Wednesday, 14 June 2006
Road Traffic Bill 2006: Committee Stage (Resumed).
I wish to explore the matter of the recognition of foreign driving licences. Section 8 sets out a process whereby driving licences issued in other jurisdictions can be exchanged for Irish driving licences. I was surprised when I read this. I am not clear on the background and perhaps the Minister of State will help me with it. My understanding was that European Union issued driving licences were recognised in Ireland without a need for exchange. Will the Minister of State explain the purpose of the section? Is it intended purely for those who hold driving licences issued outside the European Union? Must one exchange licences in any event?
Having teased that matter out we can move on to the more important issue as to the recognition of penalty points and offences committed in other jurisdictions. It seems this issue is becoming much more important in terms of enforcement. As the numbers of foreign drivers and foreign cars on the road increase, it is important that we be in a position to exchange information with the authorities in other jurisdictions on offences committed in those jurisdictions. It is important that we be in a position to recognise the equivalent of penalty points and disqualifications imposed in other jurisdictions. What is the purpose of the section? Having recognised the validity of foreign licences, are we in a position to recognise disqualifications imposed by foreign courts?
Section 8 recognises foreign licences and provides that the Minister may, by order, recognise a driving licence issued by another country for the purpose of exchanging it for an Irish one. This does not happen automatically. Driving licence exchange arrangements operate in respect of licences issued by member states of the European Union and European Economic Area. These arrangements are based on provisions of the Road Traffic (Licensing of Drivers) Regulations 1999.
On the issue of exchange arrangements pertaining to licences issued by states outside the European Union, a number of countries, such as Australia, South Africa, Switzerland, South Korea, Japan, Jersey and the Isle of Man, have been declared recognised states for licence exchange purposes by order under the regulations. It is now considered that the power in the regulations to declare such countries as recognised states may be ultra vires and require primary legislative provision and therefore section 8 is included in the Bill.
Foreign licences are only recognised for exchange purposes where the licensing system in the foreign country in question meets the standards required by the EU directive on driver licensing and where there is reciprocal recognition of Irish driving licences in that country. It is interesting to note that Great Britain and Northern Ireland do not have a reciprocal arrangement with Ireland in respect of penalty points. We are in discussions with the United Kingdom at official level to bring one about and I have discussed the matter with my UK counterpart. There should be a reciprocal arrangement and it is important that it includes both the Republic and Northern Ireland.
The recognition of penalty points throughout Europe is very much at the embryonic stage and the Minister and I would like to see further developments in this regard. If a foreign licence is exchanged, the licensee then holds an Irish licence but a licence issued in another member state does not attract penalty points awarded on Irish roads. We are anxious to pursue this and I hope some progress can be made at European level.
On can drive with the French licence if one wishes. A tourist would not be anxious to forfeit his or her French licence just as an Irish citizen on holidays in France would not be anxious to forfeit his or her Irish licence. One cannot hold more than one licence and one must forfeit one or the other.
If a French person using a French licence is awarded penalty points while driving in Ireland, do these points attach to the French licence? If not, I would not bother to exchange my licence for an Irish one if I were coming here from France to live for a year.
I appreciate that. Are they recognised in Ireland in respect of the French licence? If a French citizen living in Ireland for two years commits a number of driving offences exclusively in Ireland and is awarded 12 penalty points, does his possession of a French licence make him immune?
I understand the Senator's motivation for tabling this amendment but the existing provision is sufficiently broad to allow regulations to be made that specify the procedure and checks that must be in place to ensure that not more than one licence can be issued in respect of a given licence category. The proposed amendment would be somewhat restrictive and confined to certain systems. It may not include all administrative arrangements put in place to achieve the desired objective.
I move amendment No. 76:
In page 13, lines 26 and 27, to delete paragraph (p).
The purpose of this amendment is to delete paragraph (p), which alludes to the fees licensed instructors may charge for courses of instruction. It is very restrictive to legislate for the fee one can charge because there are different standards and levels of driving instruction. I hope all instructors will be teaching the same skills but some driving schools will have single operators while others will operate on a national basis. Some will feel they must charge more than others because they believe they are operating to a higher standard.
