Road Safety Motion

October 16th, 2007 - Pat Breen

^ Private Members’ Business. ^

^ Road Safety: Motion. ^ Tuesday 16th October 2007

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

— recognising that Ireland continues to have one of the worst records in Europe for reducing road deaths according to a recent report by the European Transport Safety Council;

— recognising that drink driving is still commonplace and a major contributor to road accidents;

— alarmed that road deaths are up 35% in the past two months compared to the same period last year; and

— noting the Taoiseach’s written promise on 30 April 2007 to introduce without delay compulsory alcohol testing for drivers involved in accidents causing injury;

calls on the Government to introduce legislation, within three months, to provide for compulsory alcohol testing for drivers involved in accidents causing injury, whether it be at the accident site or in a hospital.

I wish to share time with Deputies Clune, McHugh, Creed, Mitchell, Breen and Deenihan.

Deputy Pat Breen: We have all watched the graphic road safety advertisements on television depicting the carnage on our roads. The latest publication and statistics from the European Transport Safety Council show that Ireland is fifth from the bottom of the European league in terms of reducing road deaths. That indicates the Government’s policy is failing and more families will suffer the same fate if action is not taken.

Portugal had one of the worst road safety records in Europe but has now surpassed Ireland in terms of providing improved infrastructure, building new motorways and taking motorists off dangerous roads. As previous speakers stated, other countries have followed suit. France has increased its number of speed cameras by 1,100.

In my constituency of Clare, to date this year nine families have suffered the loss of a loved one, including the family of the late William Ryan of Ennis who died tragically yesterday morning. I extend my sympathy to the family. The fire and rescue services in County Clare have reported an increase in the number of road accidents in the county between January and August of this year.

During this period they attended a total of 168 road accidents, an increase of over 31% on the same period last year. Some 60% of the incidents occurred between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

One the main factors contributing to road deaths in Ireland is alcohol, which was a factor in 36.5% of fatal crashes, of which 62% were single occupant fatal crashes. Some 89% of drivers where alcohol was a factor were male, with the weekend periods the worst time for alcohol related crashes. With regard to Garda numbers in County Clare, to date this year 410 people have been arrested in the county for drink driving offences, which compares to 262 arrested for the same offence in 2005.

The majority of accidents occur on regional roads. As the statistics from Portugal demonstrate, improving the road structure can make a difference in reducing road deaths. The Garda Síochána has identified and targeted road sections of between 5 km and 8 km in length where collisions particularly occur, known as collision prone zones. In an analysis of the past ten years, seven people have been killed on the N68, the Kilrush to Kilkee road, seven have been killed on the N67, the Lisdoonvarna to Kilkee road, and eight have been killed on the R352, the Ennis to Tuamgraney road, not to mention those injured. While the €18.9 million allocated for local road improvements in Clare is a fair sum, it is not enough if we are to improve regional roads and make them safe to drive on.

An obvious contributing factor in many road deaths is speed. In County Clare, between the introduction of the penalty points system and 31 March 2007, 3,900 drivers have amassed penalty points on their licence. While the majority of these drivers are at the bottom of the scale on two penalty points, one driver has 12 points. The Garda must be given resources to implement speed controls on the roads as the penalty points system has proved a Garda presence will deter people from speeding and that driver behaviour can improve.

Road traffic enforcement can be transformed if we continue to invest in technology and equip the law enforcers with the technology they need. The introduction of automatic number plate recognition, forensic collision investigation and fixed charge processing systems are important initiatives which will help to put greater emphasis on policing. However, we also need to ensure that legislative changes, particularly with regard to drink driving, complement the technological advances so we can reduce the number of road deaths. It is unacceptable the Government is breaking its promise to introduce mandatory testing for alcohol and drugs for all motorists involved in accidents that cause death or injury. To suggest that compulsory testing could jeopardise the survival of motorists is nonsense. It is important drivers are tested after accidents.

While technological improvements in the area of drug testing are not yet good enough, drug driving is a major problem. A garda must still obtain a blood sample if he is to test a driver for drug use, which is very different from the position regarding testing for alcohol. Advances in this area are needed to deal with the growing drug problem while driving on our roads, particularly given the success of the implementation of random breath testing for alcohol.

I am delighted the Minister and the Taoiseach have settled their differences with regard to compulsory testing. It is our job, as legislators, to introduce compulsory alcohol testing on the roads without further delay. Too many families have been destroyed as a result of fatal road accidents. It is important that we act immediately to reduce the number of deaths on our roads.