Dáil debates

Wednesday, 17 April 2024

1:30 pm

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to address the House. As many Deputies will be aware, in three of the past four years, we have seen an increase in road-related fatalities and serious accidents. Last year, 2023, was a particularly stark year on our roads with 188 people losing their lives, the worst total in close to a decade. Tragically, this upward trend has continued well into 2024. As of this morning, there have been 63 fatalities on our roads this year, which is an increase of 14, or 28.5%, compared with this time last year and puts us on course for more than 220 fatalities for the year in total. Many of those fatalities will be young people. It is incumbent on all of us working in the sector to redouble our efforts to reverse the current trend using everything at our disposal. Legislative change, renewed and enhanced educational campaigns, enhanced enforcement both through increased Garda numbers and technology, and improved engineering will all form part of the solution.

While we have made great strides since our first national road safety strategy began in 1998, that progress has passed and we must do more to reverse the downward trend of deaths and serious injuries on our roads. While there has been an increase in road deaths in recent years, data we have received so far confirms that the four main causes of death on our roads remain speeding, distraction, not wearing a seatbelt and intoxicated driving. Road Safety Authority research supports the data. In a national representative survey conducted in 2023, 14% of drivers reported driving within one hour of having consumed drugs in the past 30 days and 15% reported driving within one hour of drinking alcohol. The social acceptability of drink-driving also appears to be increasing, with 72% of respondents to a 2021 survey indicating it is unacceptable compared with 82% of respondents in 2015.

Recent research on mobile phone use among drivers aged 18 to 24 commissioned by the Road Safety Authority has also found that 100% of focus group participants use their mobile phones while driving, at least occasionally. There is also a perception that there is no risk of being caught, which is of serious concern. Phone dependence was cited as a major contributory factor. Deputies may be aware that the risk of being involved in a collision increases by a factor of four when a driver uses his or her mobile phone and we cannot allow this killer behaviour to become normalised among young people or among the driving population more generally.

The failure to wear a seatbelt remains a serious factor in road deaths. Of the 101 drivers and passengers killed in seatbelt-equipped motor vehicles in 2023, 40% were wearing a seatbelt at the time of the collision, 10% were not wearing a seatbelt and the information is not yet known in respect of the remaining 50%. Those are worryingly high numbers of people not wearing seatbelts. For the data we have for last year, one in five of those who died were not wearing a seatbelt.

Despite improvements in car technology, in 2024, compliance remains a serious driver of road deaths. Speeding remains one of the greatest risk factors on our roads. Most people know that speeding is dangerous and yet many people continue to do it. Speed reduces the time people have to react and makes collisions more likely. It also makes it more likely that when collisions do happen, they will lead to death or serious injury. We are working on multiple fronts to address this problem, as I will outline shortly. The priorities for my Department include the speed limit review, the wider review and reform of the Road Safety Authority, developing a national safety camera strategy, addressing the multiple learner permit issue, reviewing the driver testing curriculum and increasing investment in locations of interest, which were formerly known as accident black spots. As many in this House have stated, the reforms undertaken by this House and the Road Safety Authority must be underpinned and supported by strong and visible enforcement. This is an issue I have consistently raised with the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner. Drivers who are engaged in killer behaviours on our roads need to believe they will be caught.

I welcome the announcement that 75 more members will be deployed to roads policing units this year and again next year, and any action that increases the visibility of enforcement on our roads to address this trend is welcome. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this increase in roads policing time. Moreover, the need to ensure that is underpinned by strong policing plans, strengthened enforcement and the wider deployment of roads policing units will be of central importance if we are going to break this trend. There have been concerning matters raised by road safety groups and many in this House about the level and threshold of enforcement. That is something that is getting ongoing oversight on foot of the meeting we had with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, and something I will continue to pursue.

With regard to legislation, I recently brought forward the Road Traffic Bill 2024. I want to acknowledge the support and co-operation of people in this House to ensure its swift passage through both Houses of the Oireachtas. Having completed the Seanad last week, I expect it to be signed into law by the President this week. It is concise and focused legislation that seeks to respond to the trends we are witnessing in a robust and systematic way. The legislation addresses a number of key areas of road safety concern. In response to the rise in drug driving, the Bill introduces mandatory drug testing at the scene of a collision on the same basis as alcohol. The evidence indicates that drink and drug driving are now similarly prevalent and while neither are acceptable, it makes no sense to treat drugs differently. This mandatory approach will make a difference.

In the first three months of 2024, 2,588 driver drug tests analysed by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety have already tested positive for at least one drug, with cannabis accounting for more than half of those positives and over 30% found positive for cocaine. This message must be clear and unambiguous: being intoxicated and getting behind a wheel is never acceptable, regardless of the substance used. I intend to enact this change in the coming weeks and to commence this part of the legislation.

To increase the deterrent effect of penalty points, the Bill introduces a major reform of the system introduced in 2002, which has served us well over the past two decades. Previously, a driver caught with multiple penalty point offences in a single act would only receive one set of penalty points. Going forward, they will receive at least two sets of points and potentially more in the event of an unsuccessful court challenge where three or more offences have been detected. This important reform will encourage safer driving behaviour across the range of penalty point offences, and ensure there is no benefit to drivers from stacking up offences, so to speak.

Finally, the evidence shows that speeding and inappropriate speed are major contributors to collisions and road deaths for drivers, passengers and pedestrians. Last September, my Department published the speed limit review, and it recommends that the default limit on national secondary roads be reduced from 100 km/h to 80 km/h, from 80 km/h to 60 km/h on rural local roads, and from 50 km/h to 30 km/h in urban areas. These default limits are now legislated for in the Road Traffic Bill. These speeds are defaults, and the setting of speed limits will be an important function in the context of local authorities, and their role will be respected. As I said, I expect this to be signed shortly by the President. Following this, the updated guidance will issue to local authorities, and that will allow them to begin preparations for review when the new councils are elected after the local elections this summer. My Department is working closely with the local authority sector to ensure that the new limits are introduced in a co-ordinated and synchronised way across the country and that they are brought in in a way that ensures consistency and ends the fragmentation we see nationally.

The Road Traffic Bill 2024 has also addressed some legislative anomalies surrounding the minimum length of an ancillary disqualification, which could be used in court to effectively avoid a mandatory six-month disqualification, and to provide an explicit power for An Garda Síochána to hold someone at the roadside for up to 30 minutes while waiting for the result of a drug test.

With regard to the issue of drivers continually renewing learner permits without ever sitting a driving test, Deputies will be keenly aware of the issues that the driver testing service has had over the past year and the unacceptable delays, about which I know many Deputies have been contacted by their constituents. I am pleased to report that following sanction from my Department to hire an additional 75 testers last March, average testing waiting times have steadily declined since last August, with wait times declining from over 30 weeks last August to over 15 weeks in the most recent figures from the end of March. I have been told by the Road Safety Authority that the service level agreement waiting time of ten weeks will be restored by the middle of the year, and that will help address the wider backlog and ensure the resources are there to tackle the issue of multiple learner permits.

I have also been on record previously about the need for us to deploy technology on a wider basis to support enforcement and to encourage safer driving. I welcome the fact that there has been an increase in Go Safe hours, which has continued this year, and the commitment from An Garda Síochána to roll out three average speed cameras and nine static cameras this year. In addition to these immediate measures, Transport Infrastructure Ireland is now leading the development of a comprehensive safety camera strategy for publication this year, which will establish the framework for the future development of our camera enforcement capacity nationally. This strategy will also consider the use of cameras for purposes beyond speeding, such as identifying mobile phone use and the non-wearing of seatbelts, as well as addressing anyone who is engaged in reckless or lawless behaviour. They need to be tackled properly and using technology will have a clear role to play.

Another important priority is to review our national driver testing curriculum to ensure it is fit for purpose, future-proofed and responsive to changes in vehicle technology. Our curriculum has not been reviewed in a number of decades, and I am pleased to note that the RSA has now commenced work on this important project. This evaluation will be informed by additional research currently under way into changing driver behaviour, and international best practice will be considered in order to produce the wider recommendations on improving driver education in Ireland.

Separate to the work of the Road Safety Authority, my Department has commissioned an independent review of the Road Safety Authority. The RSA was established in 2006 and much has changed in the intervening period. The objective of this review is to conduct a thorough, proper and comprehensive examination of the structures, funding model, services and strategic goals to ensure that the authority can deliver the Government's road safety strategy and its other statutory functions. I expect to receive preliminary findings next month. We will consider those recommendations and bring them to Government this summer, and implement a plan to ensure it is equipped to deliver its road safety mandate in the years ahead.

I can report to the House that the Road Safety Authority will spend an additional €3 million in the coming weeks on increased road safety public awareness campaigns, in addition to the €3.6 million funding for awareness campaigns approved late last year. I expect the Road Safety Authority to spend all of this funding in advance of the implementation of the review later this year. I also expect that a formal proposal to resolve the issue of collision data sharing will be sent to the Data Protection Commissioner this month and will expedite any legislative changes identified, if necessary on foot of that engagement.

On the issue of data sharing, it is important to be clear that data-led interventions continue to take place both on our national and local roads. The Department undertakes a detailed collision analysis on the regional and local road network that identifies locations of interest - formerly known as blackspots - on the network on behalf of the local authority. The data utilised for this analysis was requested and obtained from the Road Safety Authority under a memorandum of understanding with certain datasets. Acknowledging the importance of progressing this work, the latest data received was late last year. These locations of interest, when identified, are notified officially to each local authority by the Department. In 2023, 55 locations of interest safety schemes were applied for and funded and in 2024, 60 locations of interest safety schemes were applied for and are being funded and implemented this year.

In addition to these locations of interest, local authorities also submit applications for safety schemes based on local knowledge and engineering expertise. Local authorities have also received funding in this regard. These are considered for funding and across 2022 to 2024, inclusive, close to 900 safety schemes have been funded by the Department. TII has also allocated over €100 million in 2024 to safety programmes aimed at addressing issues identified on roads and at junctions where there is poor horizontal and vertical alignment or poor visibility, as well as to larger-scale projects targeting safety improvements across our national road network.

I will now conclude my opening remarks, and I look forward to hearing the contributions from Deputies on this important topic.

1:50 pm

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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When we talk about road safety the first thing we have to remember is that many families have been adversely affected by the large number of deaths in tragedies on our roads over the past year. In the first quarter of this year, as the Minister of State acknowledged, the figures have gone up again. This is a serious issue that we need to deal with. Policing is central to that, as the Minister of State has also acknowledged. One of the difficulties in this regard is that the roads policing units have not been at or near the full complement. The Minister of State has acknowledged this fact as well.

The Garda Commissioner has announced that gardaí will have to spend half an hour in each shift doing roads policing. When I speak to gardaí most of them tell me that they do that anyway and do not need to be instructed to do it. Others see it as a bit of a ploy to take attention away from the reality that we are down numbers in roads policing units throughout the State. The Minister of State has announced that more resources will be going to this area. The latest figures show the number of gardaí in these units was 625, although it may have increased a little. I have been told that figure includes large numbers of gardaí who are not doing that work because they are off sick or for other reasons. We submitted a parliamentary question on the number of gardaí in the roads policing units who have not issued a fixed-charge notice in the last 12 months. That would indicate that they are not working at all and we need to acknowledge that there are sections that are not working in any case.

