Wednesday, 17 November 2021
Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I am sharing my time with Deputy Carey.
I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this important legislation. An awful lot of work has gone into it in advance of this Stage. There has been considerable discussion. I would like to refer to numerous aspects of the Bill that I feel are vital to the national discourse but also to my constituency, Dublin Rathdown. I will reflect on two or three.
The first aspect concerns the Bill's proposal to legislate for both e-scooters and e-bikes. This is an extremely welcome initiative and one that puts Ireland on par with many other EU member states. Already, we see many e-bikes and e-scooters in operation around the country, particularly in Dublin and its environs. They offer a great deal to society by encouraging people to get out of their cars and to be more flexible in meeting their mobility needs. It is important that they be legislated for correctly. This is why this legislation is so welcome.
I commend former Deputy Noel Rock, current Deputies Alan Farrell and John Lahart, and Opposition Deputies who have pursued this legislation through Private Members' business and have repeatedly called for clarification. Legislating for e-scooters and e-bikes provides a great opportunity, particularly when it comes to the initiative of ride-sharing. I am aware that over 20 companies are prepared to start an e-scooter sharing scheme in Dublin city. We are all aware of Dublinbikes and the various iterations that have followed, including GoCar and electric car sharing. This certainly needs to be accelerated. It would be laudable if it were pursued following our enactment of this legislation.
I have a modest concern about the Bill, however. Perhaps the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, could consider it on a later Stage. While I welcome the proposed speed limit of 25 km/h, which is eminently sensible, the area that incorporates my constituency, Dublin Rathdown, and the Minister's former constituency, Dublin South, is extremely hilly. For people commuting out of the city centre to Tibradden or Glencullen, the speed limit might not be a huge issue, but the power limits provided in the Bill would be. The wattage limit in the UK is 500 W. In France it is uncapped. In Germany it is 500 W. In Norway it is uncapped. In Spain it is 1,000 W. In Italy it is 500 W. The 250 W power limit in this Bill would be extremely restrictive. I am aware that the Minister has already committed to considering this on Committee Stage. The power limit would have a real impact on making e-scooters and e-bikes a viable option beyond a city or town centre. It might be a little parochial for me to think about the Dublin Mountains as I realise this concerns every constituency in the country. It is certainly a matter in the regions. E-scooters and e-bikes offer so many opportunities that we must ensure they are as accessible as possible and a realistic option for many. They move to a wider scale the benefits that we already see in so many aspects of commuting life. They would be extremely welcome.
I am very pleased to see in the legislation efforts to deal with the off-road use of scramblers and quads. This has bedevilled my constituency for years. I am sure the Minister will remember certain green spaces and football spaces in Churchtown and Dundrum that were absolutely ruined. Deputy Lahart has been very outspoken about this issue. He joined me in respect of fundraising efforts for Tallaght Rugby Club, which had its pitches absolutely ruined by quads and scramblers not so long ago. It is a real blight on so many communities so seeing it dealt with in legislation is extremely welcome.
The penultimate area I would like to address is the delivery of BusConnects. Depending where you live in Dublin, BusConnects has been sought after or has given rise to concerns. Many people are simply confused about it because there have been so many changes and campaigns about it. We all are aware that a durable bus network in Dublin is vital and that it needs to be as simple and progressive as possible. While it is great to see advances in the form of light rail and trams, the bus is still the most used and reliable form of public transport across the capital city. It is the one I grew up using and probably the one I will continue to use most, even though the Luas is a relatively accessible walk away.
I have raised the issue of driving tests several times with the Minister throughout the pandemic, and I also raised it as a Senator with the Minister's predecessor before the pandemic. I am referring to addressing the criteria for testers. It is welcome to see 36 additional driving testers hired but it does not take away from the fact that there is a massive backlog in the driving test system. Even today, a front-line worker was on to me as they simply cannot gain access to their workplace in a timely manner because they cannot get an appointment to take their driving test. This has to be resolved with absolute urgency. We have to tackle quite forcefully the 10% no-show rate pertaining to driving tests. In a reply to a parliamentary question last month, the Minister said there are 66,000 people waiting. That is a huge number. It will take four months to clear the backlog at the current rate, which is 4,098 tests per week, without addressing the matter of new drivers being added to the list every day. The latter include new drivers and people who fail their test. What happens if driving instructors must go on sick leave or cannot work for another reason? I ask the Minister to ensure that any new restrictions introduced will not affect the running of the testing service and that capacity will be at the maximum, if not increased, to address this genuine issue that affects society at every level. It is a far bigger issue in more rural constituencies, which do not have access to public transport links of the kind we are so lucky to have in Dublin Rathdown. It is starting to impact every sector of society.
