Wednesday 8th Feb 2017
Minister's Opening Address at The Joint Oireachtas Committee
Thank you Cathaoirleach, I would like to thank the Committee for the invitation to come here today and discuss road safety.
I think that we will all agree that the increase in road fatalities in 2016 to 188 is very disappointing. While the number of fatalities in 2015 at 162, as a result of a road traffic collision, was the second time in the last five years that record low numbers were seen, the reality is that each of those deaths is one too many. Notwithstanding that there has also been an upward trend in road fatalities over the last few years in both Europe and in the US, we must all work harder to ensure that the upward trend here at home is reversed.
I am working tirelessly with my officials in the Department and the Road Safety Authority to tackle the main causes of serious road collisions causing death and major injuries. We have identified the four main causes of death and serious injury on our roads; speeding, intoxicated-driving, the use of mobile phones and the non-wearing of seatbelts, so our road safety strategy must now place a renewed focus on addressing these four killer behaviours.
To improve road safety we need to keep up the pressure on all fronts –
· Education and awareness,
· Driver training and vehicle standards.
On all these fronts, I am actively considering what measures can be introduced to curb the devastating rise in road deaths last year and to reverse this trend. With my department and local authorities we continue to push forward with this multi-pronged approach.
Both my partners and I in road safety – the Road Safety Authority, the Department of Justice and Equality, An Garda Síochána, the local authorities, the Health and Safety Authority and the Office of the Attorney General, are now meeting quarterly to work together to tackle the upward trend in road deaths.
I convened the latest meeting of the Ministerial Committee on 12 January and have arranged a further meeting to take place next month. At our last meeting in January I very much welcomed the assurance by An Garda Síochána that there will be an increase of 10% in the traffic corps during the course of 2017 resulting in more check points and greater enforcement of traffic law, and that road safety enforcement is a priority in the 2017 Garda Policing Plan. I have recently asked that the Medical Bureau of Road Safety join the Committee and make its expertise in the area of intoxicated driving available to our discussions on tacking such killer behaviour.
The Road Safety Strategy 2013 – 2020, which sets out the Governments plans in relation to road safety and contains 144 separate actions, is currently undergoing a midterm review and a meeting of stakeholders to facilitate this review, part of which I attended, was held in Dublin Castle last November. The Road Safety Authority is currently completing a report on this review, which I understand will be presented to me in the coming weeks.
Regrettably, there is no single action or “silver bullet” to decrease the number of deaths and serious injuries from collisions on our roads. There are heavy penalties under Road Traffic legislation to ensure that those detected are severely punished, and the Road Traffic Act 2016 contains further measures to make our roads safer.
That Act, which was signed into law in December 2016, includes new road safety measures dealing with drug driving, mutual recognition of driving disqualifications with the UK and a new optional 20 km/hr speed limit in built-up areas. These new provisions will be commenced as soon as possible.
I am extremely concerned about the statistics around intoxicated driving, and I am determined that this area will be tackled as a matter of urgency.
The RSA’s research indicates that alcohol was a contributory factor in 38% of collisions in the period 2008 – 2012. An Garda Síochána’s recent Drink Driving Campaign, which ran from 1 December to 8 January, resulted in 961 arrests for drink-driving, a 35% increase on the same period last year. Driving under the influence of alcohol therefore continues to be a major problem and the highest risk group identified is young, male drivers – indeed, drivers under the age of 44 accounted for 70% of intoxicated drivers in 2015, with 81% of all intoxicated drivers being male.
Even more shockingly, the Medical Bureau of Road Safety data for 2015 indicates that 60% of those detected driving intoxicated were over twice the legal alcohol limit, 20% were three times over the legal limit, and a shocking 22% were four times over the legal limit.
While various hard hitting measures like Mandatory Alcohol Testing, the lowering of the drink driving limit and the introduction of tougher penalties has had a profound effect on the vast majority of drivers, there is still an average of 152 drivers arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence each week. Clearly this is just not acceptable.
To that end, I am concerned that in certain cases where people have breached the alcohol limit while driving, the awarding of 3 penalty points sends out the message that it is not a serious offence. I therefore intend to remove the current penalty, and to replace it with a disqualification period, so that all people who are found to be drink-driving will receive an automatic disqualification from driving. I believe that amending the law to ensure that all those detected engaging in such dangerous behaviour receive a disqualification will help to send the message that driving under the influence is never acceptable.
My Department has drafted the heads of a Bill to provide that all drivers who are caught drink driving receive this mandatory disqualification from driving. This has been circulated to Ministers for comments by 9 February, and I intend to bring it to Cabinet on 14 February. I am determined that this Bill will be enacted as quickly as possible, and in doing so, I propose to ask both Houses for their cooperation in this matter by not proposing any amendments to this single issue and very focused Bill.
In addition to this particular Bill, my officials in the road safety area are also working on four other Bills this year, which is somewhat unprecedented but entirely necessary.
The Road Traffic (Prüm Decisions) Bill 2017 relates to the exchange of vehicle registration and driver data for the purposes of combating cross-border crime and terrorism. This Bill will provide the legal basis for one element of the requirements under the Prüm Decisions, with the legal basis for the exchange of fingerprint and DNA data coming under the remit of my colleague the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality. I intend bringing a Memorandum to Government in that regard as soon as possible.
The Road Safety Authority (Amendment) Bill 2017 will provide for other road safety matters, including the provision of a database of disqualified drivers, and to strengthen the vires of the functions of the Road Safety Authority. Preparations are currently underway on this Bill, and I hope to bring the draft Heads of that Bill to Government later this year.
The Road Traffic (Master Licence Record) Bill 2017 will provide the necessary vires for my Department’s National Vehicle Driver File Master Licence Record Project. The Master Licence Record Project will for the first time link vehicles to drivers, and make this information available to other stakeholders such as An Garda Síochána, which will be of considerable assistance in road safety enforcement.
Work will commence in the coming months on a Road Traffic (Compulsory Motor Insurance) Bill to help clarify, simplify and improve existing motor insurance legislation, including an examination of the Motor Insurers’ Bureau and its role regarding uninsured driving. Possible amendments of legislation arising in the light of recent European Court of Justice decisions will also be included in that Bill.
I am determined that in 2017 we will reverse the trend in road deaths we saw last year in co-operation with An Garda Síochána and the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality and I am particularly encouraged by the recent assurance I have received from An Garda Síochána and from the Tánaiste that there will be an increase of 10% in the traffic corps during the course of 2017 resulting in more check points and greater enforcement of traffic law, and that road safety enforcement is a priority in the 2017 Garda Policing Plan.
Ireland is currently ranked in 5th position in terms of best performing road safety countries across the EU. While I recognise that in light of the recent fatalities trends, maintaining that position will be very challenging, I do believe that if we all refocus our efforts we can reverse the upward trend and save more lives.