Thursday, 27 November 2003
Road Traffic Bill 2003: Second and Subsequent Stages.
At the outset I thank Senators for facilitating the debate, particularly at short notice. I appreciate that the House has agreed to take it in this manner. The Bill is a technical instrument, designed to provide legal clarity to just one element of the legislation relating to drink driving and to remove a possible basis for a challenge to certain drink driving prosecutions.
The particular issues being addressed consist of the replacement of section 10 of the Road Traffic Act 2002 and the amendment of section 13 of the Road Traffic Act 1994. The position as regards section 10 of the 2002 Act is that I have received legal advice to the effect that a difficulty could arise if I were to provide for its full implementation. The House will recall from the debate on that Act that this section provided for the extension of the grounds under which a driver was required to submit to a preliminary breath test. Senators will be aware of my intention to pursue that extension. However, in preparing for that, a legal difficulty was identified as regards the sequence of the subsections in that section, in so far as they are referred to in section 13 of the Road Traffic Act 1994. That section relates to the obligations on a person to submit to a blood urine or evidential breath test in a Garda station and any potential question as to the capacity of the Garda to invoke powers in that important section needs to be addressed.
I took the view that in order to provide for the extension of roadside breath testing and to ensure the legal certainty of the powers relating to the carrying out of the evidential tests, I would ask the Oireachtas to agree to the technical amendments I propose in the Bill. In that context I am anxious to ensure that the extended powers to carry out roadside breath testing should be available to the Garda at the earliest possible date so as to support this year's Christmas drink driving campaign which gardaí are pursuing jointly with the National Safety Council.
The specific nature of the extension to roadside breath testing envisaged under section 10 of the Road Traffic Act 2002 related to circumstances where a driver was involved in an accident or had, in the opinion of a member of the Garda, committed a traffic offence. Legal advice made available to me called into question the presentation of the reference in the section to a driver being involved in an accident. Essentially, it was suggested that the provision was not workable. I was, therefore, intent on commencing the remaining elements of the section. These included the provisions which allow the gardaí to require a person who was considered to have committed a traffic offence to submit to a preliminary breath test. I intended to provide for that commencement with effect from 1 December. However, it was in that context that the question about the sequencing of the section arose. This difficulty could have created a doubt about the power of the Garda to arrest a person who had refused to submit to a preliminary breath test for the purpose of demanding that the person subsequently submit to a blood, urine or evidential breath test.
Over the past number of years there has been a significant reduction in the number of people killed and injured on our roads. It is clear that over the past year the introduction of penalty points for speeding offences has proved to be a positive initiative. The Road Accident Facts 2002, which has just been published by the National Roads Authority, shows that in that year road deaths fell by 9% to a total of 376. Provisional figures suggest that this year will show a further improvement in our road safety. However, we must seek to support greater progress in areas that can contribute to even greater improvements in road safety.
One area where there is clear room for improvement relates to drink driving. As the NRA's report shows, in 2002 over 30% of all fatal accidents occurred between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. These are the hours most closely associated with drinking and driving. The extent of the problem of drink driving can also be gauged by the fact that in 2002, the Garda made 11,200 detections for drink driving. Approximately 90% of blood and urine specimens and 81% of breath specimens analysed by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety in 2002 were above the limit. Furthermore, over half of those who failed blood or urine tests and almost one third of those who failed evidential breath tests had alcohol contents that were twice as high as the legal limit.
My initiative in pursuing the commencement of the extended basis for taking roadside breath samples was predicated on the need to provide for a greater focus on the issue of drink driving. As I indicated in the Lower House today, my intention is to improve driver behaviour and to give active support to the efforts of the Garda and the National Safety Council in the pursuit of their drink driving campaigns. The initiative will greatly improve the deterrent effect of the enforcement of drink driving law generally. I have decided, however, that while the difficulties noted with the legislation are real and would have compromised my initial proposals, the best course of action is to proceed with my plans on the basis of introducing amending legislation that would address those issues. The Bill before the House today deals with those difficulties and will, if supported by the House, provide that the scheme for the extension of roadside breath testing that was envisaged when the House passed the 2002 Act can be introduced on 1 December.
