Seanad debates

Thursday, 21 March 2024

Road Traffic Bill 2024: Second Stage


9:30 am

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. This is a really important Bill. After making wonderful progress in this area, road fatalities have significantly increased in recent years. There were 188 fatalities in 2023, which was the highest number since the 192 people who died in 2014. As the Minister of State noted, the figure for this year is very bad, with 45 fatalities up to 19 March. This legislation is necessary. I want to see it swiftly become part of our law.

It is important that as we discuss these provisions, we consider the Garda road policing operation last week. A total of 1,800 speeding offences were recorded over the bank holiday weekend. Allegedly, one motorist was caught travelling at a speed of 209 km in a 100 m zone. Another motorist in the Dublin region was allegedly driving at a speed of 147 km in a 60 km zone. This is utterly crazy carry-on. Too many telephone calls have to be made and too many doors have to be knocked on as a result of such behaviour. Members of the emergency services, gardaí and others have to give bad news to families every night or every second night of the week. As we debate this Bill, we remember fondly all the families who have suffered those losses. The age of the person lost does not matter. Humans being knocked down and killed on the roads or involved in crashes, whether because of speed or any other reason, is tragic.

It is really important that we, as legislators, deal promptly with these issues. There can be no excuses for not doing so. I welcome that the Minister of State has made it his business to travel to communities up and down the country where elected representatives and local people have told him how bad the situation is we are facing. It has not been dealt with for years. The Minister of State made it his business to meet with people in those communities without saying too much about what he is doing. It is happening in my county and in other counties. We see action being taken to deal with dangerous bends that should have been dealt with years ago. That is happening.

I welcome that the legislation will deal with the situation in regard to penalty points. We would all agree that since its introduction in 2002, the penalty points system has proven its value as a deterrent to bad driver behaviour. It does not seem that long ago since it was introduced. However, the system clearly needs enhancing in the current circumstances in which road deaths have been rising at such a serious rate. The Minister of State outlined the changes provided for in the Bill. They will be very much welcomed by well-meaning people throughout the country. People do not want this carnage to continue on our roads.

Many pedestrians walking the roads at night without using lights or reflector jackets. That is really dangerous. It is a nightmare for motorists when, unfortunately, somebody is knocked down and killed. I urge that consideration be given to legislation to ensure people carry proper reflective equipment when walking on roads in the dark. The message is that people should only walk on well-lit footpaths and roads with proper footpaths. This is an issue I constantly observe, particularly in rural areas. Motorists can find themselves driving very close to a pedestrian on the side of the road, especially if the weather is bad. I appeal to all pedestrians and cyclists on our roads, for God's sake, to make sure they are clearly visible and are wearing the proper jacket.

The current rate of road deaths cannot continue. That is why I very much welcome the legislation before us and the action being taken by the Minister of State. I compliment the authorities on the good work they are doing, including last weekend. However, even with 1,800 offences being detected, we can only guess how many people got away with offending. I put my hands up and admit that I was pulled over the coals years ago for using a telephone will driving. I also broke a speed limit I should not have broken. I am not pretending to be a saint. We all have our faults. However, what I see happening on the roads now is just incredible. Driving down the motorway in line with the speed limit, I see other motorists overtaking and pulling in front of my car without leaving 2 m of space. The way some people drive is utterly frightening. Another thing I notice is people pulling off side roads without paying heed to vehicles coming along the road they are joining.

There is much we need to do. We need more speed vans. I understand that matter is being addressed. We certainly need more gardaí. The reality of the current situation means we have to act. I welcome the Minister of State's indication that councillors will be able to deal with speed limits on roads, other than national primary or national secondary roads, in their counties. That is really important.We will all agree that along some of the roads in our counties that are not national primary roads, there are areas where we need to bring the speed limits down. It might be coming into an acute bend or where there is a difficult crossroad and so on. That all has to be done and I welcome that the local authorities will be able to do that. That is an important function and, as the Minister of State said, the Leas-Chathaoirleach will also welcome that. In most cases, in most counties, local authority members deal with these matters adequately if the law is in place to ensure they can carry out that work.

Rather than delay the meeting with my contribution any longer, I welcome this. I welcome the Minister of State's input and commend him and his officials on what they are doing. There can be no half-measures on road safety now. Our population is increasing. We have more vehicles on our roads. Although our roads have improved significantly over the years, more improvement is needed and we have to have laws that are definite and will deal with people. The big challenge now is drug driving. There is no doubt about it. Medical people, gardaí and parents will tell you that. It is a massive challenge and it has to be dealt with.


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