We also have the whole issue of drink and drugs. The new legislation will allow gardaí to test for drugs after an accident. This is welcome and we need to see it happen. The biggest problem is that most people do not see gardaí out on the roads implementing the kind of deterrent we had in the past, which is simply not there anymore. The emphasis has shifted to having Go Safe vans do the work of An Garda Síochána, which has been a privatisation of the service. This is an issue we must deal with. Last weekend, former Chief Superintendent John O'Brien wrote an article in The Journal highlighting that whereas things were done in the past based on best practice and research from across the EU, we have since moved away from that. We must acknowledge that this is one of the reasons we are now having issues.

We must also examine the whole issue of driver testing. The Minister of State mentioned people with learner permits not sitting their tests and continuing to drive. This needs to be dealt with urgently. The Minister of State also referred to how well we train drivers. I recently met representatives of the Professional Driving Instructors Association who pointed out that Ireland has the lowest number of mandatory lessons in Europe, with 12 lessons being mandatory before a person can sit a test. The RSA has a responsibility to review that. It also needs to review the curriculum, which has been the same for the past decade. Things have changed, however.

I welcome the additional €3 million to be spent on highlighting the many collisions and other issues on our roads, as well as the tragic deaths we have. I do not believe the board of the RSA is at its full complement. This must be looked at. We need to have a complete emphasis on delivering solutions that will work for people. To do that, we need to take these issues very seriously. While I acknowledge the recently passed Road Traffic Act which the Minister of State said will shortly go to the President for his signature, we have not seen the regulations around that legislation yet. We have not seen how it will be implemented or what power the local authorities will have. I appeal to the Minister of State to publish the regulations as quickly as possible so we can see exactly how that legislation is going to work.

I made the point throughout the debates on the Road Traffic Bill that people driving within the speed limit are not causing these accidents. Rather, it is people driving well in excess of the speed limit and not being detected that is causing many of the accidents on the roads. Bringing down the speed limits is well and good but we need to detect these offences. That is the problem more than anything else. We do not having enough gardaí implementing the rules of the road. This is what is needed and it is where we need to see the change happen.

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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This is an important debate. We have reached a watershed moment. I commend my colleague Deputy Martin Kenny on his work in this area. I hope we will see action from the Government and the RSA soon. One of the interesting parliamentary questions submitted by Deputy Kenny was on the number of gardaí involved in roads policing. In 2017, there were 623 gardaí in roads policing according to the reply to that parliamentary question. Seven years later, there were 627, meaning there was only an increase of four gardaí involved despite massive increases in population and the number of cars on the roads. As with crime in the community, visibility, as has been said previously, is greatly important. Just as we need more gardaí and Garda Reserve members on our streets so people and communities can feel safe and to eliminate crime and the causes of crime, as well as the fear of crime, we also need more gardaí on our streets at all times of the day.

I echo what Deputy Kenny said. I, too, have spoken to many gardaí and 99% of gardaí on regular duty doing 12-hour shifts are doing half an hour of road traffic work on their shifts. In my experience in courts over the years, there is inevitably a mix of roads traffic policing for drink and drug driving. It is the gardaí who are on the streets late at night when people are coming out of the pubs and driving home who are the ones detecting offenders and bringing them to court.

An overall package is needed, but when we have a county like Clare that has not seen a new garda brought into the area in the last two years and the example of County Kerry, where the number of gardaí is down by 20 since before Covid struck, we are going to have a serious problem. Allied to this, we have the cuts in funding to TII. Engineers in Kerry County Council prepared detailed tender documents for contractors in relation to two roads. One concerns a bad bend near the school and bridge in Glenbeigh and the other is the N86 from Tralee to Dingle, between Annascaul and Lispole, and Baile an Chláir and Baile na Saor. Considerable work was put into that but for some strange reason, inexplicably, the funding has been cut. There is a suspicion that the money has gone to other countries, which is welcome, but these dangerous bends need to be eliminated. When so much work has gone into projects like these, it is very important that they are done.

Unfortunately, in many of the large developments built in urban areas, cycle lanes have not been put in place. To give one example, in Caherslee in Tralee, 34 road traffic offences have been detected in recent years. Of these 14 were road traffic collisions at the junctions of Glencairn and Lioscarrig with Caherslee Road. While none of them were serious or fatal, there are other road traffic offences and a road safety issue there and action needs to be taken in this regard.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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The increase in the number of roads deaths in the last year has been shocking. Every life lost on the roads is a major tragedy. The last few months in particular have been totally devastating. Sixty-three people have died on our roads this year. These are 63 families left to grieve and lives ruined by loss, not to mention those who suffer serious injuries, sometimes life-changing. There are also life-long psychological impacts from road traffic accidents. Three of those who lost their lives were from County Louth and their families have been left absolutely devastated.

In the same period last year, 49 people were killed on our roads. This shows that there has been a significant increase in 2024. The behaviour of motorists has changed enormously in the last 20 years. Drink driving, speeding and, as a result, road deaths had reduced massively. We have introduced new road traffic legislation in the last ten years, including lower speed limits and penalties for drug driving. The issue, however, is enforcement. It is outrageous that there has been a 40% drop in the numbers of gardaí policing the roads in the last 20 years. We all know garda visibility is needed on our roads. If people can easily leave a pub, nightclub or house party knowing full well there is little or no chance of being stopped, what is preventing them from doing so?

Obviously, we all know that this is shocking behaviour but because we know this, we have to stop it and the only way to do that is to have sufficient traffic gardaí on patrol. We also know that there has been a resurgence in drink and drug driving recently and this is again because of the lack of enforcement. We need to address this urgently to stop the rise.

In budget 2024, the road maintenance and safety allocation reduced by 150. If that is the attitude of the Government and the attention it pays to it, then God help us.

2:00 pm

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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There is nothing worse than turning on the news and the first item covers the most recent road deaths. Unfortunately, this is all too regular an occurrence. We listen to families speaking about the tragic and heartbreaking loss of a loved one. Even though the devastation is so visible, road deaths continue to soar. Road fatalities increased from 155 in 2022 to 184 in 2023 and there have been over 60 road deaths this year. Behind each of these figures, there is a family who are absolutely devastated by the loss of a loved one. One solution is enforcement. Information received by my colleague Deputy Martin Kenny stated that as of the end of February 2024, there were 627 members assigned to the Garda road policing unit compared with 623 in 2017. That is an increase of only four gardaí in the road policing unit in seven years. Surely even the Minister of State will admit this is an appalling failure and shows that the Government has failed to act with any urgency on road safety.

The majority of road users are safe and responsible. However, for those who continue to engage in dangerous behaviours which are risking their own lives and the lives of those around them, we need to see enforcement of current road legislation. The solutions are there and Government must act to deliver the change that is needed.

Speaking of those who drive irresponsibly on our roads, the Government has failed to tackle the issue of scramblers scourging our communities. Scramblers are driven at speed, sometimes on one wheel, on roads, green spaces and paths putting the rider's safety and that of other people in jeopardy. For too long, the Government has failed to tackle the use of these bikes which has resulted in fear in our communities. I know how much of an issue it is in my area of Dublin Mid-West. Many people feel frightened, unsafe and intimidated by the rogue use of scrambler bikes in public areas which should be shared spaces for everybody to enjoy safely.

Sinn Féin has consulted with communities on this issue and those communities feel let down by the Government's failure to act. They feel their pleas for support have been ignored. We call on the Government to tackle the issue of scramblers for once and for all, and to make our communities safe again.

Photo of Pauline TullyPauline Tully (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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There have been 63 deaths on our roads this year, meaning 63 grieving families. At the current rate of traffic fatalities, Ireland is on course to record 225 deaths by the end of the year, which would make it the worst year for road safety in over a quarter of a century. We hope that does not happen because we do not want to see any more grieving families. We also need to remember all the people who have suffered serious injuries, including life-changing injuries.

The four main reasons for road fatalities remain. They are speeding, intoxicated driving, non-wearing of seatbelts and distracted driving. These are all factors that require Garda enforcement but the Minister of State has acknowledged that enforcement levels have collapsed. The recent announcement of an extra 30 minutes of road policing during every garda's shift is far from sufficient. The Garda must be given the resources and personnel needed to ensure adequate road safety enforcement. This has not been the case in recent years as the number of personnel in dedicated road policing units has fallen by 40% in a decade. In my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan, there were 26 such personnel in 2018 but that figure had reduced to 16 as of 31 May 2022 - a reduction of ten gardaí over that period. I hope it has been increased in the last two years but, if not, it needs to be. Gardaí cannot enforce the law on our roads with severely reduced roads unit numbers.

Another contributory factor is the dangerous state of our local and regional roads, especially with the extremely high rainfall we have been experiencing this year. The major cut to funding for regional and local roads during the post-2008 recession resulted in the build-up of a substantial backlog of works across the country. While funding has increased marginally in recent years, it is not back to the level that would allow the backlog of road works across the country to be addressed. For example, there is a regional road in my area which goes from Kilnaleck to Killeshandra. If two lorries meet on that road, one of them has to pull in to allow the other to pass. It is a dangerous, twisty road. Huge investment is needed to widen it and make it safe. Some agricultural vehicles are extremely large and are being driven on roads that are not fit to take them, which is causing accidents.

The Government is proposing a cut in the speed limit. I do not know how this will make a difference to the rise in fatalities we are seeing without the issues of Garda enforcement and the dangerous state of our roads being rectified.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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Road safety is an issue that is seemingly spiralling out of control. This year is currently on course to prove the most lethal for traffic fatalities in 15 years, with all the good work that has been done in the years gone by completely erased. So far this year, 63 people have died on the roads, with the death toll climbing by an alarming 31% compared with the same period in 2023. In February, we debated the Road Traffic Bill. My colleague Deputy Duncan Smith highlighted that we had 21 deaths at the time of those statements. It is a staggering rise to get from 21 fatalities in February to 63 in April. I welcome that the Taoiseach has declared a commitment to addressing this trend but how have things got out of control so quickly under this Government?

There has been consistent mismanaging of road safety and indeed broader issues on our roads and for drivers, including the outrageous backlog of driver tests that the Government has failed to tackle. More than 86,000 people are waiting to book or take a driving test, including 31,000 in Dublin. The Minister of State knows all too well, as I do, that this encourages people to drive illegally on learner permits and young drivers to pick up general bad habits. Only last October, we saw figures that indicated that up to 30,000 people on their third or subsequent provisional licence have never sat a driving test. In some cases, learners have been driving for 30 years without ever holding a full licence. With such huge waiting lists, it is almost certain that those figures have risen and will continue to rise which puts drivers, and especially young drivers, at risk.