To achieve that, the Bill provides for the repeal of section 10 of the 2002 Act and its replacement by a new provision. The new provision is contained in section 2 of the Bill. That section provides for the replacement of the original section 12 of the Road Traffic Act 1994, which provided for the operation of the current scheme for roadside breath testing. That scheme limits the Garda to applying the requirement to demand the test only from drivers in respect of whom a member of the Garda would have formed the opinion that they have consumed alcohol. This is a very restrictive basis for the operation of this scheme and it is arguable that until it is extended, we will never be in a position to either establish the extent of the drink driving problem or to address it comprehensively. For that reason the 2002 Act proposed to extend the basis for the operation of roadside testing to encompass those who were either involved in accidents or who had committed a traffic offence.
The wording of one element of the original proposal was open to a narrow interpretation. This is the primary reason for the proposal Senators will find in section 2 of this Bill. The new section addresses the difficulty that has been noted while at the same time providing for the scheme envisaged in the 2002 Act. The extended basis for the operation of roadside testing will mean that the Garda can now directly target the two areas where drink can clearly be a factor in terms of driver behaviour. In particular, we will now be in a position to establish the extent to which the drinking of alcohol by drivers contributes to accidents. The passage of this Bill will allow me to provide for the immediate commencement of all of the elements of this new section. This will, I hope, increase awareness among drivers of the consequences of drinking and driving and of the greater possibility of being detected.
The second main provision in the Bill is set out in section 3. This provides for the amendment of section 13 of the Road Traffic Act 1994. The amendment will provide that the reference in that section to subsection (3) of section 12 will now be changed to refer to subsection (4). The subsection of section 12 in question relates to the power of arrest. With the replacement of that section, through section 2 of this Bill, that power will now be contained in subsection (4) and not subsection (3), as is the case in the existing section. In the context of the application of drink driving laws generally, it is vital that the legal basis for the arrest of a person accused of an offence is clearly established. There is no area of law more contested than in the drink driving area. It is most important that the legal basis is correct, which is the reason we are dealing with this today.
Section 13 of the 1994 Act provides the legislative basis for the operation by the Garda of the testing of those drivers accused of the commission of one of a range of offences for the presence of alcohol in their blood, urine or breath. Depending on the results of those tests, a driver may be fined, jailed and be disqualified from driving. Where a person refuses to submit to the taking of a roadside breath test under section 12 or refuses to obey a requirement of that section, he or she can be arrested and brought to a Garda station so that a sample of their blood, urine or breath can be taken. It is essential that the reference to the power of arrest that is contained in section 12 must be correctly provided for in section 13. The purpose of section 3 of this Bill is to facilitate that point.
The focus of the Bill is to address issues that have an immediate impact on the operation of breath testing. In effect, the passage of the Bill will see the implementation of the scheme envisaged in the Road Traffic Act 2002. However, the issue of drink driving and the determination of the best approach to combating it in the future is a subject that I intend to continue to pursue. It is not acceptable that an estimated 120 people should die on our roads each year simply because a minority of drivers choose to drink. There is clear evidence linking the level of alcohol consumed by a person with their ability to respond in a cognitive manner to events around them. The next road safety strategy will have a particular focus on this issue and will see the identification of measures aimed at providing greater focus on this area. As a first step, as I indicated in the Dáil this morning, I will bring forward proposals to provide for random breath testing in the new year. These are matters for the future, however, and will be the subject of debate in this House.
I welcome the Minister even if it is an embarrassing occasion for him, given his failure to spot this glitch in the legislation. However, we will support this measure to rectify the problem. The Minister needs to get the finger out, as somebody else recently advised him, and this proves it.
The Minister has admitted that random breath testing will be introduced next year but it was indicated that it would be introduced much sooner. At this time of the year one plans where one will go for Christmas dinner. With all due respect to the Minister, if he invited me to his house on Christmas Day, I doubt that I would go. I would be terrified of getting food poisoning. The dinner, like many of his ideas on transport, would probably be only half baked.
On a serious note, Fine Gael welcomes this measure and will support it. We have not put down any amendments to ensure it is passed speedily.
