Tuesday, 20 March 2007
Roads Bill 2007 [Seanad]: Committee Stage
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
""barrier-free tolling" means any mechanism or system whereby motorway or other road tolls can be collected without the need for the obstruction, slowing, stopping or other delaying of the vehicle being tolled;".
Amendment No. 11 is a technical amendment and proposes a pass system, such as E-Toll or E-ZPass, which can be used on all roads. The present system, in which there is one payment mechanism for some toll roads and another for other roads such as the Dublin Port tunnel, is not driver-friendly.
The law as it stands does not impede the establishment of barrier-free tolling. The whole purpose of this Bill, as I outlined on Second Stage, is to strengthen the enforcement mechanisms to facilitate the introduction of barrier-free tolling on tolled national roads. While I appreciate Senator Paddy Burke's point, amendment No. 1 would make barrier-free tolling compulsory on every tolled motorway in the State regardless of the circumstances. The legislation will allow us to do that but will also allow us to be selective, enabling us to introduce it where it is necessary. If I were to accept the amendment it would cut across the statutory independence of the National Roads Authority, which was established under the Roads Act 1993, and contractual arrangements entered into with all toll operators. The Bill is designed to strengthen the legislation but roads in the west are different from those in the north.
The amendment relating to the interoperability of electronic toll cards is equally important and very practical. It makes sense to use one card for all roads. The National Roads Authority is addressing the interoperability of electronic toll cards in this regard among various toll operators and I can confirm to the House that a fully interoperable electronic card will be available within not too many months. I hope that is acceptable to the House and to Senator Paddy Burke and I ask him to withdraw the amendment in that context. I have no difficulty with the principle of the amendment but negotiations are ongoing and will shortly result in one electronic toll card for all roads.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 3, before section 2, to insert the following new section:
2.—The Minister shall be politically accountable to Dáil Éireann for the activities and actions of—
(a) the National Roads Authority,
(b) the Road Safety Authority, and
(c) the proposed Dublin Transport Authority.".
We have tabled this amendment on a number of occasions. It puts the responsibility for answering parliamentary questions onto the Minister because the situation which now obtains is not satisfactory. When a Minister is asked a question on the National Roads Authority he passes the buck by saying it is the responsibility of the authority. Such a situation also applies in regard to the Health Service Executive. When local authority or Oireachtas Members ask questions relating to the HSE the Minister for Health and Children similarly passes the buck. The amendment makes the Minister for Transport accountable for the National Roads Authority, the Road Safety Authority and the proposed Dublin transport authority by compelling him to answer relevant questions. It is a reasonable amendment whereby such bodies would be made accountable to the Dáil, which represents real democracy.
The amendment refers to political accountability. As Senator Paddy Burke has pointed out, the issue has arisen in respect of many other bodies, such as An Post or the HSE, where the respective Ministers are politically responsible for their activities. In this case, the Department of Transport is responsible for the National Roads Authority and the Road Safety Authority. The Minister has political accountability and regularly answers questions on matters of policy relating to those bodies, as well as on any other matters for which we have statutory responsibility. Specific questions are a matter for the National Roads Authority, NRA, the Road Safety Authority, RSA, or the proposed Dublin transport authority.
We set out the policy in respect of roads in the national development plan and, more specifically, Transport 21. Detailed implementation of that policy is a matter for the Road Safety Authority or the National Roads Authority. In his or her role as the appointing authority for the boards of these bodies, the Minister of the day is also accountable for their general performance.
Under the public service modernisation programme, which predates the current Government, it has been the practice to clarify the roles, responsibilities and accountability of Ministers, civil servants and public agencies. The Public Service Management Act clearly distinguishes between the respective roles of Minister and, for example, Secretary General. The proposed amendment would turn back the clock to a time when organisations similar to the NRA and RSA were part of Civil Service Departments and had no scope to take independent technical and professional decisions.
I appreciate the issue raised by Senator Paddy Burke. When I entered the Houses, one tabled questions regarding when a specific road might be approved, when a telephone might be installed, etc. However, the position has changed now. I assure the House that I will ask the various agencies to ensure queries from Members of the Oireachtas are responded to within a reasonable timeframe. Heretofore, if a question was submitted in writing to the Minister of the day, it would be answered within a number of days. Under the old system, and depending on the number of questions tabled for oral reply, a Minister could be expected to answer questions in the House for weeks on end and, consequently, it took much longer to obtain replies. I hope there is a balance between that system, which was in place in the 1980s, and that which obtains now.