Almost half of Ireland's road deaths this year have involved people under 30 years of age who now account for 41% of all traffic fatalities. This is clear data and we should be seeing impactful solutions in both resourcing and personnel from the Government. For instance, the latest figures state there are 627 members of the Garda road policing unit, which is down from 688 last year and 692 in 2022. In what world is this acceptable? Why is the Government not providing the resources not just to retain the number of members in Garda road policing units, but also to build on them? There is worrying consistency in the manner in which the Government responds to these types of big issues. Too frequently, the response is too little too late. Over the past few weeks, we have been hearing of a renewed energy the Government is about to bring to the table, but when we get to see the actual plan to tackle road safety issues, we see again conservative changes that will not make a meaningful impact.

Last week, we had an announcement that all uniformed gardaí will conduct 30 minutes of road safety policing per shift in future. Is this seriously the best we can do right now? We talk ad nauseam in this Chamber about the need for more gardaí on our roads and in our communities. Time and again, members of the Government have told those of us in opposition that they are doing all they can to increase the number of gardaí. Furthermore, they tell us how much of an improvement they have already made. The facts tell a different story. Garda numbers actually declined last year, with retirements and resignations outpacing the number of new members graduating from the Garda College. The net fall in the overall strength of the force was 125, down from 14,133 members at the start of 2023 to 13,998 by the year end. We are now expecting gardaí to spread themselves thinner, which is simply not sustainable.

We need to see a real commitment to increasing the strength of our police force, not just by running a so-called aggressive recruitment campaign, which evidently was aggressive but not successful, but by making joining the Garda a more attractive prospect for people. That can and needs to be done in a multitude of ways. To put it in very simple terms, we have to look at housing. If I was to start as a garda tomorrow and I was to work for 19 years, my salary would come in slightly under €60,000. If I work in Dublin where the highest concentration of gardaí in the country is needed, there is not a hope in the world that I, without a partner who also works, could afford to own a home in the city I am expected to protect. It is simply ridiculous.

An Irish Independent report over the weekend indicated that roads policing officers will not be on duty between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. most days of the week. Of course, it is important to prioritise Friday and Saturday but we have to be honest in our assessment of this approach. It does not do enough to plaster over a gaping wound. Ultimately, we must acknowledge that the approach the Minister of State and the Taoiseach are taking with this policy is dictated by a lack of resources rather than what would work best. The Government must answer for that lack of resources.

Addressing the issue of road safety will take brave choices. I implore the Minister of State and the Government to work with the Opposition to get meaningful and important legislation passed.

I am pleased to hear the Taoiseach's new commitment to work with the Opposition during the remaining lifetime of this Government to get important work done. All of us acknowledge that addressing road safety and the general issues on our roads will take a multifaceted approach and cross-party collaboration on this will be important. To that end, I note that Deputy Duncan Smith has written to the Taoiseach asking him to prioritise the Protection of Accident Victims from Non-Consensual Recording of Images Bill 2022, which the Deputy introduced two years ago. The Bill would criminalise the disgraceful practice of the recording of accident victims. We ask the Minister of State to consider accelerating the passage of this legislation. We need to see actions taken to rapidly decrease the number of road deaths we are seeing. It is also vitally important that as this work is ongoing, no family has to fear opening up their social media account worried that they might see a family member in such a distressing situation. We need to see a clampdown on this behaviour and we hope the Government can get the Bill moving through the House with the renewed energy it purports to have.

2:10 pm

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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Something that has struck me in this debate so far is the emphasis on drivers only. Automobile traffic is the only thing that has been mentioned. Members have not spoken of the fact that many of the people who have died on our roads are either pedestrians or cyclists, nor has our definition of what we understand road safety to be been broadened to include all people. It reinforces for me the car-centric nature of the discussion and of the thinking of Members of this House when we think about road safety.

My eldest son started the cycle right training in school on Monday of this week. Our school, Glór na Mara National School in Tramore, pioneered cycle training before it was an official programme. The much-missed Dermot Blount used to come in to teach the kids the basics of how to check their bike, signal, check over their shoulder and do all the other basic things needed when taking a bike out onto the road. It was lovely to watch the kids respond to that and see the simple pleasure they got from sitting up on their bike and enjoying the spin.

What always terrified me as a teacher was not the lessons themselves or 30 children doing laps around the yard, even though that would set a teacher's nerves jangling. It was how the kids would get their bikes to school in the morning and whether they would safely make it as far as the school gates. What I saw before, and saw again last Monday, was parents unloading bikes from the boots of their cars and having their children wheel them in through the gates of the school. That is not a function of our school being in a rural area because it is not; it is in the heart of Tramore in an urban environment. Nor is it an issue of the children being far away. Our green schools committee has done all of the work on that. We know the vast majority of the children attending the school live within 2 km of it. The problem is that the road outside the primary school is just not safe enough.

I am reminded again of the old adage that one cannot prove the need for a bridge by counting how many people are swimming across the river. Likewise, there are very few drownings in shark-infested waters. We are asking our children to go and swim with the sharks when we tell them to walk and cycle to school.

I fully support the cycle right programme and what it teaches about bike handling, road awareness and so on. However, when I leave my son off to cycle to school, I am not worried about his cycling skills but I am worried about cars. More specifically, I am worried about drivers who breeze through pedestrian crossings and close-pass people and about distracted drivers who are looking down at their phone. I am also worried about the Road Safety Authority which perpetuates a system and culture that places the responsibility for the simple act of getting to and from school on the pedestrian and cyclist. In preparing for today's contribution I came across the RSA's going to school leaflet from 2017, which opens with two pieces of advice. The first is the statement that research shows that children under the age of 12 should not cross roads on their own but should be taken to school by a responsible adult. The second was that children should wear high visibility clothing when out walking. Our Road Safety Authority is telling parents that walking to school is too dangerous an activity to be done without adult supervision and, even when supervised by an adult, it requires specialist safety equipment. I read this document as a stinging self-indictment of the RSA and its failure to make our roads and streets safer for some of our most vulnerable road users.

The RSA is a firm believer in people dressing up in funny clothes, even on footpaths and in broad daylight. That is why it spent €240,000 on personal protective equipment, PPE, in November last year alone. In one month, it spent nearly a quarter of a million euro. I want to see the cost-benefit analysis for that type of expenditure. I want to see the underpinning research that shows that road safety is significantly improved in some meaningful way from that kind of investment. The RSA is refusing to release anonymised collision data, on which I welcome the Minister of State's comments. If it can be done in other jurisdictions, surely to God it can be done here. That would help local authorities to make meaningful evidence-based decisions on road safety interventions. The RSA is still spending hundreds of thousands of euro on high-visibility vests and continues to place responsibility for road safety on those who are least responsible. That is one of the reasons I have written to the Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts to ask that the RSA appear before the committee to account for its spending. The other reason is that, incredibly, in the 18 years since its foundation in 2006, the RSA has not once appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts.

The other measure I am calling for today is one that falls within the Minister of State's compass. It is for an expansion of the membership of the ministerial road safety committee. As I understand it, that committee currently comprises the Minister of State, the Minister for Justice and representatives of the RSA, the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, Transport Infrastructure Ireland and An Garda Síochána. It should be expanded to include representatives of the Local Government Management Agency, LGMA and, crucially, the National Transport Authority, who would include active travel in their remit. I would also like to see the Minister of State with responsibility for public health, Deputy Colm Burke, attend those meetings. This would broaden the remit of the committee to ensure we do not fall into the trap of taking an extremely car-centric approach to issues of road safety, as we have seen in much of this debate. A safe road cannot just be one where there is an absence of fatalities. We need to measure what a healthy and safe road is differently. We need to measure how many children can walk and cycle safely on that road and how many older people feel comfortable to walk or cycle on it. Does a street network meet universal design standards? We need this type of thinking, not just how fast can people drive on the road and how much better we can make the roads. We need that type of thinking as opposed to purely car-centric thinking if we are to make a meaningful difference on road safety.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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This is a very important debate. I welcome the Minister of State and the comments I have heard so far. Much more needs to be done because far too many lives are being lost. The more people who die in tragic circumstances, the more appalling the vista for the families affected and the people who are injured as a result of road traffic accidents. Tens of thousands of people have significant disabilities as a result of road traffic accidents over the years.

I would like to address two initial issues, one of which is in my constituency. Drogheda is the biggest town in Ireland but it does not have a driving test centre because the Road Safety Authority will not put one in the town. I would be very happy if the Minister of State visited Drogheda as soon as possible to talk to people about what can be done about this. I have met the chief executive and deputy chief executive of the Road Safety Authority and all sorts of experts who say it cannot be done. What a load of rubbish. Every town and village in Ireland can have one but we do not have one in Drogheda. There an issue that I cannot put a finger on. I have done cross-references and submitted freedom of information requests to find out what the hell is going on but it is absolutely unacceptable that a space for a test centre will not or cannot be found. Different properties have been offered to the Road Safety Authority but nothing happens. If we want to teach people how to drive properly, they should be able to learn in the biggest town nearest to them and in the biggest town in Ireland but they cannot do so.

I appreciate the green agenda and I have no issue with it as such. I am forever angry, however, that people have no choice but to drive to work. Here is a problem for the Green Party, Fine Gael Party and Fianna Fáil Party in Government. We need strategic park and ride services on the approaches to Dublin where people can link in safely and well with public transport that is available 24-7. That would take a lot of cars and other vehicles out of the city centre. Dublin City Council has declared a war on cars and those who have to use a damn road to go somewhere but it does not give these road users the choice of parking their car. These people live in the country and do not know what time they will be going to work or coming home from work. There is no urgency about this. It is an anti-car position because no options are provided for the person who has no choice. That can be easily and reasonably addressed. I know there was a plan for a major park and ride facility at the junction near the Malahide estuary but nothing has been provided.

Why is it not there? There would be tens of thousands of additional journeys on public transport.

The other question I will raise is that of safety in the port tunnel. As someone who uses the tunnel regularly, I am amazed and shocked by the speed at which some people go there. In particular, is there anybody who has used the port tunnel who does not see some monster of a truck pushing them to go faster and faster? If you try to stick to the official speed limit of 80 km/h, you cannot do it because these guys are right behind you. Many of these lorries do not keep the distance they are obliged to keep. They are supposed to keep three of these white marks - I forget what they are called right now. Drivers are supposed to keep an adequate, fair and safe distance between one another. That does not happen, and I would like to know - I will table a parliamentary question if it is helpful - how many people have been prosecuted for speeding in the tunnel. I have never read of one yet but I see it every day. Every day I worry. I have also seen tankers carrying petroleum spirit in the tunnel. I presume they are carrying it to places where there are aircraft, but I see them breaking the speed limit and some of them are not adequately or properly marked. I am very concerned about the proximity of vehicles to one another. If somebody comes to the pay station at the port tunnel and does not have the fob, there are times when there are queues of eight, nine or ten cars. There are people reversing to get into the next lane. It is dangerous. We need an adequate and appropriate response if it goes on for more than a minute. I presume there is the capacity, as there is in other places, to take the number of the vehicle and go after the driver. There are lots of safety issues there that are not being dealt with.