This legislation is extremely welcome. It needs to be passed swiftly through the House but there are issues and concerns I would like the Minister to address on Committee Stage. The sooner we can have people using e-scooters and e-bikes legally and on the road as fully licensed drivers, the better for society and road safety. The legislation bodes well for the near and distant future.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021. It includes provisions related to automated vehicles for the first time in roads legislation. These vehicles are already being designed, built and tested in a new research hub in Shannon's industrial complex, with links to drone technology using the airport in Shannon. I have had the pleasure of visiting the cutting-edge facility of Jaguar Land Rover on many occasions. It uses cutting-edge technology. High-end research is involved. The facility employs 300 highly skilled people. The new technology will require much more comprehensive legislation, but this Bill is a welcome first step.
This legislation makes amendments to 11 Road Traffic Acts, along with 42 other Acts. It might be time for the Department to take another look at this and perhaps work on consolidating the roads and traffic legislation.
Since we are talking about legislation, rules and regulations, it may be time for us to have a national debate on updating the rules of the road and updating all drivers, cyclists and pedestrians on the current rules through advertising and the use of apps.
A major part of this legislation deals with allowing powered personal transporters, including e-scooters, to travel legally on our roads, and possibly cycleways and greenways.
One of the major sources of complaints from other road users is the lack of adequate lighting on these vehicles and their visibility. Another source of complaint is the use of high-intensity flashing white strobe lights on these vehicles. I note the use of helmets is not being made mandatory in the legislation but I believe the medical evidence is conclusive regarding the use of helmets preventing serious head injuries and we must give the greatest encouragement to the wearing of helmets while using these vehicles.
The Bill includes an extension of the ban on the use of mobile phones on these transporters. I ask the Minister to also consider the issues and impacts of using headphones and ear plugs while using these vehicles.
I see no reference in the Bill to battery powered or electric powered mobility vehicles, which are increasingly seen on roads and pavements. Is there a need to issue a new set of rules for the usage of those vehicles as well? Several charities have lobbied me and every other Member regarding the problems that may arise for the blind and visually impaired in the context of the parking and use of these vehicles. The problems encountered in cities such as Brussels seem to involve rental units that do not have designated parking bays. In light of media reports that up to 20 different companies are eyeing up opportunities once the legislation is passed, I ask that the Minister issue guidelines to local authorities in respect of the storage of these vehicles.
Several sections in the legislation relate to driver licences, the database of licence holders and linking these to vehicles owned or used by the driver. What protections are in place to prevent the database being hacked, as recently happened to the HSE? Has the RSA IT security system been audited to prevent this sensitive personal data being hacked and used for criminal purposes?
While on the subject of driver testing and licences, I wish to raise the issue of 34 RSA driver testers who are set to lose their jobs if sanction is not given to retaining them in their posts. It is my understanding that ten of the 34 testers are to be let go in December, with the remaining 24 to be let go in May. These people were hired in a costly recruitment campaign in 2017 and 2018. Their contracts have been repeatedly extended. The only reason the posts are not being secured is for some reason the RSA and the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Transport do not want to make their positions permanent. This is at a time 66,000 people are waiting for a driver test, as Deputy Richmond noted earlier. These are a cohort of approved RSA driver testers. The very idea that these highly-skilled people will be let go at this time is ludicrous. I ask the Minister to ensure the positions are secured. I ask for his immediate intervention on that issue.
The Bill seeks to change the criteria in respect of penalties for expired licences and reduce the time limit from 12 months to three in the context of a lower fine. However, the State has introduced ten- and 12-month extensions to licences due to processing delays as a result of Covid. We do not know what the future will hold and, therefore, I advise the Minister to withdraw the amendment in section 5(e).
