Tuesday, 14 December 2004
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. P. Burke: Will the Minister of State clarify the position in respect of the term “local road”? The term “national road” probably means national primary and secondary roads, while the term “motorway” is self-explanatory. Some years ago, however, the law was changed for the classification of roads and there were primary roads, local primary roads, local roads and local tertiary roads. For the Bill to contain references only to local roads and regional roads would be misleading. We should clarify that this means all roads other than national roads and motorways.
The Bill also states that “Minister” means Minister for Transport. Previously, all roads came within the remit of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. If they were to revert back, would the Minister in question be the Minster for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government instead of the Minister for Transport?
Mr. McDowell: What about private roads? There are estates in Dublin with roads that the local authorities do not intend to take charge of. Do those areas come within the definition of “built up areas” and are those private roads governed by the 50 km/h speed limit as it exists for public roads in the same estate?
Mr. Callely: If they are not taken in charge they are private roads and they are a matter for the management committee of the estate. We cannot impose something on what is deemed to be private property.
Mr. Callely: We are seeing more developments where there are private roads within them but the position stands that if it is a private road within a private development, it is outside the bounds of the State to place a traffic restriction. Where these developments exist, the planning authorities are taking a greater interest and putting traffic calming in place, including speed limit restrictions.
This section creates a statutory offence of using a mobile telephone. We are all aware that the former Minister introduced regulations some time ago prohibiting the use of mobile telephones that ran into some difficulty afterwards, not least from the emergency services, who were of the view that their own use of telephones appeared to be prohibited under the regulations. My colleague, Deputy Shortall, proposed a new section in the Dáil to stimulate further debate, although I cannot see the Minister accepting it at this stage.
We all see people holding the steering wheel with one hand and a telephone in the other and it is a dangerous way to proceed. I have done it myself but I do not feel good about it. We need to prohibit this and introduce a deterrent by creating a specific statutory offence, not least to clarify the position and place an obligation on the gardaí to implement the law in the way they have been reluctant to do heretofore.
Mr. Quinn: I agree entirely. We have all seen so many people doing this. On my way in this morning, I saw three different drivers using a mobile telephone. I do not know what went wrong last time but this is clearly sensible legislation. It must be covered by dangerous driving legislation as well because the person is driving using only one hand. There is a problem and the Minister of State should explain why he cannot accept this and what he intends to do about it in future.
Mr. P. Burke: We have all seen people driving with a telephone to their ear and it definitely leads to careless driving. I cannot understand what happened last time and I thought the Minister would have included it in this Bill. I do not know if there are statistics to back this up but it must contribute to many accidents.
Mr. Dooley: While I agree in principle with the issue of driving while using a mobile telephone and its effect on driver concentration, I am not sure about the wording of this amendment, particularly the fact that it refers to a hands-free telephone and accepting that is a legitimate operation. There is still a lack of concentration associated with attempting to dial a number on a hands-free set. While I agree with the principle of attempting to prevent people from using their telephones while driving, my reading of that is that it would complicate issues and make it more difficult to convict someone for dangerous driving which is covered in other Acts.
Mr. Callely: Senator McDowell mentioned that the amendment will not be accepted but that we should debate issue. I agree and I clearly recognise that there is a problem and it needs to be addressed. Senators Quinn and McDowell spoke of the number of people they saw this morning but, equally, Senator Dooley mentioned other areas that were relevant. Simply because a person is not holding a telephone in his or her hand does not mean the problem is solved.
However, the issue can be addressed. It was important that this Bill be passed before January even though there were other issues that we would have liked to include which were awaiting clarification. The Attorney General has advised that the 2002 regulations that prohibit the use of hand-held mobile telephones while driving may be ultra vires on the grounds that the regulatory powers of the Road Traffic Act 1961 would not extend to the regulation of such phones. My Department has been considering options for primary legislation on the subject. Legislation would need to be broad-based and adaptable to keep pace with the developments in in-car communication and information technology that is often based on mobile telephone technology and platforms.
I am also concerned about research that indicates that a conversation by way of a mobile telephone, with the associated distraction, is much more of a hazard for a driver than holding the telephone. The implications of this research for regulating the use of hand-held mobile telephones by drivers will need careful consideration. Therefore, any legislation dealing with the use of mobile telephones by drivers must be clearly thought out. If its ramifications are not well explored in advance, it might not deal with the real issues and might exclude worthwhile developments that can help to improve road safety. The Department of Transport is working on a broad-based legislation framework for the use of mobile telephones in vehicles. It is hoped to include the results of the work in the next road traffic Bill. Therefore, I ask Senator McDowell to consider withdrawing amendment No. 1. I am satisfied that drivers who use mobile telephones in a way that constitutes careless or dangerous driving are open to prosecution and the imposition of penalty points.
Mr. McDowell: If a driver displays no obvious signs of careless driving — I refer to a driver who does not swerve, have a near miss or hit the kerb, but continues to drive in a straight line under the legal speed limit — is the fact that he or she has a mobile telephone in his or her hand sufficient to sustain an offence?
Mr. Quinn: I would like to ask a similar question. When I became a Senator 12 years ago, I was surprised by the length of time it takes to get something done. We thought that legislation we introduced some years ago addressed these problems, but it transpires that it did not. I accept that the Minister of State has held this new portfolio for a short period of time. I cannot get over the length of time it takes to get things done. Perhaps we try to do too much on occasions. I would have thought that a single section of this Bill would have covered this area of concern. I understand the arguments made about hands-free telephones, etc. What is the difference between talking to a person using a hands-free telephone and talking to another person in the car? Senator Dooley mentioned that problems are often caused when drivers are dialling in such circumstances.
The Oireachtas often tries to produce legislation that is tight and involved. It passed a Bill to provide for the muzzling of dogs some years ago after a dog had savaged a child, but it was not enforceable because it was passed too quickly and insufficient attention was paid to its content. I am not a great believer in passing legislation without giving it great attention. I gather that legislation was passed some years ago to deal with the use of knives, an issue that cropped up on the Order Of Business earlier. I can understand why it has been proposed to prohibit the carrying of knives in Britain. We have not been able to enforce the legislation we passed in that regard, however. The Minister of State has said that work is ongoing and that suitable provisions will be contained in the next road traffic Bill, but I do not understand why they were not included on this occasion. A commitment such as that proposed in amendment No. 1 is needed if we are to do something about the carnage on the roads.
Mr. Callely: It was not possible to include such a provision in this Bill, for reasons to which the Senator alluded. The legislation might not have been enforceable, for example. Further complications might have arisen as a result of changes in information technology. The answer to Senator McDowell’s question is that this is a matter for the Garda. When I speak to people on the telephone, they often say they have to hang up because they have spotted a garda who might notice they are using a mobile telephone while driving. I understand that the Garda has successfully prosecuted people for careless and dangerous driving because they have been holding a mobile telephone. It is really a matter for the Garda.
Mr. McDowell: I am sure all Senators who have been stuck in traffic at 6.30 p.m. on Thursday evenings have decided to use their mobile telephones. I am certain that the Minister of State has often sat for quite a while in traffic that was going nowhere. Is it an offence for one to use one’s mobile telephone in such circumstances? I do not think it could reasonably be described as “careless driving”, given that one is stuck in traffic that is not moving. It seems to me that it could not be prosecuted as “careless driving” and certainly not as “dangerous driving”, unless one does something else that is careless or dangerous.
Mr. Callely: I agree with the principle of the Deputy’s argument. I have indicated that work on the legislation is ongoing, but we have to ensure that it is watertight. We do not want to complicate other matters that might help to improve road safety.
Mr. Callely: I refer to developments in mobile telephone technology and similar platforms, which would be banned if we were to take certain steps in legislation. We need to wait and to give those who are working on the legislative framework an opportunity to present an appropriate Bill. If the Senator speaks to representatives of the Garda, I am sure they will clarify whether the use of a mobile telephone while one is stuck in traffic constitutes “careless driving” or “dangerous driving”.
Mr. Callely: All of us would probably conclude that it does not fall under either category, although we would look differently on the use of mobile telephones by a driver whose hands should be on the steering wheel, for example while travelling at speed or turning a corner. Perhaps the Garda is bringing prosecutions in such cases.