Last, and most important of all, every damn road I pass in County Louth, and lots of other places, is riddled with appalling potholes-----

2:20 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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-----and they are a real danger. We have had very heavy rain in the recent past - it has been unusual and exceptional - but the response from the local authorities is not good enough. There is a road out by Termonfeckin. Deputy Ó Murchú might know it if he travels there.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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It is appalling. People ring me every day with their tyres bust and nothing in their mind but anger at the lack of conviction of the council to make it safe.

As regards road safety, we have a lot more to do. Let us do it.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I will start by echoing that point. It is not just in County Louth; in County Meath as well and, I am sure, elsewhere the road conditions are deplorable. It is causing damage to vehicles and it needs to be tackled. There needs to be increased investment to allow that to happen.

I want to raise two points. One relates to Garda numbers and roads policing. Driver behaviour is deteriorating because drivers have licence to behave badly. They are not being caught and not being punished. We have heard on numerous occasions at transport committee meetings from the medical bureau and others that it is the fear of getting caught that has a real impact on driver behaviour. Technological solutions such as speed vans are welcome but will not cut it on their own. In my county, Meath, we have the lowest number of gardaí per head of population. The number of gardaí we have is actually lower than it was in 2009, 15 years ago. The population has significantly increased in that time. As regards the roads policing unit numbers, we had 47 fewer in 2023 than in 2022, at a time road fatalities had increased significantly, by in the region of 20%. Deflection from the Minister, rhetoric or concern from the new Taoiseach will not cut it. We need to increase the numbers of visible gardaí on the roads detecting people breaking speed limits and other measures.

The other issue I want to raise relates to traffic calming measures at schools, particularly rural schools but also in urban settings, and the behaviour of drivers. We need to create a space for children to be able to get to and from school safely. In my local newspapers every week there are children outside their local national school calling for traffic calming measures and for speed to be reduced outside schools. Skryne National School, Cushinstown National School, Carnaross National School, Lismullen National School - I could go on. There is a need for a standard approach outside our national schools. My colleague, Councillor Helen Meyer, has called for this on Meath County Council. It needs to happen.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I want to bring up a particular issue. It is the ongoing malfunction of the pedestrian lights at the roundabout with the inner relief road. I am talking about the N52 and Avenue Road, the R172, a major intersection in Dundalk. This has been brought up with me by Councillor Kevin Meenan but also here. If people put on LMFM and nearly every morning, they will hear a different elected representative bringing up this issue and the great worry that is there. Louth County Council executive is progressing with installing zebra crossings at the roundabout. There are two lines of traffic, trucks going through there and so on, and all the elected representatives I have spoken to and all the residents - this is literally beside my house - are vehemently opposed to the installation of zebra crossings there. We are talking about serious road safety concerns. If this change happens, it will impact pedestrians. We are talking about children and we will have many other vulnerable road users. There are active travel plans, and everybody hopes those will eventually improve road safety at the junction, but we all know that at times there are delays in this regard so we cannot rely on it at this point.

I would see this as a downgrading step for road safety. It is in no way acceptable. A great many of the members of Louth County Council, not only those in that municipal district but right across Dundalk and further afield, are looking at the county council executive to reconsider the installation of zebra crossings at the roundabout. Perhaps there are measures in the Local Government or Road Traffic Acts that could be used to compel the council executive to fix or replace the current pedestrian lights and not progress the plans to install zebra crossings here. People are incredibly worried. They know right well that some of this is about saving money for eventual plans, but the problem in between is that we do not know what the impact will be. I agree with what everybody said earlier about the issue of potholes and I imagine it will be said more. Councillor Antóin Watters has talked about it constantly in reference to north County Louth. Louth County Council looked for €1.6 million to deal with just the damage done by floods. It got €1 million but that will not look at the damage right across the board and the legacy issues there.

As I always say at this point, I could go on.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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You could but you are out of time.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I may come back to the Minister of State later on the Mount Avenue project but I am dealing with the local authority at this point and we know there will be a road safety assessment because those in Headford and other areas along there are worried about particular issues there.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. We know how devastating road deaths are. It is not for now; it is for a lifetime for families, as are the catastrophic injuries, which are life-changing for so many people. Of the 63 road deaths this year, the breakdown is 26 drivers, 19 passengers, 12 pedestrians, two cyclists and four motorcyclists, so it is not just drivers, and that point was well made by Deputy Ó Cathasaigh. A total of 26 cycling campaigns across the country wrote to the Road Safety Authority on two occasions recently. They are losing confidence. We are changing the way our roads are being used and we have to adapt to that. They say that the RSA remains silent on things that improve matters, such as reducing car dependency. The authority is failing people who walk, wheel and cycle by focusing on the least effective road safety measures, for example, handing out high-visibility clothing and giving talks to primary school children about road safety and making it their responsibility.

I am glad the Minister of State has said that the issue of road collision data will be dealt with. It is outrageous that it has gone on as long as it has.

Accidents used to be mapped. There was a cost-benefit analysis and a response. We have gone backwards and we should not from the point of view of GDPR. Enforcement is a significant issue. The Garda Commissioner was in front of the Committee of Public Accounts. It is his responsibility to deploy his resources. I took his issue with him about the falling numbers of gardaí dedicated to this task. He nearly had an argument with me and said that was not that case and that there was a static number. In fact, the figures tell me that it is not. If the Garda Commissioner is not aware of that, I am concerned.

The other issue is the 30 minutes of roads policing per shift. I am concerned about that. It looks like a sticking plaster, immediate and reactive approach. We need to recruit people and scale up dedicated people in this area. I know recruitment is going on at the moment. If somebody is on a shift, when he or she comes into work, will he or she do a lot of policing in close proximity to Garda stations? There could be a geographic imbalance in enforcement. It is a sticking plaster approach. It will produce results but a more strategic approach is needed. Within that strategic approach, there has to be a stable and increasing number of gardaí enforcing, with the use of cars rising and given the changing nature of our roads continues with a growing population.

With regard to the National Transport Authority, money is being handed back every year because it does not seem to be possible for local authorities to spend the money allocated to them, for example, for active travel infrastructure. I met my local authority officials who told us they would love to do it but they cannot get the engineers or do the work. That has to be looked at in terms of multi-annual budgeting so the local authorities have at least a fighting chance, perhaps employing people to do this on a constant basis. The idea that they get money early in the year and have to spend it by October is counterproductive to the smooth delivery of infrastructure that will improve the safety of our roads. I recall being on an strategic policy committee years ago and we looked at road safety as a distinctive piece of work. It used to be that a form was filled out when there was an accident. It was not just focused on fatalities but looked at different types of damage. There were the co-ordinates and it was mapped. Then, there was a strategic plan to deal with them. There may not have been enough money to deal with as many as they would have liked but the fact that we do not even have that information means local authorities are shooting in the dark. For example, if there was damage to a particular part of a car and that was repeated, it could be seen that there was a junction issue. The adequacy of the information is of concern and we are not taking a more strategic approach to this issue.

On the issue of education, a lot of the RSA's budget goes on vehicle testing. Given the changing nature of the kind of message that needs to be brought forward, there has been a sameness and, in fact, an absence of a constant road safety promotional effort in the past number of years. I have not really noticed a whole lot of what it has done. Social media, television and all sorts of other media should be used to get the message across. If we are going to go about this in a way that will reduce it, it cannot be sticking plaster measures. It must be multifaceted and strategic. Increased anger and intolerance at the moment are very noticeable in drivers. The use of mobile phones seems to be increasing rather than reducing. That requires significant attention from an enforcement perspective.

2:30 pm

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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We need an all-round approach to road safety to reverse the worrying trend of road deaths we have seen recently. The last time I spoke about this, in February, I drew attention to the fact that the manned deterrent on the roads needs to be increased, yet the ability to provide that increased Garda presence is hamstrung by the shortage of available gardaí. This was pointedly outlined in the recent confirmation to Deputy Martin Kenny that there has been an increase of just four gardaí on the roads policing unit since 2017. While I will not repeat myself, the Garda Commissioner has spoken of his plan to instruct all uninformed gardaí to do 30 minutes of traffic policing during every shift. This is welcome but apart from it just being a start and the need for that to be increased, we need to know the potential knock-on effects this may have on an already overstretched force.

To go back to the all-round approach, we need to see a better end-to-end approach, education, promotion, infrastructure and enforcement. That consists of education in and outside schools, given the worrying fact that 41% of those dying in road collisions are 30 or under. Additionally, the curriculum for the driver's test must also be reviewed, including a review of the minimum number of lessons. Any education and publicity measure needs to make an impact on the personal choice some drivers make in speeding, drug- and drink-driving and it needs to reach across all age groups.

My final point is about enforcement and environment, speeding-prone stretches of road and traffic management for estates. They all need to have traffic management measures with set standards and address the disparity of approach that can at times vary between local authority areas. People need to know the Department and RSA are on top of this and that risk is assessed and addressed promptly, not put off until public demand or worse makes action unavoidable. To conclude, bypass and upgrade works are needed across County Tipperary. The N24 has a notorious record. The councils concerned are forced to campaign for funding to progress to the next stage. This is indicative of a haphazard approach to our roads. I request action here and other notorious networks.

Photo of Paul DonnellyPaul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the recent Garda action against scramblers and quads in Tallaght, Ballymun and Limerick. However, it is just a drop in the ocean in terms of the problems and dangers on the roads that these vehicles, which mostly young people drive, pose. Two weeks ago, I was cycling up Dame Street and watched as three scramblers came down the street on one wheel. That is one of the main streets in our capital city. They are totally confident nothing will be done to tackle them, just like in our communities. There is total impunity to drive these as dangerously as they wish. I welcome the response I got to a parliamentary question that the Garda has purchased a number of drones which are being trialled by the air support unit. I hope they are utilised against these scramblers. I call on the Minister to raise with Garda Commissioner the issue of a dedicated scrambler unit to tackle this scourge. It is nothing new; it is nothing unique and these units are being established across Britain and used across the world.

I would also like to raise an issue of immediate safety in my constituency and that of the Minister of State, which relates to the new development that started in Kellystown. The developer started major groundwork using trucks adjacent to schools in Luttrellstown. The traffic management plan was rejected by Fingal County Council and a new one was requested with the schools in mind. Unfortunately, now that it is being dealt with by enforcement, it seems that the developer is continuing to do the works in those fields near St. Mochta's and Luttrellstown schools. It seems there has been no stop to this despite the fact that no traffic plan is in place. Perhaps that can be looked at with stronger legislation to prevent this from happening.

An issue I have raised previously, which I know the Minister of State is aware of, is the Porterstown Road. It is a stretch of road with a 60 km/h speed limit. We have asked continuously for the speed limit on this road to be reduced to 50 km/h so that traffic management measures could be put in place. Fingal County Council has said a number of measures have been taken on that road already. The fact that the speed limit is 60 km/h prevents ramps being put in.

We have the church, schools, Castleknock football club, the running club, Castleknock GAA club and a hotel. There is a whole stretch on that road. There are also houses on the far side of the road to Diswellstown. There are a lot of people. This is not a country road anymore. It is a busy road, used by a huge number of young people and others accessing all the different facilities I just mentioned. Again, could a conversation be had with the road traffic department and the director of services about looking at reducing the speed limit to 50 km/h so that proper ramps could be put in on that road to slow traffic down?

