Committee on Finance. - Road Traffic Bill, 1966: Committee Stage (Resumed).

Thursday, 18 May 1967

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 228 No. 10

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Question proposed: “That section 23 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): I should like to say that I am against the introduction of a general speed limit. The section, as it stands at the moment, proposes to give the Minister authority

To make regulations prescribing, in respect of all public roads, or all public roads with such exceptions as may be specified in the regulations, a speed limit (which shall be known as a general speed limit) for all mechanically propelled vehicles.

The Minister already has under the Act of 1961 very considerable powers to impose speed limits where necessary and he has made regulations providing speed limits in built-up areas.

[1196] There are two approaches to this section which proposes to introduce a general speed limit. One school of thought takes the view that this might tend to encourage driving up to a fixed limit; in other words, that it might encourage some people to drive faster than they would normally drive. The Minister has heard the story of the passenger who said to the rather slow driver when he came into the built-up area: “You can now do 30”. One school of thought thinks that if there is a rather high general speed limit fixed people might be encouraged to drive up to that limit. However, another school of thought takes the view that there is really no necessity for a general speed limit, that outside the built-up areas where speed limits already exist, there is no congestion problem whatever, that the roads are fairly good and are not carrying a very heavy flow of traffic. As I have already said, sections 44 and 46 of the Act of 1961 seem to give the Minister adequate powers.

I raise these points on this section to get the Minister's views and to hear from him what speed limit he has in mind as a general speed limit for every road in the country and why he thinks it necessary to introduce such a speed limit.

Mr. Booth: Information on Lionel Booth  Zoom on Lionel Booth  I am in favour of this section in principle but I would support some of the points made by Deputy Fitzpatrick. There is a danger that a speed limit which is the maximum also becomes the minimum. We must learn by experience in other countries. The experience in Britain has been that the speed limit on the motorways has produced new hazards rather than reduced the old ones. If there are a considerable number of vehicles travelling on a good main road or motorway, all travelling at the maximum permitted speed of 70 miles an hour, it only needs one slight emergency at the head of the line to produce a chain reaction right down. Nobody can brake sufficiently quickly to avoid a general pile-up. Therefore, I would not be in favour of high general speed limits because I feel they are more of an incitement to speeding [1197] than the reverse. The greater the variety of speed at which traffic is moving on the road the better because it means there will be gaps between vehicles. The real danger arises when vehicles are travelling more or less bumper to bumper at comparatively high speeds.

There has been some useful experience gained in other countries by the introduction for short periods of fairly low general speed limits. The periods I am thinking of are, for instance, round about Christmas when there is a lot of celebration going on and when the casualty rate is unusually high. Over a holiday period there is not the same necessity for high speed. People are only going out for amusement, they are not going on business and not keeping to strict timetables. They are not keeping appointments as regularly as they would during business hours. There is something to be said for introducing a low general speed limit at periods of heavy traffic density, during holiday periods, at bank holidays. Easter or over Christmas. I would ask the Minister to look into that very carefully.

The trouble is that driving on the roads is difficult enough and the less variation in regulation we can have the better. I have found, driving on the Continent, that it is almost necessary to have a navigator as well as a driver because of the multiplicity of signs giving instructions and information at a rate which a driver cannot assimilate without distracting himself from his main job of controlling his vehicle. Therefore, I would hope that we would be very careful about introducing a number of different speed limits. However, I hope the Minister will seriously consider introducing, at certain very dangerous times of the year, a general speed limit, but make it low.

I am not all that keen on speed limits generally because a lot of dangerous driving takes place at low speeds. However, if it is to be a general speed limit, I would prefer it to be a general speed limit round about 40 m.p.h. over a holiday period because very many people might survive that period who would not otherwise do so. [1198] Even if everybody goes at 40 miles per hour, the chances of a serious accident are very much reduced. Once we come to the higher speed levels, I am not at all happy that a general speed limit on the main roads of 60, 65 or 70 miles per hour is desirable at all. That tends to make people try to drive up to the speed limit instead of at the normal safe limit they settle for themselves.

Minister for Local Government (Mr. Boland): Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  What I am doing in this section is taking permission to prescribe speed limits. There is no decision taken to impose an overall speed limit, nor is there a decision taken as to what this limit should be. It appears from experience in other countries that the imposition of overall speed limits has desirable effects. It is generally accepted that a reduction in speed reduces accidents. It certainly reduces fatalities and serious injuries in accidents. Accidents will continue to occur whether or not we have an overall speed limit, but obviously the likelihood of accidents proving fatal or resulting in very serious injury increases in proportion to the speed at which the vehicles are travelling.

Investigations have been carried out both in America and in Great Britain. In Great Britain speed limits have been imposed for an experimental period and the Road Research Laboratory has made a study which is summarised in a document entitled Research on Road Safety and published by that laboratory. I do not intend to quote from it at length but it deals with some of the arguments advanced here and deals quite effectively with them. The report points out that the practice of vehicles travelling at the same speed is not dangerous in itself, provided the drivers leave sufficient distance between themselves and the vehicles in front of them. Head to tail accidents are not caused by speed limits but by the fact that few drivers realise how long it takes to stop a vehicle travelling at speed.

One of the arguments put forward against this is that it encourages people to drive up to the limit, irrespective of the road or the traffic conditions. This [1199] is a question of the attitude of mind of the individual, and does not arise directly from the imposition of a speed limit. It is hard to see why the fact that there is a speed limit at which a person is legally entitled to go should encourage him to drive at a speed in excess of that at which he would drive if the speed limit were not there. The Road Research Laboratory in Britain found no evidence to suggest that where a speed of 70 mph was imposed the majority of drivers were encouraged to drive up to that limit.

This experimental speed limit of 70 mph was introduced in Great Britain on 22nd November, 1965, on all roads which were not already subject to lower speed limits, and the conclusions reached as a result of that were to the effect that an overall speed limit, even though it was not universally observed, had a considerable effect in reducing road accidents. During the first three months of 1966, the reduction in the fatal and serious casualty rate on trunk roads and Class I roads with speed limits of 50 or 70 mph was 13 per cent compared with the same three months in 1965. On other classes of roads, the reduction was between three and seven per cent. The slight casualty rate changed in much the same way. Again, on the motorways, on the M.1 and the M.4 there were statistically significant reductions of about 20 per cent in the injury accident rate during the trial period compared with corresponding periods for earlier years. There appears to have been no significant increase in the proportion of head to tail accidents on the M.1 since the introduction of the 70 mph speed limit, so the fears which have been expressed are hardly justified.

I do not visualise imposing a general speed limit straight away or without a great deal of study taking place. It is highly desirable that before we impose a general speed limit, even on an experimental basis, we should have surveys and studies conducted, and it is my intention to ask An Foras Forbartha to conduct such surveys before any decision is taken to implement this. I think it is a desirable [1200] power to have and I ask the Dáil to grant it.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): This is another example of giving the Minister a blank cheque when he does not know how he will spend the money. One would have thought that when the Minister comes into this House and asks for a fairly far-reaching power like this, he would have reached the conclusion that a general speed limit was necessary, and that he would be able to give the House some indication of the speed limit he had in mind. On the contrary, the Minister comes in here and stands over a section in the Bill which proposes to give him the right to impose general speed limits and at the same time tells us it has not yet been decided to impose speed limits of this kind, nor has he given any consideration as to whether the upper speed limit should be 50, 60 or 70 mph.

I imagine that when we come to the stage at which we have motorways all over this country, on which it might be possible to drive a car at 90 or 100 mph, these speed limits might be necessary, but we are very far from that state of affairs here yet. As I said already, outside the built-up areas, the rates of speed are tolerable and the volume of traffic comparatively light. Apparently the fears expressed by Deputy Booth and me that these maximum speed limits might be the minimum speeds have been expressed elsewhere as well as here. I am afraid I cannot accept that the Minister has made any case for this section, and I am against giving him these very wide powers, especially when he has not come to firm decisions, or even approximate decisions, on how he will use them.