The Minister of State should accept my amendment because the requirement that all instructors must charge the same fee, as implied in the existing provision, is anti-competitive. Some operators will feel they are better than others and therefore entitled to charge more. Others may believe they should be charging much less and therefore it is anti-competitive also. I ask the Minister of State to accept the amendment.
Paragraph (p) outlines the fees licensed instructors may charge for such courses of instruction. This enables the fees to be charged by driving instructors for compulsory courses of instruction to be regulated. The main purpose of the provisions in the previous paragraphs (m), (n), (o) and also (p) is to provide for the introduction of compulsory initial practical training for motor cyclists. That is not an unreasonable provision to include in the Bill as it seeks to control a charge which will be levied on an individual to meet regulatory requirements. I recognise, however, that there may be concerns that the imposition of such a control may dissuade service providers from offering the necessary training. I will consider that aspect before Report Stage tomorrow and come back to the Senator on it. I see the danger of such a control being dissuasive, which is not what we want to achieve. We want to entice people to do this. I will consider the issue.
Section 10(2)(q) states that the fee is to be paid to a licensing authority in respect of the supply by the authority of information relating to a licence. Is that a new charge? Does it mean that when a person applies for a licence he or she must pay a fee to get the information?
The purpose of this drafting amendment is to make it clear that a person who is caught driving while disqualified is liable to heavier penalties in the new subsection (5) rather than the lesser penalties in subsection (2).
I move amendment No. 90:
In page 16, to delete lines 15 to 24 and substitute the following:
"(a) a person who contravenes subsection (1) is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction where at the time of the commission of the offence—
(i) he or she had been the holder of a driving licence (other than a learner permit) which had expired beyond its period of validity for a period of not more than 12 months before the commission of the offence, and
(ii) he or she has received adequate warning from the licensing authority that the driving licence (other than a learner permit) has expired beyond its period of validity,
to a fine not exceeding €1,000."
This amendment places an onus on the local authority, where a person's licence is out of date and he or she is to be prosecuted, to notify the holder of the licence that the licence is out of date. There should be some format for notifying people that their licences are out of date.
A licence is a very important document to each and every individual. I appreciate the Senator's concern that licence holders may not be aware that their licence has expired and that they should receive reminders from local authorities. Arrangements are now being made with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which holds and administers the national driver file to which we have access, to have renewal notices issued to licence holders.
It should be noted that a significant number of licence holders will have changed address in the ten-year period of their licence and will not receive the notice if they have moved. If they have moved there is an obligation to advise the local authority of their new address. If an amendment along the lines proposed by Senator Burke were inserted, people who had let their licence lapse could plead that they had not received a renewal licence and that would weaken this provision considerably.
We have catered in the Bill for what Senator Burke is proposing in that licences will issue but it is the responsibility of individuals to ensure they have a current licence. To accept this amendment would put too great an onus on us when we are making arrangements with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to issue notices. That goes part of the way towards catering for the principle in Senator Burke's amendment.
They will be doing that. As I explained, arrangements are being made with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which holds the national file, to have renewal notices issued to holders. I am sure they will receive those but if they have changed address there is an obligation on them to inform the relevant local authority. If they do not do that and the licence is not received, they could use the defence that they did not receive it through no fault of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the local authority or the file. Only those who change address, therefore, would have a difficulty. If they were waiting on a cheque from a Department they would readily inform the relevant Department. It is only a matter of them informing the local authority that they have moved, and I believe we are talking about a very small percentage of people.
I move amendment No. 93:
In page 17, before section 13, to insert the following new section:
13.—The Principal Act is amended by the insertion the Principal of the following new section after section 55:
"55A.—(1) A person shall not park a vehicle—
(a) whose weight unladen exceeds maximum permitted weight,
(b) whose weight laden exceeds maximum permitted weight, or
(c) any part of which transmits to ground greater weight than maximum permitted weight.
(2) A person who contravenes subsection (1) of this section shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction—
(a) in the case of a first offence, to a fine not exceeding €80, or
(b) in the case of a second or any subsequent offence, to a fine not exceeding €200 or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for any term not exceeding three months or to both.".
