Tuesday, 16 December 2008
I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this matter this evening. I wish to speak about two separate but related issues on road safety. In the run-up to Christmas and with the dark evenings we are all conscious of safety. We opened a new fire station in Moville yesterday and the difficulties faced by the emergency services at this time of the year were to the fore.
Traffic islands are an issue throughout the island of Ireland, and the North is no different from the Republic in this regard. When I ask the NRA about traffic islands the answer I always receive is that they are lit. However, they are not all lit. Sometimes the lights do not work. I am also told that they are all painted. However, the fact that they are painted is only effective during the day, and during the day it is not an issue. It is at night that the issue arises. A simple suggestion is to place a couple of cats eyes on the cement base of the traffic islands. This would increase visibility and ensure people in cars have the best opportunity to see them. When they see the island they will be much more aware of pedestrians who may be standing on it mid-point crossing from one side to the other.
I had to raise the issue in this way because I contacted the Minister directly on a number of occasions and I was told it was a matter for the NRA. When I went to the NRA I was told it was a matter of road safety. It goes around and around and I cannot get anybody to take responsibility for the issue. Some of the roads are not NRA roads, they are local authority roads. Will the Minister of State establish who has the capacity to deal with this matter? Will it be done on a North South basis with the Minister in the North? As I stated, both sides of the Border are as bad as each other and it is as dangerous on either side.
Like all of my colleagues, I drive a great deal and I am on the road most of the time. I also walk a great deal when I am in Dublin. This evening, as I crossed Kildare Street I saw a number of cyclists going around with no visibility aids whatsoever. When something happens it can be the cyclist's fault or the motorist's fault but if one is not visible one does not help the chances of people avoiding one.
In the good old days when there was no technology a dynamo ensured there was always light on a bicycle. In this age of technology will the Minister of State, if he has special responsibility for this, examine at European level the manufacturing of bicycles to ensure they are manufactured with an in-built light? It should not be technologically impossible at this point in time to be visible when cycling.
We should step up a campaign with regard to what one should wear when cycling. The other day, I walked the two miles from here to where I stay. A total of 25 bicycles passed me at various points on the journey, of which 13 had absolutely no visibility aid on either the cyclist or the bicycle, approximately three cyclists had a florescent strip on their bodies and another four had something on the front or back but not on both front and back. Accidents are waiting to happen due to the non-lighting of bicycles and the non-visibility of traffic islands. Both issues can be easily solved and I ask the Minister of State to take an interest in this area.
The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Mary Hanafin, had to rush away after dealing with the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008 and she asked me to thank the Senators for their co-operation on the Bill.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue. The Government has invested significant resources in the area of road safety in recent years. The Road Safety Authority was established in 2006 and is doing much to improve driver behaviour and training. Under the Roads Act 1993, the National Roads Authority is specifically charged with the provision of a safe and efficient network of national roads.
To discharge this function the NRA invests significant funds in identifying and improving sections of national primary and secondary roads which are the scenes of accidents. They achieve these safety improvements through a combination of various low-cost improvements such as better road markings, the use of continuous white lines, improved advanced signage and the provision of additional road studs, or as they are more popularly known, "cats-eyes". Other more expensive remedial works can involve re-alignment of bends, improvement of sight lines at junctions or the removal or rationalisation of junctions if considered necessary.
The NRA and the local authorities employ skilled professional staff who are responsible for implementing safety measures on our roads. It is not my intention to issue them with directions on specific issues such as the deployment of cats eyes. A range of measures are available and the NRA and the local authorities have experts and they do what is appropriate. It would not be appropriate for me to tell them what they should or should not do on specific roads. Otherwise, we might as well take it all back into the Department.
Running alongside the safety remediation work is the much bigger national roads programme. Under this programme the roll-out of the major interurban routes continues at a rapid pace. These new high-quality dual carriageway or motorway type roads provide a much safer road network by separating local and regional traffic streams and providing less opportunity for collisions. As these new sections of road are opened they take the heavy through traffic away from the increasingly inadequate single carriageways. These revert to being used by local traffic which makes them safer.
All of the Government agencies work in their individual areas of expertise and together have a beneficial impact on reducing the sad death toll on our roads. Overall, Ireland saw a considerable reduction in fatalities last year which was much improved on ten years previously when in 1997, the number of people killed was 472 people. Last year this figure was 339. We have seen further improvement this year and the latest figures show that as of today, the number is down more than 50 on the same period last year.
According to the European road safety performance index programme, which is run by the European Transport Safety Council, Ireland is now ranked in the top ten best performing EU countries for road safety performance based on current trends. Last December was a particularly horrific month. One must be conscious of road safety at this time of the year but there is a real chance that the number of fatalities this year might fall below 300. However, 300 is 300 too many as it means that this Christmas 300 families will be mourning the loss of a loved one. As well as those who are killed, approximately ten times this number, or 10,000 families, will be coping with the effects of a serious injury to a family member. The road safety strategy is in place and its overriding aim is to reduce fatalities to 60 per million or 250 a year.
The legal position on the lighting of bicycles is unambiguous. For use in a public place, bicycles must be fitted with a white front light and a red rear light. They must also be equipped with a red rear reflector. A person who fails to comply with these requirements faces a fine of up to €1,000. Persons who use a bicycle at night without proper lighting, as well as breaking the law, are putting themselves at serious risk through their own irresponsible behaviour. The matter of cyclists' visibility is primarily one of personal responsibility and it is difficult to see how action at European level would lead to improved behaviour. The rules of the road offer clear practical advice to cyclists to make themselves less vulnerable, such as attaching reflective material to their bicycles, wearing a reflective armband, and wearing a "Sam Browne" reflective belt or vest.
A new cycling strategy is currently being finalised and is expected to be announced early in the new year. This will address all issues relevant to cycling with the intention of creating a greater culture of cycling. I thank the Senator for raising the matter.