I refer to the need for medical certification for the over 70s. With people now living longer and being fitter, we need to review whether that is the right age at which to introduce this requirement. There may be a need to introduce a simpler initial form to confirm the basic health conditions of drivers and whether they are compliant. A more detailed form could then be completed. There is the added complication of insurance companies using this age limit to refuse cover, or add a loading to the premium of, perfectly healthy drivers.
While on the issue of insurance companies, we need to examine the use of these databases to penalise some drivers while not seeing any benefits to other drivers. Garda forensic collision investigators have investigated all accidents involving death and serious injuries for the past two decades. I believe these reports needs to be published. A preliminary report should be published in respect of all deaths and serious injuries on the road network, as is done in the marine and aviation sectors, within four weeks of the basic findings. It is often the case that findings are only partly released to an inquest, in many cases more than a year or two later. There should also be an annual report on all the relevant factors in these deaths and serious injuries on roads. Is the collision investigation unit fully staffed? Some media reports have suggested that only half the posts required were filled.
I also have concerns regarding section 6(c), which imposes lifetime bans on people convicted of one or more of a long list of offences from becoming driver instructors. I am not sure if that is constitutional. It certainly does not take account of any form of rehabilitation. Should we prohibit a person earning an income based on something he or she did 30 years previously?
I see no reference to dash cameras in the Bill or their use as evidence in prosecution and claims in the High Court or other courts. That should also be considered.
I look forward to the passage of the Bill.
I fully recognise that the use of e-scooters is more prevalent in communities and I welcome the introduction of legislation to cover both shared schemes and private use. However, it is abundantly clear that amendments to the Bill are required to ensure the safety of disabled pedestrians, including those who are visually impaired, those who are deaf or hard of hearing and those with limited mobility.
Under no circumstance should the usage of e-scooters be permitted on footpaths. That is an absolute must for disabled pedestrians and those with limited mobility. The legislation currently allows for a maximum speed of 20 km/h but this should be reduced to 12 km/h in line with other European countries, and consideration should be given to lower speed limits near certain areas such as schools.
An acoustic vehicle alert system should be required on all e-scooters so that they can be heard approaching. EU regulation No. 540/2014 mandates all manufacturers to equip their new electric and hybrid system with this system by 1 July of this year. While the regulation does not cover e-scooters, it presents an opportunity for Ireland to lead on legislation in this area.
There should be designated parking bays for e-scooters. These should be enclosed with high contrast materials and located off pedestrian access ways to prevent injuries to disabled pedestrians and those with limited mobility. There must be areas within each community where e-scooters are prohibited from use, such as shared use spaces, areas with high footfall that are congested and high risk areas such as shared cycle lanes and those not segregated from bus stops.
Provision for insurance and, at least, a provisional licence must be included in the legislation. The requirement to hold a provisional licence is in line with the age requirements under the legislation and would ensure that those using e-scooters would have a thorough understanding of the rules of the road. It is also essential that e-scooters have accessible registration plates in order that riders who break the rules of the road can be identified and fined or prosecuted.
Internationally, rollbacks and bans have been introduced as a result of injuries to the public caused by e-scooters. Ireland has an opportunity to lead the way in the introduction of legislation that recognises safety for all road users at its core. The amendments I have outlined, which I intend to introduce, are the baseline requirements that must be included in the Bill to ensure the safety of disabled pedestrians and those with limited mobility.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. In some ways, it is very much a case of legislation eventually trying to catch up with what is happening out there among the public. E-scooters and e-bikes will no longer be classified as mechanically propelled vehicles, but as powered personal transporters that do not require registration, tax, insurance or a specific licence, and can travel at speeds of up to 25 km/h, which is deeply concerning. I do not drive through my housing estate at more than 20 km/h, but I could be overtaken by somebody on an e-scooter wearing no protective gear.
I am also very concerned about the impact that this legislation could have on our greenways, particularly in the midlands, where significant time and effort went into writing the by-laws for them, and in such a way that they would be protective of pedestrians on these greenways. This Bill will be welcomed as a positive step forward by older and disabled members of my constituency, who have been very frightened in recent times by the sudden growth in the use of e-scooters. The first question they are going to ask will be: who will enforce this legislation?