This amendment makes it an offence to park in an area in which weight restrictions are in place. For example, lorries above a certain weight should not be allowed to park in a housing estate. Amendment No. 98 seeks to increase the number of penalty points for vehicles driving in weight restricted zones. Amendment No. 99, I believe, is based on amendment No. 85.
There should be restrictions imposed as regards some areas, for example housing estates, as I have outlined, where vehicles above a certain weight may not be parked. The amendment makes provision for penalty points to be imposed where such an infringement occurs.
I want to speak to amendment No. 98, which is tabled in my name. The Minister of State will be aware that in the suburban settings of large cities such as Dublin, Cork, or wherever, the local authorities are regularly asked by community organisations whether three-tonne weight restriction areas, for instance, may be put in place. The local authority establishes a committee, gets Garda advice and a decision is taken. Let us say a three-tonne weight limit zone is put into a residential area to prevent heavy goods vehicles and lorries driving through a locality where ostensibly there are houses and communities. I am asking the Government, in this amendment, to apply penalty points for a heavy goods vehicle above a certain weight if it is found they are encroaching on an area. It is evident the Garda does not enforce this.
Penalty points would at least be a significant arm of enforcement in terms of a commercial company. The drivers, in effect, would not be receiving the penalty points, but the company. It is important to do this, not just from an enforcement, but also from a community viewpoint. The community looks to the local authority to enforce the law in this regard, but it is not being done.
I ask the Minister of State to give consideration to this, to extend the penalty points for this specific area, so that if heavy goods vehicles and lorries are rattling through housing estates over traffic calming measures, barriers, etc., where children are playing, there should be very strict enforcement. The way to do that is through penalty points. It has been put to me by one organisation in my area and it has asked me to seek to get it incorporated into the legislation. If it is not possible by way of this amendment, perhaps the Minister of State might give the matter some thought and come back to it in the other House. Nonetheless, it would be a sensible extension of the role of the penalty points system. It would put pressure on the Garda to enforce the law once the local authorities had established three-tonne weight limit restriction areas.
I am dealing, first of all, with amendment No. 93 in the name of Senator Paddy Burke. It proposes that a new section, section 55A, be inserted in the Road Traffic Act 1961 to provide that a person shall not park a vehicle whose weight exceeds a maximum permitted weight and to specify the penalties to apply on conviction on the grounds of a contravention of the parking prohibition. The present position is that in respect of the use of a vehicle or a combination of vehicles on a public road, the Minister for Transport has regulated under section 12 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, specifying the maximum permitted unladen weight, the maximum permitted laden weight and the maximum permitted weight to be transmitted to ground by any part of a vehicle. It is an offence for any person to contravene the permitted maximum weights prescribed by the Minister. If he or she is not the owner of the vehicle, such owner and the person shall each be guilty of an offence. A section 12 contravention is scheduled to be a penalty point offence.
The offence of using a vehicle that exceeds the maximum permitted weight in any of the circumstances regulated for is scheduled in the First Schedule to the Road Traffic Act 2002 to attract one penalty point on payment of a fixed charge and three penalty points on conviction in court. Amendment No. 98 in the name of Senator Brian Hayes relates to the First Schedule to the Road Traffic Act 2002, which sets out the offences to which penalty points can be applied and proposes a change as regards the existing provision in respect of offences under section 12 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. At present the three offences under section 12 of the Act of using a vehicle that exceeds the maximum permitted rate are scheduled to attract two penalty points on payment of a fixed charge and three penalty points on conviction in court. Senator Brian Hayes proposes in this amendment two penalty points and a charge or four penalty points on conviction in court. We both agree and accept the principle. We both agree that it should be two penalty points on payment of a fixed charge and otherwise three penalty points, whereas Senator Brian Hayes says it should be four penalty points. In line with the principle involved, I believe that the three penalty points will be effective.