The Minister said that 30% of all fatal accidents occur between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. Is it productive to have television advertisements showing the disastrous effects of drink driving? They cost large amounts of money but are they effective? Would it not be more effective to have more advertisements about this on the radio? The first thing people do when they get into the car is turn on the radio. The advertisements would be a reminder for them. They could be played every half hour between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. and remind drivers not to drink and drive or outline the disastrous consequences of doing so. It might be more effective.
Unfortunately, when we are in our sitting rooms watching television and see the advertisements showing the disastrous effects of drink driving, we tend to distance ourselves from them and say they do not apply to us. If we heard the advertisements while driving, it might deter us from drink driving.
While the gardaí have been very successful in apprehending drink drivers, the reality is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a major difficulty in this area. Young drivers are not the main offenders. The problem is middle aged people and upwards who have got away with it for the past 20 years and feel they can do so for the next 20. What steps is the Minister taking in this regard? We are very quick to criticise young people in general, but this is one area where young people are leading. The Minister might indicate later whether he plans to tackle this anomaly in the new year.
I want to ask the Minister about drug testing. We appear to focus totally on alcohol and the effects of drink driving but, unfortunately, drugs are very common nowadays and have the same effect as alcohol. They impair one's co-ordination, visibility, judgment and so on. In countries that have a "drugalyser" test, road fatalities have been reduced. I am referring to both legal and illegal drugs, people who use class A drugs such as cocaine, heroin or cannabis or people who are genuinely on anti-depressants or amphetamines. Some people who have a severe flu take tablets which can cause drowsiness and then drive. These people still go behind the wheel of a car and think nothing of it. This area should be highlighted. Perhaps the Minister will consider this area when bringing forward plans next year to introduce random breath testing. Perhaps he will use the fantastic opportunity as Minister for Transport during the EU Presidency to launch a scheme in Europe. I assume that if such a test were introduced, people who are convicted of drug driving would not just receive penalty points but would face the same reprimand as people who are caught for drink driving. At the end of the day, these people are in charge of a vehicle that can cause death and are driving, in effect, a very dangerous weapon. We must realise there is a big drug problem in this country.
The Minister recently welcomed the reduction in road fatalities. However, motorcycle fatalities were shown to have increased. He made the admission in the House six months ago but he has done nothing about the problem. He made noises at the time that he would address the issue of provisional licence holders carrying pillion passengers on motorbikes. This seems to have died a death. I urge him to act on the information available to address the problem and bring about a reduction in motorcycle fatalities.
Fine Gael has been consistent in its call for a dedicated traffic corp. This was referred to previously and also died a death. These measures are fine but they are pointless if the gardaí are not provided with the resources. We should not just focus on drink driving at Christmas time because, unfortunately, people drink all year round. The gardaí should monitor drink driving throughout the year to remind all of us we should not drink and drive.
I join with my colleagues in welcoming the Minister to the House to debate this important issue. Road safety has been recognised for many years as being of crucial importance. It is useful that the Minister has identified the difficulty with the Bill and is dealing with it in this way. The Bill, which as Senator Browne said is fairly straightforward, will allow for the implementation of elements of the Road Traffic Act 2002. It will extend to the gardaí power to test people suspected of drink driving.
I compliment the Minister on the speed with which he addressed this difficulty, despite the fact that Opposition members are critical of the fact that it was not noticed at the time. It can happen easily if a Bill is drafted from a specific point of view and it is then discovered that there is a conflict with another aspect of the law. I compliment the Minister and the Department on getting to grips with the problem to ensure the Bill is in place for the vital period around Christmas and that lives are saved.
I compliment Senator Browne on his support for the Bill and for ensuring that it will not be delayed longer than is necessary in the House this evening. Some of his other comments are the type of standard remarks we hear from the Opposition. As they are a bit concerned that the Minister is making too much progress, it is difficult for them to find something to complain about. However, we will get over that.
This measure will be a vital tool for the gardaí in their initiative over the Christmas season. It would be correct at this stage to compliment the Garda Síochána on its excellent work and the efforts made to ensure that lives will be saved. Anything that can be done, either in this House or through the Minister, to put in place the necessary legislation to assist the gardaí in their work must be welcomed.