Mr. Booth: Information on Lionel Booth  Zoom on Lionel Booth  I am with Deputy Fitzpatrick to some extent but I should like to make it perfectly clear that I am in favour of the section generally because I think it gives a power the Minister should very properly have. I do not know whether it is a matter of which side of the House one is on, but I feel very much happier after what the Minister has just said. At this stage [1201] if we were to put into the Bill more precise details as to limits and circumstances, we would be introducing an arbitrary decision. I am quite happy if the matter is kept under review by making certain experiments and judging the results as we go along. It is a matter of trial and error.

I wish to reiterate a point I made earlier, that we are dealing with human nature rather than mechanics in this matter. It is all very well for the Road Research Laboratory in Great Britain to say they find no evidence of this or that and that as long as cars can be a significant distance between one another, nobody will hit anybody else. That is obvious. The difficulty is that human nature being what it is, traffic tends to pile up. Unconsciously and unwillingly, one finds oneself creeping up on the car in front and in next to no time you have ten, 12 or 20 cars running nose to tail. That is a human nature problem which we must keep under review at all times because people react unpredictably to changing circumstances.

If the Minister proposes, as he has indicated, to go into the question of speed limits in a careful way, trying out this and that and analysing the results, I am perfectly happy. This section is phrased in the only way it could be phrased at this stage and I am happy with it. Presumably the regulations the Minister may make under the section will be laid before the House. I do not know whether they have to be—I meant to check on it before I rose. If they are, I think that is a sufficient protection. It will give us an opportunity, if necessary, of discussing them further when they are made and before they come into effect.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): I assume that all the various crops of regulations provided for in the Bill must be laid before the House. I do not think it is provided for in this Bill but probably it is in the Principal Act. Not alone will the regulations require to be laid before the House but before they are scheduled or signed by the Minister, they should also be submitted to the motoring organisations in the country—the two of them—because [1202] only in that way will they be carefully considered and will Members of the House be alerted, so to speak, and, let us be frank about it, briefed, so that they can deal with the regulations when they come before the House.

While I still have considerable doubts about the wisdom of giving such wide powers to the Minister, especially when he has no firm idea of how he will use them, I would be a little more at ease if I had an assurance from the Minister that draft regulations would be submitted to the motoring organisations, who represent a considerable body of motorists in the country, before they are signed and laid before the House. If I had that assurance, it would go a long way to putting my mind at ease in the matter.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  In regard to the description of this section as a blank cheque, I want to say that I do not believe anybody has any real doubt that reduced speeds would very probably result in a reduced accident rate and certainly in a reduced rate of serious casualties. In other words, it must be agreed that reduced speeds are desirable if reduced speeds can be achieved practically and without creating the other danger to which Deputies have referred. Any evidence that is available to date seems to show this can be done.

Deputy Fitzpatrick suggested we should wait until this research has been completed before we even ask for the power to introduce overall speed limits. I do not think that is a reasonable suggestion. We have this Bill before the House now; it will take us a considerable time to enact it and we know that reduced speeds are desirable if we can achieve them. It is, therefore, desirable that this power should be there, if it is found practicable, to introduce speed limits rather than that we should wait until all the research has been completed and then go through all the processes of drafting a new Bill and bringing it in here. This is an urgent matter, but at the same time, I agree the research must take a considerable amount of time. [1203] It is still urgent and if, as I expect, it is shown to be in the best interests of road safety to introduce an overall speed limit, I think we should be able to do that as quickly as possible.

As Deputy Booth said, I appreciate that human nature, being what it is, comes into this but we must face up to the fact that human nature, in the form of people in charge of motors on the roads, will have to be educated and controlled as far as possible. I indicated already that all these matters will be the subject of full discussions with the organisations concerned, including the motoring organisations. This is an aspect of the Bill which is particularly appropriate for that and certainly the views of the motoring organisations will be very valuable and will be sought.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The Minister did not say that reduced speeds would reduce the number of accidents. Perhaps I took him up wrongly.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  I said the probability of reduced speeds reducing the accident rate is not as certain as that they will reduce serious casualties.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  I quite agree. Accidents resulting from high speed driving are more likely to kill or maim but that does not mean that the fast driver in good conditions is the person responsible for those accidents. Far too many people suffer from other shortcomings. Personally, I believe that while one car is probably safe at 70 to 75 mph on a good road, another car is a menace at half that speed. If that aspect is considered properly, it might help to reduce the number of accidents. I wish to impress on the Minister—I do not think I need to— that if we continue at our present accident rate, it will be only a comparatively short number of years until every person in this country has been involved in a motor accident, considering it from the point of view of the number of people killed and injured on our roads in present circumstances. The entire question must be approached in the manner the Minister [1204] suggests: there will have to be a definite look at it.

Deputy Fitzpatrick referred to organisations. Here again we run into trouble. The cross-section of the Irish public represented in this House are perhaps in a better position to speak for what is happening than a particular motoring organisation, which in most cases is following a certain line. That line is not the one which is going to reduce accidents.

I would like the Minister to consider seriously the question of motor lorry traffic. Without being too critical of it, the practice building up in this country of three, four, five or six lorries, often with trailers attached, driving nose to tail at fairly high speed, making it impossible for ordinary traffic to pass, is one of the biggest causes of accidents I know of. I understand there is some regulation which can deal with this. I would ask the Minister to ensure that it be dealt with specifically and that we do not have a continuance of this practice.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  I would like to make one or two comments on the points raised by Deputy Tully. I am in favour of the Minister having a say in an overall speed limit for the country. We heard a lot of talk about the motoring organisations. I am a member of a well-known motoring organisation and, as such, I am absolutely in favour of the introduction by the Minister of an overall speed limit.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  We are all in the AA.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  Yes. Many cars today are not designed for the high speeds at which they are being driven. There is no such thing as a reliable car. Every car is subject to a defect in some part, and it is at high speeds that these faults appear. No one can guarantee that a car will not break down in some way. It is a well-known fact that the vast majority of fatalities occur in cars driven at high speed. I do not think anyone will disagree with that. There should be an overall speed limit of 70 mph. No one should need to drive faster than that. If he is in a hurry, he [1205] should leave in plenty of time to get to his destination.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): At least the Deputy has made up his mind. The Minister has not.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  I am suggesting to the Minister that there should be an overall speed limit of 70 mph, which could be reduced to 50 mph at holiday week-ends. This has had an effect in Britain, where it has been put into operation.

I would like to support Deputy Tully in regard to these big lorries travelling nose to tail. If there is a regulation there already, the Minister should be able to summon these people.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Not summon them, just warn them.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  No, summon them for driving in a dangerous manner. You can get the fellow in a hurry who has to overtake two trucks. It is a terribly dangerous thing.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  I am fairly well in agreement with the last views expressed. I know an accident involving a fast driver and a slow driver is not necessarily caused by the fast driver. I quite appreciate that. Plenty of slow drivers may be quite bad drivers and may be the cause of accidents. Deputy Tully said some vehicles are more suitable for driving at a fast rate than others. At the same time, if the speed of a fast driver involved in such an accident is controlled, he has a better chance of surviving and a better chance of avoiding a sudden and unexpected emergency. I believe that an overall speed limit would be a protection for everybody.

I also appreciate that this problem of a number of heavy lorries, often with trailers attached, proceeding along the road together is a serious one. It will be possible to deal with that in the manner Deputy Fitzpatrick is so enamoured of, by regulation.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): This question of heavy lorries raised by Deputy Tully also brings to mind the condition of some of the roads. When you get this sort of heavy traffic [1206] on the road from Dublin to Navan— or, let us be specific, from Dublin to Clonee—the position becomes impossible. Certainly, speed is not the cause of the trouble there. If a motorist finds himself behind a heavy, slow-moving vehicle between the city and ten or 12 miles out——

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  To the Meath border.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan):——there is a great temptation to try to edge one's way past this vehicle. It is high time some thought was given to the roads in that area from the city here to, as the Deputy says, the Meath border.

Mr. Booth: Information on Lionel Booth  Zoom on Lionel Booth  On the question of the laying of the regulations before the House——

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): Section 5 of the 1961 Act provides for it.

Mr. Treacy: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  In regard to the proposal to have an overall, blanket speed limit, may I take it this would have the effect of doing away with the present speed limits in the towns and villages?

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  No.