2:40 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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People Before Profit has six and a half minutes.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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I will speak for four and a half minutes or so and Deputy Barry will use the rest.

It is about time we had a debate on the record of the RSA because it has become a sick joke. I wholeheartedly agree with the more than 30 road safety, cycling and pedestrian campaign groups that have stated that they have lost confidence in the authority because of the sharp increase in road deaths. They think it is no longer fit for purpose. The RSA has refused to release details of collisions to local authorities for the past eight years on data protection grounds that are spurious and that even the Data Protection Commissioner says are bogus. The RSA busies itself with handing out 40,000 hi-vis vests to two- and three-year-olds in preschool but has no remit in respect of reducing speed limits or installing zebra crossings. Its walking to school guide states that a responsible adult must keep hold of the hand of all children under 12 at all times and that all "children should wear high-visibility clothing when out walking". What a massive restriction that is on the freedom of a whole generation of children so that motorists can drive their cars whatever way they want, as fast as they want. Children today do not have the simple freedom to play the way their parents had because cars are everywhere, dominating and taking over our public space. The direct result is a massive increase in childhood obesity, huge declines in child physical fitness and growing mental health problems among our children.

One might think the RSA is precisely the authority to do something about it. Perhaps it is just under-resourced and it would do more if it had more money. Unfortunately, I do not believe that is the case. Like the rest of the State, the Government and most politicians in this House, the authority is suffering from a serious case of car-brain. Conor Faughnan, formerly of AA Roadwatch and now chief executive of the Royal Irish Automobile Club, chairs the RSA's annual conference. It cannot see beyond the tunnel vision of the motoring lobby that it cosies up to. We need a radical transformation of road safety that puts people before cars and people and their lives before the profits of the motor industry.

Next Monday, I will launch a new campaign for a ban on fossil fuel advertising and the advertising of fossil fuelled cars, with support from Friends of the Earth, Irish Doctors for the Environment, ActionAid, the Irish Cycling Campaign, Extinction Rebellion and others. This is a climate, health and safety measure. It could be part of a transformation from the car-centric culture we have to a people-centred culture. Once we get away from the abstract questions and the way they are often posed on radio programmes and elsewhere, down to the reality of people's lives, people want safe communities. They want their children to be able to cross a road to go to a playground without having to worry about them being knocked down.

I will give an example from where I live in Kingswood. We have a local campaign for a zebra crossing on Sylvan Drive, an extremely busy road. On one side of the road are a playground, a teen space, a community centre and a primary school and on the other side of the road are a church and the local shops. Elderly people and young people are going back and forth and we have no controlled crossing points on that road. We have a local campaign, spearheaded by Jess Spear, for a zebra crossing. Almost everyone we spoke to agrees with the idea. We collected more than 300 signatures on a petition. People want to have a safe, liveable community for their children, themselves and elderly people. Those petitions are being submitted to the council this week. I hope the council will agree and will install zebra crossings there. It is even cheaper to do now as lights are no longer needed.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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There is huge concern about the increased number of deaths on our roads with many of those who have died being young. Is it a issue of individual responsibility or of society not doing what could and should be done? Important issues of personal responsibility are involved. No one is denying that, but if I read the comments made by some Ministers in recent days carefully, I see an attempt to downplay the responsibility of society, the Government and State intervention in this.

For example, there is currently a €5 billion backlog of maintenance work on rural roads, that is a legacy of huge cutbacks in the austerity era. In addition, as society emerged from the austerity era, in a Government led by Fine Gael with former Deputy Shane Ross as Minister for Transport, budgets were cut by 15% and funding for local authorities to do work of this kind was cut by 30%. I agree with Deputy Paul Murphy's criticisms of the RSA, but I note that it asked the Minister for Transport for €6 million last year for road safety advertising and was turned down. Spinning the situation yesterday, it was announced that there is a €3 million budget being allocated after failures on the Government front in recent years.

I do not have time to develop the point that was raised about car culture. A big part of that is sports utility vehicles, SUVs. SUV sales are 13% per head of population above the EU average. Every time I see one of the big ones where people are high up with the bullbars on the front so that if there is a hit, it will be the person who is hit that will be injured, rather than the car being damaged. I do not have time to develop the point, but I want to come back to it soon.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I relayed this personal story to the Minister of State in the past. My family, like thousands of families, has been impacted by tragedy on our roads in the years and decades gone by. I never knew my grandfather on my mother's side. He was killed when cycling on Mulgrave Street in Limerick before I was born. I wish I had known him. He was by all accounts a good and impressive man. Thousands of families have suffered this kind of bereavement and continue to do so and we need to put a stop to it.

I commend the Minister of State. He is showing real leadership in this area under his remit. I encourage him to leave a legacy in this area because he will be remembered for it if he can solve this awful problem we have with respect to safety on our roads. There is a lot to think about. I did not have a slot for this session so I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to speak. A number of issues come to mind that we have to tackle if we are to address the carnage that is happening on our roads. In recent years, the size of motor vehicles has increased drastically. As a Government and an Oireachtas, we need to grapple with this. The people who purchase these vehicles often do so because they perceive them to be safer and, in some cases, they are safer for those in the vehicles, but for the most part, they are not safer for those who are outside. There are blind spots.

They are bigger and heavier vehicles that drive more smoothly than cars did previously. You can drive faster and not feel like you are going as fast in these vehicles. We need to address that trend towards bigger and heavier vehicles. If we compare photographs of any street in any village, town or city in Ireland with those from a number of decades ago, we can see the sheer difference in the sizes of vehicles between then and now. That is something we must address because it really is impacting safety. It is not necessarily, of course, in the Minister of State's gift to address that. A whole-of-government approach is needed to do so.

There is a culture of impunity on our roads. If you stand at any set of traffic lights or controlled junction in the country, as the lights turn from amber to red, you will see three, four and sometimes five cars race through at any time. It is the easiest thing to prove. That culture of impunity is real and needs to be addressed in my view with red light cameras. There needs to be a visible presence of gardaí in our towns and cities to catch people. I remember 30 years ago hearing of somebody being caught for driving through a red light. I have not heard of somebody being caught and fined for driving through a red light at all since then. That is testament to how seriously we are taking the issue of breaking red lights. It starts with breaking red lights. If we are not addressing those simple things, then we are not going to address other things like speeding. We have rules for a reason, and we are not enforcing them and penalising those people who are breaking the rules, whether it is breaking red lights or parking on footpaths or in bus lanes and cycleways. These are the small things that actually need to be addressed because they feed into the culture of impunity that-----

2:50 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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It is enforcement.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Enforcement is critically important. I agree with Deputy Tóibín. It has to be addressed. I welcome Commissioner Harris' recent initiative to increase enforcement on our roads.

Others in this House talked about the Road Safety Authority and whether it is fit for purpose. I am inclined to think that as it is currently constituted, it is not. Its remit can certainly be looked at. How it is funded can be looked at. I welcome the Minister of State's comments recently with regard to doing so. There is certainly a sense that the Road Safety Authority is engaging more in victim blaming than actually finding real solutions and reducing the carnage on our roads. The idea that hi-vis vests are being handed out to tens of thousands of children is really putting the responsibility on those who have least responsibility and least capacity for their own safety. The responsibility is with the motorist and it should be squarely with the motorist. It is not correct that a major State agency would dilute the responsibility of the motorist. It is the responsibility of us as legislators, as a Government and an Oireachtas, to put the responsibility squarely where it should lie and that is with the motorists.

I wish the Minister of State well in his endeavours. I strongly encourage him to leave this as his legacy in that portfolio to really address the tragedies that are happening weekly on our roads. It is not acceptable. We can and should do an awful lot more.

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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We are all thinking of the families who have been bereaved by the roads. As the Minister of State is very well aware, we had a number of tragedies that affected Galway families recently. All our thoughts are with those families and their loved ones. Over the course of this debate and those we have had over the last number of weeks, we heard of many different ways in which we can tackle this particular issue. I want to speak on a specific issue that I feel really does need to be addressed, which is the state of the roads, particularly in the west. Obviously, from his time as Aire Stáit na Gaeltachta, the Minister of State will be well aware of the roads in places like the Connemara Gaeltacht.

Ar cheist na mbóithre, beidh a fhios ag an Teachta Chambers ó bheith ina Aire Stáit le freagracht as an nGaeltacht, má labhraíonn tú le haon duine atá ina gcónaí i gConamara, gurb é ceann de na céad rudaí a luafaidh sé nó sí ná na bóithre agus, ar ndóigh, na droichid. Má théann tú amach chuig Ceantar na nOileán, feicfidh tú an droch-chaoi atá ar na bóithre. Má théann tú ag tiomáint ar na bóithre, feicfidh tú "bump" scríofa air mar gheall nach bhfuil aon rud ann chun léiriú cé chomh dona is atá na bóithre. Teastaíonn maoiniú ceart i gcomhair na mbóithre ar fud an iarthair agus i gConamara. Bíonn tuilte ann i gCuan na Loinge i gcónaí. Ní bhíonn daoine in ann an teach a fhágáil ná an gluaisteán a thógáil amach ón ngairdín atá acu mar gheall ar na tuilte sin. Is léir go gcaithfear déileáil leis mar chás éigeandála. Má bhreathnaímid ar scéim na mbóithre áise, feicfidh muid go bhfuil liosta feithimh ann mar gheall go bhfuil na bóithre chomh dona sin. Tá sé luaite go rímhinic sna meáin i nGaillimh agus sna meáin náisiúnta cé chomh dona atá na bóithre seo. Caithfimid déileáil leo mar chás éigeandála mar go bhfuil sé fíorchontúirteach nach bhfuil siad chomh maith agus gur cóir dóibh a bheith.

One of the real issues we see across the west - I am thinking of Connemara, obviously, because I know it best - is the state of the roads and how difficult and dangerous it is that they are in such bad condition. People are constantly saying that their tyres and suspension are going and that a whole range of other things constantly go because of the state of the roads. That has an impact because, obviously, it is incredibly dangerous. We see that in the local improvement scheme, LIS, for example, there is a waiting list at this very moment because people are trying to access funding for their different roads. They simply cannot get it because there is not funding. Therefore, when we are looking at this, we also need to look at the state of the roads for safety reasons. I really believe that is a key issue in the west.

Of course, it is not just a key issue in the west; it is a key issue everywhere. That is the area I know best, however. I do spend some time driving around Dublin as well. I might not know it as well as Galway, but it is an area that I know. Even last night, I was in an area called Deansgrange for the first time with Callie Nic Rállaigh. We were going around meeting and talking to people. A key issue that came up at all the doors with everybody we spoke to was the issue of a particular road and the dangers it poses in Deansgrange. The dangers were quite evident to me even when I was driving along because I was driving within the cycle lane. People really need to know what exactly is going to happen to that road. There was very little or no public consultation on that. With infrastructure as basic as roads, we need to make sure the communities and local people know what is happening.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Anois, an Teachta Fitzpatrick is sharing his time with Deputies Tóibín, Lowry and Shanahan.