The Bill is not about penalising drivers or ensuring they are put off the road. It is about education, highlighting the difficulty of drink driving and, I hope, forcing a change in culture. We have all seen the change in culture following the 2002 Bill and the introduction of the penalty points system. Those of us who travel the national primary routes on a weekly basis will readily recognise and accept that the average speed has dropped dramatically. People still reach their destination on time because they plan their journeys better. They leave ten or 15 minutes earlier than they normally would in the knowledge that they must remain within the speed limit, otherwise, more than likely, they will pick up penalty points.
It is hoped the Bill and the measures the Minister will introduce next year in terms of the random testing of drivers will bring about a culture which will ensure that people will be no longer prepared to take the risk of drinking alcohol and driving a mechanically propelled vehicle. We all recognise the damage drink driving causes. Approximately 70 lives have been saved in the past 12 months since the introduction of the penalty points system, which is a very positive outcome. It is important to consider the cost savings as a result of the reduction in road accidents and the decrease in the number of people being transferred to hospitals.
The Minister referred to the recent NRA road accident report which gives the facts for 2002. The report estimated that the total cost of road accidents in 2002 amounted to approximately €730 million. This is a staggering figure when one considers the amount of money currently being spent on transport and the money that could be saved by preventing road accidents. Road accidents do not just have a monetary impact on people. The difficulties caused for the families and communities involved are huge. The cost of a single death on the road is estimated at approximately €1.4 million, which is staggering. The cost associated with serious injury as a result of road accidents amounts to approximately €170,000 and for minor injuries approximately €16,000. Anything that can be done not just to save lives, but to save expenditure associated with accidents, will have a knock-on effect, together with the measures taken by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and committees of this House in trying to reduce the cost of insurance.
The report identified that driver error is the cause of approximately 85% of accidents compared to just 10% of accidents which result from misadventure by pedestrians. Clearly, driver behaviour causes most accidents. While it did not go into the details of identifying what percentage of these accidents were directly attributable to drunken driving it did make a stab at indicating that many of the accidents were as a result of it.
The penalty points system has changed the culture and I have no doubt it will be successful. Another element of the penalty points system is that the publicity has resulted in a greater acceptance of the system by the community and drivers have slowed down. Hopefully the publicity generated as a result of the introduction of this Bill will help in the public relations battle of ensuring people adhere to the law and refrain from driving while drunk.
I welcome the Minister to the House. We were looking forward to seeing him. It is impressive when legislation is introduced which anticipates a difficulty of a technical breach of the law. Irrespective of what criticisms people may have of the legislation, it is a tribute to his Department that this has been identified and is being dealt with now. There is nothing as sickening and as annoying as to see legislation which has been found wanting and we all have to take responsibility for that. I am happy to support the Bill and certainly will not delay its passage. However, I wish to make a few brief points.
The Road Traffic Act 1994 was unusual in that it was introduced by the party of which the Minister is a member and opposed strenuously by the Opposition, as opposed to the Independent benches. The Government changed and the Opposition moved to that side and suddenly was in support of the Bill and the party of which the Minister is a member was on this side and opposed the Bill. It was an exercise in cynicism. Representatives of both sides reversed positions after the election.
I have to speak with a low voice as I do not have a great record in terms of limits arising from the Road Traffic Act over a number of years. I am not speaking from the high moral ground. One of the two amendments I tabled at that time, both of which were rejected by the Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, sought a minimum speed on certain roads. People who drive at a speed which is unsafely slow cause huge frustration – forgive my inelegance of language – and this should be examined in terms of legislation. The other issue which I had great difficulty with at the time – it is interesting in terms of what has happened in the meantime – was the provision in the legislation which required drivers to carry their driving licence at all times, which I felt was an unfair demand. I was assured by the Minister at the time that he could never see a situation where a genuine Irish person driving their car and minding their business would ever be penalised for not having their licence with them. That position has changed radically in the past while. It is no great problem that the position has changed but it is an inconvenience.
I raised an issue on this with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in another forum. The requirement to carry one's driving licence is common in other jurisdictions. I wish to make a modernising and progressive proposal which has been discussed in another place, namely, that licences should be credit card size. In that way it would be much easier to carry a licence with one all the time as it could be in a wallet with other items. That has happened in other countries. One can get a photograph built into such a card with the information either on a chip or a strip. Our driving licences are not appropriate for carrying around and were never intended to be carried around all the time. If one takes it out of the plastic folder or it falls somewhere it will not survive. There is no reason it should not be in a credit card size format with the appropriate information on a chip or a strip.