All the relevant agencies are anxious to ensure that questions tabled to them or representations made to them will be responded to within a reasonable period. I will be raising this matter with the Minister, Deputy Cullen, and the various agencies at our next meeting. If I were to accept this amendment, I would be obliged to go beyond matters relating to the NRA, the RSA and the Dublin transport authority. The system in place came about on foot of a major policy decision that has been supported by successive Governments since we departed from the old regime. I regret that I am not in a position to accept the amendment.
Like other Oireachtas Members and local authority representatives, I feel strongly about this issue. Accountability to the Dáil reflects the real heart of democracy and the Minister of State realises that. While he did his best to appease me in his reply, I do not believe I can accept it because I feel so strongly about this matter. Oireachtas Members have seen their powers eroded over the years and this represents a further erosion. We have an opportunity here to regain some of the ground that has been lost over a long period. It is not too much to ask to make the agencies in question accountable to the Dáil. I intend to press the amendment.
It is important that these agencies should be accountable to the Minister when he requests answers from them. I understand from where Senator Paddy Burke is coming in respect of this matter. However, the onus should be on the authorities to answer any specific questions put to them by Oireachtas Members or the Minister. The latter should not be responsible for answering questions from Members.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 10 (Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Ulick Burke, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Brian Hayes, Mary Henry, Joe O'Toole, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan)
Against the motion: 30 (Eddie Bohan, Cyprian Brady, Michael Brennan, Peter Callanan, Margaret Cox, Brendan Daly, John Dardis, Geraldine Feeney, Liam Fitzgerald, Camillus Glynn, Brendan Kenneally, Tony Kett, Michael Kitt, Terry Leyden, Don Lydon, Marc MacSharry, Martin Mansergh, John Minihan, Paschal Mooney, Tom Morrissey, Pat Moylan, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Mary O'Rourke, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Eamon Scanlon, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators P. Burke and Cummins; Níl, Senators Minihan and Moylan.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 4 is a Government amendment. Amendments Nos. 6, 12 and 19 are related and, with the agreement of the House, amendments Nos. 4, 6, 12 and 19 will be discussed together.
Government amendment No. 4:
In page 6, line 1, to delete "service of".
These are drafting amendments and technical changes, and there is a minor consequential change. Amendment No. 4 is a drafting amendment to remove the words "service of" in page 6, line 1 of the Bill, as these words are superfluous. Amendment No. 6 is a drafting amendment to section 7(a). Amendment No. 12 is a technical change so that the subsections will appear as subsections (5) and (6) of the new section 12 proposed under amendment No. 8. Amendment No. 19 is a minor consequential change to section 19 of the Principle Act. This amendment is necessary to correct a typographical error in the originally published version of the Bill.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 15, before section 11, to insert the following new section:
11.—(1) A local authority may make a bye-law under Part 19 of the Local Government Act 2001, to regulate parking for mechanically propelled vehicles in a specific area within its functional area.
(2) Such bye-law shall specify—
(a) the specific area covered by the bye-law,
(b) the persons or category of persons who are covered by the bye-law,
(c) the occasions on which the bye-law shall be in force,
(d) the length of time for which the bye-law shall be in force on each occasion, and
(e) such other factors as the Local Authority may deem appropriate.
(3) A local authority shall exercise its functions under this section where it deems it necessary to restrict parking referred to in subsection (1) to residents of the specific area only.".
I have raised the issue which amendment No. 7 seeks to address on several occasions, including on Second Stage of a previous transport Bill. My amendment deals with areas such as the streets around Croke Park, where people are prisoners in their own homes during football matches, concerts and other major events. The issue has been brought to my attention by Councillor Pascal Donoghue, who has been repeatedly contacted by residents of the Croke Park area. These residents have a terrible time and feel under siege during sell-out events in Croke Park.
The people of the area deserve some peace, so I hope the Minister of State accepts my amendment. However, I note that he has tabled a similar amendment. The Minister for Transport assured me on Second Stage of the previous transport Bill that he would address the issue in this Bill but I am disappointed that he did not do so. Amendment No. 8 was probably introduced in response to my amendment.
Government amendment No. 8 encompasses the principles expressed in Senator Paddy Burke's amendment. We are anxious to find a practical solution to the difficulties that arise in terms of parking on public roads, whether adjacent to Croke Park or around O'Donnell Park in Letterkenny, where Donegal plays Kerry next Sunday.
