Wednesday, 15 December 2004
Road Traffic Bill 2004: Report and Final Stages.
Before we commence I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on a Report Stage amendment, except the proposer of the amendment who may reply to the discussion thereon. In addition, on Report Stage each amendment must be seconded.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 23, to delete lines 11 to 48 to delete page 24 and in page 25 to delete lines 1 to 24.
I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. We need to debate the insurance liability issue further. We need to consult with other bodies, particularly IBEC and the bodies involved in the insurance industry. While I appreciate the assurances officials from the Department of Transport have given me on this matter, I am not fully convinced it is appropriate to pass this legislation with this provision tagged on. It is unconnected from the main part of the Bill, which concerns speed limits.
In the event of a very serious accident involving a tram, bus or a train at one of our many unguarded level crossings, the person driving the car or lorry that might have caused the accident might believe he or she is adequately covered only to find the insurance company has set a ceiling that does not cover such an accident. The concern is that this might put his or her home or private property at risk. I understand the point made by the Minister and his officials that because of the capping, this could not occur. If it were to happen an assurance has been be given that it would need to come before the Houses of the Oireachtas. We need more dialogue and debate with the companies and IBEC, which were not consulted on the matter. It would be unimaginable to pass legislation that would put people's homes at risk.
I would like to put down some markers, which might help Senators understand the background to this provision. The proposal does not of itself change the present requirement for unlimited third-party cover for road accident personal injuries. The section proposes a mechanism for change if change becomes necessary in the future. No change is being made to the existing provision of unlimited third-party cover. My officials inform me that sooner rather than later unlimited cover will cease to be available from insurance companies because their reinsurers, the underwriters, will not give them unlimited cover in the future.
As the law stands at present, motorists would be breaking the law if they used their vehicles in a public place without unlimited cover. As a result some other requirement for insurance must replace the unlimited cover as it becomes available. A limit on cover could not be put in place unless both Houses of the Oireachtas approve the regulations proposing such a substitute arrangement as well as the amount of the limit. As has been said before, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport would have an important role in this regard.
As one who started my career in insurance, I have some knowledge of the industry. My personal preference and that of most people would be for unlimited liability cover for personal injuries, which is the ideal level of cover in respect of accidents. While that is a fair position to hold, we must take account of the developing practicalities in the real world where insurance companies will no longer provide unlimited cover. If that is the position, this proposal will allow a mechanism to ensure that people will be able to continue to obtain insurance cover.
The Senator raised a fair issue about the level. In a major accident involving, for example, a tram or a train, nobody wants to have only a limited level of cover that would not meet that requirement. My officials have informed me that the level, if it is to be limited, will still be in multiples of millions of euro, so that it will cover any unforeseen accident.
The Law Society has written opposing the amendment on the grounds that——
It opposes the proposal with regard to badly injured persons who may be unable to recover the full amount of compensation to which they would be legally entitled. Insurance persons found negligent would suffer financial ruin. Those were the two main points raised by the Law Society.
The society also asked whether, if the provision is enacted, it would have an opportunity to make submissions and meet the Minister before any regulations are made. The Minister, Deputy Cullen, and I have indicated a commitment to openness and transparency in this matter. Before any regulations to impose a limit are introduced and take effect, they will be open to the full scrutiny of the Dáil and Seanad and we will meet any interested groups in respect of them.
I do not see how any limit I may propose might be at a level that would give rise to the situations outlined by Senator Paddy Burke or the Law Society. Whatever limit is put in place, it should always be sufficient to cover any accident that may occur.
At Christmas 2002, a provider of an important support service to one of our main airports was refused unlimited cover for a certain aspect of its operations. The insurance company involved was, however, prepared to offer cover at a level of €1.7 billion. I envisage that a figure of this kind will apply should a specific limit ever be introduced.
I hope my comments have been of assistance to Senator Paddy Burke and other Members. Senators Wilson and Dooley took the opportunity before I entered the House to ask me a couple of relevant questions on this matter and I appreciate their concerns, which they did not take the opportunity to place on the record at this stage. I hope what I have said will clarify matters.
I thank the Minister of State for clarifying the position in respect of this matter. The amendment could not be discussed on Committee Stage. In view of what the Minister of State said, I am satisfied that the necessary guarantees will be put in place and that there will be no risk to anybody who may find themselves without cover should a serious accident occur. I welcome the fact that a person's house or property cannot be seized because he or she might not be fully insured.
I thank the Minister of State for the way he dealt with this important Bill and for the great insight he gave us into all aspects of it. Four main speed limits will be put in place as a result of the enactment of this legislation as follows: the 50 km/h which will replace the 30 mph limit; the new 80 km/h limit; the 100 km/h which will replace the existing 60 mph limit on national primary and secondary routes; and the 120 km/h limit which will replace the 70 mph limit on motorways. These new limits will prove extremely confusing for motorists whose speedometers have not been converted to kilometres per hour.