Mr. McDowell: I wish to ask a final question, so that I can get a clear answer. Perhaps I should not bother. Has there been a case of the Garda bringing a prosecution for a breach of the regulations, but not also bringing a prosecution for careless or dangerous driving?
Mr. J. Walsh: There has been a significant improvement in the behaviour of drivers since the introduction of the penalty points system. Another problem has developed, however, because drivers have kept within the speed limits, generally speaking, since the inauguration of the system. Lines of traffic often build up on national routes because drivers hug the centre line of the road while driving at 40 mph, leading to long delays and frustration among other drivers. I have discussed the matter with gardaí, who have expressed similar concerns. If the drivers immediately behind the driver who is travelling at 40 mph decide not to overtake, drivers up to six cars back may decide to initiate an overtaking manoeuvre when it is not safe to do so. Not only can accidents happen when such manoeuvres are risked, but they can also take place subsequently when drivers try to make up the time they lost when they were caught in the line of traffic. One can ignore this problem by saying that drivers should travel at 40 mph on national roads.
Another consequence of the phenomenon to which I refer was highlighted when I travelled a couple of hundred miles, from Northern Ireland to my home in the south east, approximately ten days ago. I worked out when I had completed the journey that I had travelled at an average speed of 35 mph. The trip of almost 200 miles took me five hours. Those of us who are interested in Ireland’s competitiveness should consider that a similar journey could probably be done in two and a half hours in most of the countries with which we compete.
It might not be a popular idea, but I wonder if a regulation should be imposed in this regard. Many gardaí who are involved in the regulation of traffic have agreed with me that this matter warrants attention. The main reason for introducing such provisions is road safety. We should recognise that long lines of traffic can lead to frustration, risk-taking and, subsequently, speeding. I assume that slow average speeds on national roads add a substantial latent cost to the economy. The price of almost everything we purchase is affected by transport costs, which I assume are increasing because of this problem.
I have tried to think about what can be done in this regard, rather than simply raising the problem. If a driver is travelling at 30 mph or 40 mph — one will have to choose a speed — on a national primary or secondary route and there is a build-up of more than three, four or five vehicles behind his or her car, there should be an onus on him or her to pull in at the first opportunity to let the traffic pass. Where there is a build-up of three, four or five vehicles behind a driver, there is an onus on that driver, although he or she is quite entitled to drive at 40 mph, to pull in at the first opportunity to let the traffic pass.
In the past year or two, the NRA has adopted a road safety policy of drawing continuous single and double white lines where there used to be broken white lines that allowed one to pass. This has obviously accentuated the problem. We have hard shoulders on many of our national routes that are not used at all and they should comprise part of the solution. This begs another question concerning the NRA, bearing in mind that we have four-lane carriageways with only two lanes in use and a double line in the centre preventing motorists from passing. The Department should determine whether there is a solution to this problem to ensure that traffic can drive at 60 mph on roads subject to 60 mph speed limits rather than being forced to drive at 40 mph because of bad drivers who are taking up positions at the front and causing significant problems as a consequence. The Department’s solution may not be the same as mine but it may be similar.
Mr. McDowell: This is a very important issue and the problem in question must be responsible for a very large number of the accidents. In other countries with single carriageways, there are frequent sections with, say, three lanes, alternating between both sides of the road. There are a couple of examples of this in Ireland, including near Castleisland on the main road to Tralee, and we have some climbing lanes that use this model. If there were such a provision on single-lane carriageways, perhaps every four, five or six kilometres, one would at least be able to overtake. Although the system that obtains in other countries is not within our normal practice and although the Minister may say it would cause confusion, one must realise that our current system is dangerous. Failing the making of every road in the country into a dual carriageway, which nobody expects, some kind of release mechanism is needed.
Mr. Callely: I have good news on both counts. We must strike a happy balance regarding road safety, as suggested by Senator Jim Walsh. Before I came into the House, I looked up road death statistics for 1996, 1997 and 1998. In 1996 there were 453 road deaths, in 1997 there were 472 and in 1998 there were 458. Speed was a contributory factor in some of these accidents.
There have been 359 road deaths to date in 2004 and I am concerned about this. While this figure certainly represents a decrease on the figures for the late 1990s, it represents a slight increase on the figure for 2003. Overall, however, the road safety strategy has been successful in achieving a reduction in the number of road deaths since the 1990s.
We do not want people to feel they should be speeding. I am sure Senator Jim Walsh would express this view to those people on the four-lane carriageway he mentioned, who might be travelling at inappropriate speeds while hogging the centre of the road. We can all relate to the Senator’s remarks. He will be delighted to note that, when this Bill is passed, it will be a penalty point offence for a person not to give due consideration to other road users. The legislation states a person shall not drive a vehicle in a public place without reasonable consideration for other persons using the place.
I very much support Senator McDowell’s view on the need for appropriate accommodation. As one who has expressed his views on safety barriers on motorways very clearly, I contend that a safety barrier is more required on the type of road to which the Senator referred than on bigger carriageways with more space. However, I am quite satisfied that we need safety barriers on all such roads. I am particularly pleased to note that a project is under way such that, on roads with three lanes, there will be two dedicated lanes for traffic going in one direction to facilitate passing and one lane for traffic going in the other direction. Both sides will be separated by a safety barrier. After certain set distances, the system will alternate such that the side with only one lane will have two lanes and the side that had two will have one. It is called a two-plus-one road. Such a system is currently under construction on the N20 in Cork. I hope benefits will accrue as a result.
Mr. P. Burke: I welcome what the Minister of State has said. We should have more ghost islands on our two-lane national routes. I presume the greatest problem is that there are too many exits off our national routes. We now realise these are causing problems. A number of these exits require ghost islands to allow a car turning in a particular direction to turn safely into a lane provided to allow the car behind to pass on the inside.
On the Minister of State’s remark about the provision to award penalty points against those driving without due consideration for other motorists, will such people have to be stopped and advised that they have committed an offence? I presume they will and that more evidence than that gleaned from cameras will be required. Those receiving the points should not just receive notification in the post. I welcome the provision because considerable frustration is caused by motorists driving at 30 mph or 40 mph at the front of long queues, thereby holding up the whole shebang. The gardaí would be well employed to pull in those motorists and advise them that they are not the only drivers on the road.
Mr. McDowell: Has the Minister of State had any joy from the NRA regarding the provision of safety barriers? I notice that he has expressed the hope that we will at least be able to commit to putting in place safety barriers within a relatively short period. Can he report on progress in this regard?
Mr. Quinn: Senator Jim Walsh spoke about the frustration — I believe it is road rage — that causes many accidents. I have been impressed by drivers, particularly truck drivers, who pull in to allow one to pass. I approve of the tradition of giving such drivers a little signal to thank them. Manners on the road have improved considerably but there is still great frustration.
In the knowledge that I am speaking to a Minister from the north side of Dublin, I contend that there is a bias in respect of the timing of gates at DART stations. I travel south of the Liffey where it seems that I never have to wait more than 90 seconds for the DART gates to open. I have waited for as long as five minutes on the north side of the city. I am sure there is no north-south bias but phenomena such as this cause road rage, frustration and misbehaviour on the part of drivers. I am not sure how to solve the problem but I just wanted to get the issue off my chest.
Mr. Callely: As a northsider, just like Senator Quinn, I am delighted to announce that I am encouraging great expenditure on the rail system on the north side of the city. One may be delayed a little more than is normal because of the work taking place. However, it is good news because it will lead to improved frequency and capacity.
Mr. Callely: It might not have happened if I had not been in the Department but it is now happening. Excusing the pun, it will continue to roll as long as I am in the Department and I will keep it on track.
A couple of decisions have been made on safety barriers that the House will welcome, namely, the construction of any motorway will include the appropriate safety barrier. The work being done on the two-in-one roads will include an appropriate safety barrier. We have agreed to retrofit all existing motorways. Two thirds of that work is complete. We are progressing as quickly as possible and the National Roads Authority knows our views on the need to complete the safety barrier project.
Mr. P. Burke: This section allows the county manager, as well as allowing a reserved function of the members of the council, to make speed limits temporary. Does it allow the manager to make temporary speed limits on national routes as well as county roads? In making a temporary speed limit the manager must consult the Garda Commissioner. What is the position in regard to emergency situations where, for example, there is an oil spill and the manager may not have the opportunity to get the permission of the Garda Commissioner? Can he go ahead without getting that permission because time could be essential in that situation?