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
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As recently as five years ago, Ireland was being celebrated within the EU for its road safety. Yet, in 2024, it is on course to prove the most lethal for traffic fatalities in 15 years. An alarming trend is in the disproportionate number of young people aged between 16 to 25 years who are involved in road fatalities. Speeding and intoxicated drivers are contributing to dozens of fatalities each year. With the prevalence of smartphones and other devices, distracted driving has become a growing concern.

The forthcoming Road Traffic Bill aims to tackle issues such as speeding and driving while intoxicated by introducing a safer default speed limit on national secondary roads, local and rural roads and in built-up areas, introducing mandatory drug checks at collision scenes and reforming the penalty points systems to enable motorists to receive multiples sets of penalty points where multiple offences are committed. These measures are welcome.

However, enforcement stands as the linchpin in transforming the culture of dangerous driving. The number of road traffic policing units has fallen by more than 100 in less than two years. It is welcome that there is an allocation for the recruitment of 800 to 1,000 new gardaí in budget 2004. Also welcome is the announcement last week by the Garda Commissioner directing all uniformed gardaí to dedicate 30 minutes of each shift to road safety activities. This direction aims to increase Garda visibility and ensure compliance with road traffic legislation. By addressing these challenges head on, we can prevent further loss of life on Irish roads.

In addition to enforcement, reform of the driving test regime, investment in infrastructure improvements and the provision of crash data to local authorities are essential to improving our road safety efforts and the provision of target safety measures. We must invest in a more evidence-based approach to understanding problematic driving behaviour and must provide greater education through public awareness. Ongoing efforts in this regard are needed from all stakeholders, including Government agencies, law enforcement, road safety organisations, insurance companies and others.

I use the M1 motorway three or four times a week. In doing so, I take my life into my own hands. The majority of people using the motorway seem to have no patience. There certainly is not an adequate Garda presence on the road. It is very important that the Minister of State should push to have a greater number of gardaí patrolling it and more enforcement. I see a large number of people using their mobile telephones while driving on the motorway. That has become very common. There seems to be no fear factor for the motorists doing it.

The Minister of State is coming to my home town of Dundalk tomorrow, where he will see for himself the roads and junctions in the area. I hope he will give people there a first-hand look at what is planned for the area.

3:00 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Road deaths are rising because the Government is failing to employ gardaí. That is a stark fact and it must be addressed. The reply to an Aontú parliamentary question indicated there were 1,046 road traffic gardaí in 2009, compared with just over 600 today. That is a collapse of 40%. Drink driving is no longer a source of stigma in many parts of the country because people know they will not be stopped. Without enforcement, all the laws in the world will not make a difference. The 30-minute proposal is an embarrassment. It is robbing Peter to pay Paul. A garda might have to travel two hours to and from a road checkpoint to do half an hour's work. Gardaí are already finding it really difficult to find time just to answer the telephone.

Enforcement is collapsing. The number of fixed-traffic notices has fallen by 27% since 2014. A stunning statistic is that out of the 32,700 people who were disqualified from driving from 2021 to 2023, more than a third did not even have a licence. Of the 21,000 who did have a licence, only 5,000 surrendered that licence according to the law. I know of a person who has two active disqualifications and is now in court to answer for a third active disqualification. This is the craziness that is happening. The Government has promised to make the technology available to put real-time information in the hands of gardaí. That is not happening.

Dave Boyne in Trim, Councillor Jim Codd in Wexford and Councillor Sarah O'Reilly in Cavan have done massive work to try to fix these issues in their counties. Jim Codd is from a very low-lying area of Wexford. The council there is saying it needs €194 million to fix the road. If we do not fix the roads, there will be accidents. Will the Minister of State meet with Dave Boyne and Councillors Codd and O'Reilly to see whether the roads in their areas can be fixed?

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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A total of 16 people lost their lives on roads in Tipperary last year. This was more than double the number who died on the county's roads the previous year, making Tipperary the county with the highest number of road fatalities in 2023. Nationally, fatalities occurred across all categories of road users, including drivers, passengers, motorcyclists, pedal cyclists and pedestrians. Sadly, this year is already revealing grim statistics, with a high proportion of fatalities in the under-30 age group.

In response, fingers point immediately at the Garda. In times of grief, it is human nature to target somebody. The Garda responded last week by revealing plans to allocate to every garda on duty at least 30 minutes of road policing activity during every shift. That decision is welcome but it can only address one aspect of the problem. Gardaí cannot be everywhere all of the time. Ongoing and hard-hitting education and awareness campaigns on the dangers of driving while under the influence of mind-altering substances must be a major focus. Campaigns on drink and drug driving may not be pleasant but they create awareness and save lives.

Poor road conditions can result in accidents, particularly at night. The recent incessant rain has caused serious damage to many roads across the country. Unlit roads in rural locations are particularly hazardous. Regional roads have also been ravaged by persistent heavy rainfall. Tipperary County Council is in urgent need of additional Government funding to address road repairs. In many cases, the work it has already carried out has been eroded by unrelenting rain, leaving treacherous conditions for unsuspecting motorists. With funding depleted, its hands are tied. This must be rectified with additional funding. Accident black spots have been identified across Tipperary and throughout the country. A special fund should be made available to local authorities to carry out works to make those black spots safe. This would require a managed and co-ordinated programme of funded works.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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In the past decade, we have seen more cars on the roads and more younger drivers. In addition, those younger drivers are driving more powerful cars because it is no longer possible to insure older cars. This is an issue the Government should examine. Years ago, parents could buy their children a banger in which they could not go over 30 km/h or 40 km/h. Now they can get into a modern car and drive it at 80 km/h, 90 km/h or 100 km/h, no problem.

In 2004, I wrote to the then Minister for Transport, Martin Cullen, asking him why there was not a national initiative to require motorists to have their lights on at all times when driving, as is the case in Finland and other Baltic countries. This is a simple measure that has been proven to help road safety. Beyond that, we do not do enough within the driver testing system to teach young drivers about road conditions. They do a test that is a desk-top exercise and then, after so many hours of driving lessons, they have to drive around an urban centre. After that, they are let out to drive. I am a father of three children. I am always afraid when their pals pull up and they hop into the car. There is no monitoring of the car or the motorist's driving. We just have to trust the driver. I am aware of a very good insurance initiative whereby parents could put a speed monitoring device on their children's cars in return for a significant discount. That is something the Government should pursue.

There may be something sinister going on in regard to single-vehicle accidents and the non-wearing of seat belts. It is an issue that must be looked at in the statistics. We should be able to see where that is occurring. We need to consider whether we can do anything to reach out to people who might take that option.

A Garda presence on the roads is absolutely vital. Putting a greater number of gardaí on the roads will have the single biggest impact on speeding and all the other detections required. At the same time, gardaí need to exercise discretion when they pull motorists up by the roadside. It is not necessary to give people a two- or three-point summons and a fine on every occasion.

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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I am sharing time with Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan. I thank the Minister of State for attending the debate on this very serious issue. I will focus on one aspect of road safety in my constituency of Cork South-West, namely, road conditions. As I have pointed out time and again in the Chamber, Cork county has not been getting an allocation for road funding in recent years that reflects the quantity of roads we have in the county, particularly in Cork South-West. That is leading to a gross underfunding of national roads in the county. For example, the N71, the national route serving west Cork, has not had a significant realignment or improvement project in years. That needs to change. If we are serious about saving lives and about road safety, it must change.

Then there is the allocation for regional roads. It was covered widely in the press recently that Cork county is receiving the same funding for roads, no more and no less, as it did back in 2008. That absolutely is not good enough. Cork is the largest county in terms of geography and one of the largest counties by population. It certainly is one of the largest counties in terms of contribution of road tax. That contribution needs to be reflected in the funding we receive for our roads.

There are projects for which business cases have been made for the past five years. The bypass of Bandon is one, and the realignment at Newmills junction near Rosscarbery is another. For many years, the status has remained exactly the same. We need to see investment. I am aware the Minister of State is meeting a delegation from Cork in the coming weeks to listen to its case. It is important that the point on investment be brought home. To save lives, we need improved road infrastructure and surfaces. These are key if we are serious about reducing deaths on our roads.

3:10 pm

Photo of Pádraig O'SullivanPádraig O'Sullivan (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I would like to make two fundamental points. Just before I do so, I would like to raise what concerns me most as a person who makes the six-hour round trip from Cork to Dublin and back most weeks, with one leg on a Tuesday and the other on a Thursday. The number of people who use a mobile phone when driving, be it in traffic or going down the motorway at 100 km/h or 120 km/h, is scary. So many modern cars are fitted with technology that means people do not have to do this, but the number of people you see whizzing past while on the phone or fiddling around with something is very concerning. I have seen people using iPads while driving down the motorway. It is crazy stuff. It is quite difficult to police and create a deterrent because gardaí cannot be everywhere. What concerns me is the decreasing number in the Garda traffic corps over the past few years. We are trying to train more gardaí and the Minister for Justice is following up on this but we really need to fill as many of the vacant posts as quickly as possible and get back to the numbers we need.

I am also concerned about drink and drug driving. Drug driving is becoming increasingly common, which is very concerning. It is good to see the Garda actively policing this.

Let me raise my two fundamental issues. I agree with Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan on the condition of our roads, particularly in Cork, where Cork County Council is still waiting for the Department to respond in respect of damage suffered under Storm Babet. It is now three or four months after the event and we need to get the money required. The road conditions in many places in my park of Cork, and east Cork in particular, are treacherous, with sinkholes and bridges that are still damaged.

I was teaching for 12 years before I came here. Many schools in which I taught provided a driver theory test and driving lessons for transition year students. This was very welcome in the schools in question but many schools at the time were not as proactive. Maybe the Minister of State should focus on this.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State. As we know, the number of road fatalities has increased significantly in recent years. There were 188 in 2023, the highest number since 2014, when the number was 192. Already in 2024, up to yesterday, there were 63 compared to 49 this time last year. This is really worrying. The total number of collisions is up 58 this year compared with 45 at this time last year. People are dying and getting hurt, and we need to do something urgently.

I welcome the new Garda roster that will see a greater Garda presence on our roads but there are major issues. I met representatives of TII, the Minister of State's office and Carlow County Council last week following a massive collision and fatalities on a stretch of the N80 in Carlow. It was absolutely horrific. I have been working very well with Carlow County Council. I thank it for its work and the councillors for their commitment. I also thank TII because the meeting it was very positive in that there is to be funding. Thankfully, TII has committed to working with Carlow County Council on safety measures on the N80 in the interim. Although we have funding, it is a matter of how quickly we can get the road done and implement the measures needed. We need to make our roads safer.

The level of non-compliance on Ireland's roads is off the scale, according to the chair of the Road Safety Authority, Liz O'Donnell. On RTÉ, she said those caught breaking the rules of the road should face more severe penalties. If she is saying this, we need to pay attention. She revealed that studies have shown high levels of non-compliance in terms of speeding, mobile phone use, drink and drugs. This is unacceptable.