I am just coming to the point. The Minister of State has promised to run an efficient advertising campaign in the new year to bring home the importance of the changes to the public. He also referred to a meter to convert speeds from miles per hour to kilometres per hour. I hope the campaign will commence immediately after Christmas because the new limits will be confusing for members of the public.
I again thank the Minister of State for the way in which he dealt with this important legislation.
I join Senator Paddy Burke in complimenting the Minister of State on the way he assisted Members and provided information about matters we raised. A number of issues created concerns for us and the Minister of State addressed them exceptionally well. There is no doubt that this Bill is an important addition to the range of legislation relating to road safety and road management that has come before the House in the past two years.
The House regularly discusses the loss of life on our roads. Notwithstanding what could be considered as a blip in the current statistics, there is little doubt that the work the Department, officials and various Ministers have done has led to a considerable decrease in the past ten years in the number of people killed on the roads. Some aggressive targets have been set via the road safety strategy and legislation such as that before us and we hope the provisions set out in the Bill will ensure that these are met. The costs incurred by people, the health service and society in general as a result of road deaths are tremendous. All Members would want to strive to ensure that we complete our work in this area.
I wish to make a couple of points to the Minister of State.
Yes. I wish to ask the Minister of State to give due consideration to further amending this legislation as a result of matters raised during the debate or to introducing further legislation. I refer, in particular, to the issue of motorised vehicles. Everyone recognises that the definition of such vehicles provided in the legislation is far too broad. A child's motorised tractor which one would see in farmyards in rural areas could be——
I would not dream of criticising the Bill, particularly in light of the work invested in it. I ask the Minister of State to give consideration to bringing forward a further Bill to deal with the issue of motorised vehicles, particularly those in people's homes which could be considered as toys. There must not be confusion and it should not be the case that a parent might be fined €3,000 for purchasing such a toy. Consideration should also be given to the issue of insurance.
I thank the Minister of State for introducing this Bill so early in his term of office and for being successful in having it passed. It contains many important provisions regarding the metrification of road traffic signs and fixed penalty charges. What the Minister of State has done is good. The level of traffic and the number of deaths on our roads must be kept to the fore. We must ensure that the latter is reduced. The Bill will definitely prove to be of assistance in that regard. As a result of this, the Minister of State has done a good day's work.
I welcome the Bill and I thank the Minister of State and his officials for coming before the House. I also thank the Minister of State for being present during all Stages. Concerns were expressed on all sides of the House and I thank the Minister of State for addressing them. I welcome the Bill and look forward to its enactment early in the new year.
I thank all Members of the House for their assistance in passing the Bill and challenging me on certain aspects of it. This is important legislation and I am pleased that it has passed all Stages in both Houses and will now be sent to the President for enactment.
The Bill deals with the change from imperial to metric speed limits, outsourcing and insurance issues. All three areas were well debated. I take Senator Dooley's point about a person buying something in good faith to be used by a minor off the road, an area I will ask my officials to examine. I would not like to see an innocent parent or guardian who buys something for fun getting caught in a loophole. Mechanically propelled vehicles are sometimes bought as Christmas presents for minors and we do not want such a situation to be covered by the legislation.
There were many questions yesterday on the change from imperial to metric speed limits. Much work has gone into the changeover, which will be done in a similar fashion to the euro changeover. The metrication changeover board is chaired by my Department and includes representatives from the National Safety Council, the National Roads Authority, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Automobile Association, the Local Authority Managers Association, the Garda Síochána, the Society of the Irish Motor Industry and Professor Ray Fuller of Trinity College. A public awareness campaign is planned from early January and there will be publicity in the national and local press, as well as on national and local television and radio. We will also send an explanatory package to every house in the State.
The Bill will help the Government to implement the road safety strategy. I referred yesterday to the number of deaths on the roads and we are concerned about the increase in 2004 over 2003. The overall comparison, however, with road deaths in the 1990s shows that in real terms the numbers of fatalities have fallen.
Equally, I am concerned that in the first week of the road safety campaign for the festive season, there was a large increase in the number of people detected driving while under the influence of drink. That is a source of concern because the two main factors in road accidents are speed and driving while intoxicated. As we make progress with the campaign on the changeover to metric speed limits, I will welcome feedback from those who want to support the campaign and who might have proposals for their local area.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and Members of the House for their accommodation. On behalf of the Minister and on my own behalf, I wish everyone a happy, holy and peaceful Christmas.