One glove does not fit all hands. Amendment No. 8 introduces a framework which, as the Minister, Deputy Cullen, indicated on Second Stage, will allow local authorities to take the necessary actions. Subsidiarity should be considered in this context and I do not believe any Member would wish to introduce legislation in micro-form. Local councillors should be able to introduce bye-laws to address issues of parking congestion on public roads or the environs of sports stadia. The amendment gives local authorities the power to introduce bye-laws regarding parking at entertainment events and sports fixtures. I acknowledge Senator Paddy Burke's contribution on this issue.
It is not a question of forgetting to address the problem. The imposition of restrictions of prohibitions and restrictions on parking on public roads is a complex matter and advice had to be obtained from the Office of the Attorney General. The new section provides for a prohibition on parking around specified venues or events, the issuance of permits to residents, regulatory traffic signs, consultation with the Garda and general public, publication of notices and various ancillary matters. It will also make three minor amendments to the Road Traffic Acts, two of which are typographical while the third is technical in nature. Amendment No. 18 is consequential to amendment No. 8.
While I do not accept Senator Paddy Burke's amendment, amendments Nos. 8 and 18 fully reflect his intentions. I hope, therefore, that the amendments receive cross-party support. They introduce a framework, after which it will be a matter for local authorities to act on a case-by-case basis.
The Minister of State states that amendment No. 8 encompasses my amendment. Our main concern should be to allay the fears of the people living adjacent to Croke Park and other venues by helping them to cope with the problems they face during major events. They have suffered significant trauma on many occasions and it is not the nicest experience to be a prisoner in one's own house every weekend. I welcome the introduction of amendment No. 8 and hope it will empower local authorities to deal with traffic at events.
36A.—(1) A road authority may, in respect of a specified event or events (such as a sporting or entertainment event) at a specified venue or venues, in the interests of safety of road users and preventing traffic congestion, make bye-laws in accordance with this section for the purpose of prohibiting or restricting the parking of mechanically propelled vehicles on all public roads in specified areas or on a specified public road in its functional area.
(11) Where a mechanically propelled vehicle, not exempted under bye-laws made under this section, is parked on a public road at a time immediately in advance of the coming into operation of bye-laws made under this section applying to the road, the vehicle must be removed from that road before the commencement of the operation of the bye-laws as indicated by the traffic sign referred to in subsection (7).
(a) fails to keep or display a permit or other means of identification as specified in the permit or regulations made under section 35 or bye-laws made under section 36 or 36A, when the vehicle to which the permit relates is being driven, parked or otherwise being used by the person under it in respect of the exemption or permission concerned,
(5) When the driver or person in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle who contravenes subsection (4)(a) or (b) is not the registered owner of the vehicle but authorised to drive or use the vehicle by the owner and the vehicle is not the subject of a hire-drive agreement, then the registered owner is also guilty of an offence.
(iii) exempting the permit holder from the application of prohibitions and restrictions applied under this section to specified traffic from entering or using specified roads, upon payment of a prescribed fee, if any, and the disposal of such fees and different fees may be prescribed in respect of different classes of permits.",
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 16, before section 13, to insert the following new section:
"13—(1) The Minister may, by order, introduce mandatory testing for any intoxicant that he or she deems appropriate.
(2) In making an order under subsection (1), the Minister shall have regard to Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1994 and any regulations made under it.
(3) Any testing under regulations under this section shall be carried out in the same manner as is prescribed in section 4.".
This amendment relates to drug testing and drug driving and it would give the Minister the power to implement regulations for the drug testing of drivers. The National Advisory Council on Drugs and the chairman of the Road Safety Authority, Gay Byrne, have raised this issue in recent weeks. While I do not agree with Mr. Byrne regarding the legalisation of certain drugs, he has raised the issue of drug driving, which is also a problem in other countries. When members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport visited Australia, we saw at first hand the work being done on drug testing, particularly in regard to long distance lorry drivers who take drugs to stay awake. The Australians have successfully implemented testing for a number of drugs. Whether the Government is unwilling or unable to provide for such testing, the amendment would facilitate its introduction. I hope the Minister will seriously consider accepting it because I am sure the incidence of people driving under the influence of drugs is high. We could be well surprised by the number of accidents caused by drug driving if testing were introduced and the Minister of State should examine the proposal.