Mr. Treacy: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  I am glad to hear that. I want to be somewhat critical now and say that the present speed limits in some cases extend too far beyond the villages and towns concerned and, in other cases, the signs appear to be erected in the wrong position. I know of one village, not ten miles from Clonmel, where a speed limit is in operation. The speed limit zone takes in a relatively straight stretch of road, on which there is a creamery, but fails to take in the main part of the village where there are two public houses on an extremely bad bend. What authority has the Minister to ensure that, when speed limit signs are being erected, they take in the most important features of the towns and villages concerned? This is a particularly ridiculous case, and I might say that the village is Ballymacarberry. Clonmel.

I would like to ask the Minister a very important question. Those of us [1207] in public life have been inundated with requests from residents of towns and villages where there is as yet no speed limit, and where cars career through at any speed they like, where there is an obvious threat to life. In many of these villages the people are panic stricken. They have made representations to us. We have submitted the requests to the Minister's Department. When we raise the matter with the local authority that additional speed limits be applied in certain towns and villages, invariably the reply is that it is a function of the Minister for Local Government and that it is up to him to take the necessary steps to have the speed limits applied.

I would ask the Minister to say at this stage when he hopes to take upon himself the responsibility of dealing with the multitudinous requests pouring into his Department for the application of speed limits in towns and villages where speed limits are not already imposed. It is up to the Minister to make the order. Our pleas are of no avail unless the Minister can indicate when he will review the whole question of speed limits and permit us to have them applied to places where they are desired by the populace.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  The existing speed limits were the first attempt and I suppose it was inevitable that there would be some mistakes, some anomalies, some inconsistencies in the manner in which they were applied. As I have indicated on a number of occasions, a comprehensive review on a county by county basis has been proceeding for some time now and it is fairly well advanced. It has been completed in a number of counties and it is expected that it will be fully completed by the end of this year. It is to be hoped that when that review is completed, all these mistakes and anomalies will be rectified and that the built-up zones which were left without speed limits and in which it is now felt that speed limits are required will also be dealt with. That review is proceeding as rapidly as possible and, as I have said, it is expected that it will be completed by the end of [1208] the year and we hope that these matters that have been causing a lot of worry to all public representatives will be satisfactorily dealt with.

Mr. Treacy: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  May I ask the Minister when it is hoped to deal with the new applications for speed limit zoning?

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  They will be dealt with at the same time.

Mr. Treacy: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  At the end of the year?

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  By the end of the year.

Mr. Booth: Information on Lionel Booth  Zoom on Lionel Booth  I should like to issue a word of warning to the Minister, even though it may be unnecessary. There is not only a safety element involved in these applications for speed limits where they are not at present applied; there is a question of the prestige of a small village. I have had experience of people coming to me and saying: “Why have we not got a speed limit in our area?” the main trouble being that another area has got a speed limit and they feel that their area is being downgraded by not having a speed limit. This is something we have to be careful about because this is not a prestige matter. I hope the Minister will be guided strictly by the safety element. If traffic is unnecessarily slowed down, congestion on the roads will increase. The main purpose of a road is to get traffic moving. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be quite resolute in his review and ensure that speed limits are applied only where safety requires them and will not yield to pressure which is being exerted simply to show that one small village is at least as good as the next one.

Mr. Treacy: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  I should just like to intervene here to disabuse Deputy Booth of the idea that there is any question of prestige involved in respect of the representations for which I have been responsible as to the application of speed limits in various towns and villages in my constituency. Those representations were not made for prestige purposes or because one village was vying with another. A speed limit is primarily for the purpose of protecting the inhabitants of a town [1209] or village. Indeed, in some cases, the area concerned might not be regarded as a village. The inhabitants could rightly take offence at their locality being described as a village. Many of the places concerned are towns with reasonable populations, certainly more than 1,000. It is not a question of prestige. It is a question of taking reasonable precautions for the welfare of the inhabitants and to safeguard them against speedhogs who career through these places at fantastic speeds.

Let us all agree that speed limits have proved to be a dissuading influence on speedhogs. When a motorist sees a speed limit sign, it prompts him immediately to take the boot off the accelerator and to exercise restraint and caution. Where these signs are not seen at the entrance to a village or town the tendency is for motorists to speed through.

I am appealing to the Minister to expedite the erection of additional speed limit signs purely in order to ensure that children are not massacred or the lives are not frightened out of elderly persons by speedhogs.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  We seem to have gone on to section 24.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): I was going to suggest that the discussion was probably more appropriate to the next section which deals with special speed limits. Did I understand the Minister to say that he did propose to submit these draft regulations to the motoring associations?

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  Yes, there will be full discussion.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): I do not believe that the motoring associations are infallible.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  But they are appropriate bodies to discuss these matters.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): Nor do I believe that their suggestions must be accepted. It is their business to consider these things and to make recommendations on them. I am convinced that the regulations are much more likely to get careful consideration [1210] from the motorist's point of view if they are submitted to these bodies. That is all I am asking.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): I move amendment No. 12:

In page 17, lines 15 and 16, to delete “by the deletion of subsection (2) and”.

Section 24 of the Bill proposes to amend section 46 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, which enables the Minister to make special speed limits. I think these are the type of speed limits that we have been talking about on the last section. Subsection (2) of section 46 of the Principal Act reads:

The Minister shall not make regulations under this section save on the application of the Commissioner or on the application of the road authority concerned and shall not revoke or amend any such regulation save after consultation with the Commissioner and the said road authority.

Section 24 of this Bill proposes to delete that subsection and to confer on the Minister, through his officers, the right to impose local speed limits or amend existing local speed limits without reference to the Commissioner of the Garda or without reference to the road authority which, normally, would be the local county council or the local urban council.

On the last section we had reference to speed limit signs which were placed too far from the centre of a town or village. We had references to sizeable villages and small towns which have not been made the subjects of a speed limit at all. The Minister is much more likely to get a reasonable and a practical speed limit if he is obliged to consult the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, because if the Commissioner is consulted, he will immediately consult the local superintendent who in turn will consult the local sergeant, and the Minister will get a report on local conditions.

Furthermore if the Minister is obliged to consult and listen to the [1211] road authority, he will get the views of the local representatives and in that way local opinion will be sounded, and the Minister will be much better briefed before he fixes a speed limit. There again he will not be obliged to accept the recommendations of the Garda Síochána or of the local authority, but he will at least have the benefit of the local knowledge which consultation with these people will provide.

There seems to be a trend running through this Bill to try to concentrate absolute power in the Custom House, or O'Connell Bridge House, or wherever we are operating from at the moment. That is not a good trend. The provision in subsection (2) of section 46 of the Principal Act is a wise one, and the proposal to delete that subsection is not wise. My amendment, which I urge the Minister to accept, merely proposes to leave section 46 of the Principal Act as it was, with the deletion later on of the words “day and night” which I think probably will give a little more elbow room.

I should like the Minister to say when dealing with this amendment why he considers it necessary to delete subsection (2) and how subsection (2) hindered him or hindered his predecessor. I should like him, from experience over the past six years, to make a case for the deletion of this reasonable subsection.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  The position is that in practice section 46 has been widely used to apply 40 mile per hour speed limits on roads contiguous to built-up area speed limit zones, and in some cases to apply 40 mph speed limits to specified zones such as small villages where a 30 mph speed limit was not felt to be appropriate. This has given rise to an anomaly. Under section 45 of the 1961 Act, the application of the built-up area speed limits is completely within the discretion of the Minister, whereas under section 46 he may not make regulations to apply special speed limits without application from either the Commissioner of the Garda or the local authority.

These 40 mph speed limits which have been applied under section 46 are [1212] not isolated cases. They are part and parcel of the general pattern of speed limits and as such they must be considered in the light of speed limits generally. The operation of this subsection (2) has created difficulties. If the Department considers that special speed limits should apply to a certain road or in a certain area, then either the Commissioner of the Garda or the road authority must be requested to make formal application for it. It is difficult to expect either of the authorities to apply for a limit with which they may not be in agreement, and if both should refuse, then the Department is placed in an invidious position in that the Department is generally responsible for the speed limits in built-up areas.