The Garda Síochána handles matters such as oil spills, which may not require a reduction in the speed limit. This normally does not require changing the speed limit for any length of time because it is an acute problem which is dealt with quickly.
Mr. Callely: No, but the gardaí normally divert the traffic. I met the Assistant Garda Commissioner and the chief superintendent recently on issues concerning the M50 and St. John’s Road and other recent incidents. I have asked them to come back to me with a contingency plan to deal with incidents such as oil spills or accidents, which cause traffic disruption. I am waiting to hear from them on that.
Mr. McDowell: I asked a question last week on Second Stage but if the Minister of State responded I was not here and apologise. Is it possible to make special provision for speed limits in bad weather, especially for motorways? It is a standard provision in mainland Europe that the speed limit is lower in those circumstances.
Mr. Callely: No. The speed limit on motorways or roads is the maximum limit and people are asked to apply appropriate speeds depending on the weather and other conditions that might affect their driving. The Garda does not have power to change the limit. My Department is considering intelligent traffic management systems to have the appropriate mechanism on our modern road network by which we could use an early warning system to advise drivers whether they should slow down, or whether there is an oil spill or accident ahead. These will be beneficial to the driver and help him or her to drive with appropriate care and caution.
Question proposed: “That section 11 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Quinn: What is the position with regard to speed cameras and how is it developing? This section deals with exceeding the speed limit. My French son-in-law was with me last weekend and he could not believe the number of cars that passed us while we stuck to the speed limit. He learned his lesson when the cameras came into Paris and he was caught three times in the first month. He never breaks the speed limit now.
If one investment should be made to ensure people adhere to the speed limit it should be the erection of cameras, not only for main roads but cameras that can work at night, the most dangerous time, and on small roads where many accidents occur. We must change people’s attitudes because we will never afford to have enough gardaí on duty earning overtime checking drivers. Speed cameras are a good investment. All the evidence shows that reducing road accidents and deaths will make a great saving for the nation.
I do not understand why we have not seized this opportunity and I hope the Minister of State is the person who will grasp it and do something about it. Making sure speeding is detected is one sure way of enforcing the speed limit. We need to put in place numerous cameras that work automatically. This is modern technology, it is not impossible. Like hands-free mobile telephone sets in cars this technology works and the investment would repay itself over and over very quickly. Will the Minister of State say why we have not seized this opportunity?
This Government and the previous Administration have shown great courage and willingness to tackle difficult and thorny issues regarding road safety. For example, it has been courageous in rolling out penalty points and cameras at times when elections were forthcoming. They were determined to address issues such as the road deaths and casualties we witnessed in the 1990s. We have seen the success of some of our road safety strategies.
I totally support the Senator’s view on the speed cameras and will be working with my colleagues in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform along with my own officials to see how we can continue to roll out speed cameras and the consequent benefits.
Mr. Quinn: I thank the Minister of State for his comments but I do not hear anything like the sense of urgency I would love to hear from him. Investment in road safety measures pays for itself rapidly. The state of Victoria in Australia has set an example in this. While the number of road deaths has come down since the 1990s it is nowhere near the standard it should be. We have the power to do something about this. I would love to hear the Minister of State express much more urgency.
Mr. Callely: I thank Senator Quinn for his comments but I am being cautious because this is not really within my remit. That issue is not within my Department’s remit of responsibility. It is a matter for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. However, I will come back to the Senator with the 2005 programme. Both myself and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, are keen to witness an extension of the existing speed cameras. Perhaps we will establish a working committee between both Departments to achieve progress on the issue by way of agreement. I wholeheartedly support the Senator’s view but must be somewhat cautious. I do not wish to give a commitment I cannot deliver. I must work through the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 12 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. McDowell: I do not understand aspects of this section, which provides for transitional arrangements. Subsection (1) is clear, but I read subsections (2) and (3) several times and am not entirely sure what they mean. If a local authority is slow to replace particular signs, so they still show miles per hour, does that mean the old speed limit still applies rather than the new limit? Alternatively, does it mean that, notwithstanding the authority not having replaced the signs, the new speed limit applies? The provision, as stated, is unclear.
Mr. Callely: All signs will be changed before the changeover to metric speed limits at midnight on 19 January.
Mr. McDowell: If I find some old signs on 20 or 21 January, how much will the Department pay me?
Mr. Callely: Perhaps the Senator would let me know where the signs are located.
Mr. McDowell: I do not wish to sound too cynical, but it has been 25 years or so since the decision was taken in principle to change signage to metric. We still have not done so in most parts of the country. It will be a logistical nightmare to replace tens of thousands of signs within three days. Assuming we do not succeed in replacing them all, what will be the status of the old signs after 20 January?
Mr. Callely: I do not want Members to think there may be a problem. In recent times we have witnessed successfully applied and well thought-out changeovers on a national basis. The commitment of those involved was visible.
With regard to this changeover, the 58,000 signs which will be in place after 20 January 2005 have been ordered and received and are now in situ. They are currently being distributed to each local authority for placement. A programme for the erection of the signs in each authority has been agreed, and a commitment has been given by each manager to the effect that they are satisfied they will be able to meet the target date.
Mr. McDowell: Each and every one of them?
Mr. Callely: Yes. It is clear and all Departments involved are satisfied the targets will be met.
Mr. P. Burke: A national primary route, the N4, from Dublin towards Kinnegad has several different speed limits. They range from 30 mph, 40 mph, 50 mph to 60 mph and 70 mph, and change up and down. Under the provisions of this section of the Bill, local authorities must meet to pass by-laws to change speed limits on a national primary route or motorway. I am not sure which is the correct term. The Minister of State has received assurances from county managers, but the county manager has no say. Changing the speed limit in those areas is a reserved function of the local authorities.
Mr. Callely: We are not changing speed limits, we are only changing signs.
Mr. P. Burke: Some of the signs along the N4 vary from 30 mph to 40 mph to 50 mph. The normal motorway speed limit does not apply. The limit fluctuates. Under this legislation, only local authorities will be able to change and implement by-laws within an area. Speed limits already exist, but it will take a meeting of local authorities to change the limits on a national primary route. It is not simply a case of putting up a sign for 50 km/h in place of a sign for 40 mph. I would like clarification on the matter. There is a similar situation on the N7 where the speed limit also fluctuates. Local authorities must meet to pass the relevant by-law.
Mr. Callely: That will not be required. Section 12(1) states: “On the commencement of section 9, bye-laws made under section 46 ... of the Principal Act continue in force and are deemed to be bye-laws for the purposes of that section 9 and are to be read as applying...”. All we are doing is changing from imperial to metric speed limits.
Mr. P. Burke: Will the existing by-laws will stay in place until the councils change them?
Mr. Callely: Yes.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 13 to 17, inclusive, agreed to.
Mr. P. Burke: I move amendment No. 2:
This amendment relates to the delivery of penalty points. Currently, they are posted out to the person who then pays the fine and sends in his or her licence for the attachment of the points. The Government is proposing to contract out the issuing of penalty points and collection of fines.
This is a two-pronged amendment. In order to contract out the work without ambiguity, we cannot continue with the current situation whereby notification is posted in the normal manner. It must be sent by registered post. The company that wins the contract must guarantee a system to deliver summons and fines. We would not want the situation we had with clamping, whereby more cars clamped meant more money for the company that won the contract. Safeguards must be put in place to ensure this does not happen with regard to a contract for the delivery of summons and fines relating to penalty points.
Mr. Wilson: Senator Burke has raised an interesting point. Currently if people are caught on camera for speeding they receive a letter in the post and are given a certain number of days to pay the fine or else they receive a summons and are brought to court. However, I know of a case where an individual received no letter in the post.
The first indication that person had of having incurred penalty points was on receipt of a summons from the local Garda station. This person could not prove he or she did not receive a letter because such letters are sent by ordinary rather than registered post. There is a loophole in the legislation given that if the system is to be applied fairly, such letters should be registered and that should not only happen when this function is privatised.
