Tuesday, 19 January 2016
Road Traffic Bill 2016: Second Stage
I welcome the Minister. As my friend and colleague, Senator Wilson, indicated, Fianna Fáil welcomes the Bill. It has been in gestation for a long time, particularly in the context of the recognition of disqualifications in the two jurisdictions. I am particularly pleased the Minister has seen fit to introduce it in the Bill. As a result of the difference in signage between the North and South - miles in the North and kilometres in the South - when I cross the Border, as I frequently do, my mindset is geared towards kilometres when I go North and, sometimes, I have thought the journey was much longer or shorter, depending on the signage. There is not much the Minister can do about it. Would it be too far-fetched to suggest there could be dual signs in the Border counties that would show both miles and kilometres? I am not sure, but when kilometres were introduced, there may have been dual signage. Maybe it would be too expensive, given that the Government is buying the signage under contract on a standard, uniform basis. I am just suggesting it.
On the occasions on which I have travelled on the M1, North and South, in some instances, Northern drivers have been using it as a Formula 1 racetrack. I have seen the speeds they have been doing. I refer to private cars, as distinct from commercial traffic. I hope there will be greater enforcement on it. I do not want to inhibit cross-Border traffic or trade, and I do not want to be seen to single out Northern drivers. Irish drivers in the UK will probably have been adopting the same attitude, that they can do whatever speed they want given that they will not be penalised. I am not talking about parking but speeding.
In order to ensure the legislation will be effective, there might be discussions with the Garda in the short term, while the Bill is going through its preliminary introductory period. I am sure it will be a culture shock to some Northern drivers when they are stopped and told their penalty points in the North are effective in the South. There is not the same level of communication between the general public in the North and the South about what is happening in either jurisdiction. It is one of the unfortunate historical oddities. Perhaps the Minister could consider having a bilateral arrangement with the Northern authorities to inform the general public about the implications of the Bill.If one cannot do dual signage then it might be a way of conveying information specifically in the context of disqualifications and, as suggested, reducing the speed limit in residential areas from 30 km/h down to 20 km/h.
Also in terms of reduced speed limits in residential areas, I think I am right in suggesting that this has come about as a result of strenuous lobbying by parents of children and relatives of people who were killed in built-up areas. This again raises an issue, which I might have raised with the Minister before at a meeting of the Committee on Transport and Communications, about a review of speed limit signs throughout the island but especially in this jurisdiction. A speed limit of 20 km/h sounds fine to me but the technology used in modern cars means a person feels he or she is standing still when driving at such a speed. It lulls us all into a false feeling that we are going much slower when in fact we are driving faster than we should be, which is an aspect that cannot be addressed. I hope the 20 km/h speed limit works. I know that the Minister is doing it for the right reasons but I am not sure whether the initiative will work.
My last point is another signage issue. The Minister will be aware that throughout the country, when one enters a county, one can see large signs, which I think were introduced five or six years ago, stating how many people have died on the roads in that county in the previous year. There is a need to update those statistics as the signs do not seem to have been changed in recent years. I could be wrong but I have the impression that they have not been changed.