The difficulty arises because the Commissioner is naturally guided in his decision to apply for special speed limits by his local officers, and the road authority again seeks the advice of its technical officers, and widely divergent views may be held by such officers as to the manner of applying speed limits. In fact, it was as a result of this diversity of opinion between local officers in different parts of the country that we have the anomalies in regard to the speed limits as they were applied in 1963, and it is this that has necessitated the current general review of these limits. That is the difficulty in regard to these special speed limits, that the Minister or the Department can take no initiative in regard to them under the subsection. The application must come either from the Commissioner or from the local authority, so that if there is an anomaly as between one area and another, there is nothing under the present law that the Department can do to rectify it and to introduce some consistency into these matters.

As far as consultation is concerned, there is now a well-established procedure whereby local technical committees representative of both the Garda and the road authorities make recommendations to the Minister as to the actual point on any road where the statutory built-up area speed limit should commence and as to the roads to which a special speed limit [1213] should apply. These committees' recommendations and all other representations are carefully considered during the general speed limit review that is proceeding at present. The local technical officers and the Garda are always consulted, so that the question of formal consultation does not really arise, but at the same time, it is surely desirable that there should be somebody in a position to ensure reasonable conformity in the imposition of these regulations throughout the country as a whole. Where there is a wide diversity of opinion among local officers, there is no likelihood of getting this conformity. I think it is the lack of conformity that has given rise to a lot of dissatisfaction with the present speed limits.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 24 agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 25 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): The section provides that where a speed limit sign is properly erected, it shall be an offence for any unauthorised person to move that sign. In Donegal, somebody was dissatisfied with the placing of a sign and people went out and removed it to another position. I assume that sign would not then be regarded as a sign which was properly erected.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  I presume it is possible to deal with that situation. It is, of course, an offence to interfere with these signs. I will look into it.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): I am satisfied the section is wide enough to cover the point I have made.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 26 agreed to.

Amendment No. 13a not moved.

Question proposed: “That section 27 stand part of the Bill.”

[1214]Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): We are now getting into Part V which proposes to impose the breathaliser and blood tests. Section 27 is the section which introduces the breathaliser test and gives the right to a member of the Garda Síochána to stop a motorist and ask him to give a sample of his breath. I shall reserve what I have to say generally about Part V until I am dealing with my amendment to section 28. I say that because, although there may be objections to section 27, the evidence which will be procured by the breathaliser really is not very important. It will not be evidence of impairment of the driver. It will not be evidence, apparently, which can be tendered in court. However, it is worth mentioning on this section that this breathaliser test is notoriously inaccurate. I have been told that, if a motorist is stopped, immediately after having one small whiskey, and a sample of his breath taken, it may well produce the same result as if he were stopped a quarter of an hour or half an hour after having seven or eight whiskeys. The breathaliser test has proved not to be reliable at all in other countries, particularly the type of breathaliser in general use.

The section gives the right to a member of the Garda to stop any motorist and take a sample of his breath. If he refuses to give the sample, he can be fined £20 for the first offence, £50 for the second and £50 or three months in prison for the third. Subsection (3) provides that a member of the Garda “may arrest without warrant a person who has been driving or attempting to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place and who, in the opinion ... is committing or has committed an offence under this section”. That subsection is really a little beyond me. I do not know exactly what it means. I should like the Minister to tell us. The only offence I can see is the refusal of the motorist to submit to this test. If he does not submit to it, subsection (3) (a) gives the garda the right to arrest him. Suppose the person goes home and goes to bed, can the garda come along and arrest him in his home? I should like to have the Minister's views generally on this [1215] section. I shall deal with Part V in more detail when we come to section 28.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  I agree with Deputy Fitzpatrick. I have certain misgivings about this breathaliser test which, as Deputy Fitzpatrick said, has been proved inaccurate. It is not a reliable instrument of measurement. However, I appreciate this will not be a test of a man's sobriety or otherwise. I, too, await with interest the Minister's comments on this particular means of testing. I should like to know whether, in fact, it is necessary to use the breathaliser at all or whether there is any reason why the garda should not exercise his own judgment, as he does at present. What really worries me is subsection (3) (b). There was a considerable amount of discussion on the Second Stage in relation to what happens to a man who knows he has too much drink taken and who climbs into the back seat of a car to sleep it off. Under this section he could possibly be charged. It would be his word against that of the garda.

I should like some clarification of this. The man is in charge of the car technically, even though he is unfit to drive. He is sleeping off the effects in the back seat. How will this affect such a driver? Many drivers stop at the side of the road when they know they have too much drink taken. Somebody else spoke about the question of evidence if he has not attempted to drive or if he has given the keys to someone or has thrown them away. I should like to hear the Minister on this.

Mr. Treacy: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  If this section is designed to shock motorists into a greater sense of responsibility towards the public at large it certainly will have the desired result. Unfortunately, in so doing, it is intended to curtail many of the fundamental rights which the motorist, as a citizen in our society, has up to now enjoyed. This section contains some very serious stipulations. It will empower any member of the Garda whenever he is of opinion that a person in charge of a mechanically-propelled vehicle in a public place has [1216] consumed intoxicating liquor, to require that person to provide a specimen of his breath by exhaling into an apparatus. It empowers the garda to stop any individual motorist and to force him, whether drunk or sober, to go through this kind of a test. We should be very careful before we place that kind of power in the hands of any man.

The possibility of the unfair or discriminatory administration of this section is something the House should guard against. It is bad enough to be stopped and asked to exhale into this kind of apparatus, which is of very doubtful accuracy, according to the sentiments expressed here today, but there is much worse to follow. There are also the stipulations in this Bill that samples of blood may be taken.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  That comes under another section.

Mr. Treacy: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  I agree. There is also the urine test—other sections, admittedly—but, in my opinion, these are very serious inroads into the fundamental rights of our people. While none of us condones drunken driving, and while we want to assist the Minister in every way in putting it down with a firm hand, at the same time, we must have regard to fundamental rights and not expose any of our people to being held up indiscriminately and forced to undergo tests of this kind without due cause being shown. There should be a reasonable suspicion that a man is under the influence of drink, and very much so, before he is subjected to the rigid provisions of this section.

I agree very largely with the sentiments of Deputy Fitzpatrick and others who said that it is with reserve and a certain amount of anxiety that we should allow these kinds of stipulations to be included in any piece of legislation. The Minister's comments will be welcomed on this aspect of the matter.

Mr. Andrews: Information on David Andrews  Zoom on David Andrews  I am not at all too happy about this breathaliser test. The section is somewhat too loosely worded. It is not definitive enough. Having said that, I think I should pose a number of questions to the Minister in relation [1217] to the operation of the breathaliser. Like Deputy Fitzpatrick, I have read and heard that this is not altogether a reliable or conclusive instrument. Will there be a corps of the Garda Síochána trained to operate these breathaliser kits? I think this is very important. In America, they call them “Rookie Guards” who are trained to go out and to operate this very delicate instrument. If this section is passed as it stands, I would ask the Minister to ensure that the Garda will be trained, and trained thoroughly, in the operation of the breathaliser kit. I am not too happy about it generally.

Deputy Fitzpatrick made a valid point concerning subsection (3) (a) and (b). When does this section cease to operate? A garda, who may have seen a car pass up the road three or four hours earlier, might say to himself, on reflection later, that the driver of that car looked as if he was drunk and that he would go up and knock at his door, get him out of bed and then possibly operate the breathaliser test. Is it possible that that could happen? I am not too happy about subsection (3).

I would ask the Minister to consider the points made by me and other speakers on the section. I am not altogether in agreement with Deputy Treacy when he says it is an infringement of the rights of the individual. The individual has certain rights towards other people and we must protect people against the wrongdoings of others. I do not want to be too pious about it but I think that is the situation.

Mr. Dowling: Information on Joseph Dowling  Zoom on Joseph Dowling  I do not think anybody in this House should try to protect drunken drivers or to induce the Minister to do anything that would allow such a position to develop. I think that would be an impediment to our drive to protect pedestrians and others in our community. It is just as important that somebody would have power to say to the driver of a car: “We want to take certain tests to see if you are fit to drive” as to take precautions against defective brakes, worn-out tyres and bad lighting.

Two factors are involved here: (1) [1218] the driver, who is a very important element and (2) mechanical and other defects in the car which are of no less importance. We have power to take steps against bad brakes, worn-out tyres and bad lighting but people who are perpetually drunk, so to speak, can drive whenever they feel like it. If these people want to drink, then they should not drive. There is no fear, then, of a breathaliser test or anything else.