Community-based road safety groups from across the country have said the RSA is not fit for purpose. I am raising this because I have a huge issue with it. The authority is not doing its job. I am contacted every week by young people who cannot get a driving test. I am not saying they are driving anyway but that if we cannot ensure those on our roads are driving correctly, we need to take a good look at ourselves. The staffing of driving test centres is not good enough. It needs to be. The waiting time at driving test centres in Kilkenny remains at 26 weeks, and in Carlow it is 16 weeks. This is just not acceptable. The RSA estimates that the agreed service level, namely an average waiting time of ten weeks, will resume in May 24, but we are almost there. These are the issues we work on daily but we seem to be getting nowhere.

We also need to tackle education. There are many factors to an accident but I am worried that, since 2019, people aged between 16 and 25 have accounted for some 20% of all road deaths but make up just 12% of the driving population. Last year, over a quarter of all fatalities were in this age group. It is really worrying. It happens to be getting worse. On the RSA graph of road crashes, we are seeing an upturn in what used to be a downward trend. Of the 61 who died on our roads in 2024, one third were 25 years old or younger.

We need to talk seriously about speed and have a public awareness campaign on the dangers of driving too fast. Dr. Michael Gormley, assistant professor of psychology at Trinity College Dublin, focuses on driving behaviour. We need to talk about the behaviour of everyone, but young people in particular. We need a public awareness campaign and more safety on our roads. We all have a personal responsibility when on the road. One life lost on a road is one too many. Families are heartbroken and never will be the same. People and communities are affected and we have to ensure that we do not have any more lives lost on our roads.

I met representatives of TII, the Department and Carlow County Council. Getting the funding to our local authorities is crucial.

When a planning application has to go to An Bord Pleanála, the timescale is considerable. Around the country, but particularly in County Carlow, where I work, roads need to be prioritised and funding needs to be made available. When funding is available and an application goes to An Bord Pleanála, one must wait a long time for a decision. I beg the Minister of State to determine what we can do in this regard. This is about road safety and saving lives, and these have to be a priority.

In fairness, a considerable amount of roads funding has been given to local authorities. However, Carlow never gets enough. I am always saying we need more, as the Minister of State knows. We need a lot more of everything to do with roads and transport.

Small schemes such as LIS have an impact in rural areas. Rural areas have some roads that really require funding. We see considerable traffic. Twelve thousand cars and vans travel each day on the N80, the Carlow–Wexford road on which there have been so many accidents. We encourage people to be environmentally friendly and we are always trying to save the planet, which we need to do and on which we need to work with everybody, but there are byways and highways in County Carlow for which the local authority is not getting funding. I ask that more funding be allocated for local schemes to make our roads safer for people and ensure those going to work or going shopping will know they are on a safe road. That is our duty of care to the people of County Carlow.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Mattie McGrath is sharing with his colleagues.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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We do not have much time on this.

The RSA is not fit for purpose, nor is TII. They are too rigid and there is too much bureaucracy. We are trying to have speed limits reduced at dangerous junctions. We are supposed to have got rid of the NRA but I do not believe we have. We decommissioned the IRA and we are stuck with the NRA. It is impossible to talk to and will not listen to politicians or anybody.

I come from Tipperary where we had a horrific year last year. It was so sad that we lost so many young lives. It is happening all over the country and is being repeated this year.

The Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, has had a knee-jerk reaction. It is the Minister of State's action, though everyone is blaming the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. This folly of bringing speed limits on regional roads down to 80 km/h is madness. It will cause more accidents. It is a knee-jerk, stupid position to take. Some of the speed limits are at 80 km/h already and will go down to 60 km/h. That will have a massive impact on infrastructure and transport too. It is a knee-jerk reaction and a headline with no proper science behind it.

There is also the fact that the traffic corps has been depleted. I want to support Sergeant Padraig Walsh in Cahir with his traffic corps team, Kevin McGuinness and others. Garda John Walsh, our local garda, is out on the road every day doing checkpoints. The Commissioner made an announcement last week that all gardaí are going to do half an hour of roads policing per shift. What about all of the gardaí who are stuck in the courts every day or on prisoner escort duties?

The Government is playing with people's lives here. I do not want to say the Minister of State is not fit for purpose but this scheme he is bringing in is not. He will go down in history for bringing regional roads almost to a standstill. I have no problem with speed limits on rural roads being brought down from 80 km/h to 50 km/h. They should never have been at 80 km/h but what the Minister of State is doing is sheer and utter madness. He needs to educate himself by driving down some of the boreens and roads to see the damage that will do.

3:20 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Every person killed on the roads leaves behind a family, friend and community whose lives are forever changed. Speaking of people being killed, I have been contacted twice during the term of this Government by people looking for help to get a disability certificate for a child named Maia. She is in danger of being choked by the seatbelt in her family's car, which is the very thing that should be saving her. Her family needs to get a primary medical certificate. If they got one, they would be able to buy a specially adapted car for Maia. I am awaiting a response from two Ministers. I put in a request on 2 April, 15 days ago, and I am still waiting for a response. I went back to both Ministers again today, looking for an urgent response. The truth of the matter is that every time this child has to travel in the car, she is at risk of dying. Surely this can be rectified.

The Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was warned that underinvestment in roads and infrastructure could lead to 77 deaths and 381 serious injuries over the next five years but he seems undeterred by this and he continues with his agenda of not investing in roads. When we talk about roads, we have to go back to my constituency in west Cork. Year in, year out, roads in County Cork get a totally inadequate budget from this Government. It is continuous. Every excuse is made in the Dáil for them not getting money. Every report that has ever come out from Cork County Council has proven that the underspend on Cork roads is the largest in the country. It is no wonder there are deaths there.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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The Minister of State has been quoting figures from 2004 and other years. How many vehicles were on the road in 2004, the year for which he is citing those figures, compared with the number of vehicles on the road today? He said he wants to reduce the speed limits across the country, which will have a big impact on the transport network. What are we going to do? Our transport network cannot get people to the place they need to get to on time. Now, we are going to put more vehicles on the road at a slower pace, so that we end up with a line of traffic putting people at risk. It will be a major problem for the Government when people's lives are put at risk. The Government is reducing the speed limits on roads where there are no accidents.

Looking at the statistics, how many of these accidents have been caused by drink, drugs, drink and drugs or speed? If we have more gardaí on the roads to police them, we might have fewer accidents but the Government depleted the Garda service. More people are retiring from the Garda now than are coming in. The Government might say it is getting a certain number but it is not. It is losing the experienced gardaí who are there at the moment. We have an increase of vehicles on the road. The Government has reduced the number of traffic gardaí, so there are no gardaí on the roads and nobody to police them. Every town and village has asked, because of the lack of police, for the Government to put in speed ramps where there are speeding offences. It has not done so. Speed ramps police themselves. That is common sense. We are trying to save lives here, not take lives. Policing in this country is key. The Minister needs to talk to the Garda Commissioner to make sure we encourage people into the Garda and not push them away. That is where our problems lie.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am glad to get this opportunity to speak on this serious matter. We commiserate with the families of all those who have died this year and in all the other years on our roads. The Minister has to realise that volumes of traffic have increased massively, especially since Covid. The state of our roads leaves an awful lot to be desired. To mention a few places, we have been calling for public lighting at the junction in Kilgarvan with the national primary road, the N22, known as Mick the Bridges. Nothing happened. There is no funding this year for the road from Blackwater Bridge to Sneem. Everything is lined up for the work to go ahead. There are several towns that were built for one horse and cart which could only go around them one at a time. It is still that way today. Many pedestrians and cyclists have been killed in the dark of night-time, not far from towns and villages, as they walked home because they were pushed out onto the road by briars that had not been cut.

There is a massive increase in the number of deaths on our roads because of people using drugs. The Government does not want to monitor that and is not able to do so. The Killarney bypass has been left for 24 years with no progress and the traffic volume has increased. The Minister of State has to realise that people are going to work and more people are travelling longer distances. The Government has this cheap-jack solution of tampering with the speed limits, thinking this will sort everything. It will not. It will cause accidents because people will get frustrated and be late for work and late coming home. They will take chances. The Government is making a big mistake. As late as it is, it should be left up to the local authorities to determine where the speed limit reduction is required. It should not be imposed ad hoc.

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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That is what is happening.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this and I wish the Minister of State all the best in his new role. The first person to be killed in the world in an automobile accident was in Ireland. Mary Ward fell under the wheels of a motor vehicle while she was travelling in Birr, County Offaly, in 1869. Since then the number of deaths on our roads has been catastrophic. As of 16 April, 63 people had died this year. That represents a 15% increase on the same period last year. There are serious questions here for the Minister of State, the Government and the Road Safety Authority. One third of those who died were aged 25 or younger. Of that number, and they are all people not statistics, 12 were pedestrians, 26 were drivers, 19 were passengers, four were motorcyclists and two were cyclists. It is extraordinary that we are told that road deaths per million inhabitants in Ireland are below the EU average, so we can imagine what it is like in Europe. We had the worst percentage increase of any country in that period, notwithstanding the work of the Road Safety Authority. We have the third highest level of deaths on rural roads in the EU. Some 188 people died in 177 fatal collisions in 2023. That is an increase of 21%. In the same year, 32 more people lost their lives, leaving their families devastated, than in 2022. Galway city and county recorded 13 fatalities.

I could go on about those figures. What lessons do I want to draw from them? How is this happening? We know that alcohol is a major feature in over one third of these deaths. Lack of enforcement is an issue. We have the Garda Commissioner telling us that it is not a problem, to paraphrase what was said at the Committee of Public Accounts. As of the end of February, there were 627 members assigned to the Garda National Roads Policing Bureau. That compares with 1,046 in 2009. Now we are at 627. In Galway, we have 37, which is the lowest ever availability of staff. There were 47 gardaí in roads policing in Galway in 2009 and 37 now. There are many more cars on the road and much less enforcement.

We have all received a letter from 30 community groups, four of them from Galway, which I list because they have done fantastic work on the ground. They include the Galway Cycle Bus, the Galway Cycling Campaign, Wheels of Athenry and MÓR Action in Oranmore. Those are four from Galway out of 30 community groups.

I am sad to say they tell us they have lost faith in the Road Safety Authority. They go on to speak about the emphasis being put on young children as opposed to the people breaking the law and enforcement. This is difficult to read because I have empathy for the Road Safety Authority as it has been underfunded. It was supposed to be self-funded with the NCT and driver testing but that is not possible. This is a catastrophe and the Minister of State needs to take a hands-on approach to the matter.

Then there is an absence of data which, based on an earlier comment by the Minister of State, I understand will be sorted out with regard to GDPR. Dr. Kevin Gildea, a research fellow at Lund University in Sweden, put this in a nutshell. He said Irish officials responsible for road safety intervention are shooting in the dark because they are unable to access collision data. If this has been sorted out, I welcome it. Then we have the local authorities being given flexibility, which is problematic enough, but on top of this they are underresourced. I spent 17 years of my life on a local authority and they are more underresourced now than they ever were. This is something that must be tackled if we are serious.

