver training and education can be improved; his views on the provision of special closed driver training grounds for learner drivers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36003/06]

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Question 2: To ask the Minister for Transport his proposals for the reform of the driver licensing system; and the timescale proposed. [36052/06]

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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At the outset, I apologise to the House for the inability of the Minister, Deputy Cullen, to attend as he has been ill in recent days. I have no doubt Members opposite will accept why he is not present.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

Under the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 (Conferral of Functions) Order 2006 (SI No. 477 of 2006), the Road Safety Authority, RSA, has responsibility for the oversight of the operation of the driver licensing system, including the preparation of proposals for draft regulatory provisions relating to driver licensing and testing. At the Minister's request, the Road Safety Authority has been examining the driver licensing system as to what further reforms might be introduced in the interests of road safety. The RSA has submitted to the Minister in recent days a range of proposals with a particular focus on licensing reform and on targeting drivers between 17 and 24 years of age. I share the concern of the RSA board about the high risk factors of death and serious injury to this category of drivers and, with the Minister, I will consider these proposals in the coming weeks.

The Minister met the chief executive of the RSA last week and asked that the authority come back to him as soon as possible with a structured approach to a complete transition, with time lines, from the current regime of provisional licences to a regime of learner permits and restricted category drivers and related learner drivers formation arrangements. Such a complete transition will take some time, but I genuinely feel that there is great potential for saving young lives in this approach. The Minister intends to meet the RSA board in the coming weeks to discuss these matters.

The RSA is in the process of introducing the registration of driving instructors. One of the benefits that I hope will arise from setting standards of instruction is that there will be a greater emphasis on general driving skills and less on merely passing the driving test. It is proposed that driving instruction for all types of vehicle will be covered by the system of regulation. This will lead to a significant improvement in the quality of driving which will produce a road safety dividend for all road users. The provision of special closed driver training grounds for learner drivers is one of the matters the RSA will consider in responding to the request for a structured transition from provisional licences to learner permits and restricted category drivers.

In the area of driver education, the Road Safety Authority has the task of working in partnership with the Department for Education and Science to develop a specific additional road safety resource suitable for transition year pupils. I understand this work is currently under way and details can be obtained directly from the Road Safety Authority. In addition, the Road Safety Authority has a number of initiatives in place to ensure road safety is targeted at schools.

Photo of Shane McEnteeShane McEntee (Meath, Fine Gael)
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Two weeks ago, we stood here and thought things were looking good. Then everything went wrong when many of our young people were killed. Young drivers must be brought to centres and trained properly, as in other countries where they are not allowed to drive on the roads until they have received a certain number of hours of instruction under different conditions, such as wet, snowy, frosty or dark. I was stupid to be fooled into thinking that the situation would improve, but we will continue to see multiple deaths until we teach our young people and train them in the same conditions as those in which we train the gardaí who drive our Ministers and Taoiseach around. Then we might be able to go at 110 mph and know we will be safe on our roads.

Fine Gael will propose five designated areas throughout the country where people can go to learn to drive a car properly under proper instruction and where parents can bring their 16 or 17-year-olds. Motorbike training would be available to 16-year-olds. Yesterday, the chief executive of the RSA, Mr. Noel Brett, told me he intends to have centres for motorcycles because the level of motorcycle deaths relative to the numbers of motorcycles is higher than that of cars.

If we want to stop these deaths, it is crucial we provide areas where people can learn. It is law in other countries that one cannot drive on the road until one has attended these centres. It will be part of our election manifesto and we will implement it. However, rather than waiting, I would like to see it brought forward and done now because much can happen in six months, many people will die in the next six months. We must tackle every aspect of road safety, including training, alcohol and drugs. We all received an education in drugs yesterday. In Victoria, Australia, in 2003 some 31% of people killed in road deaths tested positive for drugs. However, the Tánaiste this morning said we have no law ready to come in to check if people involved in road accidents have taken drugs.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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We have asked the RSA to consider the provision of closed driver training grounds and it is doing so. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, and I will have the opportunity to discuss this with the chief executive and the board in the near future. Regarding the request for a structural transition from the provisional licences to learner permits and restricted category drivers, the Deputy will also be aware that the 2006 Act makes provision for driver training and instruction.

The Members opposite will be aware that one can establish a driver instruction school without any qualification. We want to regularise this and can do so through the 2006 Act. The Deputy will recall that the consultation document on the registration of instructors was launched last May. Many submissions were received by 8 September and these are currently being considered by the RSA.

In this document, it is suggested that, from 1 July 2007, all new entrants into the industry as driver instructors must be approved and registered to operate as driving instructors and the RSA will set down clear criteria to which they will have to adhere. This will protect the drivers by ensuring the ability of the instructors. They will have to be fit persons, be tax compliant and record the details. There will be annual inspections, some announced and others unannounced. The RSA will be in a position to respond or to remove them from the register. That would commence in July 2007. We must take cognisance of the fact that many existing instructors do good work, but they will have to comply by July 2008.