I ask the Minister of State to give serious consideration to Senator Brian Hayes's amendment. As an urban representative, I believe this is more prevalent in cities than in rural areas. As an urban representative, however, as with Senator Brian Hayes, seeking to have these permits or bans put into local areas, the Garda seem to ignore the problem for some reason and local residents do not even phone anymore to complain that vehicles over the limit are parked in their areas. Oftentimes they park in playgrounds or adjoining tennis courts and they take up large areas. These are often articulated vehicles which are parked for entire weekends in play areas and cause grave inconvenience. They will have gone by 6 a.m. on a Monday, having arrived at 8 p.m. on the previous Friday. I believe the present system is not working adequately and I ask the Minister of State to seriously consider Senator Brian Hayes's amendment.
The key problem is peak traffic time for those vehicles going through areas. As Senator Morrissey has said, there are other problems, associated with people parking those vehicles over a weekend or for a day or so. We need to send out a very strong message in the legislation that this is not permissible. Businesses, wherever they operate, have a responsibility to abide by the law. The way to get the message through to businesses which continually flout the law in this area is to indicate that it will come down heavily on them. If their drivers are caught in residential areas they will be fined, receive penalty points and the law will come down hard on them. That is the only way they will take any notice and that is the message the Bill needs to send out. I ask the Minister to examine the matter again rather than giving the House a definitive view on it now.
It is interesting that there was some disagreement in what I had heard from the Department and from our own people on this issue. It has now been clarified that penalty points exist, but I believe they are not enough. We need to come down heavily in this regard. We are not coming down heavily on drivers because they are working for a business. However, they cause enormous encroachment in large-scale residential areas, particularly around peak-time. They know the rat-runs and the short-cuts and they use them to best effect. They go over speed bumps and will use whatever roadways are available even though, as Senator Morrissey said, the roads may be beside play areas. It is not acceptable in this day and age that large articulated lorries can be allowed to go through residential areas. I ask the Minister of State to give the matter further consideration.
Perhaps it is a fixed charge we should be looking at. If the companies are prepared to pay the fixed charge, both Senator Brian Hayes and I are at one on this, two penalty points plus a fixed charge. For those who are not prepared to pay the fixed charge, I believe in this regard that it is a matter of enforcement and that the two penalty points and a fixed charge should have the desired effect. I fully agree that these areas should not be used as rat-runs. We are all familiar with the sign that states that the maximum weight is 3.5 tonnes and that there is no entry for these vehicles, except in certain circumstances, such as pick-up points for furniture removals. I appreciate that is not the point being made by the Deputy. They should not be going through residential areas where children are playing, nor should they park there overnight or at weekends.
It is at the discretion of the Minister to increase penalty points. If it is required to do that, I will recommend it to the Minister, but there is very little between us on this issue.
I agree with Senator Hayes. There are two issues in these amendments, namely, heavy goods vehicles doing rat-runs and parking in residential areas. A licence could be issued to cover trucks involved in furniture removals, housing construction and so on.
The Minister for Transport has power to declare offences to be fixed-charge offences for the purpose of enforcement under section 103 of the Road Traffic Act. The purpose of these amendments is to amend section 14 of the Bill to extend the range of offences that can be declared to be fixed-charge offences, and to provide that offences under the Road Transport Acts or any statutory instruments implementing certain European legislation can now also be deemed to be fixed-charge offences, subject to regulations being made by the Minister. These offences relate to road haulage and passenger transport sectors. This would enable departmental transport offices — soon to be part of the Road Safety Authority — to issue fixed-charge notices to hauliers or bus operators who are stopped at checkpoints and are found to be breaking road transport licensing laws.
I intend to table two further amendments to this section on Report Stage. One is a minor technical amendment, while the other will rectify an omission in the provisions of the Bill before us. I believe these amendments will be welcomed by the sector as minor offences should be dealt with by fixed charges and penalties rather than in court.
"(3A) In a case referred to in subsection (2), if the offence is an offence referred to in subsection (1)(b), the references in subsection (2) to a member of the Garda Síochána are to be read as including references to a transport officer (within the meaning of section 15 of the Road Transport Act 1986).".
The amendment to section 3 of the Local Authorities (Traffic Wardens) Act is a mirror amendment of that to section 103 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. This amendment relates to the service of fixed-charge notices through affixing of the notices to vehicles by local authority traffic wardens, and the reference to that in any subsequent prosecution of the fixed-charge offence in question.