I think a measure of this kind will safeguard pedestrians who need protection from people who are driving around this city and this country daily in such a condition that every effort should be made by the authorities to ensure that there will be some device available such as the breathaliser, however reliable or unreliable it may be. I am quite sure it will be reliable to a degree and that that factor will be taken into consideration by the appropriate authorities when an examination takes place. I am quite sure they are aware of the extent of its reliability. It may be said that these things are unreliable, and they may be to a degree, but everything has to be covered in the right way in the right time. The people must be protected in any way and there must be some means by which such drivers in this age of transportation will be brought to their senses. The Garda and others should have the power to stop them and take whatever samples are necessary in order to ensure that the public can go in safety.

I am sure that nobody here has ever seen a person killed by a drunken driver. If he had, he would be horrified if later on he was told that this man was not drunk in the eyes of the law because somebody had come along perhaps half an hour later and said that in his opinion the driver was not drunk. We have seen people who we knew were drunk and at a later stage we were told that they were not drunk because some time had elapsed before any action could be taken by a police doctor or another doctor to say whether or not the person was fit to drive. This would be an impediment against people taking out cars when they are loaded up with [1219] drink. If they know that somebody may stop them with a bag into which they must blow to find out the quantity of drink they have taken, it will be a deterrent. Most of these people have no regard for anybody but themselves. We have seen cars in ditches and off the road elsewhere, as a result of drunken driving and many of these people who have injured themselves, not to talk about causing injury to others, would be saved something if they knew that the police were waiting to take a breathaliser test if they thought they were incapable of driving. It is just the same as saying that a man would not drive his car without lights through a village after dark because he knows he would be stopped by the police and fined. It is more important that the driver should be in a sound, healthy and fit condition to drive than it is to have the car fitted with good tyres, good lighting and good brakes.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): I should like to ask the Minister what will this test prove. What will it indicate to the garda? Will it indicate anything more than a look at the driver or a chat with him would indicate? Before he applies the test, he must be of opinion that the person has consumed alcoholic liquor. Will the breathaliser indicate how much liquor he has consumed and will it indicate whether he is impaired or not? I should also like to ask the Minister what is the meaning of the words in subsection (3) (a): “and who, in the opinion of the member, is committing or has committed an offence under this section”? As I see it, the offence under this section is spelled out in subsection (2) which says

A person who refuses or fails to comply forthwith with a requisition under this section shall be guilty of an offence.

The offence is the refusal to comply with the requisition to give a sample of one's breath. What is the meaning of the words “and who in the opinion of the member is committing”—there seems to be some sort of continuing offence there—“or has committed an offence”? I do not understand what [1220] those words mean. They appear again in subsection (3) (b).

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  First of all, in regard to the question of fundamental rights, the Commission which reported on this whole matter, and which included a number of lawyers and a judge, held there was nothing fundamentally objectionable in any of these tests. This is done in other democratic countries. I am quite satisfied that there is no infringement of fundamental rights in requiring people who are licensed to drive on the roads to establish that they are in a fit condition to do so. In regard to the reliability of the breathaliser test, it has been agreed already that the test is not one the absolute accuracy of which can be assumed. The procedure in connection with the breathaliser test will be that if the breathaliser indicates that the blood alcohol content is probably below 125 milligrammes the garda will normally take no further action, but there may be cases in which the garda will have grounds for forming the opinion that the driver or person in charge of the car is committing an offence, even though the breathaliser indicates that the blood alcohol level is probably below the prescribed level here. In such cases it will be open to the garda to bring the person concerned to the Garda station and take such further steps as may be considered necessary, such as requiring him to undergo more conclusive tests.

If the result of this preliminary breathaliser test indicates that the blood alcohol level is probably greater than 125 milligrammes, this will not in itself be a ground for prosecution, but it could be taken as sufficient ground for forming the opinion that the person from whom the specimen was taken is committing or has committed an offence under section 49 or section 50 of the 1961 Act. The Garda are empowered to arrest the person involved under the Act and to bring him to the Garda station and deal with him under section 29 or section 30 of this Bill. In other words, they may require him to provide a blood or urine sample so that the alcohol content of the blood may be accurately determined.

[1221] Subsection (2) refers to a person who refuses or fails to comply forthwith with a requisition under this section and who therefore shall be guilty of an offence. The section does not provide any particular penalty so that the general penalty set out under section 102 of the 1951 Act may be invoked, £20 fine for the first offence, £50 fine for the second or subsequent offence and, in the case of the third or subsequent offence within 12 months, a fine up to £50 or imprisonment up to three months, or both. Obviously, if it were possible for a person to refuse with impunity to undergo a screening test, guilty drivers could escape the provisions of the law completely. That is why under subsection (2) a refusal will be punishable by fine or imprisonment. This will not fully solve the problem because people who know they are guilty of an offence might decide to refuse a preliminary test and thereby deliberately choose the lesser offence and the lesser penalty involved so as to evade being charged with a more serious charge of which they knew they were guilty.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): If they could exercise on the spot such a reasoned judgment as that, it would be unlikely——

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  They could have this in their minds well before they consumed any alcohol. It could be a matter they would have discussed fully before they left the premises where they consumed the alcohol. Subsection (3) provides that a garda may arrest without a warrant

a person who has been driving or attempting to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place and who, in the opinion of the member, is committing or has committed an offence under this section, or

In other words, the garda is empowered to arrest a person who has refused to undergo the preliminary test. Such a person may be brought to the Garda station and dealt with under section 29 or section 32 of the Bill. It is quite clear that if a person refuses to provide [1222] a specimen of his breath, the garda may decide to proceed under subsection (2) of this section and charge the person with being guilty of this particular offence of refusing to give a specimen. On the other hand, he may feel that this person is deliberately selecting the easier way out, the lesser charge, probably because he knows he would be found guilty of the major charge and in such circumstances subsection (3) empowers the garda to arrest the person, bring him to the station and require him to undergo a blood or urine test.

Mr. Moore: Information on Seán Moore  Zoom on Seán Moore  While I support the Minister on section 27, I think it is something we should be very careful about. Is it intended that the garda should have some training on how to identify the symptoms of drunkenness? It is not enough to say that if he is staggering around the place, a man is drunk: that would be a very dangerous conclusion. I am afraid that with the introduction of the breathaliser, we might have a kind of national witch hunt for drunken drivers. It would be only too easy for a garda to say that every person he suspects is drunk must submit to a test. That would defeat the whole purpose because it would bring the breathaliser into ridicule. We must satisfy ourselves that a person who is unconscious in a car is not a diabetic or suffering from any other malady, apart from drunkenness.

This section interferes with certain rights of the individual and yet we know that in the interests of road safety and of the lives and well-being of citizens, we must have more stringent tests. They should be used very sparingly. Because a man is involved in an accident does not mean he is drunk. I would ask the Minister to consider having a Garda corps that would be taught the fundamentals of identifying drunkenness. This would save a lot of trouble. We in this House are not capable of knowing whether a man is drunk because of the different effects alcohol has on different individuals. While I support the Minister strongly on this point and agree the stringent test must be taken, I would ask him to impress on the Minister for [1223] Justice the necessity to convey to the Garda that this is not to become a witch hunt for drunken drivers, that they are there to help the drivers and the public and that they should use the breathaliser test very sparingly. Irish drivers will naturally resent being asked to pass breath or urine or blood tests but I think they must be educated about why they are asked to do these things. It is because of the appalling road toll. It is hard to say how much of it can be attributed to drunkenness but some of it undoubtedly is attributable to drunkenness. If we could remove this proportion, we would be doing a good job but we must ensure that breathaliser and other tests do not become everyday happenings to be treated with a certain contempt after a while. I think it is necessary that the Garda be given some instruction on how to identify a drunken driver.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  I should have replied to a point made by Deputy Andrews who asked if a special corps of gardaí would be trained to administer the Bill. That is not intended but the gardaí who will be using the breath testing devices will be specifically trained in their use. Of course all gardaí, as far as I know, are given instruction in the identification of people who are inebriated.