The legislation on unsafe e-scooter habits needs to be updated. One day I saw a tradesman on an e-scooter, dressed and ready for work with his toolbag at his feet. That is absolutely unsafe. There is no excuse for that kind of behaviour nor should there be any excuse for the use of mobile phones when using an e-scooter. I use the word "unsafe" because I believe that e-scooters and e-bikes have a role to play, whether it is in reducing pollution or making it easier for people to get around. However, these vehicles should be used in a way that is responsible and safe.
One issue that I have with the legislation is that I believe that a huge opportunity has been missed. I refer, specifically, to the wrong-way tragedies on our motorways. We have seen repeatedly, although somewhat rarely, an increasing number of cars travelling the wrong way on motorways. Such incidents end in a loss of life or a very serious collision. In August 2021, a male driver drove down the M6 outside Ballinasloe in the wrong direction. The head-on crash with an oncoming vehicle resulted in the death of four people. That was a tragedy. Initial research undertaken by road safety initiatives, on behalf of Highways England, has shown that while incidents of this nature are quite rare, the consequences are severe. The research reports that the average killed or seriously injured ratio for collisions on motorways and principal roads is 15%, but for collisions that occur as a result of wrong-way driving, that ratio increases to 32%. A three-step process relating to site prioritisation, junction assessment and a selection of mitigation options has been developed and could be deployed here to ensure that these kind of tragedies do not become a more frequent feature on the front of our newspapers and in our media, and that no more people lose their lives as a result of wrong-way driving on a motorway.
If the Minister were to travel to parts of my constituency - and he can go out there now if he wants - he would hear the buzzing noise of scrambler and quad bikes. This goes on from early in the morning to late at night. These bikes are used on main roads and green spaces, without the least bit of regard for pedestrians or other road users. Users do not wear helmets or high-visibility clothing. They tear up and down the streets on dark evenings. There are near misses everyday involving children or elderly people out with prams.
Last week the Tallaght Drug and Alcohol Task Force published a comprehensive report on the effects of crack cocaine in the area. The Minister probably saw it reported in the media. Even in that report, the bikes feature. According to the report, there is clear evidence that the bikes are being used to transport drugs and dealers are patrolling neighbourhoods on scrambler bikes as a way of staking out their territory and intimidating the entire community through their visibility and engine noise. I would like to think that the new Garda powers to stop and seize vehicles will enable them to be much more proactive in tackling this issue. It is a welcome move that will give them more powers to safeguard our streets, parks and green spaces. However, my worry is that the reluctance previously displayed by the Garda will continue. Members of the Garda are worried that they will end up in front of GSOC or in court. Therefore, there needs to be balance in this issue. We need assurances from the Minister that whatever legislation is passed in this House, there will be follow-up on it. We must ensure that we are not just going through the motions. Half the accidents involving quad bikes or scramblers involve children under the age of 18. Christmas is approaching, and we should all appeal to parents not to buy these vehicles. They are not toys. I ask parents not to buy them. If the only space available to drive a scrambler on is the local GAA pitch or a green space, then it is not safe or appropriate, and people should not do so.
The Bill also outlines what provisions people should supply when applying for a driver's licence, including "N" plates, and so on. There is common agreement on the fact that we need more driving instructors. I have raised this issue with the Minister directly previously. In my constituency in Tallaght, there are over 10,000 people on waiting lists. That represents 10% of the total of 66,000 on lists. Does the Minister have a plan to address this issue? It is a simple question. Is there a plan in place, and when does he expect to initiate that plan?
Finally, I wish to draw the his attention to the difficulties involved in trying to renew an expired licence during Covid. Drivers cannot get a licence renewal as they have to physically turn up in person to do so. This is impacting on many job applicants who need a licence. There is a notification on the National Driver Licence Service website, which states that the validity period of licences is being extended and they satisfy the law of the land, and just as important, insurance companies. Perhaps the Minister might address that. There is a lot of fear and concern out there. People are really worried that they are driving around illegally and that it will impact on them in the future.
I would like to welcome the provisions in respect of scramblers and quad bikes, in particular, which have been brought forward as part of this Bill. Just a few weeks ago, just down the road from my house in my constituency, a young person who was on a scrambler lost control and went straight into the back of a car. He ended up seriously injured in hospital and is very lucky to be alive. I would like it to be noted that I, and a number of Deputies over the years, fought long and hard for this legislation. We were told time and again that it was contrary to the advice being given by the Attorney General. However, it seems that we were right all along and that this Government has been dragged to the position we see in this legislation today.