In regard to the point Senator Paddy Burke raised about this function being tendered out to private individuals, I asked the other day why that should happen. Why can this function not be allocated to a section of the local authority or to a central organisation? Why should private individuals operate a system that could be operated as well and at as low a cost by local government? If that was done, it would prevent the spread of rumours and innuendoes, as the Senator pointed out, to the effect that the more summonses issued for speeding the more money private individuals will receive.
Mr. McDowell: I would be obliged if the Minister of State would talk us through how the process will work. I appreciate that the section refers to contracting out only the administrative part of the function, but I am not clear where such administration will stop and decision making will start. What will happen to the database of information? If we contract out the serving of notices and so on, presumably it will be incumbent on the company, local authority or whoever does this work to maintain the database of the number of people on whom they serve notices. If the fixed penalty is not paid, will that information come back to the contractors or to the Garda Síochána? I presume the information will have to be at least shared with the Garda Síochána.
I listened, as I am sure did other Members, to the Comptroller and Auditor General speak at a committee meeting a few weeks ago. His exposé in this regard was remarkable and he was anxious not to place too much of the blame on the Garda Síochána or anybody else but rather to highlight the fact that there were deficiencies in the system.
It would be useful for the Minister of State to take us through the system from start to finish, from the point where a person is guilty of doing something which incurs penalty points to the point where if the person does not pay the fixed penalty, he or she will end up in court. What will happen to the information in question and to its storage in that intervening period?
Mr. Callely: I will deal with the last speaker’s questions first. The detection of an offence will always rest with the Garda Síochána. Other issues of outsourcing will be a matter for the administration involved in collecting the fixed charge.
Mr. McDowell: I presume prosecution in cases of default of payment of the fixed charge will also fall to the Garda Síochána, or will that not be the case?
Mr. Callely: Yes.
Mr. McDowell: I would have thought that function could not be contracted out.
Mr. Callely: No.
Mr. McDowell: Stopping a motorist for speeding and advising the motorist of the fine involved and the penalty points incurred is a matter for the Garda Síochána. If a fixed payment is not paid by the motorist in question, I presume that information will come back to the Garda Síochána, presumably from the contractor in question? Will the contractor report if the fine has not been paid?
Mr. Callely: Yes.
Mr. McDowell: Is that the way it will happen?
Mr. Callely: Yes.
Mr. McDowell: Does the Minister of State have a company in mind for this contract or does the Department plan to tender for it?
Mr. Callely: No.
Mr. McDowell: Is it the case that all such a contractor will do is serve the notice and report to the Garda Síochána whether the fine has been paid?
Mr. Callely: Yes.
Mr. McDowell: The contractor will report to the fines office or whoever deals with that work.
Mr. Callely: Yes.
Mr. McDowell: Will the contractor maintain a database of the number of people on whom it served notices?
Mr. Callely: Yes.
Mr. McDowell: Will it share that information with the Garda Síochána? Will it be available to the Garda Síochána or will it be separate from its PULSE system?
Mr. Callely: It will be a Garda database.
Mr. McDowell: Is it intended that this work will be administered from Garda headquarters or will it be administered by a private company?
Mr. Callely: I am not sure where such administration will be based. In terms of technology, I am sure there will be a sharing of information, but such administration work will not necessarily have to be based in Garda headquarters.
I will deal with the other issues raised. We have dealt, effectively, with amendments Nos. 2 and 3. In respect of the proposals for the delivery of the relevant notice, Senator Paddy Burke’s amendment No. 2 provides for the removal of subsection (10) and its replacement by a new subsection that relates to the delivery of a notice in the case of a prosecution for a fixed charge offence.
The purpose of section 103(10) of the 1961 Act is to establish two presumptions in regard to any court case that may proceed in respect of a fixed charge offence. These are that in any prosecution it will be presumed until it is proved otherwise that the notice under this section was served and that no fixed charge payment was made. It is a matter for the Garda Síochána to decide how best it should be served rather than tie its hands by proposing only three modes. It is a matter for the force to decide in that regard, once it is satisfied that such a notice has been served.
To remove that provision would be to the effect of the Senator’s proposed amendment, which would remove the presumption. This would create significant difficulties for the pursuit of any prosecution in that such pursuit can only proceed where the notice has been served and where no payment has been made. It is a matter for the accused to argue against those presumptions if he or she so wishes.
The section already provides for the service of the fixed charge notice. Although it is relatively silent on the various methods of service, some of which are referred to in the Senator’s proposals, it would not be appropriate to place any limitations on the possible methods of service of such notice. In any event, I do not accept that the removal of the vital provisions in the current subsection (10) to provide for that provision is warranted.
In regard to outsourcing this function, I wish to make it clear that there is no link between the number of fixed charge offences detected by the Garda Síochána and the administrative services that it is proposed to outsource to a service provider. In the first instance, there is no requirement on any person to pay a fixed charge. A person accused of a fixed charge offence can allow the matter to proceed to court. The service provider has no influence over the quantity of items that may be presented for processing. In other words, the service provider cannot drum up extra business or compel any individual to avail of the fixed charge administration route in lieu of going to court. It is appropriate to pay for such administration services that arise on a customer demand basis by way of a fee per transaction. This is the most efficient way of paying for such services and provides the best value for money to the Exchequer.
Due to the nature of the business involved it is not possible to determine in advance the volumes of payment that will arise. This is dependent on a number of factors, including the number of detections made in the payment rate of such notices. Therefore, any alternative payment arrangement would be extremely difficult to administer. I ask the Senator to consider withdrawing the amendment.
Mr. P. Burke: I am not confident to withdraw my amendment having heard the Minister of State’s clarification. What I propose in my amendment is actual delivery rather than presumed delivery of the relevant notice. That section provides for presumed delivery.
The Government proposed to award a contract to person to sit in an office and post out summonses and that person will presume that his or her work is finished at that point. What is put forward is a proposal for inaction. We must be guaranteed that such summonses will be delivered. The Minister of State has not given me any comfort that will be done.
The current system, bad and all as it is, is nearly better than what is being proposed. The Minister of State has made no provision to instil confidence that such summonses will be delivered. The format of the delivery of such summonses should be included in the Bill, but there is nothing in what is proposed that gives me comfort in this regard.
Members on the far side of the Chamber have referred to cases — we are all familiar with such cases — where such offenders have not been fined or summonsed. This leads to ambiguity in the system. If we are to award contracts for the carrying out of this work and such ambiguity in the system continues to prevail, there will be a breakdown in the system.
Mr. Dooley: Is there a proposal to privatise detection or an element of detection of, say, speeding, given that reports have been circulating for some time to the effect that the operation of speed cameras may be privatised? Could this be considered as part of that campaign? It would be helpful if the Minister clarified that. I understand what is proposed here is the privatisation of the collection of penalties applied to offences that have been detected by a garda on duty.
There is concern that the next stage might be the privatisation of the roll-out of speed cameras to a third party and that this, in conjunction with the collection agency, could ultimately lead to a situation similar to the one that arose regarding clamping, as described by Senators Paddy Burke and Wilson. We all recognise the bad taste associated with that, particularly in Dublin. Dublin City Council was cognisant of that when it recently changed the contractor. That is not to suggest that that is the only reason the contractor was changed. Perhaps the Minister of State could outline how he envisages the process leading ultimately to greater detection, if that is the Department’s intention.
Mr. Callely: I want to be as helpful as I can because there seems to be some confusion. The intention is to outsource only the administration. Senator Paddy Burke seems to be of the view that the service provider will be involved in serving summonses and prosecuting. That is not the case. The service provider will be involved only in administering the collection of the fixed charged. It will not be involved in serving summonses. That responsibility will continue to rest with the Garda Síochána and will not be a matter for the service provider.
Mr. P. Burke: Could we clarify it further? The Minister is saying that the garda will write a summons and send it to the service provider.
Mr. Callely: No. The garda will issue it.
Mr. P. Burke: The garda will issue the summons.
Mr. Callely: The garda will issue the summons. I said earlier that it is a matter for the Garda Síochána to decide how best to deliver that.
Mr. P. Burke: There is much confusion regarding all of that.
Mr. Callely: Only the administration of the collection of the fixed charge will be out-sourced. I hope that is helpful.
Mr. P. Burke: Will the Garda Síochána decide on how best to deliver the summons to ensure the person gets it?
Mr. Callely: Yes.
Mr. P. Burke: That is not covered in the Act.