Amendment No. 98 has already been discussed with amendment No. 93, but I would like to point out a correction in the list of amendments supplied to Senators. There should not be an asterisk before amendment No. 98, as it is not a Government amendment.
The Bill provides that the offence of using a liable vehicle without having a speed limiter fitted will attract penalty points. Section 16(2)(e) of the Bill updates the legislative basis for the application of penalty points for speed limitation device offences. This technical amendment to section 16(2)(e) provides that offences relating to the installation of a non-approved and unsealed speed limitation device in vehicles will also constitute an offence for the purpose of penalty points.
I move amendment No. 102:
In page 22, line 9, in column 4 of the Table, to insert "2".
This amendment relates to the NCT test. We have heard much about this test in the past 18 months. If a driver does not have an NCT disk on his or her car, he or she currently does not receive any penalty points. However, the driver may be brought to court where he or she can receive five penalty points. These amendments will provide that the driver can receive two penalty points before going to court, or four penalty points in court. The current enforcement of the letter of the law is very severe and this amendment would be more appropriate.
The purpose of the inclusion of Part 8 to the First Schedule to the Road Traffic Act is to make the offence of not having a valid certificate of roadworthiness for a commercial vehicle a penalty point offence. Part 8 removes the anomaly in this offence, as the equivalent offence for not having a valid NCT certificate for a car has been listed as a penalty point offence since 2002.
The penalty points regime to apply under Part 8 is identical to that which is already in place for the NCT certificate offence. Failure to have an NCT certificate or a certificate of roadworthiness for a liable vehicle is a serious offence. A person convicted of not having an NCT certificate for a car on two occasions within a period of three years will, in addition to the normal penalty — a fine of €1,500, a prison term of up to three months, or both — be disqualified from driving a vehicle for six months. Given that a disqualification from driving could arise as a direct consequence of being convicted for failure to have a valid NCT certificate, the fixed charge payment arrangement does not apply in regard to that offence. As the penalty points regime applying to cars and the consequential driving disqualification has been extended to goods vehicles and buses by this Bill, it would not be appropriate, for the reasons previously mentioned, to apply the fixed charge payment arrangement to this new category of penalty points offence, which Senator Paddy Burke proposes in his amendment No. 102.
Amendment No. 103 which proposes that the number of penalty points on conviction for not having a valid certificate of roadworthiness should be four instead of five, as provided for in this Bill, would introduce an inconsistency between cars and other vehicles for penalty purposes for what are essentially identical offences.
These amendments complement the powers being given to the Garda in the Bill to impound cars and commercial vehicles which do not have a valid NCT and certificate of roadworthiness, respectively. The amendments will enable the Garda to also impound EU registered vehicles that do not have a current certificate of roadworthiness from their home member state.
Yes. I apologise, I am advised it must be obtained in the country where the vehicle is registered. The owners of the vehicles would have to register their cars in this country, which it is possible for them to do.
They can do so by way of transfer of residence or by paying the relevant importation fees in terms of VAT and VRT. They can secure a certificate in their country or they can register the vehicle here.
That means that if a roadworthiness test certificate for vehicles registered in another jurisdiction have expired, owners of the vehicles cannot apply for an NCT for that vehicle here, rather they have return to their own jurisdiction to secure such a certificate? Otherwise, they would have to reregister the vehicle here to comply with the law in terms of this Bill.
Council Directive 96/96/EC specifies clearly the categories of vehicles liable to testing, the minimum frequency of testing of vehicles, the times they must be tested and the arrangements for testing. The directive requires that a vehicle liable to roadworthiness testing must be tested in the member state in which it is registered and that proof of passing a roadworthiness test issued by that member state must be recognised in other member states. The requirement that it is tested in the member state in which it is registered would preclude the Minister from making foreign registered vehicles subject to compulsory roadworthiness tests here.
Motor vehicles brought into Ireland from abroad, other than those brought in temporarily by visitors, must be registered with the Revenue Commissioners by the end of the next working day following their arrival in the State. Once a vehicle is registered by the Revenue Commissioners, it then becomes liable to roadworthiness testing in accordance with Irish law.
