DÁIL DEBATE ON ROAD SAFETY AUTHORITY STATS MONITORING AND REPORTING

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to take this debate. I understand the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe, is in Brussels. The Minister of State last took a similar debate on 22 October. He told me in respect of questions I put to the Minister that he had no doubt the Minister would address the issues I raised, because it was not in his nature not to do so. Unfortunately, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, has not given me any replies to the key questions I put to the Minister of State that day. For example, I requested that the Minister would clarify whether it was the case that there is no requirement in legislation for the Courts Service to record the licence of a disqualified driver. I also asked for clarification regarding the breathalyser printouts and whether they had to be in English and Irish.

Yesterday, I asked the Taoiseach to ensure the new road safety Bill dealing with drug-driving and mutual recognition with Northern Ireland would be passed before the Dáil ends. Along with my colleagues in the outstanding and sterling civil society group, the PARC road safety group, led by Ms Susan Gray, we continue to trudge through half-answers, fob-offs and long-awaited replies from the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. The tardiness of both Ministers is the nub of the debate, namely, the urgent need for the Minister to direct the Road Safety Authority to compile, monitor and update statistics relating to the implementation and follow-up of penalty point offences and disqualifications, in particular those relating to drink-driving and dangerous driving.

Earlier in the summer, through figures supplied to me by the Minister for Justice and Equality, we discovered that of the 20,830 drink-driving cases listed before the District Court between January 2013 and May 2015, just 8,391, or 40%, received a conviction. That involves completed cases. The Courts Service quickly challenged the figure and said the overall conviction rates were over 80%, but how can we verify this information? The Ceann Comhairle disallowed a number of parliamentary questions in which I asked for the number of cases, the reasons they were struck out per the District Court for the 20,830 driving cases between January 2013 and May 2015, the number of cases and reasons for adjournment in the same parameters per the District Court, the number of cases withdrawn in the same parameters per the District Court, and the number of cases and reasons for non-completion in the same parameters per the District Court. We do not have all that information in the House. I am still awaiting a reply to my parliamentary question on the overall breakdown of the above issues, which was finally accepted.

Without this information, the public and Oireachtas cannot form a view on the efficacy or implementation of traffic laws. More worrying is the fact that of the 8,391 persons convicted between 2013 and early 2015, a mere 1,647, or 20%, had their licence details recorded in court. Under section 22 of the Road Traffic Act 2002, persons summonsed to court for road traffic offences are legally obliged to produce a driving licence in all cases, as the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, said in a recent reply. However, he said implementing the legislation was a matter for the courts and that bringing prosecutions for the non-production of licences is a matter for An Garda Síochána.

In a recent ruling, Judge Marie Keane found a court could not convict persons summonsed for the non-production of their licences as the consequences and penalties for the non-production had not been stated in the summons. However, I have been informed that An Garda Síochána is responsible for the wording of summons. Approximately 125 such cases were thrown out last month, apparently due to this technicality on summonses which was in fact created in the first instance by the Garda. I understand the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, has appealed Judge Keane’s ruling.

Time and again, we have clear evidence of a dysfunctional system, in particular the system of reporting. While our road safety legislation is fairly robust and a lot of work has been done in the House and the Department, the application and implementation of the law is where improvement is badly needed. Surely it is now time for the Road Safety Authority to liaise very closely with the Courts Service and An Garda Síochána and for the computer systems of the three organisations to monitor, evaluate and report precisely to us on how all road traffic offences are disposed of through the courts, and we can then work on what gaps remain to be dealt with.

Deputy Damien English: I thank Deputy Broughan for raising this issue. When I saw his name, I hoped his questions had been answered. I will track the information for him. There was a commitment to get the information for him and I will track that as best I can. As the Deputy knows, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is in Brussels at the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council today. He sends his apologies. That is why I am taking this Topical Issue matter.