Mr. Callely: It is already there.
Mr. P. Burke: It is poorly defined. We have had several examples of this today. Surely it should be covered in this Bill. If it is in the Bill already, there are holes in it.
Mr. Wilson: We have a system in place whereby the Garda is obliged to notify a person of an alleged offence. There are so many days within which a fixed penalty must be paid. If it is not paid a summons is issued. Would the Minister of State agree that in the interest if fairness there should be an onus on the Garda to prove the original notice was served?
Mr. Callely: Yes.
Mr. Wilson: The Garda should be able to prove that. At the moment it is not able to do that.
Mr. Dooley: Will the Minister of State clarify what we are trying to resolve? Is it the case that the Department and the Garda are not succeeding in collecting outstanding fines? Could the Minister of State tell the House what percentage of fines are not collected?
Mr. Callely: In order that the House will have a handle on this, let me say that the existing procedures for detecting offences, issuing summonses and prosecuting offences will remain as they are. The only matter referred to in the Bill is the outsourcing of the administration of the fixed charges.
Mr. McDowell: What does that mean?
Mr. Callely: Some may believe that administration includes the serving of summonses by the service provider. I am indicating to the House that that is not so. Responsibility for all other issues from detection right through remain with the Garda Síochána. The only area that will be out-sourced to a service provider is the administration of the fixed charge.
Mr. Finucane: On that point, the Comptroller and Auditor General produced a report on the administration of the points system within the Garda Síochána and discovered serious deficiencies regarding the level of non-payment of fines and the difficulties faced by the Garda in locating people in Dublin and in administering the system generally. At the time that report was produced it was felt that outsourcing of administration should be considered, and in terms of this Bill, I can see the benefits of it.
Mr. McDowell: I am confused. Will the Minister of State start with the situation where I am stopped by the garda and finish with when I am convicted in court for not having paid the fixed penalty? How does the process work?
Mr. Callely: The Senator, with his experience of legal practice, probably knows the system better than some others.
Mr. McDowell: I am out of practice.
Mr. Callely: The system will remain as it is with regard to detection, the issue of summons, and the process of prosecution. The only change is that we are allowing for a service provider to administer the collection of the fixed charge. The purpose of this is to take pressure off the system.
Mr. McDowell: My problem is that I do not understand what is meant by administering the fixed charge collection. If a garda stops me and tells me I am speeding and writes out a note, what does he do then?
Mr. Callely: He puts it through the system.
Mr. Finucane: That often involves a €50 fine.
Mr. McDowell: I then get a notice to the effect that I have the option to pay a fixed charge or in default of payment the case may end up in court.
Mr. Callely: That is correct.
Mr. McDowell: Is that notice sent by the Garda?
Mr. Callely: Yes.
Mr. McDowell: Does that notice inform me that I should pay the fixed charge to the service provider?
Mr. Callely: It gives that option.
Mr. McDowell: What happens if I do not pay it?
Mr. Callely: If the Senator does not pay, he will go to court. The service provider will have a list and if the Senator decides to pay the charge, the service provider will record that and notify the Garda Síochána. If, on the other hand, the Senator decides not to pay, the service provider will notify the Garda Síochána that no payment has been received and the Garda will issue a summons and institute a prosecution in the District Court.
Mr. McDowell: Perhaps I am wrong, but that does not seem like a huge gain in efficiency.
Mr. P. Burke: When the garda issues a person with a summons, does he have to send a note to the service provider as well?
Mr. Callely: No.
Mr. P. Burke: How does the service provider know that the garda has sent a summons to me or to anybody else? Who contacts the service provider? Who issues the service provider with the notification that somebody has received a summons?
Mr. Finucane: The service provider is finished at that stage.
Mr. P. Burke: How will the service provider be notified of the summons being issued?
Mr. Callely: The question has been answered. The service provider’s role is finished at that stage.
Mr. Finucane: When he notifies the Garda that the period of time has elapsed and the person has not paid the fine.
Mr. P. Burke: When a garda stops me on the road and issues me with, for example, two penalty points and a €50 fine, he will issue me with a notice. Does the garda also have to tell the service provider he has issued me with a summons?
Mr. Callely: No.
Mr. P. Burke: Where does the service provider come into it? If everybody pays up, there is no need for a service provider.
Mr. Callely: Either one pays or one does not. It is a matter for the individual to decide.
Mr. P. Burke: How does the service provider know one did not pay?
Mr. Callely: One would pay the service provider.
Mr. McDowell: What if one did not pay? Only the garda would know this.
Mr. Finucane: The garda would notify the service provider. We are talking about fixed penalty charges, which go to the service provider. If a person pays, that is that.
An Cathaoirleach: There seems to be confusion.
Mr. Finucane: I understand the Minister of State’s point.
An Cathaoirleach: Is the amendment being pressed?
Mr. Callely: To be helpful, it is only an option for the person who has caused the offence to utilise the service provider to pay the fixed charge. He or she does not have to do this. He or she can allow matters to proceed, as is currently the practice, and appear in court on the offence. It is only an option. The only part the service provider will play is in regard to the collection of the administration side of the fee.
Mr. Dooley: It might be possible to allow the Minister to address the issue in greater detail on Report Stage, taking into account the issues raised. Some useful points have been raised on all sides and the Minister’s officials have taken note of any concerns. I suggest a full report be delivered on Report Stage and that we move on with the Bill.
Mr. Callely: Agreed.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. P. Burke: I move amendment No. 3:
I hope the contract will not be awarded to the service provider on a commission basis.
Mr. Callely: I have already dealt with this amendment.
An Cathaoirleach: How was it dealt with when we are only arriving at the amendment?
Mr. Callely: The amendment was not moved but was discussed with amendment No. 2.
An Cathaoirleach: Were the two to be taken together?
Mr. Callely: No.
Mr. P. Burke: They were not related but we digressed while on amendment No. 2. They were intertwined.
Mr. Callely: For the benefit of the House, I restate that the only involvement of the service provider is to receive the fixed charge. The service provider has no influence over the quantity of items that may be presented for processing. In other words, the service provider cannot drum up extra business or compel any individual to avail of the fixed charge administration route in lieu of going to court.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 18 agreed to.
Sections 19 and 20 agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 21 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. McDowell: Is a specific penalty provided for in the event that somebody does not produce a licence? I ask because in my experience the offence of not having a licence or not being in a position to produce a valid licence is at times treated surprisingly leniently by the courts. On my reading, the section does not provide a particular penalty.
Mr. Callely: There is a penalty of €3,000.
Mr. McDowell: Is that in the 2002 Act?
Mr. Callely: Yes.
Mr. P. Burke: “Prime Time” last night highlighted the case of a woman who visited a Garda station on several occasions but could not find a garda to deal with her. Eventually, she ended up in court. The position is similar regarding many Garda stations. What of a person who genuinely visits a Garda station on a number of occasions but finds only the green man, which I am not sure will be much help? This may need to be advertised. Will any Garda station suffice? Some make a genuine effort to go to a Garda station but get no response.
Mr. Dooley: Since it has become compulsory for motorists to carry their driving licences at all times, an issue has arisen in regard to the difficulty of carrying a licence on one’s person at all time, particularly in rural areas where farmers regularly move from cars to tractors to jeeps. Many farmers are concerned not to lose their licences. While I am not sure this is relevant to the section, as we are dealing with the issue of driving licences, it is worth raising the issue. There should be a capacity to allow for presentation of a licence within a short period. This concern, which relates to rural Ireland and the farming community in particular, has been raised with me and other public representatives. Is legislation or regulation proposed to deal with the matter?
Mr. Finucane: If one were on the way from Newcastle West to Kilgarvan, County Kerry, why does the system not allow one to produce one’s driving licence at one’s local Garda station rather than being dictated to by the Act to return to Newcastle West to produce the licence there? A Kerry man recently telephoned to tell me he could not understand the legislation. Is this measure still in place? It would simplify the process if it were not. There is no need to bring a person from County Kerry to Newcastle West when he could easily visit his local Garda sergeant to produce verification.
Mr. Callely: With regard to Senator McDowell’s earlier question, I mistakenly stated that the penalty for the offence was €3,000. The penalty is €800 for a first offence and €1,500 for a second offence. I confused the offence with not producing a driver’s licence, which attracts a €3,000 penalty.