On some of our major roads, particularly the motorways, the speed limit could be marginally increased. I am aware the Minister intends rounding it up for kilometric purposes and I welcome that and I hope he will not be dissuaded to reduce it to a lower figure by others. It is all about safe driving.
On the issue of safe driving, the national car test should be biased more towards safety. Some of the demands are not safety driven. I support the national car test for the reason that any time I have spoken on the issue of safe driving I have always bemoaned the fact that people with the safest car in the world in terms of pedestrians and drivers get no credit whatever. At least the national car test requires people to have safer vehicles on the road, which is hugely important. For those who fail the test for something small there is not enough flexibility inasmuch as they have to pay for a full test all over again. That is unfair and brings the test into disrepute.
I was worried when I first heard the Minister mention an extension of the law to provide the Garda with powers to demand a breath test that it would take us down the road of a police state. I am not speaking from a liberal view but from the point of view of an ordinary citizen. I did not like the idea of people being stopped on the side of the road and forced to take a breath test. Having read the explanatory memorandum I am happy it is appropriate that people involved in a traffic accident should be required to co-operate with whatever testing the Garda is carrying out. No fair minded person would oppose that. I am not as comfortable with the proposal that a breath test could be demanded for any traffic offence as it could be overdone, for example, where a person has double-parked for a few minutes. The bar should be raised a little higher in that regard. In general terms, so long as it was not a dropping of the barriers, developments of this type had to take place. Nobody will object to what is contained in the Bill and it would be wrong to delay it in any way.
Like other speakers I welcome the Minister and commend him on bringing the Bill before the House. It has been a tough week on solicitors. Between the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Bill and the Road Traffic Bill solicitors will find very little to challenge in future when they go to court. This Bill will also make it tougher on drivers and rightly so given that the Minister said that approximately 6,000 drivers who were breathalysed had twice the legal limit of alcohol in their system. That is an appalling statistic given the length of time over which we have been trying to address this subject. People are still willing, between the hours of 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., to go on the road with twice the legal limit of alcohol in their system. I am pleased this Bill has been introduced. As Senator O'Toole said, there is nothing as annoying as to see a Bill found wanting in respect of a loophole in the courts and where solicitors drive a wedge in a Bill and find a loophole for a person to get off. I am delighted the loophole is being closed off.
While this has been a very tough week on solicitors, it will also make things tougher for drivers. When random testing is introduced and if what I believe to be Senator Browne's proposal is accepted, namely, that one should have to carry a clean medical certificate when driving, a health warning will be attached to driving to the effect that one had better get on a bus or train. This will reduce the number of cars on our roads. The Minister will have to invest a lot more money in public transport when he takes on board Senator Browne's proposals. I welcome the Bill. I will not delay it any longer and I commend it to the House.
I, too, welcome the Minister to the House. I welcome the Bill and, like Senator Browne, I wish it a speedy passage. I recall the Bills about which Senator O'Toole spoke passing through the House and remember making the point that we should have a code of conduct for motorists. It certainly exists in England, where drivers are much better and more driver-friendly than they are here. If one is pulling out from a laneway or a road, a British driver will give one the right of way, but in Ireland drivers put their foot on the accelerator to make sure one cannot pull out. A code of conduct or courtesy code is desirable.
I am delighted that the penalty points system has been a great success and the Minister deserves great credit for introducing it in spite of much opposition. I heard on the radio one morning that a guy in a motorised wheelchair received penalty points. Has the Minister examined this issue and are wheelchairs still subject to the penalty points system?
This Bill gives considerable power to the Garda and is closing a legal loophole. Consider the case of people who had been drinking and who had acted very responsibly by going home by taxi or bus but who were breathalysed on the following morning on their way to work. Will the Minister ensure that the Garda cannot be heavy-handed with such people? They may need their cars to go to work, particularly in rural Ireland where we have no great transport systems. I am sure alcohol remains in the bloodstream for quite a long time and, therefore, I do not know what can be done about the matter. I welcome the Bill and wish the Minister well with it.