I note that there is no intention to extend the national vehicle database, which we had called for, to provide for the compulsory registration of all quad bikes and scramblers. This would enable the gardaí to swiftly identify the owner of a quad bike or a scrambler being driven dangerously and recklessly. I ask that this be progressed. Hopefully, the Minister will consider this important tool in the suite of measures that has been identified.
I would also like to draw that attention of Minister to the other tool that is required to tackle this scourge in our communities, namely, effective policing, an issue that was raised by Deputy Crowe. What resources will be given to the Garda to put these laws into effect? What training and equipment will be provided? What guidelines, in particular, will be put in place? I also urge the Garda to utilise the powers that are in place that will hold parents or guardians responsible if they purchase a scrambler or a quad bike in full knowledge that they will be driven on our roads, parks or open spaces. We know that Christmas is coming.
Finally, we must ensure that those who have a love of motocross are given the opportunity to do so in a safe manner. Indeed, there are thousands of people who engage in that sport. Local authorities enable many different activities for young people and adults, including football. Not everyone likes sports. We must ensure that other activities are provided.
I welcome the provisions relating to e-scooters and e-bikes. It is long overdue. Every Deputy has received many representations concerning the health and safety of pedestrians and road users in the context of these vehicles. I am not the only one who has been concerned about the speed of some of the e-bikes and e-scooters. Just yesterday, I was coming in here and saw a young girl on a scooter. It was getting dark and she was dressed completely in black. There were no lights on her scooter. She drove on the footpath, then moved off onto the road, broke a red light, went straight through a green pedestrian light onto another footpath and continued on down the road.
It was so dangerous for that person and for anybody else, such as drivers, who could not see her. It is something that also needs to be addressed in the Bill. This legislation is long overdue but very welcome. With regard to scramblers, it is worthless unless we put in place an action plan to deal with them.
I thank the Minister for his presence in the Chamber to address this. I will go through a few preliminary issues that are raised in the Bill. I join my colleagues in welcoming the fact they are covered. I welcome the Bill and the effort to address many long-standing issues. I have some constructive observations to make, specifically on the place of e-scooters in the Bill.
I welcome the insurance database provisions. They are long awaited and another piece of the infrastructure we need. I also welcome that additional information will be sought from drivers who seek to be insured in other cars. I agree with the provisions on driving instructors with regard to criminal records. I also take Deputy Carey's point that there could be some kind of a clause whereby people could go before an independent committee to explain, for example, that they have a criminal conviction from 20 years ago, or whenever, and to ask whether there is any way it can be overlooked as it is the only criminal conviction they have. The Minister knows there is a problem with waiting times. I know Covid does not help. The number of times not being able to do a driving test has cost young people jobs are too many to enumerate. I am sure colleagues would agree with this. It is something that needs to be taken into consideration.
The Minister knows my position on electric bikes. I am very supportive of any technology and any micro-mobility innovation. The Belgians are the leaders in this regard. We are a bit slow coming to it. I have seen at first hand from friends and family members who have opted for e-bikes that the number of car journeys they have managed to displace already, very early in their ownership, is considerable. However, there is the issue of the cost. It is like many other energy initiatives that have come from the Government. People have to have a lot of cash in the bank. A good e-bike costs approximately €2,500 or €3,000. To avail of the scheme people have to be able to put that down to get the rebate back.
I have raised this with the Minister, ministerial colleagues in my party and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, in advance of the budget. I will raise it again in the context of next year's budget. In Belgium there is an incentive whereby 100% of any money employers spend on e-bikes, whether purchasing an e-bike for an employee because it will displace a car journey to work or on e-bike infrastructure such as shelters in the workplace or shower facilities, can be written off against tax. With regard to the cost to the State, we could set aside a modest budget in the first year but there is no major cost to the State in doing this. The private sector would lead on this and the public sector would follow. Under such an incentive, employers would purchase e-bikes for their employees. This would be pretty radical. It would mean free electric bikes for workers. What a great legacy for the Minister to leave behind. At the Velo-city conference in the convention centre two years ago, one of the speakers was Belgian. His company pays him so much per kilometre for using an e-bike to go to work as opposed to his car. We are in the shadows still with regard to electric bike technology.