Another point I should have dealt with was the question raised by Deputy Briscoe about a driver who goes to sleep in the back of the car to sleep off the effects of drink. It is true that this section gives power to require such a person to undergo a breath test. This is necessary because the exact circumstances may not all be known to the garda at the time. It is to enable him to decide whether a prosecution should be brought under section 50 of the 1961 Act but in this Bill we are amending section 50 of the 1961 Act by section 31 and the result of the amendment will be that the man who can show that he went to sleep in the back of the car in order to prevent himself from committing an offence will not be guilty of an offence. I think it is necessary to put that obligation on the person concerned.

[1224]Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  On the Second Reading, I asked the Minister what would happen to the fellow who was careful even when he was drunk and decided to sleep off the effects in the back of the car. The Minister then gave an assurance to the House that arrangements would be made to remove any danger of that man being prosecuted. The Minister now seems to be mending his hand again and says such a person may be required to undergo the test. I think that the person is either subject to the same regulations as the fellow who is in the front of the car and prepared to drive, or he is not. If a man gets into the back of a car for the purpose of sleeping off the effects of drink, I think it is stupid to suggest that he should be tested and prosecuted, if it is found that he has, in fact, taken intoxicating liquor because that is why he went into the back of the car. The Minister should have another look at this matter.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  The garda may not know whether or not he has committed an offence before going into the back of the car.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  That is something else. I was not prepared to agree with Deputy Moore on the question of a witch hunt but if we have people going around to find out if an offence has been committed, they might as well pick up somebody on the street who is drunk and test his breath in case he had been driving a car some time previously. There is just as big a likelihood there as in the case of the man in the back of the car. If you go that far, I think you are going too far.

Mr. Andrews: Information on David Andrews  Zoom on David Andrews  Surely if somebody is found lying in the back of a car at three or four o'clock in the morning, it deserves investigation?

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  That is one thing. Investigation, yes, but taking a breath test in case you find out that some time previously he had been driving a car is too complicated for me. I hold no brief for the drunken driver but I think this can become too complex. The Minister's statement, which can be found in the Dáil Debates, that if [1225] a man was in the back of a car, he could not be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, or even put through the tests was, I think, the correct approach and the Minister should go back to that.

Deputy N. Lemass has an amendment here. I was struck by his argument on Second Reading. It seemed to be that while a man who was driving a car, if under the influence of drink, should be entitled to all possible protection and in no circumstances should his feelings be hurt, if a pedestrian were found drunk, the strongest possible action should be taken against him.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  The amendment was not moved.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  I know, but it was just one of the things he said which he obviously believed in, and this was one of the ways in which it should be dealt with. I would go all the way with the Minister to prevent the drunken driver driving because like most Members of this House, I drive a lot and one of the things which cause many of us to get many a shock is the fellow who does not stop his car and go into the back of it to sleep. He keeps on driving and is not sure which side of the road he should be driving on or whether we have changed over to the other side of the road like Sweden.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  I am all for protecting the public against the drunken driver. He is one of the worst criminals we have in society and we are all in agreement that he should be punished. What I am afraid of here is that there is an attempt to throw out the baby with the water. You may possibly have the man who will go into the back of the car and sleep off the effects of the drink. He will then drive off later.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  We are amending section 31 with regard to this.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  That is good. The Minister has made it very clear, and I go along with him in regard to the breathaliser, that this is just an attempt, [1226] as I understand it, to assess the alcohol content and no more than that. It is very important that the Minister should stress this point so that there will be no misunderstanding in regard to it.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): The Minister has stated that the breathaliser test is just a screening device. If this test indicates that there are more than 125 milligrammes that garda may then request the motorist to come along to the barracks and submit to a blood test. If my information is correct, this breathaliser is so notoriously inaccurate that a man who was subjected to a test after having had a half-one might flare up and register at 125 milligrammes if this test were taken a few minutes after coming out of a publichouse and getting into his car. This man has only taken a halfone and is perfectly sober but the breathaliser would register the same as in the case of a person who had taken several half-ones and the test was not taken for some time.

This is a very dangerous implement. The person may be subjected to a blood test later on in the Garda station. If that person refuses to have this blood test, he is subject to all sorts of heavy penalties. I would like to hear if the Minister agrees with that. That is my information which I have received from professional people in a position to know. I would also like the Minister to say what is the meaning of those lines in (3) (a) and (3) (b) “ or has committed an offence under this section.” He has either committed an offence or he has not.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  The garda cannot convict him or fine him on the spot.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): It says “ or has committed an offence”.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  Presumably only the DJ can decide that.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): How long after this alleged commission of the offence is the garda to have the right to call for a sample? As Deputy N. Lemass said on Second Stage—I thought at the time it sounded a bit [1227] far-fetched but I do not think it is so far-fetched now—this man would be in charge of a mechanically-propelled vehicle——

Mr. Andrews: Information on David Andrews  Zoom on David Andrews  I think the question we are asking the Minister is whether the garda can go into the suspect's house? Is that not the point?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): I was going to deal with that.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The Minister said the garda could.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): The garda may see a member of the public driving down the road. That motorist stops his car outside his own house, puts it into his garage and goes into his house. He can then sit down in a chair at the fire and have a glass of whiskey before he goes to bed. Is a member of the Garda entitled to go into that man's house and ask him to give a sample of his breath? That is one of the things which worry me.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The Minister stated very definitely that he was. If the Minister denies that now, we will get the reference.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  It will come up on another section and we will get the reference.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): Subsection (1) of section 27 would not confer that right on a member of the Garda. It says here:

Whenever a member of the Garda Síochána is of opinion that a person in charge of a mechanically-propelled vehicle in a public place has consumed intoxicating liquor, he may require him to provide in the prescribed manner a specimen of his breath by exhaling into an apparatus designed for the purpose of indicating the presence of alcohol in the breath.

I suppose the person would have to be in charge of the mechanically-propelled vehicle.

Mr. Andrews: Information on David Andrews  Zoom on David Andrews  I agree with the point the Deputy has made. Subsection (1) of section 27 does not define clearly whether the person in charge of a [1228] vehicle in a public place has consumed the alcohol or not. The person may have consumed the alcohol or may be in charge of a car in the public place. He arrives home safely. The garda says he has been in charge of the car in a public place and he is going to carry out this breathaliser test. This point should be clarified. The point is whether the breathaliser test should be taken in a public place?

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  It is very clear in subsection (1) what is implied. It says:

Whenever a member of the Garda Síochána is of opinion that a person in charge of a mechanically-propelled vehicle in a public place has consumed intoxicating liquor, he may require him to provide in the prescribed manner a specimen of his breath by exhaling into an apparatus designed for the purpose of indicating the presence of alcohol in the breath.

He is not in charge of a mechanical vehicle in a public place if he sits down in his own home and drinks a glass of whiskey.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  The Minister knows when this comes to the legal men, the interpretation may be entirely different.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  With regard to Deputy Fitzpatrick's point about the notorious inaccuracy of these breathalisers, there are different types of these devices. There are good ones which if properly and skilfully used are reasonably accurate and there are others which are not. As I said, they are not being taken as being a conclusive test. Deputy Fitzpatrick says that the result of a breathaliser test, if it indicates a higher alcohol content than 125 milligrammes, would inevitably involve the suspect in a blood test. There is power to permit the person who has been taken to the Garda station, as a result of the breathaliser test, to ask for a further breathaliser test. Sections 29 and 32 are the sections which say that he is required to give the blood test. The person could after having been taken to the Garda station, ask for a further breath test before being required to give a blood test.

[1229]Mr. Andrews: Information on David Andrews  Zoom on David Andrews  Is the breath test in the first instance taken in public on the side of the road?

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  Yes, it is taken on the spot to indicate to the garda whether he should take further action.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): I do not think the Minister is completely accurate when he says that the accused person may demand that he have another breath test taken before he is asked to submit to a blood or urine test. Section 29 says that the member of the Garda may require the arrested person to submit to them. The right is not given to the arrested person; perhaps we could have that.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  It is desirable all right.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): As I understand it, there are two types of breathaliser. One is very scarce, very expensive and practically non-existent. It is not in use to any extent in any of the countries listed. It is accurate. Then you have the other one which is in common use, which is notoriously inaccurate.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  It cannot be treated as being accurate but it will give the garda a reasonable indication.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): It will indicate that the arrested man has drink taken. If he is subjected to the test at one point it might indicate that he had a lot of drink taken, whereas he had no appreciable amount taken at all. There is something there which we should be very careful about introducing, especially if it is taken as an indication that the motorist should be submitted to these further extreme tests, such as a blood test and a urine test.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  I agree. The accused person should have the right to ask for a further test.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): The Minister will find if he looks at section 29 that it is put the other way around.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  I will look at that.

