First of all Minister, I would like to commend you in being highly progressive in the legislation you have presented since assuming office. This is the fifth road traffic bill you have instigated. Any constructive legislative measures aimed at reducing the number of lives lost on our roads are to be welcomed and applauded and this Bill is another step towards doing that.
The provisions in the Bill build on the successful legislation already introduced – which has led to a dramatic reduction in fatalities on our roads in the last two decades.
In recent years – a new culture surrounding road safety in Ireland has been fostered through awareness campaigns and education programmes under the patronage of the RSA. To date, there has been notable success – particularly in combating the prevalence and perceived acceptability of drink driving.
However, I believe the greatest challenge the Government and the RSA, now face is complacency. It is clear that work needs to continue to reduce the threat of road accidents and the inevitable loss of life. It is disappointing that the number of road fatalities increased last year compared to 2012. This highlights the difficulty and challenge we face in trying to continue to reduce the number of road accidents and fatalities.
The Bill contains a number of welcome provisions, particularly the introduction of a new category of novice driver who will remain in this category for two years after he or she passes the test.
Further welcome provisions include lower penalty point disqualification limits for both learner drivers and novice drivers, with the limit reduced from 12 points to six. That will no doubt focus minds on driver behaviour, particularly younger male drivers in their early 20s – a category that presents a particular problem that needs to be addressed.
The most up to date RSA show statistics show that 26% of all deaths in 2013 were aged 25 & under. This figure is down from 40% in 2009 so fortunately the trajectory is progressing in the right direction – but it still represents over a quarter of all road deaths which is unacceptable.
The legislation also provides for amendments to the penalty points system. It will introduce a new range of offences and provides for a reduction in the penalty points accrued for failure to display a national car test, NCT, disc. That is a sensible approach. Since the NCT was introduced, the standard of vehicles has improved greatly.
There is no doubt that penalty points are seen by many as being harsh – but we must educate people to see them as incentives for better behaviour on the road rather than impediments or severe penalties.
The provision to take blood from an incapacitated driver without consent is also welcome. Anybody involved in an accident should be tested, even if he or she is incapacitated. It does not make sense that this is not done currently. Under the Bill, a sample can be taken without consent and subsequently tested with consent. This is a sensible approach. It must be noted also that Fatigue, something we cannot easily test for, is an issue and it leads to many accidents.
In conclusion, we should not lose sight of the progress that has been made within the last two decades. Between 1997 and 2012, there was a 65% reduction in road deaths, in the same time period the number of cars increased by 66%. Although the numbers of road fatalities did unfortunately increase in 2013. I believe this Bill will strengthen the measures that are required to continue the good work.