We are proactive. While we might have different views and express them inside and outside the House, we are all anxious to reduce the level of fatalities and injuries on our roads. When there are multiple fatalities as we had in Monaghan recently and in Buncrana in February of this year, it focuses us more on the issue. If we can introduce all this legislation, all the necessary——

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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On a point of order, we have heard ten minutes of this waffle.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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It is not waffle but fact.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Can we take it that ten minutes will be allowed for each of the priority questions?

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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Priority questions have 20 minutes. Two questions are being taken together in 12 minutes.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I differ from Deputy Shortall. I am giving facts, not opinions.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Minister should do something.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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We are doing this and we have been working on this for a considerable time. I can tell Deputy Shortall the facts. We have the high-level Cabinet——

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Minister only talks about it.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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We have strong political leadership on this with the full support of the Taoiseach.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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What is the time limit for the Minister of State's second contribution?

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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We are on priority questions. There is an overall time limit of 12 minutes.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I am answering the central questions that were put by——

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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There is a second question within that 12 minutes which has not been mentioned yet.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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There is, yes.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I am trying to maximise under time for the benefit of all of us.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Minister of State is not, he is just filling in time.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I am not trying to filibuster in any way.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Minister of State is.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy McEntee has asked sensible questions in relation to——

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Minister of State's time is up. His four minutes are over.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I am not the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. We are looking at all these, working in consultation with the RSA.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Looking.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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We are pleased to look at views and opinions expressed by the Deputy.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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How long is left, overall, for this question?

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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There are eight minutes, overall, for supplementaries and most of that has expired now.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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We have not done anything about Question No. 2 yet.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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There is still one minute left.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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It is entirely unfair, but in the one minute allowed for a priority question I want to ask the Minister of State whether he accepts that the senior Minister has spent the past two years looking at this issue, talking about it and doing nothing. Now, after two years in office, what he is proposing to do is pass the buck to the RSA. The former Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, and his predecessor in that office, Deputy Brennan, spoke about their intention to end this indefensible policy whereby learner drivers with provisional licences are allowed to drive unaccompanied. People who have failed their test are still legally permitted to drive. We know that 50% of those killed on the roads are aged under 25. It therefore makes sense that if the Government is serious about tackling the whole issue of road safety, this area of licensing and driver education must be addressed.

Deputies Brennan and Cullen, as Ministers for Transport, stated on numerous occasions that it was their intention to end the practice whereby provisional drivers can drive unaccompanied. Is the Minister of State now saying that the Government is serious about doing that and what is the timescale that is proposed?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister requested the Road Safety Authority to make further proposals to him. It has done that very——-

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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I am asking the Government, not the Road Safety Authority, what its policy is on provisional drivers.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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The Road Safety Authority, of course, as I stated on numerous occasions, has responsibility for oversight of the operation of the driving licensing system. Of course, we must work together with——-

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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What is the Government policy?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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We have responsibility for our policy. If we——

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Minister of State should stop passing the buck on this. What is the Government's policy?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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If we ignore the views of the Road Safety Authority——

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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It has just been set up.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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——the Deputy would be the first——

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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It has just been set up.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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Allow the Minister of State to speak.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I have to defend the Road Safety Authority. Under the chairmanship of Mr. Gay Byrne and its chief executive, Mr. Noel Brett, the RSA has been doing excellent work over the past few months since it was established

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Fall guys.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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We set it up some time ago and it was not vested——-

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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I asked the Minister of State about his policy in respect of provisional drivers.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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The Minister of State is in possession of the floor.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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I am asking about Government policy, not what the RSA is doing. What is the Government policy in respect of provisional licence holders driving unaccompanied?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I will repeat, if necessary, that we must work with the Road Safety Authority. Is the Deputy suggesting——-

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Does he have any policy?

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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The Deputy will please allow the Minister of State to speak.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy should hold on, please. I am not filibustering.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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He is wasting time, waffling about it. I am asking him whether the Government has a policy in respect of provisional drivers.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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The Minister of State is in possession.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I am not the one filibustering. We have had proposals from the Road Safety Authority. The Minister met the chief executive and will meet the board in the near future. On top of that agenda——-

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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I am asking if there is a policy. Does the Minister have any policy?

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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Order now, please. The Minister of State should be allowed to speak.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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We are looking at a structured approach to a complete transition, within time-lines, from the current regime of provisional licences to one of learner permits and restricted category drivers as well as related formation arrangements. Of course this will take some time. We will do this.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Government has been looking at and talking about this for several years.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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We are——

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Does the Government have a policy in respect of provisional licence holders driving unaccompanied?

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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Order, please. We must now proceed to Question No. 3.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I have just spelt it out for the Deputy.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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What is the policy?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I have just told the Deputy.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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No, the Minister of State said he was looking at it and discussing it with this, that and the other person. Does the Minister of State have a policy in respect of learner drivers driving unaccompanied?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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I have just told the Deputy we are looking at the question——

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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They are looking at it. Has the Government any policy now? After all these years does it have any policy?

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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We have used 16 minutes. I ask the Minister of State to proceed to Question No. 3.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Apparently, the answer is "No".

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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It is not, we are proactive.