In reply to Senator Finucane, one can nominate the station at which one wants to produce the licence. Anybody who is stopped and requested to produce a licence or other documentation that may be required can nominate the Garda station of his or her choosing.
Mr. Finucane: That is fine.
Mr. Callely: Ten days is still allowable for this so one does not necessarily have to carry one’s licence. I hope this is helpful.
Mr. O’Toole: When the Road Traffic Bill 1993 was going through the House, it was introduced by one side of the political spectrum before the Government changed and it was reintroduced by the other side. In both debates, I put down an amendment to the effect that it should not be an offence for a person not to carry his or her driving licence. Despite the Minister of State’s point in regard to nominating a Garda station, that was not the point made by Senator Finucane. It is an offence not to carry a licence at all times, even given the back-up option of nominating a station. It is a further offence not to produce the licence some time later.
That one did not have one’s driving licence while driving through Newcastle West would mean one was already guilty of an offence. I put this to the then Minister for the Environment, Deputy Michael Smith, during the debate on the 1993 Bill and stated it was a major difficulty. The then Minister replied he could not imagine we would ever make it an offence for someone not to carry his or her driving licence. However, we have done this and people have been arrested for it.
To make matters worse in terms of the issue raised by Senator Dooley, the real problem is that one cannot get a good copy of a driving licence. The raggedy bit of a licence we have does not last any period in one’s pocket. I have asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on at least five occasions when he would introduce a credit card-type driving licence. What is the difficulty with this? If this was introduced, we could have a credit card size licence suitable for use in pockets. It is a positive measure which should be introduced immediately. I do not know why it should be delayed.
Mr. Callely: I support the sentiments express by Senator O’Toole on the issue of a user-friendly, plastic card, driving licence system. Recently, I attended an EU Transport Ministers’ Council meeting. Ireland is co-operative in agreeing to an appropriate EU driving licence for all member states but other players are not as willing to participate. Some member states issue a driving licence for life, so an elderly driver might end up with a ragged licence bearing his or her communion picture. Such a system can cause complications. Ireland has a ten-year driving licence system and we are prepared to work with our EU counterparts to come up with an appropriate, user-friendly, plastic smart-card system. It would be very beneficial in avoiding fraud.
Mr. O’Toole: It took us 24 years to agree to a European passport and it will take as long to agree an EU driving licence. In the meantime, could we have a plastic one here?
Mr. Callely: There is an EU directive on driving licences so, unfortunately, we cannot go ahead ourselves on a temporary basis.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 22 agreed to.
Mr. P. Burke: I move amendment No. 4:
We should have a graduated level of tolerance for the penalty points system. If a driver is only exceeding the speed limit by three or four miles per hour, a portion of a penalty point or a reduced number of points could apply in addition to the full fine.
Mr. Callely: The determination of the degree of a person’s guilt and the appropriate level of the penalty to be applied are matters for the judgment of the courts.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: “That section 23 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Dooley: I always believed that penalty points would work and they have worked. I am somewhat concerned, however, that we may try to over use what is an effective deterrent for speeding and other serious motoring offences. The Bill refers to driving without reasonable consideration, which is a subjective term. What may be considered as driving without reasonable consideration for others, might involve an elderly driver making his or her way to or from daily Mass or the shops. It is for the Garda Síochána to decide on such issues but it would be wrong to impose penalties points in all such cases.
Concerns were raised earlier in the debate about the privatisation of the penalty points system, which could make it difficult for older people to get about. We should not move too quickly to introduce penalty points for the broadest possible number of cases. People may be driving in a manner which may be termed “without reasonable consideration” but they may just be driving home slowly and carefully.
Question put and agreed to.
Ms O’Rourke: On a point of order, a Chathaoirligh, Committee Stage is due to finish at 2 p.m. May I inquire if there is much more to be dealt with? Are there more amendments?
Mr. Finucane: Approximately 15 minutes more, I would say.
Mr. Dooley: Half an hour.
Ms O’Rourke: I am not sure what the Minister of State’s availability is but I think we should finish Committee Stage. I suggest that the sitting should be extended to 2.30 p.m., although it may end before that.
Mr. Callely: I would be happy to take Report Stage today, if we have time.
Ms O’Rourke: No. We will not take Report Stage today. It is being taken separately.
An Cathaoirleach: Is the Leader proposing to amend the Order of Business?
Ms O’Rourke: Yes, in order to conclude Committee Stage of the Road Traffic Bill at 2.30 p.m. instead of 2 p.m., or beforehand if the debate finishes earlier.
An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Sections 24 to 26, inclusive, agreed to.
Mr. P. Burke: I move amendment No. 5:
This proposal was made by Deputy Deasy in the Lower House concerning the offence of parking in a space designated as a disabled parking space. In tabling this amendment I support the original proposal. The amendment also seeks to impose a fine for such an offence of not less than €100. Anybody who parks in a space designated for a disabled person is completely out of order and deserves the full rigour of the law to be applied to him or her. The Minister of State should accept the amendment.
Mr. Dooley: In principle, I welcome the idea of greater deterrents for those who park in spaces designated for disabled drivers. In an earlier debate, I raised this matter with the former Minister for Transport. It might be better to impose penalty points for such an offence, rather than the extension to which I referred a few moments ago.
It is outrageous for people to continue to use parking spaces designated for use by disabled drivers, some of whom have severe handicaps. It is to their credit that some disabled people can continue to drive despite particularly difficult personal circumstances. The personal use of a car allows them to remain mobile, albeit with great difficulty.
They may find, however, that parking spaces designated for their use are being taken by other drivers in shopping centre car parks or on streets. Those parking spaces are thus designated for a good reason, yet some thoughtless, heartless individuals are using them. Such designated parking areas are not just taken up by people who have failed to recognise the disability symbol but by drivers who have made a conscious decision to do so because the space is available. It is an outrageous situation. People who are pulled up for this offence regularly explain that they were only going to park there for a couple of minutes to buy a newspaper or a pint of milk. That excuse is not good enough, however, because one finds that designated parking spaces are continuously filled by such people dropping in for a few minutes here and there. Perhaps this provision needs to be inserted in some other legislation. The Minister of State should consider the matter seriously. It is a significant problem for many people, especially because there is increasingly less parking available in villages, towns and shopping centres. There is no penalty we could put in place that would be considered too mild for those disingenuous people who continue to behave in this manner.
Mr. Finucane: Most urban communities, especially towns, now have designated parking areas for drivers with disabilities. In many cases, a concession is in place that provides free parking for the first hour. Traffic wardens to whom I have spoken consider the fine for illegal use of designated spaces, at €15, is quite restricted. I support an increase in the fine to €100 as a deterrent to those who park in designated areas and cause much inconvenience.
Mr. Wilson: People use designated disabled parking spaces because such spaces are always in the most convenient location in terms of the associated destination. I agree with my colleagues that such behaviour is disgraceful. The fine could never be too high. I would not afford anybody who parks illegally in a designated space the opportunity of getting away with a penalty point. Such people should be prosecuted and, to borrow the phrase of the Fine Gael Members, “named and shamed” in court. That is what they deserve.
Mr. Quinn: As Senator Dooley said, this applies not only to roads and other public places but also outside shopping centres. Recently, I spoke to a young wheelchair user at a Superquinn store located in a shopping centre. She drew my attention to an announcement about a car causing an obstruction in the car park, which had been given repeatedly over the loudspeaker for the previous 20 minutes. She revealed that it was her car and I asked if I could assist her in any way. She reassured me she was fine and explained that she had been about to park in the disabled space when another motorist pulled in ahead of her. She had parked behind that car and informed me there was no problem and she would be out in approximately 30 minutes. Her action was a wonderful way to answer this behaviour.
Mr. Finucane: That was well done.
Mr. Quinn: It is a serious problem. This Bill may not be the appropriate place in which to include such a provision but the amendment deserves support. It must be extremely frustrating for a disabled person to find that the small number of designated parking spaces have been taken by people who are not disabled. It is a problem that occurs regularly and there must be some provision that will give teeth to the enforcement of the law in this regard.
Mr. Morrissey: Like other Senators, I support the sentiment that is contained in this amendment. There is mention in the Bill of careless, thoughtless and dangerous driving. Unauthorised use of disabled parking spaces constitutes undue consideration for the motorists who require those spaces.