These amendments will strengthen the enforcement arrangements in regard to compliance with compulsory periodic roadworthiness testing by foreign registered vehicles using Irish roads. The inclusion of these amendments and this section in the Bill will be beneficial because, as the Senator is aware, many of the vehicles involved in accidents and the far too many fatalities that occur here involve foreign registered vehicles.
This provision is an interesting and important innovation. Section 19(a)(b) is broadly phrased in that it allows a vehicle to be impounded if, in the opinion of a garda, it is being used without a roadworthiness certificate having been issued in the country where it was registered. I take it from that there is no obligation on foreign drivers or drivers of foreign registered cars to display the equivalent of an NCT certificate. This section appears to allow a garda to form an opinion that, for example, a car that is registered in Poland appears to be a wreck and that he or she will impound it without any evidential requirement beyond that. Perhaps that is a good and necessary measure, but I wonder why the paragraph is phrased in that fashion.
I am advised it is a matter for each member state to decide on its own practical arrangements. A sensible arrangement is in place here whereby the certificate is required to be displayed on the windscreen of the vehicle, but if that is not the practice or law in another member state, we cannot compel foreign motorists to do that. However, a motorist must have such a certificate in his or her possession and be able to present it to the Garda. When such a certificate is displayed on the windscreen of a vehicle it is easily recognisable and it is in the interests of motorists to do so. We appeal to the citizens of other member states residing here who are not compelled to display such a certificate on the windscreen of their vehicles to do so voluntarily until such time as there is consistency across the EU in this regard.
(f) in the case of a vehicle registered in another Member State of the European Communities, the vehicle is, or a member of the Garda Síochána is of the opinion that it is, being so used without a proof of passing a roadworthiness test in accordance with Council Directive 96/96/EC of 20 December 19961 which is for the time being in force in respect of the vehicle.".
This amendment to section 21 provides for amendments of substantive provisions contained in sections 24 and 36 of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003, as amended by section 36 of the Road Traffic Act 2004. Establishment and commencement orders in respect of the provisions of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 are made under the relevant provisions of the 2003 Act and accordingly, the Bill does not provide for a commencement order under the Road Traffic Act provisions. Section 24 of the 2003 Act was commenced with the establishment of the Commission for Taxi Regulation on 1 September 2004. Accordingly, the proposed amendment to section 24(7) will apply when the provisions of this Bill are enacted.
I move amendment No. 122:
In page 27, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) Section 21 comes into operation on the Act's passing into law.".
This is a minor amendment giving immediate commencement to the Act rather than having it commenced by ministerial order. Will the Minister of State advise when section 21 will come into effect?
Section 21 provides for amendments of substantive provisions contained in sections 24 and 36 of the regulations of 2003, as amended by section 36 of the Road Traffic Act, as I noted earlier. Section 24 of the 2003 Act was commenced with the establishment of the Commission for Taxi Regulation and the amendments to section 36 will have effect on the date of commencement of the relevant provisions of the section, under the Taxi Regulation Act 2003. It is the first step towards giving full effect to the provisions of section 36, as amended.
An order has been made commencing subsections (2)(a), (3)(a) and (4) of the section with effect from 25 May 2006. The measures in these subsections give existing licenceholders or applicants who had been convicted of specified offences an opportunity to apply to the courts in advance of the full commencement of section 36 to be allowed to apply for a licence under such terms as a court may direct.
One of the amendments to this Bill is intended to clarify that in dealing with such applications the court may have regard to the person's conduct since conviction and his or her suitability to hold a licence. Further consultation will be required before a decision is taken to commence in full the provisions of section 36 of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 as amended by section 36 of the Road Traffic Act 2004. The commencement date will be determined when all the necessary arrangements have been settled in consultation with the Commission for Taxi Regulation, the Garda, the Courts Service and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. An appropriate period of advance notice of the proposed commencement of the section will be required to allow persons who may be affected by the provisions in particular existing licence holders to clarify the position with the courts, if at any stage they have not already done so.
The relevant commencement order will be made under the provisions of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003, and it is expected later in the year to make the necessary order to commence the provisions of the sections of the Bill. For that reason it is not possible to accept the amendment.