I want to make a point with regard to BusConnects. Recently, Dublin Bus was in my constituency. The deputy chief executive officer of the National Transport Authority was there a year and a half ago. BusConnects was a desktop exercise when it came to newly developing parts of my constituency such as Ballycullen, Oldcourt and Firhouse. The routes that are planned pay no attention to the developments that have taken place there. It needs to be revisited. It is already out of date because it did not take account of development.
With regard to scramblers, the former Deputy, John Curran, and I led the way in the previous Dáil with a Private Members' Bill on scramblers. I am glad the matter is finally making it to the floor of the House again. I want to say to the people of Tallaght, and one of the previous speakers mentioned it, that legislation takes time and to become law it has to be good and well teased out. We are introducing this and it will give the Garda powers to confiscate and destroy scramblers being used in an antisocial manner. I also want to say how mindful I am that this is the stick and there also has to be a carrot. Other initiatives are being taken by the Department of Justice and the Minister of State, Deputy Brown, to try to incentivise younger people to use these in a more pro-social manner. This includes getting local authorities to identify places where scramblers can be used responsibly, encouraging younger people to learn how to maintain them and to learn all of the safety requirements.
I have spoken privately to the Minister about e-scooters. Unlike Deputy Kelly's conversation with the Taoiseach yesterday, we will not breach in public what we said. We have had conversations about it. I introduced an e-scooter Bill. I also produced a significant micro-mobility document. It might have been used in programme for Government talks. I certainly submitted it. It is about as comprehensive as any party could produce. It has quite an emphasis on electric scooters. However, I do not think the Minister has listened.
There should be a stand-alone Bill for e-scooters and I will explain why. I am hugely enthusiastic about them. They have the power to displace the car in a number of instances. They also hold huge possibilities for schoolgoing children if they are introduced in a proper way. In the UK a shared scheme was introduced for a period of 18 months or two years. It did not legalise private ownership. This is the choice facing us as legislators. I am strongly in favour of e-scooters. I have tried several of them. I have been on Segways and e-bikes. I notice hoverboards are also included in the legislation. I have not tried one of them yet.
I have seen how e-scooter technology and their construct and build have improved exponentially over the past three or four years in the shared sphere but not those that are privately owned. I could buy an e-scooter on the Internet and it would not be governed by any technology. Its speed would not be governed when it arrived here. It would be up to the Garda to govern it. As I see it, the choice that faces us is between a free-for-all random system of private personal ownership that only the Garda can police and a shared hire scheme for an initial period exclusively with no personal ownership. This should have been introduced a year and a half ago as it was in Britain because of restrictions in public transport ownership. E-scooters took up a lot of the slack, to the extent that police constabularies in the UK leased some of them to assist them in policing.
One of the choices is a free-for-all random system of private ownership with no standard build, no branding and no control over purchase. In this there would also be no real control over speed. It would be the Garda that would have to police it. It cannot be governed and people can get around it. There would be no geo-fencing and I will come to this. This could lead potentially to chaos, litter, nuisance on the streets and all of the negative things we hear about e-scooters internationally. We ought to be learning the lessons from this.
The other option is a shared hire scheme. We started it with bikes through Dublin Bikes. It branched out and expanded into private businesses also offering bikes. It has been very successful although sometimes the bikes can become like litter on the streets because there are not enough docking stations for them. The shared hire model offers us geo-fencing. This is the technological ability to exclude scooters from footpaths and pedestrian zones. They are governed by GPS. An example I used on the radio during the week is that if someone is going along St. Stephen's Green and wants to take an e-scooter down Grafton Street but it is excluded because it is a pedestrian zone the e-scooter will slowly come to a halt. People will have to dismount because they just will not let them go there. Giving local authorities the power to regulate this will mean they can map the areas where they do not want e-scooters to be operable, such as outside schools, supermarkets and public parks or along areas of footpath and perhaps even some greenways. They can be excluded technologically. What we would also get is e-scooters built to a particular standard so they are robust and comfortable.