[1230]Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): I should like to add to what has been said by other speakers about the application of this breathaliser test. We should not proceed, as Deputy Dowling might be inclined to do, on the basis that all motorists are criminals and drunkards. If it is necessary to introduce such a test as this in the interests of the public generally—and I am told there is a school of thought that says it is doubtful whether it is Constitutional or not, but I shall reserve that for another section, section 28—there is an obligation on the Minister and on those who will operate this measure, when it leaves this House, to ensure that the public are not subjected to unreasonable inconvenience or unreasonable tests. The gardaí will require, I think, that this instrument should not be carried wholesale by members of the Garda Síochána. It should be for those who are to use it, who are designated to hold up the public to apply these tests. They should be specially trained in the mechanism, if that is the proper word to use, of the instrument, in the manner in which they use it, when they are to use it and how it should be used. It would not be good enough for a young garda to go out one night and say: “I will have a spot check” and then hold up any person he wishes to see whether he had alcohol taken and whether he should be brought to the barracks. I do not think this House should pass legislation which would subject the citizens of this country to that sort of unnecessary treatment.

Whatever views Deputies may hold, generally speaking, in relation to section 27 of this Bill, I think all of us will agree that there should be reasonable application of this section. It should be administered in a reasonable way and that only when there is, in fact, suspicion that a person has a considerable amount of drink taken should he be held up and subjected to this sort of test.

Mr. Dowling: Information on Joseph Dowling  Zoom on Joseph Dowling  In this legislation there should be no way out whatsoever for the drunken driver. Drunken driving must be stamped out at all costs. If this particular instrument is [1231] not suitable, a better one will have to be provided. I am satisfied that the tests are reasonably accurate and, with due consideration taken, that they are acceptable in a general sense.

Reference has been made to sleeping in the back of the car. That is a way out for the drunken driver who goes out on the road, hits a person, knocks him down and then drives up a lane and sleeps in the back of the car. I believe that whether he is in the back of the car or in the front of the car, if he pulls up just to convenience himself, he should not get away with it. We should tie up this legislation so that nobody will get away, even the person who says: “I am not driving the car now”. That person is no less a menace on the road than he who keeps on driving and gets home; he does not pull up but just drives off but the other fellow pulls up to suit his own convenience. People get cute in drink; they know when to stop and when and where to park. The law should be fully complied with and the sooner we drive these drunken drivers off the roads so that people can walk around in safety and parents will not be anxious about their children the better.

Many accidents are not reported to the Garda. Accident victims are fixed up here and there with small amounts of compensation. The sooner we get down to tackling this problem in a realistic manner and the sooner there is no way out for drunken drivers the better. In regard to sleeping in the back of a car, I do not think that the fellow who goes up a lane to sleep in the back seat should get away with it.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Deputy Dowling is talking about two different things. Surely a man involved in an accident can be charged and tested to find out whether he is drunk? But what we are talking about is a perfectly innocent person who has not hit anybody, but who is in a car, who comes out of a publichouse and, rather than drive the car home in his drunken state, sits in the back of the car and decides to sleep off some of it before starting to drive. Surely it is not unreasonable to say that that man should be treated differently from the man who comes out of [1232] a publichouse blotto, gets in behind the wheel and attempts to drive? Deputy Dowling is under the impression that if he is in the back of the car, no matter what he may have been doing before that, he is guilty. Nobody has suggested that, except Deputy Dowling. The Minister should not be confused by the issue put to him now.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  I am afraid that if Deputy Tully wants to take away this power to require a person who is in the back of a car to submit to a breathaliser test, it would have the effect Deputy Dowling suggests.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Only if he has not been involved in an accident.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  What I mean is that a person who can establish that he got into the back of the car with no intention of driving will be covered by section 31, but the garda may not be aware of all the circumstances. He may have reason to believe that an offence may have been committed and, in such circumstances, he must have the power to take all the necessary steps to establish whether or not this person has committed the offence of driving, or attempting to drive, while having raised his blood alcohol content to a level of 125 milligrammes. It is necessary to have this power but it will be a valid defence for the person to say he did not drive the car or did not intend to drive it.

Mr. Andrews: Information on David Andrews  Zoom on David Andrews  On this question of the breathaliser test, in the first instance, I presume this is taken on the side of the road? Would the Minister amend, by way of addition, subsection (1) of section 27 to give the suspect an opportunity of having a second breathaliser test, say, in the Garda station?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): That is dealt with by section 29.

Mr. Andrews: Information on David Andrews  Zoom on David Andrews  I wonder could the Minister do it under subsection (1) of section 27 and make it clear?

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  I do not think so, because subsection (1) of section 27 provides that the Garda Síochána may require a person who is in charge of [1233] a mechanically-propelled vehicle in a public place to provide, in the prescribed manner, a specimen of his breath, and it is necessary to have that provision. But I certainly think that a person who, subsequent to that, is brought to the Garda station and required to give either a specimen of blood or urine should be able to require the garda to give him a further breathaliser test.

Mr. Andrews: Information on David Andrews  Zoom on David Andrews  I see that there is a tie-up between section 27 and section 29.

Mr. Briscoe: Information on Ben Briscoe  Zoom on Ben Briscoe  I should like to ask the Minister one question. As an interested Member of this House, would it be possible to see this breathaliser being tested? Would it be possible to arrange something?

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  We shall bring one down to a certain place within the precincts and test the whole lot of us. There would be a lot of people confined to the city for the week-end then.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  Amendment No. 13, in the name of Deputy T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan), and if the Deputy agrees, we might take amendment No. 15, which is a cognate amendment, with amendment No. 13. Amendments Nos. 13 and 15 together, if the Deputy agrees.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): Yes; one is an amendment of section 49 and the other an amendment of section 50. The same principle is involved.

I move amendment No. 13:

Before section 28 to insert a new section as follows:

“Section 49 of the Principle Act is hereby amended by the insertion after `the vehicle' in subsection (1) of the following: `and if there is present in his body a quantity of alcohol such that within 3 hours after so driving or attempting to drive the concentration of alcohol in his blood will exceed a concentration of 125 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood he shall be deemed until the contrary is [1234] proved to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle'.”

I want to try to make my position clear. The Minister, by section 28, proposes to make it an absolute offence for a person to drink to such an extent when he is driving, or within three hours thereafter, that the alcohol in his blood will exceed a concentration of 125 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The Minister wishes to make that an absolute offence. My amendment proposes to make such a concentration of alcohol in the blood prima facie evidence that a person is drunk, within the meaning of this section, and unfit to drive, that a person who has such a concentration of alcohol in his blood will be deemed to be unfit to drive, until he satisfies a court of law to the contrary.

In this Bill we are seeking to rid the roads of drunken drivers. I am sure the House is behind the Minister in that aim, and is prepared to give him a measure which, in our opinion, will enable him to make it more difficult, or indeed impossible, for a person who is unfit to drive a car, as a result of consuming alcohol, to get away with it. But in our efforts to protect the general public from the impaired driver, we should not depart from accepted principles and standards in this country. One is that a person cannot be compelled to convict himself, cannot be compelled to give evidence which will convict himself. The second is that, broadly speaking, people are presumed innocent until proved guilty. I know my amendment has the effect of shifting slightly that onus of proof. Section 28 introduces a new offence— the Minister has told us that before, and will tell us again—that is, the offence of driving a car, or attempting to drive it, while the concentration of alcohol in the blood exceeds 125 milligrammes to 100 millilitres. I say that the offence should be that of driving a car while impaired as a result of taking drink.

