Tuesday, 3 October 2006
Road Traffic and Transport Bill 2006: Second Stage
Derek McDowell (Labour)
I support those who argue for consolidation of the Road Traffic Acts. I tried this morning to understand the amendment we are making today to correct the alleged defect in the Bill we passed earlier this year. It is mind-boggling. We are inserting a section 1 to amend section 13 of the 1994 Act which was in turn inserted by the earlier Act of this year and must be read in conjunction with the 1961 Act. I learnt that off by heart. This is mad. It is impossible for lay people to understand this and even practitioners have difficulty understanding it. Everybody accepts the legislation is crying out for consolidation.
In doing this mental exercise I tried to pay attention to the offence of refusing to give a sample, how it could be prosecuted and the resulting penalty. As I did not have the benefit of advice from the Labour Party's legal adviser who loves this kind of problem, I am not sure I have reached the correct conclusion. There appears, however, to be an anomaly in the Bill because in the Act we passed earlier this year, we provided in conjunction with mandatory alcohol testing for the offence of refusing to give a sample. We also provided for penalties of €5,000 or six months in prison.
Section 13 of the 1994 Act provides for the offence of refusing to provide a sample in the Garda station but the penalties are significantly less, at approximately €1,000 and-or six months in prison. I assume if a person were arrested under section 49, he or she would be open to the offence under the 1961 Act of failing to provide, which also allows for a disqualification. I am not clear whether we can therefore infer that a person who is arrested under section 7 of the Act we passed earlier this year can be convicted of failing to provide a roadside sample and then be disqualified. I confess my reading of the Bill is rudimentary as I spent just half an hour on it this morning. It is not clear to me whether, under the mandatory alcohol testing regime, if one fails to provide a sample, one can be convicted and disqualified. I would appreciate clarification on that point.
Speakers today have rightly commented on the reduction in the number of road traffic deaths in the past couple of months. I am sure this is a result of the publicity that surrounded the passage of the Act earlier this year. That is good and right. I do not support the mandatory alcohol testing regime, given the gradual amendment or erosion of the need for the Garda to form an opinion, as was the case in the previous 20 or 30 years. I felt that was sufficient, provided it was enforced. The real risk in the mandatory alcohol testing regime is that it could criminalise many people who do not present a serious danger to themselves or others, for example, a person who has had two and half pints and drives on an empty road. With reasonable discretion on the part of the Garda in implementing the Act, that will not happen.
It is important people understand that if they have taken a serious amount of drink, they will be caught. The passage of the Act earlier this year created that impression and it is important that it be sustained. This will happen only provided the Act is rigorously implemented but with a certain measured discretion which maintains the credibility of the Act. As I am sure the Minister knows what I am talking about, I will not spell it out.
The provision that allows nurses to take blood samples is a sensible move. In hospitals or in doctors' surgeries, where there is a practice nurse, they take most samples.