Tuesday, 3 October 2006
Road Traffic and Transport Bill 2006: Second Stage
Feargal Quinn (Independent)
I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome this Bill. While I would not normally welcome the passage of legislation in a single day, this is an exception. The reason for this Bill is evident, namely, something that was missed the last time. Hence, this serves as a reminder to Members.
The entire question of deaths on our roads is a scandal that should never have been permitted throughout the years. The slaughter and carnage which took place is a scandal and the Minister is now doing something about it. While I understand Senator Paddy Burke's comments, I will not scold, because this was not done heretofore. It is being done now. I urge the Minister to take hold of all of these matters and to implement them as rapidly as possible.
I wish to take one particular case, namely, what used to be referred to as random testing and what are now known as mandatory alcohol checkpoints, a phrase that does not roll off the tongue as easily. After the first weekend it was introduced, The Irish Times sent a reporter out with gardaí to cover three mandatory tests. It reported one woman who said she had only had one glass of wine — maybe it was a very big glass — and who ended up in the back seat of the car in tears, unable to believe she had failed the test. A large number of people talk to me about that story. The gardaí had parked on one occasion in Ranelagh, on another outside a hotel in Leeson Street and in one other location. Suddenly people were alerted to the fact that they did not need to show signs of alcohol consumption to be tested. A very large number of people appear to have begun to change their behaviour and that is exactly what we need.
Technology is a good investment that delivers value for money. We know the technology exists and how it can work. Register identification cameras should be installed everywhere to ensure people are aware of what can happen. With these cameras in place it is not necessary to catch somebody because they record a car passing at one point in the road and its arrival at another point, maybe 5 km or 10 km further on. If they arrive before they should were they to obey the speed limit, it is automatically recorded. A relative living in France informs me that an important element of the regime there is the certainty that a driver will receive penalty points or a summons as soon as he or she sees the camera flash.
I emphasise the importance of speed. I do not know how the technology works in Ireland but I believe it relies on manpower. It takes weeks to receive penalty points or a summons. If this could happen within hours or days, it would result in a change in the behaviour of those who speed or drink and drive.
I congratulate the Minister on the appointment of Gay Byrne, who was an inspired choice. It was a brave choice because Gay Byrne will resign if he is not happy with what the Minister does. He took the job not because he wanted it but because he thought he could do some good, and the Minister knows his head is on the chopping block if Gay Byrne registers his disappointment with him and resigns.
The Minister is making progress. I urge him to recognise that investment in anything that reduces road deaths is good value for money. In France, where President Chirac made reducing the number of road deaths a priority, the figures have been reduced dramatically. I urge this Government to continue to devote effort and enthusiasm to what it has already begun because, if it does, we can hugely reduce the figures we saw in August. I agree with the Minister that it is dangerous to read too much into those figures because when penalty points were introduced, the initial success did not last for long. With investment in commitment and money, the Minister will achieve his objectives.