I welcome the Minister and his officials. Without throwing bouquets at the Minister, his list of achievements in the Department of Transport is tremendous. I explained to my sister in the United States the position in Ireland regarding the saving of human lives and it is an understatement to say she was very impressed.
I had three little points about which I had intended to write to the Minister, but I did not have time to do so. I am a frequent traveller to Northern Ireland and usually travel on the Enterprise train. Recently, however, I took the bus to Lisburn to attend a meeting and Bus Éireann dropped me at the side of the road outside the town. I just could not understand it. I can understand why the bus does not drive through the town but the shopping centre was just up the road. When I was dropped on the side of the main road, how was I to get a taxi to the conference in Lisburn?
We are supposed to have an economic corridor from Dublin—
Excuse me. My point is very important because I am a firm believer in trade between here and Northern Ireland. What happened was cracked.
My second point, which was raised with the Minister before, is that it should be acceptable to pay the toll on the motorway to the North in sterling. Sterling is accepted on the train, so why can it not be used at the toll station when crossing the River Boyne?
There is a bus stop outside my home on Wyckham Park Road. If I decide to take the bus when my car is being repaired and it is a grand day, I have no problem. However, it could be raining when I am coming home, in which case I could have to wait for 25 minutes in the rain for the 48A bus from Stephen's Green. The Minister should provide bus shelters at the bus stops during his term in office. The thought of standing at Stephen's Green in the rain—
I wanted to write to the Minister and had not time to do so. More bus shelters that cannot be damaged by vandals are required.
On the traffic corps, I heard the Minister speaking on the radio one morning recently. He made an excellent presentation, explained his position very logically and set out the legal problems he faced. He was optimistic that he would achieve his goals. In the morning, the gardaí assist motorists through the Barton Road roundabout and Dundrum village. They are fantastic and very efficient. However, why can we not have gardaí doing the same thing in other towns on the national routes? I know Monasterevin, for instance, is getting its bypass but it is bloody chaotic. There are many similar towns that will not be bypassed. Why can the local gardaí not assist traffic through such towns at peak times? If they can do so in Dundrum so charmingly and efficiently, why the heck do they not do so elsewhere?
Rather than raising these points in a letter to the Minister, I have done so in the Chamber because it is easier.
I welcome the Minister to the House and compliment him on the legislation. As Senator O'Toole stated, it is important that the Minister is ahead of the posse. He saw a problem arising in respect of the legislation and introduced this Bill to ensure it will stand up in court. This is to be welcomed.
I would like to see a major Garda blitz on the roads in the near future which will put down a marker to the effect that one should not drink and drive.
If this blitz occurs and gardaí are to be seen in force on the roads, we will certainly put down a definite marker and do so quickly. I do not like to mention any particular group but it was brought to my attention on numerous occasions that certain taxi drivers are driving while half shot. I do not use taxis much, to be honest, but taxi drivers are also likely to be of high risk if they are carrying passengers.
Senator Paddy Burke made a point about breathalysing people the morning after a night's drinking. If a person is over the legal alcohol limit, whether coming or going to work, he should not be driving a motor vehicle. This marker has to be put down and put down quickly. Some might say it is easy for me to make this point and that I am lucky and safe because I have a pioneer pin, but I also want to survive on the roads. As a motorist, one is not safe.
My few points are important. The Minister's excellent work on the points system has made a great difference on the roads. Without it, given the increased number of cars and vehicles on the road, there would be a far higher number of deaths this year than last year. Great credit is due to the Minister, his officials and the gardaí who are enforcing the rules to the letter.
I thank Senators again for giving this Bill a speedy passage. It enables it to start on 1 December and the Garda will now have very important powers, assuming that the Senators approve of the legislation before them. If Senator Browne wants to visit me at home I guarantee to serve a fully baked dinner. He asked about advertising. I support the advertising by the National Safety Council. It is raw but effective and it has brought the message home. I accept his point about young people. I often wonder how so many young people today have such good habits. Those in my constituency do not take cars when they are going out if they intend to drink. They did not learn that from the previous generation which drove regardless so wherever they learnt the lesson it got through to them and we should be proud of that. We have much to learn from them. However, many young people are killed on our roads.