Amendment No. 20 is a technical amendment.
The Road Traffic Act 2006 provides for an appropriate form of roadside mandatory alcohol testing to increase the chance of being breathalysed and to provide an increased deterrent effect. I was happy to learn from the Garda that it has acted as a deterrent, despite the number of fatalities over the weekend, including five in my own county. I would like to sympathise with the families involved. This is not the time to speculate on the reasons for these accidents and that process will take its course but the weekend was a stark reminder to us of the dangers of driving on our roads under the influence of an intoxicant, with excessive speed, without using a safety belt or while fatigued. I call on the motoring public to observe the simple rules in place and, hopefully, that will ensure the number of fatalities will reduce. One is one too many. Many families have suffered heartbreak as a result of road accidents. Who knows? Our own fate could be around the next corner. However, the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing has resulted in fewer road fatalities this year compared with last year. That does not give solace to the families who have lost loved ones but if their tragic and untimely deaths ensure others will be more focused in the future, they will hopefully not have died in vain.
The Garda has successfully operated MAT checkpoints since July 2006 when the relevant legislation was enacted. More than 30,000 drivers have been tested every month and the increased deterrent effect has been reflected in the reduction in road fatalities and collision rates since last August. Section 49 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, as inserted by section 10 of the Road Traffic 1994, clearly prohibits the driving of a mechanically propelled vehicle by a person while under the influence of an intoxicant, which includes alcohol and drugs or a combination of both. Enforcement of the law on drug driving is a matter for the Garda. When a member of the force suspects a motorist is driving under the influence of an intoxicant, he or she may arrest the suspect under section 49 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. Unlike alcohol, for which legal limits are set out, no such limits are in place for drugs. While it might be perceived the law does not deal with those driving under the influence of a drug, legislation is in place to deal with them.
No feasible basis is in place for the introduction of a scheme of preliminary roadside testing for drugs, which would allow for mandatory testing similar to mandatory alcohol testing. Testing devices are still in the prototype stage and, therefore, the Department of Transport and the Medical Bureau of Road Safety are keeping abreast of developments in this area. We will keep the matter under review. The primary purpose of the Bill is to provide the necessary statutory basis to facilitate the implementation of the free flow open road tolling or barrier free tolling on toll-based national road schemes through the provision of an appropriate deterrent for non-payment of tolls. However, that does not prevent the Government or the Opposition from tabling amendments unrelated to the principal purpose of the legislation. We are in ongoing contact with the Medical Bureau of Road Safety and we are keeping abreast of developments but no feasible basis is available in Europe for the introduction of a scheme. However, if a garda is of the view a person is driving under the influence of an intoxicant, which can be a drug or alcohol, that can be dealt with under section 49 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. The public would like a mandatory drug test to be introduced and I am not opposed to it, but it is not feasible currently.
I agree with the Minister that the public would like such a test to be introduced. He stated that a test has not been introduced in Europe. Does that mean the test would have to be introduced in Europe before it could be introduced in Ireland?
No, a feasible basis for the introduction of a scheme for roadside drug testing has not been established but the Department and the Medical Bureau of Road Safety are monitoring developments.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 16, before section 13, to insert the following new section:
13.—(1) The Minister shall, as soon as may be practicable after the commencement of this Act, by order—
(a) put such structures in place as he or she deems necessary to ensure that the standard of driving in Ireland is maintained and improved,
(b) put such pre-conditions in place as he or she deems necessary, for candidates who wish to take the driving test, and such pre-conditions may include, inter alia, a requirement that candidates undergo a prescribed number of driving lessons before being allowed to sit the driving test.
(c) review and update the driving test and driver theory test so that—
(i) each examination conforms to international best practice,
(ii) the driver testing process reflects safe driving practices,
(iii) each examination has regard to persons who—
(I) are hearing impaired,
(II) do not speak Irish or English as defined by the Official Languages Act 2003,
(III) have literacy difficulties, or, in the case of the driver theory test, difficulty operating a computer, or
(IV) have a physical disability,
(d) a detailed report of the results of test, including all of the following:
(i) whether the candidate passed or failed the test;
(ii) where he or she made errors;
(iii) what areas the candidate could improve;
(iv) in the case of a candidate who has passed, what further actions he or she must take to obtain a licence; and
(v) in the case of a candidate who has failed, how he or she can reapply for the test,
is made available to each candidate.