A Commission was set up on 14th September, 1961 under the chairmanship of the then President of the High Court, the Honourable Mr. Justice Cahir Davitt. That Commission reported to the Minister on 15th May, [1235] 1963 and recommended that it should not be an absolute offence for a person to drive a car if he has a concentration of 125 milligrammes of alcohol to 100 millilitres of his blood. It recommended that such a concentration should be prima facie evidence, and prima facie evidence only, of impairment. The Minister stated this morning that the Commission reported that they did not consider there was anything fundamentally unsound about what he proposed to do, that there was not anything unconstitutional about it, but the Minister should bear in mind that the Commission did not recommend the absolute offence which the Minister seeks to impose in this section.

I shall deal briefly with the Commission's report. At paragraph 50, page 43 of the report it is stated:

If any legislative changes are to be really successful and effective they must, in our view, have the support of the bulk of public opinion. In countries where a certain blood-alcohol level has been prescribed as conclusive evidence of critical impairment, public opinion has, we believe, been conditioned, perhaps gradually, to accept the position. Here the whole procedure of taking and analysing blood samples and giving evidence of blood-alcohol levels in prosecutions would constitute an innovation in criminal procedure with which everyone concerned might take some considerable time to become familiar, as well as an interference with personal rights which public opinion might be still slower to accept as necessary or desirable. It may be that, as a result of experience, public opinion would in the course of time be conditioned to accept and approve of a prescribed level which would be conclusive evidence of impairment. We doubt very much if the education of opinion on the matter has yet reached that stage. We take the view that, initially at any rate, a blood-alcohol level should be prescribed which would be prima facie and not conclusive evidence of critical impairment.

[1236] That is the recommendation at paragraph 50, page 43 of the report. In the following paragraph, paragraph 51, it is stated:

Having regard to our examination of the matter in Part VI, the experience of our study groups who visited the Continent and Britain, and all the relevant material which we have considered, we believe that a suitable level is 125 mg. We believe that with such a blood-alcohol level the great majority of persons will be critically impaired. and that to prescribe such a level as prima facie evidence of critical impairment would be just and reasonable.

In the same report at page 71, paragraph 7 of Appendix II, which was the Report of the Committee of the Commission on their Study Tour of the Continent, it is stated:

A major question is whether a specific blood-alcohol level should be prescribed or whether it should be left to the courts. As indicated in paragraph 4, three of the countries have no prescribed level, but the courts have in practice adopted a specific level. Of course, in exceptional cases (where the evidence of witnesses or medical evidence so warrants) a person with a higher level might be acquitted——

this is important

or a person with a lower level might be convicted. If evidence as to blood-alcohol levels were to be used in this country, it would seem to be wise to adopt a specific level as prima facie evidence, otherwise there could be considerable variation in the decisions of different District Courts. The State should be free to produce evidence that an accused was critically impaired even though his blood-alcohol level was below the standard specified, and the accused free to show that he was not so impaired even though his blood-alcohol level was above that standard.

Those are the recommendations in this report of the Commission which considered the matter from 1961 to 1963. For the record, we had the President [1237] of the High Court, the State Pathologist, the President of the Safety First Association of Ireland, a general medical practitioner, a superintendent of the Garda Síochána, a psychiatrist, members of the Motoring Associations, the Chief State Solicitor, a District Justice as well as a couple of eminent civil servants on that Commission. They reported and the Minister is not prepared to accept those recommendations.

I would go further and say that the Commission do not appear, in so far as one can ascertain, to have changed their views in the meantime because I consider I am at liberty to say that Father Kennedy, who is President of the Safety First Association, is still of the opinion that the concentration of alcohol which I have mentioned should only be prima facie evidence as recommended by the Commission and should not be an absolute offence.

Furthermore, people who have considered this carefully are of opinion that this section followed by the other sections which must be discussed to some extent with it—those are the sections which make it obligatory on a person to submit to these blood tests— are unconstitutional and will not stand up in the Supreme Court where, I am convinced, this measure will end.

We have here, whether we like it or not, a rigid, written Constitution. I know I am dealing with one specific amendment now but in dealing with this amendment, I am trying to give the Minister a better measure because I will give him a constitutional measure. I am told that this section coupled with the other sections will not stand up against Article 40 of the Constitution. Furthermore, from a practical point of view, if the Minister accepts this amendment and instead of making it an absolute offence to drive while the concentration of alcohol in the blood is 125 mg. to 100 accepts it as prima facie evidence, I am convinced, from my personal experience as an advocate in the District Courts which deal with this type of prosecution, that he will succeed in convicting the person who should be convicted. Most advocates will agree that the person who was [1238] charged with drunken driving in the past often got off because he did not go into the witness box. He invariably got off because the State failed to establish a prima facie case against him. Here we are putting an obligation on the accused person of going into the witness box, or producing other expert evidence to establish that although he had this concentration of alcohol in his blood at the time, he was fit to drive a car.

I am told on the best medical authority I can get that people react differently to alcohol, that a person might be, and that many people would be impaired if the concentration of alcohol in their blood was 125 to 100. On the other hand, quite a number of people may be perfectly well able to drive a car with that concentration of alcohol. It is for that reason that I say the Minister should accept the recommendation of the Commission set up by the Minister's predecessor which is, in effect, my amendment, and that he should be satisfied for the time being, at any rate, to make this concentration of alcohol in the blood prima facie evidence only.

The Commission sent study groups to the Continent; they sent study groups to London. They examined the position in a number of continental countries where blood tests of one sort or another were in operation, such as Switzerland, the Federal Republic of Germany, Sweden and Denmark. They studied the position there at first hand. They had the benefit of consultations with the police in those countries who enforce the law. They had the benefit of seeing the procedure as it was operated in the courts. Notwithstanding that, they came back and reported to the Minister in favour of prima facie evidence only.

This blood test is prima facie evidence only in the United States of America, in Denmark, in Switzerland and in the Federal Republic of Germany. It is true that in some States it is absolute evidence, but in those other States they differ very much from us in our approach to the administration of the criminal law. I should like to hear the Minister dealing with the [1239] necessity for making this an absolute offence. I know he will tell us it is a new offence and that the question of whether a man is impaired does not arise, that we are simply going to say that if a person is driving a car, he shall not raise the concentration of alcohol in his blood beyond the level of 125 milligrammes to 100 millilitres.

For the benefit of those who may not appreciate what, in fact, is involved in this 125 millgrammes to 100 millilitres, I want to point out that an analysis which was carried out shows that the consumption of 2¾ pints of stout will produce a concentration of alcohol in excess of 125 to 100. Many people would probably think 2¾ pints of stout too much to drink, but a great number of people would think this a very moderate amount and that a great many people would be perfectly sober after consuming it. Approximately two glasses of whiskey, or four small whiskeys, will also produce the prohibited concentration.

As I say, in my opinion, this section is unnecessary. I am quite prepared to give the Minister an efficient instrument to put the drunken driver off the road. I want to emphasise again and again that neither I nor my Party stand here to condone the drunken driver. I do not stand here to say that it should be made easy for the drunken driver to drive and get away with it. What I am saying is that it is not necessary for the Minister to go as far as he is going: to invade the entire criminal code as we know it in this country, and to violate the Constitution by going as far as he is going. That is not necessary. It is not necessary to attain the objective which the Minister has in mind, the very laudable objective of eliminating the drunken driver.

If after some reasonable trial period and after some reasonable experience, the Minister is satisfied that the recommendation of the Commission and my amendment are not sufficient, he is at liberty to come back to the House and ask for the amendment he now asks for. He is going too far and too soon. Before I sit down, I want to emphasise again that what I am doing here is seeking to implement the recommendation [1240] of the Commission which reported on driving while under the influence of drink or drugs. My amendment simply seeks to implement the recommendation of the Commission. The section as drafted by the Minister turns down that recommendation, goes much further than that advice, and seeks to create this new offence. In my opinion, in so doing, the Minister is invading—for want of a better word—our criminal code of long standing. He is introducing a section which, coupled with the other sections about which I will complain later on, will not stand up to the scrutiny of the Supreme Court in the light of the Constitution.

Mr. Boland: Information on Kevin Boland  Zoom on Kevin Boland  This, of course, is the fundamental point of difference between Deputy Fitzpatrick and myself, and it is the fundamental thing I am asking for. The point under discussion is whether or not we should create the new offence of a driver raising his blood-alcohol level to 125 milligrammes per 100 millilitres, which has been scientifically established as being a dangerous blood-alcohol content for the driver of a mechanically-propelled vehicle.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.


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