Tuesday, 3 October 2006
Road Traffic and Transport Bill 2006: Second Stage
Martin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
I welcome the legislation. This Government has made a real effort to improve road safety. Sustained results are needed, not short-term results. I wish to dissipate the assumption underlying all contributions to this debate that the Government is solely responsible for road safety. Each and every one of us, when on the road, is responsible for the safety of ourselves and everybody we pass. Government can influence the framework but we should not lose sight of the fact that people have personal responsibility for safety.
I have some criticism of the way the courts sometimes address these issues. On the one hand, for ten or 15 years we have witnessed judges who delight in throwing out vast numbers of cases on the basis of technicalities. I gather they are reviewing such a practice over the water and may even have done something about it. They are trying to prevent legislation being thrown out on the basis of a technicality by allowing attention to be drawn to the need to address the technicality. If that can be done swiftly, the legislation can be prevented from failing. On the other hand, I recently heard of a judge acting in a despotic manner towards a person who had committed a road traffic offence and had paid the fine. Nonetheless the person received a summons and the judge refused to hear a plea, only asking whether the defendant had committed the offence. The defendant ended up paying twice over and the costs of appeal were prohibitive. That sort of behaviour should not be encouraged either.
There is space for more effective television advertising. The recent television licence fee campaign concentrated on the shame of a court appearance, but drink driving or causing serious accidents by dangerous driving is infinitely more shameful than not paying for a television licence. Public relations campaigns should also be launched to inform people of their options. In particular, they should be aimed at pubs in remote areas urging people to get a lift, share a taxi or have a mineral drink. Victims of road accidents are often pedestrians or cyclists, the latter of which do not seem to be subject to the rules of the road and are a danger to themselves. Pedestrians should be educated as to how they can protect themselves.
There ought to be a test for drugs because drug related driving is also a problem. Often both drink and drugs are involved and scientists and researchers must focus on devising something to test specifically for drugs.
Yesterday I was glad to see the opening of the Fermoy bypass and huge improvements are being made to our roads, which make a huge difference to safety. There is further space for a review of speed limits because the right speed limits enable people to reach their destination as quickly as is safely possible and reduce accidents. There has been a general acceptance of the 80 km/h speed limit for country roads and it has been successful. However, I do not see an objective reason for the limit on cross-country dual carriageways, which are almost as good as motorways, of 100 km/h while in the North it is 110 km/h.
I hope the time will come when we have the confidence they have on the Continent and maybe we should experiment by allowing a limit of 130 km/h on a suitable road. While such a suggestion may be counterintuitive, if people can travel quickly between two points on dual carriageways, they will be less reluctant to observe the speed limit on the part of their journey that includes a country road.
We should relate this debate to the broader issue of excessive drinking, including binge drinking. More stringent application of the drink driving regulations may indirectly help to address that problem. I do not deny there might be some scope for fine-tuning. In my experience, the national car test, NCT, is good and efficient. If all Government services worked as well as it does, we would be very well off.