(2) On a regular basis, the Minister shall cause a drivers' training manual, to be produced and updated, and such manual shall contain—
(a) the Rules of the Road,
(b) advice on safe driving, and
(c) such other information as he or she deems necessary and appropriate.".
The purpose of amendment No. 14 is to reform the driving test. Everybody agrees it should be reformed and there is much scope for so doing. There is no reason our driving test should not be as good as those elsewhere in the world. I ask the Minister of State to look seriously at this because we really need to reform the driving test.
Amendment No. 15 gives the Minister power to require motorcyclists and learner drivers to do a certain amount of tuition before they do a driving test, which is not the case at present. It is a natural requirement that motorcyclists and learner drivers do a certain amount of tuition. In some cases they receive tuition but in many others, they do not. Tuition should be mandatory.
Amendment No. 17 proposes to regulate driving instructors. At present there is no regulatory body or regulation in regard to driving instructors. Amendment No. 21 relates to driving testing regulation. I ask the Minister of State to accept these amendments.
The driving testing service operates under the provisions of section 33 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 and in accordance with the regulations made under it. The driving test is also governed by requirements of EU directives which stipulate the manoeuvres to be carried out which are also set down in regulations under section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1961.
The Road Safety Authority, RSA, is responsible for the operation of the driving testing service, in accordance with the regulations, and for the operation of the driving test theory. The standards for the delivery of these services by the Road Safety Authority already take account of the matters raised in the amendments proposed by Senator Paddy Burke.
In regard to preconditions being imposed on candidates for driving tests, such conditions would have to be set out in regulations. The Minister has already made appropriate amendments to the Road Traffic Act 2006 and to section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 to provide that regulations may be made requiring that provisional licence holders undergo training before a driving test.
In regard to driving standards, the RSA is responsible for ensuring as part of the operation of the driving testing service that a uniform standard of driving test is delivered. The RSA also has a general duty as set out in section 6 of the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 to promote better driving standards.
In regard to driving instruction, the RSA will be designated as an approved body to issue instruction certificates in accordance with regulations made under section 18 of the Road Traffic Act 1968, as amended by section 19 of the Road Traffic Act 2002. The RSA has completed a consultation process on the designation of instructors and is in the process of establishing a register of driving instructors, with registration of new instructors to commence on 1 July 2007 and the registration of all instructors to commence on 1 July 2008. There was a long consultation process and details and regulation in this regard will be brought forward sooner rather than later.
There is no power in the Road Traffic Acts to regulate driving schools as the provision in section 18 of the Road Traffic Act 1968, as amended by section 19 of the 2002 Act, is intended to regulate individuals while giving driving instructions. This will achieve the objective ensuring a proper standard of instruction is delivered, whether by an individual driving instructor or through a driving school. The question will be dealt with in a short period now that consultation has taken place. Instructors will be check tested at regular intervals and if found not to meet the required standard, they can be removed from the register. It will be a matter for the instructors to take appropriate steps to bring their standard of instruction up to the required standard.
The main purpose of the Bill is to provide the necessary statutory basis to facilitate the implementation of free-flow open road tolling. It is important, however, that these matters are raised by Senator Paddy Burke and that I respond giving the current position. Progress is being made and the 2006 Act gives the Minister power to introduce regulations as we move forward. We listen attentively to the RSA which, as the Senator possibly knows, will present the Minister with its 2007 strategy.
I expect it will be introduced quite soon because from 1 July 2007, a person wishing to become an instructor for the first time must undergo the registration process. That will involve proving one is a person of good repute. A person must pass a test of knowledge on driving theory and an extended driving test. There is a lead-in time. The 1 July 2007 date is written in stone. Existing instructors must comply by 1 July 2008.
I refer to the increase of speed limits from 100 km/h to the maximum of 120 km/h on roads such as the Naas dual carriageway, the N4, the N6, the Ennis bypass or the Buncrana bypass. Many roads are dual carriageway standard but the speed limit on them has not been changed to the maximum speed limit. The Minister said on Second Stage that this legislation would allow for that. Will the Minister of State outline the timeframe in which the speed limits will be changed? Does this Bill give the power to local authorities, the National Roads Authority or another body to do so?
This legislation will allow us to redesignate high quality dual carriageways to motorways. I cannot give the Senator an exact timeframe. It is being dealt with by the National Roads Authority. I will prevail upon it to act as quickly as possible taking into consideration any practical issues which may arise.