The issue of drug testing is important. He is right that there is a great deal more to do in this difficult technical area. It is illegal to be under the influence of drugs when driving because rather cleverly all our legislation refers to "intoxicants" which are defined as including drugs. Our road traffic legislation that bans alcohol also bans drugs. Testing is the problem with drugs because they are not susceptible to breath testing. A great deal of work is being done on this involving saliva testing and so on but there is much more to do. I intend to press on with that as quickly as possible. The Senator quite rightly also referred to motorbikes. I will have a package before the House in the new year in this regard. It is crazy that 60% of motorbike riders do not have full licences. This is also a technical issue but I am determined to stop it.
Senator Dooley pointed out the need for more education and referred to the cultural aspect of this issue. He is quite right. The penalty points system is not designed only to catch people, it is intended to change the culture and habits so that if one has a licence and wants to keep it one adheres to the rules of the road. The sum of more than €1.3 million per accident is correct. Apart from the human tragedy the economic cost is very high.
Senator O'Toole raised several issues. I would not support the introduction of a minimum speed. In the current legislation there is a clear requirement to drive carefully and with due care and attention and a garda could take the view that if one was crawling along at six miles an hour that did not constitute due care and attention and could deal with that. I signed the requirement to carry a licence into law on 1 January. The gardaí are enforcing that and assure me that it is part of their armoury. We are progressing the plastic card licence and I am determined that in 2004 we will move to a credit card size licence. The speed limit changes will take effect before the end of next September and apart from going metric we are also changing the speed limit, particularly the 60 mph limit on country roads which will come down to 50 mph. That is the single biggest change. It covers most roads and will be very helpful. The other changes are marginal. I hear what the Senator said about random testing.
Senator Morrissey is worried about solicitors but I am not going to lose too much sleep over them tonight if he does not mind. He is right about public transport for which he is a keen advocate and for which he is determined to win increased investment. I approve of that and he knows of our plans in that area including the Luas, the metro, buses, intercity rail and so on across the board.
Senator Paddy Burke talked about the need for a code of conduct and penalty points. I agree with Senator Moylan about the morning after raids; if one is drunk one is drunk whether in daylight or whenever. I can see how people might get the impression that it is an abuse but we have to be clear about this otherwise it will not work.
I thank Senator White for her comments on the penalty points. I have asked the National Roads Authority to talk to the concessionaires about taking sterling on the M1. They should take it because that is the legal tender of the road and we should respect it. I would like to see the concessionaires take it and I will raise it with them again. I do not know why the gardaí are on the roundabout in Dundrum – maybe it is because it is local to me.
I understand what she said about bus shelters. We will certainly keep an eye on that.
I thank Senator Moylan for his comments about a Garda blitz. The gardaí do that from time to time but unfortunately have to back off when some other crime crisis occurs. They are very committed and I thank them for their work.
I thank Senators again because they have armed the gardaí with excellent powers from next Monday, 1 December. They could not be doing a finer day's work in Parliament than they have done here this evening. This will save lives between now and Christmas and thenceforward. I thank the Senators for giving the Bill safe passage.
I thank the Minister for his comments to the House and for responding to many of the issues that have been raised, some of which lay outside the terms of this Bill but it is always helpful when he makes the effort to respond to those points. We hope to see the Minister here again soon.
I congratulate the Minister on his successful passage of the legislation today. He was correct to strike first before anyone spotted a loophole in the Bill and he should be commended for that. He might look in the future at the delay between people being caught and given penalty points and being issued with the notice. This can take five to six weeks which is grossly unfair. All the points raised today had the single theme of road safety, reducing carnage on the roads and ensuring that families can be happy at Christmas. This year 80 more families will spend a happy Christmas together than did last year. We will do everything we can in this House to ensure that the number of accidents is further reduced.
I thank the Senators. I will look into the point about the delay in penalty points. They will turn up, however, so no one should feel they will not. Whenever they turn up the points will show so people should be wary of allowing any laxity to enter in that area. I cannot think of finer work to be doing than this which will actually save lives.
Question put and agreed to.