I want to focus on water safety because it is ignored. While we are speaking about deaths on the road, the figures with regard to water safety are also extraordinary. Over the five-year period between 2017 and 2021, there were 1,298 deaths on the roads and in the water. Of these, 45% were in the water. This information is courtesy of Sábhálteacht Uisce na hÉireann and I happened to meet the acting deputy CEO last week. The majority of these drownings were in the victim's own county. The majority were male. They are people who were not wearing a life jacket. Suicides account for 35%. These are extraordinary figures. Another cause was people overestimating their ability. There was also cold shock and poor equipment. The figures are shocking.

From what I have read and from my meeting, I understand that it is possible to stop this. However, Sábhálteacht Uisce na hÉireann is working on a tiny budget, just like the Road Safety Authority. The education programme it has is superb but, again, it is limited to small groups. It has done tremendous work. It speaks about education and awareness. Unless the Minister of State and the Government take a hands-on approach, it will not happen. It needs proper funding. The people who are employed and its volunteers do a superb job but they cannot go on. The number of deaths on our roads and in our waterways is a catastrophe.

With regard to the waterways, it is extraordinary that 26% of our population think swimming is an unnecessary life skill and 32% never swim. This is the background to wasted lives and terrible tragedies and a terrible legacy left in families and in our health services at every level, including mental health and physical health. I appeal to the Minister of State to take a hands-on approach to this.

3:30 pm

Photo of Violet-Anne WynneViolet-Anne Wynne (Clare, Independent)
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The issue of road safety has never been more pertinent. In the first quarter of the year, we saw a staggering 63 fatalities on Irish roads. I extend my condolences to all those affected by the recent tragedies on our roads. According to the Road Safety Authority, road fatalities have increased by 19% compared to the first quarter of last year.

While much has been said in the newspapers in recent weeks about ways to reverse this worrying trend, a number of constituents have pointed out to me that for them road quality and road safety go hand in hand. In rural parts of Clare many roads have been left inaccessible due to their poor condition. A constituent reached out to me to say not only that she cannot get food deliveries to her home but she cannot get heating gas delivered to her home either. The roads are in complete disrepair. A neighbour of hers experienced significant damage to their brand-new car, which has created many issues for them. People came together and lodged an application for the local improvement scheme. When I tried to follow up on this application with the council it confirmed that while the application was deemed valid, the community would not see the funding granted for some time as the scheme is completely oversubscribed.

It is not only one or two constituents who have reached out to me. There are constituents in west and north Clare and a number of other areas where the roads have not seen any significant maintenance for a number of years. A man who lives in the family home where he was born and reared remembers the road being repaired when he was a child. He now has his own children and in 30 years there has not been any maintenance work done on the road. He has been pushing for the work to be done since I was elected but to no avail.

Recognising this issue, Clare County Council recently adopted a resolution calling on the Government to quadruple the annual grant, which is why I welcome the recent announcement of an additional €2.5 million in funding for roads. That will go some way. The point is that we have been going without adequate funding for a number of years and there is a requirement for an additional €13.5 million. I ask the Minister of State to look at that.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Before I call on the Minister of State, I want to echo the sentiments expressed by so many people who wish to express sympathy to those who have lost people. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle was quite right in describing the increasing loss of life as a real catastrophe. The Minister of State can see from the strength of the emotions and feelings of people how this subject awakes a strong response in public representatives. Key points were made on the condition of roads, which cannot be extricated from connectivity to the whole climate issue and the dreadful rain we have experienced in recent times.

I want to put several ideas out there for the Minister of State. The State should look at engaging with the insurance companies on insisting on speed suppressors in cars driven by learner drivers and young people. There could be an insurance benefit for the young person in terms of cost. There certainly would be a benefit to road users. Many members have spoken about the use of phones in cars. We all see this every morning. We would also want to think about the cars we are buying nowadays with the dashboards and all of the devices in front of the driver to be fiddled with, touched and pressed. We need to bear in mind that these devices are as dangerous as mobile phones if used while driving, which is when they are intended to be used.

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The Ceann Comhairle is right about the issue of driver distraction. Something that is being discussed and researched at present is car design and how it has evolved. It is as big an issue in terms of driver distraction and is being flagged by many researchers. The European Commission and the wider European research community are assessing this in the context of standards in car design.

I thank all of the Deputies for the very useful discussion. It is particularly relevant as we all work to reverse the very serious trend of fatalities on our roads. Road safety is a matter which affects us all. Every citizen is entitled to feel safe on our roads. I assure the Dáil that the Government remains committed to reversing this trend we have seen in 2023 and 2024.

As I said in my opening remarks, the four main causes of road fatalities are speed, intoxicated driving, non-wearing of seat belts and distracted road use. Through the Road Traffic Bill that will be signed into law by the President shortly, we will legislate for safer default speed limits, harsher penalties for those caught committing multiple driver offences and mandatory drug testing at the scene of a collision. This new legislation will help to encourage safer driving behaviours in all four areas of concern.

In terms of other immediate actions, the Road Safety Authority is leading to progress solutions on sharing collision data, which has been flagged by many Deputies. If the feedback is that legislative change is required, we will progress it urgently. We can all agree that data protection issues on this matter should not be a barrier to sharing life-saving information and the appropriate interventions required. An additional €3 million in funding will be allocated to road safety campaigns. This will help to impress on all road users the need to pay attention and take responsibility throughout their daily lives when operating a vehicle.

I want to see extended and expanded education programmes. A new transition year programme will be rolled out nationwide by September so we can reach young adults at the point in their lives when many of them will be beginning their driving journeys. I am also keen to see the continuation of the important work on a new driver testing curriculum to make sure it is relevant and future-proofed for new drivers on our roads. As Members said, it has been decades since that was properly modernised and updated. It is time it happened.

There is no doubt that enforcement is critical to deterring those who violate the laws on our roads. To that end, we are working with road safety partners in Transport Infrastructure Ireland and An Garda Síochána to roll out additional average speed and static cameras as part of the development of the national road safety cameras strategy. This is in conjunction with the already approved increase in Go-Safe hours. We are acutely aware of the impacts of specific behaviours, as Deputy Ó Cathasaigh said, such as red light breaking and people completely ignoring the law. This contributes to fatalities and serious injuries, not only for drivers and passengers but also for vulnerable road users who are of central importance in all our communities.

I will speak to the wider themes covered by Deputies. Most spoke about the three core areas of road safety, the first of which is enforcement. I have acknowledged publicly and in this Chamber previously the serious concerns I have about the threshold and level of enforcement, as well as the numbers attached to roads policing units. People must perceive that they can or will be caught. I acknowledge what Deputies said on that issue. I have been explicit and direct with the Garda Commissioner and in my discussions with the Minister for Justice about the need for strengthened enforcement on our roads so that there is improved visibility and levels of policing.

Certain Deputies mentioned their concerns, set out in the Irish Independent, about the roads policing units not being on our roads between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. That is a serious concern. The Commissioner needs to set out a specific policing plan relating to 24-7 coverage. In addition to the roads policing units, we need to have enforcement 24 hours per day. We cannot have gaps if we are to strengthen levels of enforcement again. That is why we need clarity about the key performance indicators, KPIs, on the policing plans relating to roads policing in particular. It is also why I acknowledge the serious concerns that have been raised relating to that particular period of the day. The Commissioner should set that out and clarify it for the public so there is no gap in policing during particularly dangerous parts of the day when there may be more intoxicated driving, for example.

Enforcement levels need to improve. We saw a reduction in a number of the key metrics between 2019 and 2023, despite increased numbers of people holding driving licences and driving vehicles on our roads. That is why a key part of a Government discussion earlier in the week was about having measurable policing plans that will ensure improved enforcement levels. The additional 75 gardaí that will be deployed to roads policing units this year, and again next year, will help. We also must have measurable improvement in the levels of enforcement, which reduced in that particular period. That is of concern to me.

Other areas mentioned, in addition to enforcement, related to engineering and maintenance. As I said, through the Department of Transport, we have shared much of the assessment and analysis of the collision data with local authorities. They then applied to the Department of Transport for specific road safety interventions. There should not be a barrier to such sharing, which is why we are trying to resolve the issue expeditiously.

There was also a wider discussion of people's views on the Road Safety Authority. That is why we are conducting an independent review of the RSA. The authority has been in place for 20 years. All State agencies require external reviews and assessments of structures, funding and service provision. Interim recommendations will be brought to us in May and we will bring a reform of the Road Safety Authority to the Government this summer. This will ensure the RSA is best placed to implement the wider road safety strategy. We have had a public consultation with feedback from many people in communities and the wider stakeholders who have a keen interest in road safety. We want to ensure the RSA is best placed to fulfil its road safety mandate that is laid out in legislation.

Regarding Deputy Ó Cathasaigh’s point, to be clear, the CEO of Donegal County Council attends the road safety committee on which the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and I sit. Anne Graham from the National Transport Authority and Peter Walsh from Transport Infrastructure Ireland also sit on it. There are representatives from the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, the Courts Service of Ireland and the Medical Bureau of Road Safety. There is, therefore, a broad range of State agencies on the committee engaged in a collaborative effort and providing insight into their respective responsibility for the road safety mandate in the State. Obviously, it is of utmost importance that all elements of the State response are coherent.

I appreciate the constructive suggestions that many Deputies made. Much of this revolves around the three key areas of enforcement, engineering and maintenance and road safety interventions. These play an important role in our capital investment. It is also a matter of education and awareness and making sure the Road Safety Authority, along with our wider education system, is best placed to fulfil its mandate.

Regarding the reforms we are bringing through in the context of the speed limit review, guidance will be issued to local authorities shortly to synchronise an approach based on co-operation across all local authorities. Speed limit reviews will be conducted. There is a devolved function in this regard, so councillors can shape the outcomes of that in the context of the guidance that will be produced. We will be working on the other aspects of the Road Traffic Bill, which was progressed in the Seanad last week.

I acknowledge the work done by officials and stakeholders across government and by members of the community who have a keen interest in road safety. We are proceeding on multiple fronts to continue the delivery of the road safety strategy through new priorities that were identified earlier this year, as well as through new legislation. Reducing road deaths and serious injuries will only be achieved if we all highlight the importance of road safety and have conversations on this topic in our homes, with our families and friends and in our places of work.

We must call out unacceptable behaviour. People's tolerance of unacceptable behaviour is too high. Too many people speak of being "just over" the speed limit and having “just done something”. They "just" broke the law and we need to call out unacceptable behaviour, such as that which potentially infringes on the rights of a pedestrian or cyclist. People need to comply with the law. Even if it takes an extra few minutes, it is better that we all arrive alive and protect individuals and vulnerable people on our roads. There is a culture whereby people dismiss the need to comply with the appropriate speed limit. Many of us travel through towns and villages where cars are still parked beside packed pubs and people are taking a chance. That is completely unacceptable. We need to re-emphasise and rebuild a culture of compliance because it has slipped in recent years. We see increased numbers of people admitting in behavioural surveys that they have consumed drugs or alcohol. That produces a level of risk where they are distracted or speeding and they will kill themselves, their passengers or other vulnerable road users.

I reassure the Dáil of my commitment to road safety and to supporting the efforts to bring about the changes needed to reduce unnecessary death and injury to all who use our roads. I appreciate the constructive contributions.