I require clarification on one issue. If an increased fine or a penalty point is introduced for this behaviour, will such apply to car parks in shopping centres and other facilities? Are these considered public or private spaces? It is in car parks attached to shopping centres that these offences are often committed.
Mr. Callely: An area of responsibility I am delighted to have relates to the provision of accessible transport, which involves accommodating persons with an impairment or disability of any form. I take this opportunity to ask all parking space providers, whether private operators, local authorities or other service providers, to review their arrangements with regard to the number of spaces available for disabled parking. There is not quite sufficient provision in the context of the number of disabled people who are more active than ever before because of the increased adaptability of vehicles. A number of people have brought to my attention the need to accommodate the motorised scooter, for which I have seen no allocated spaces. This three-wheeled vehicle is increasingly popular.
I support the views expressed by all Members regarding the abuse of designated parking spaces for disabled drivers. Accessible transport implies transport for all and that everybody should be able to use the mode of transport they desire. We must ensure this is possible. Such a strategy includes the provision of appropriate parking facilities. The position in regard to illegal parking in a parking space designated for the use of a vehicle carrying a disabled person’s permit is that the offence already exists and is laid down in the road traffic regulations of 1997.
To answer Senator Morrissey’s question, this offence is applicable in public places. In private places, dealing with such behaviour is a matter for the private operator. We have witnessed an increase in the monitoring of private car parks attached to shopping centres, churches and other facilities. A number of private car park operators have put in place a time period to accommodate those who are utilising their facilities. In the greater Dublin area and in other densely populated urban areas, people have been using such facilities to avail of public transport and free car parking. As a result, some parking providers are installing service providers and operators in their car parks to monitor the length of motorists’ stay. In some city-centre car parks, motorists can park their cars for no more than four hours and the average time is less than two hours. Clamping and other such provisions have also been provided in some private facilities.
With regard to public facilities, there is an on-the-spot fine of €19 for illegal parking. This is the same level of penalty that applies to other illegal parking offences that are detected by gardaí or traffic wardens. The fixed-charge system provided for in the Road Traffic Act 2002 is due to be applied to a wide range of traffic offences, including illegal parking, when the Garda’s new IT system is operative in 2005 and certain administrative functions have been outsourced to a third party service provider. This roll-out will include the introduction of a new fixed charge for the offence of illegal parking in a disabled persons’ parking bay. The level of this fixed charge will be pitched at a relatively high level, at or close to the level referred to in the amendment.
I hope my response has been helpful. I reassure Senator Paddy Burke that the sentiment expressed in his amendment, that the fine should be not less than €100, will be taken on board. The level of the fine that can be imposed on a person convicted of this offence was substantially increased in October 2002. A convicted person is liable to a fine not exceeding €800. If the offence is a second or subsequent such offence, the perpetrator is liable to a fine not exceeding €1,500. Moreover, if the offence is a third or subsequent such offence, committed within 12 months of the last, the perpetrator is liable to a fine not in excess of €1,500, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or both. The fine levied in any instance is, of course, at the discretion of the court.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. P. Burke: I move amendment No. 6:
Doctors should be included in the provisions relating to exemptions for the drivers of emergency vehicles. A doctor exceeding the speed limit in his or her haste to reach the scene of a serious car crash or other accident or to attend a gravely ill person should be exempt from penalty. More recently we have seen doctors’ vehicles on call throughout the weekends. They should also be exempt and should be treated in the same way as ambulances, especially in cases where such doctors can prove they are going to attend to an emergency.
Mr. Finucane: I fully support the amendment. On Second Stage I asked whether section 27 gave an exemption to gardaí driving Ministers’ cars. I understand that a regulation existed under the original Act. If I drove on a motorway at a speed of in excess of 70 mph and was prosecuted, would I be prosecuted on the basis that by driving in excess of 70 mph I could endanger other road users? Otherwise I should be allowed to drive at 80 mph, 90 mph or 100 mph.
We in the Houses of the Oireachtas should show leadership. Ministers can put themselves under undue pressure by taking on many assignments requiring them to drive to various places. As a natural corollary of that one is inclined to speed. In the past when such cars were caught for speeding, publicity always seemed to follow naturally with opinion moulders or people who are respected within the community being the target. The same exemption does not apply to the drivers of the cars of Ministers of State, who are likely to be prosecuted if caught, as happened to the driver of the car of a Minister of State recently.
An Cathaoirleach: Is the Senator speaking to the amendment?
Mr. Finucane: I am speaking in general about this point.
An Cathaoirleach: I ruled Senator McDowell out of order a few minutes ago. We will first deal with the amendment.
Mr. Finucane: I thought we were dealing with section 27.
An Cathaoirleach: We are dealing with amendment No. 6. The Senator can come back to it later.
Mr. Finucane: I would be glad to come back to it.
Mr. Callely: This section sees the introduction of a new general exemption for the drivers of emergency vehicles from the application of restrictions, requirements and prohibitions imposed under the Road Traffic Acts generally. The Road Traffic Acts and a number of statutory instruments made under those Acts provide the basis for a series of exemptions from certain provisions for the drivers of emergency vehicles. The purpose of this section is to provide for a more general application of exemptions across the broad range of requirements, restrictions and prohibitions imposed under the Acts. The exemptions will not be applicable where the safety of other road users could be compromised. In that context, the exemptions will not apply to the most serious offences given that they have a direct relationship to the safety of road users generally.
The services listed in section 27 at present provide the first response to emergencies generally. They are the services directly linked to the emergency incidents telephone service. They also utilise readily recognisable vehicles that are equipped with special lights and sirens. In addition, their personnel are trained in the very challenging skills necessary to drive safely to an emergency while at the same time not compromising the safety of other road users.
Against that background it would not be appropriate to extend the scope of the exemptions to individuals driving vehicles that are not readily identifiable to other road users and who have not received the appropriate training to meet the special demands that arise in driving vehicles in response to emergencies. The Senator’s proposal is to extend such exemptions to include a doctor or nurse tending to a medical emergency. It would not be appropriate to extend the exemptions to such personnel on the grounds that the private vehicles being driven or used by such personnel would not be readily identified as emergency vehicles by the public and that the drivers would not have the required training.
A number of Members will be familiar with the doctor-on-call co-operative system where drivers and readily identifiable cars are provided. In many cases Garda patrol cars will assist doctors and nurses to get to the scene of an accident if required. I hope this might be helpful and I therefore ask the Senator to withdraw his amendment.
Mr. P. Burke: I am disappointed that the Minister of State cannot accept the amendment. As he said, the doctor-on-call vehicle is readily recognisable. Are such vehicles covered by the Bill? I do not believe they are. As ambulances seem to be covered, the doctor-on-call vehicles should also be covered.
Mr. Callely: If they are designated as emergency vehicles they are covered.
Mr. P. Burke: How do they become designated? Is it just a matter of putting flashing lights on the vehicle?
Mr. Callely: Vehicles currently covered under emergency regulations are Garda cars, fire brigades, and ambulances.
Mr. Finucane: Ministerial Mercedes.
Mr. P. Burke: Could they be covered by regulation?
Mr. Callely: No.
Mr. P. Burke: In which case the doctor-on-call vehicles are not included.
Mr. Callely: No. However, a doctor and nurse have a vehicle available and personnel to drive them. If they do not use a designated vehicle and if they are required by the Garda Síochána to attend, it is not uncommon for the Garda to bring them to and from the accident.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: “That section 27 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. McDowell: As I am conscious we are running short of time, I will ask a short question arising from what Senator Morrissey mentioned. Does legal provision exist for the clamping of vehicles in private car parks?
Mr. Callely: No.
Mr. McDowell: Does that mean it is extra-legal or illegal?
Mr. Callely: It is outside the scope of the Road Traffic Acts.
Mr. McDowell: The Minister of State will be aware of at least one example of a supermarket, not too far from where he has his constituency office and where I live, that provides for clamping in its car park. Without legal provision for taking action, it seems to be at least borderline doubtful as to whether the owners of that car park should be doing so. It should be necessary to have legal authority before interfering with a person’s car by way of clamping.