In Berlin, when people using the e-scooter scheme were polled, 50% of them said that prior to the scheme they had never in their lives got up on an e-scooter. This is what we are facing. Some of the shared schemes provide tutorials and people cannot get on the e-scooter until they have taken a tutorial.
A speed of 25 km/h is too fast. In the UK it was 15 miles per hour which is about 20 km/h. Some 20 km/h is perfectly fine because these will be competing for space in cycle lanes and on footpaths. It is not illegal to cycle on footpaths here.
This should have been introduced last year and it should be a separate, stand-alone Bill. Let us introduce a shared scheme, the hired scheme, let it bed in and let the public build up confidence in it. The geo-fencing also means that if I hire an e-scooter, I must return it to a particular spot or I will not be allowed to hire and will have a black mark against me with the company from which I am hiring.
Let us use their innovations as opposed to ungoverned and unfettered technology that could cause chaos in the streets. Chaos is probably too big a word to use but people could be put off the idea of electronic scooters very early and they have a very exciting place to play in micro mobility in Dublin and in every town and county. I know we agree on that. I thank the Ceann Comhairle.
I will therefore deliver my speech quickly. In the main, I am very supportive of this and have been so at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. We have heard of worst-case scenarios and there are many of them. When one goes online, one will see videos of people going crazy on e-scooters. That is the worst-case scenario but I have also seen youngsters using e-scooters to go to hurling training and visiting friend’s houses and they are giving the mum and dad taxi a break. In the main, this can be only a positive and good thing. We need to regulate and embrace the fact that it is happening all over the country. It is being used as a new form of micro-transport.
Largely, the legislation is very good and much thought has gone into it. We have been doing pre-legislative scrutiny at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. Some things still need to stitched into this Bill before it is enacted.
First, e-scooters should not be on footpaths. They should not be interfacing with pedestrians on footpaths and there is a need for the fitting of a slight noise emitting device. Some EU countries have these. One will hear a faint little bleep as the vehicle approaches. That would mean those who are visually impaired will know there is an e-scooter nearby and they will step back or stop where they are walking, knowing that one is about to pass them. That is very important and other countries have had the foresight to introduce this and we should do likewise.
There also needs to be designated parking areas, particularly if one is discussing shared scooters to which Deputy Lahart referred. One needs to be very definite as to where these scooters can be parked.
I am concerned that helmets will not be mandatory and I am particularly concerned because we are now seeing the second and third generation of e-scooters. They are getting faster and stronger and are far more powerful than the predecessors, the first generation. I will give an example. I have been looking at this online and the Dualtron Ultra II is one of the highest spec e-scooters one can currently buy. It has a top speed of 100 km/h. It is powered by two motors with a collective power of 6,640 W. That is very significant. If that e-scooter is travelling at top speed, and granny or grandad is coming down the footpath towards it, all interfacing on the same pavement space, that is a recipe for disaster. They need to be on the road or ideally on a cycleway or off the path used by pedestrians.
It concerns me that there will not be a requirement to have insurance, which certainly appears to be the intent now. If a scooter is involved in a road traffic accident involving a car, a pedestrian, a motorcyclist or a cyclist, the insurance industry, as we all know, will try to shift the blame of liability across to others. In the middle of it all is the child, the teenager or the adult on the e-scooter who has no liability because he or she simply does not have insurance cover. Who does one go to in that case? I pay €10 a month insurance on my phone. Surely some low-level insurance can be considered here. Most teenagers insure their expensive devices and see value in that. An e-scooter, where one is shelling out €1,000 or €1,500, surely should have an insurance policy on it for theft and, most importantly, against third-party injury.
I will conclude by saying that I love e-scooters. I have tried them out and I think they are fantastic. Quad bikes, which are a little outside what we are debating here, belong on farms and in rural environments. They do not belong even on every farm. Where I live in Meelick in County Clare there are a lot of hills and a quad bike would not be any use there because it would overturn or capsize.
Similarly, scrambler bikes are for forestry terrain. They are a sports vehicle and do not belong in housing estate green areas being driven around like the wild west on a weekend night. We must clamp down on that and these vehicles should be seized and destroyed. There is a facility within this law to do all of that.
In the main, this is positive but we need to regulate and we are a little light in some of the regulations so far.