Mr. Callely: If owners of a private car park, such as the one the Senator has mentioned, operate a procedure, notice of which is duly posted and visible to users of the car park, I am not sure what would happen should somebody challenge and bring a case before the courts. However, it is not covered by the Road Traffic Acts.
An Cathaoirleach: Does Senator Finucane wish to come back in?
Mr. Finucane: I was nearly finished anyway.
Mr. Dooley: I hope we will not get it all over again.
Mr. Finucane: Many rules and regulations are set out for the ordinary punters and Ministers should lead by example. If my car driven at in excess of 70 mph is determined to constitute a safety hazard to others, surely a ministerial car could also be determined as a safety hazard to other road users. Who determines the safety of the road users? Is it the garda who stops another garda driving a Minister’s car, having to make an arbitrary decision? The Government should show leadership. I do not expect it to dramatically affect me in the future.
Mr. Wilson: The Senator should not rule it out.
Mr. Finucane: While we do not know the full facts, the classic example was the recent head-on collision near Killarney involving a Minister’s car. Fortunately everybody recovered from the accident. The Minister’s car was a Volvo and it went up in flames after the accident. Volvo prides itself on the safety of its cars. I am not inferring that the Minister’s car was speeding prior to the accident. However, if ever we wanted a lesson in road safety, this case should be taken as a classic example. A Minister driving to attend a meeting or a scheduled appointment should not be regarded as an emergency situation. It is often a question of logistics and arranging one’s schedule in order to avoid having to travel at excessive speed.
Mr. Callely: I thank Senator Finucane for his remarks. I support his assertion that all Members of the Oireachtas have a role to play in terms of providing leadership on the issue of road safety and the speed at which vehicles are driven, regardless of whether one is driving such a vehicle or whether one is a passenger therein. It is the desire of the Government and the Taoiseach that those driving ministerial vehicles should adhere to the appropriate road traffic regulations and speed limits.
As regards the accident to which the Senator referred, I understand that the car in which the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, was a passenger was being driven within the speed limit. Both the driver and the passengers——
An Cathaoirleach: I do not believe it is necessary to——
Mr. Callely: I merely wish to place some details on the record because reference was made to a Volvo car. Some ministerial cars are Volvos and, as Senator Finucane stated, the Volvo company has a good safety record. However, there was a degree of ambiguity in the way reference was made to that record. Due to the quick action of the driver on the occasion in question and the safety mechanisms in the car, all passengers got out safely.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 28 and 29 agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 30 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. P. Burke: The penalty contained in this section is quite harsh. For example, a parent could buy a motorbike for one of his or her children who might be under the age of 16 at the time of purchase and who might use it before his or her birthday without the parent’s consent. The parent would then be liable for a fine of €3,000 or a term of imprisonment.
In addition, a young person might save money to buy a motorbike for his or her 16th birthday and he or she might purchase it before actually reaching the age of 16. In such circumstances, the person who sold them the motorbike would incur a penalty of €3,000 or face a term of imprisonment. What type of proof must a person selling motorbikes obtain before he or she can proceed to sell them?
There are many models of small mopeds available on the market. Many people are not au fait with the fact that the engines in the majority of these are under 50cc and there are some individuals who are of the opinion that they can be ridden on by-roads or side roads without a licence or insurance. People buying or selling these mopeds could incur penalties and fines. In that context, the provisions of the section must be advertised and brought to the attention of parents and the people who sell these bikes.
Mr. McDowell: I am not sure I agree with Senator Paddy Burke on this matter. The section is a response — or at least a partial response — to the provision of so-called “company cars” to young people. This phenomenon has been a real scourge in some communities where unscrupulous dealers or individuals who just happen to possess cars have sometimes given or sold them to under age children who drive them at great speed with no intention other than to eventually crash them. This problem has greatly affected communities in the area of Dublin I represent. It is important to make it an offence to provide children with cars, in the main, in the circumstances to which I refer. I support the insertion of a statutory provision to that effect.
I honestly believe, however, that we should go somewhat further. I understand that, under the licensing Acts, if one provides alcohol to under age children or to people one knows are going to pass it on to such children, one is guilty of committing an offence. As well as making it an offence to provide an MPV to someone under 16 years of age, the legislation should be broadened to cover circumstances where the recipient of the vehicle is 18, 19 or 20 years old but where the vehicle is given in the clear knowledge that it will end up in the possession of under age children who will use it in a particular way. In circumstances where the provider knows or ought to have known that a vehicle will come into the possession of someone under 16 years of age, the provider should equally be guilty of an offence.
Mr. Dooley: I agree with preventing under age children from obtaining cars that have reached the end of their lives. There is a group of children upon whom cars that have become mechanically unsafe are being dumped. However, Senator Paddy Burke raised a good point because one can purchase mechanically propelled go-carts and bicycles for children. It is a case of applying definitions.
In my view, an adequate definition of the elements of a mechanically propelled vehicle involved is not provided. The definition, as it stands, is too wide and will exclude many products that are on the market and that have probably already been purchased for Christmas. As I understand it, a number of toys which include some form of mechanical propulsion and which are aimed at children in the ten to 15 age group would be excluded.
Section 30(3) states that “supply” means supply by way of sale or loan or other means a mechanically propelled vehicle to a person. It is not even a case, therefore, of waiting for such vehicles to be brought on to public roads or into public or private car parks. There is a need for some refinement, which may perhaps be achievable by way of the definition. I am sure the experts will be able to draw up a suitable alternative. Due care must be taken to ensure that we do not destroy what is a good measure in terms of preventing the type of behaviour to which Senator McDowell referred. We must, however, account for a range of products that are already on the market.
Mr. Callely: I must declare that I purchased and utilised a number of mechanically propelled vehicles before I reached the age of 16. I began buying and selling motorbikes when I was in school in order to make some money for myself. However, I do not believe we are discussing such behaviour.
As Senator McDowell stated, we are concerned with addressing some of the unacceptable and anti-social activities taking place in some housing estates and parks. As matters stand, children are able to purchase vehicles and do a great deal of damage to property and to themselves. Children are able to obtain money and purchase vehicles either with or without the knowledge of their parents or guardians. We are not presuming that parents approve the purchase of such vehicles.
We are trying to address anti-social activities and put in place a framework which will introduce a prohibition on the supply of mechanically propelled vehicles to people who should not otherwise have them. As a father, I have purchased vehicles for my two sons, both of whom are minors. I stress, however, that I made the purchases. Provision is made for the purchase of vehicles — perhaps as Christmas presents — if they are to be used off-road by minors with their parents’ consent. Should somebody supply a mechanically propelled vehicle illegally, the maximum fine on conviction shall be €3,000.
An Cathaoirleach: As it is 2.30 p.m., I am required to put the question.
Mr. McDowell: How does amendment No. 6 stand as regards Report Stage? Can it be re-entered?
An Cathaoirleach: Yes. As it is 2.30 p.m., I am required to put the following question: “That section 30 stand part of the Bill, that all the sections that are not disposed of be hereby agreed to, that the Title is hereby agreed and the Bill is accordingly reported to the House.”
The Committee divided: Tá, 29; Níl, 14.
|Bohan, Eddie.||Brady, Cyprian.|
|Brennan, Michael.||Callanan, Peter.|
|Cox, Margaret.||Daly, Brendan.|
|Dardis, John.||Dooley, Timmy.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Fitzgerald, Liam.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||Hanafin, John.|
|Kenneally, Brendan.||Kett, Tony.|
|Kitt, Michael P.||Leyden, Terry.|
|Lydon, Donal J.||Mansergh, Martin.|
|Minihan, John.||Morrissey, Tom.|
|Moylan, Pat.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Phelan, Kieran.|
|Scanlon, Eamon.||Walsh, Jim.|
|Walsh, Kate.||White, Mary M.|
|Browne, Fergal.||Burke, Ulick.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Coonan, Noel.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Finucane, Michael.||Henry, Mary.|
|McDowell, Derek.||McHugh, Joe.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Quinn, Feargal.|
|Ross, Shane.||Terry, Sheila.|
Tellers: Tá, Senators Minihan and Moylan; Níl, Senators P. Burke and Cummins.
Question declared carried.
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to take Report Stage?
Mr. Dardis: Tomorrow.
Report Stage ordered for Wednesday, 15 December 2004.
Sitting suspended at 2.45 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.
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