The fixed charge notice and penalty points system has, in general, operated very well since its introduction in 2002 and has enjoyed wide public support. This is evidenced by the fact that over 80% of those who receive a fixed charge notice pay the specified amount within the prescribed period. The system plays a very important role in enhancing road safety. The system of penalty points was first introduced in the Road Traffic Act 2002. The main goal of the system is not to penalise people but to make them more aware of unsafe driving behaviour, to influence and improve driver behaviour and to reduce the level of deaths and serious injuries on roads.

The key to reducing injuries and fatalities on a road is to continue to change driver behaviour. To date this year, 147 fatalities have been recorded. While there have been 33 fewer fatalities since this date last year, a lot of work remains to be done to reduce further the number of fatalities on roads, and we can all play a part in achieving this aim.

The role of the Road Safety Authority in the production of road safety information statistics is enshrined in the Road Safety Authority Act 2006. The research department of the Road Safety Authority is responsible for the production of road safety information and statistics. The role of the research department is to collect collision statistics and publish reports to understand how, when, where and why collisions happen to prevent them from recurring. It also promotes and participates in multidisciplinary research projects at national and EU level to inform road safety policy and road safety communications and ultimately reduce collisions.

Statistics on penalty points by offence, including those relating to drink-driving and dangerous driving, are readily available on the Road Safety Authority website. It publishes a monthly breakdown of drivers by number of penalty points, by number of penalty points and county, and the number of drivers issued with fixed charge notices for penalty points offences broken down by offence and by county.

The Deputy will appreciate that statistics should always be interpreted with caution. It should be noted, for example, that points data, broken down by county, do not correspond to where the original road traffic offence took place. The points data just state where the driver is domiciled. Therefore, it is not possible to link definitively the points awarded to a specific county as having been incurred while committing an offence in that county. A driver may have been detected committing an offence in Dublin, for example, but because the address on his or her licence is in Kildare, the licensing authority that originally issued the licence, the points will be attributed to County Kildare.

The Department of Transport provides to the Road Safety Authority analysis reports on penalty points and offences. All statistics on drink-driving and dangerous driving, including the surrender of driving licences, are provided on a request-only basis to the Road Safety Authority, but the Department is working with it with a view to extending the monthly reports to include statistics on all court endorsements, including convictions and disqualifications for drink-driving and dangerous driving.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that it is envisaged that this will be automated and operational in the new year and I will ask that the Road Safety Authority publish this information on a monthly basis on its website. Targeting road user behaviour through education, engineering and enforcement, known as the three Es, has been the cornerstone of our improved road safety record to date.

I am satisfied that our current road safety strategy and continued enforcement of existing road safety legislation by An Garda Síochána, together with forthcoming legislation which will focus on strengthening the law on drug-driving, among other issues, will allow Ireland to maintain progress in reducing fatalities and serious injuries on roads. As road users, we should never underestimate the power we have to help to save lives and reduce injuries on the roads. Changing driver behaviour for the better, whether it is to reduce speed, turn off our mobile phones or leave our car keys at home when we are heading out for the night over the festive period, can have a life-saving impact on our safety and the safety of others. We can all play our part in making this festive period one of the safest on record.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: The key point, as the Minister of State said, is that we still have a very tragic figure in terms of the number of fatalities on road this year, which is 147. The figure may be lower than recent years, but an enormous amount of damage has been done, besides the fatalities themselves, to the families and connections of each and every person killed on our roads. We do not have a statistical basis to be able to measure the implementation of our laws. For example, one shocking statistic, on which I am still awaiting further clarification, is that 521 drivers were already disqualified between January 2013 and March 2015 at the time of conviction for involvement in a collision causing serious injury or death.

The Minister of State referred to the Road Safety Authority and its relationship with the Department, including the surrender of driving licences. The Minister of State said they are currently provided on a request-only basis to the Road Safety Authority, but the Department is working with the Road Safety Authority with a view to extending this monthly report to include statistics. The statistics on which the Department is working to move towards with the Road Safety Authority are the very statistics we want.

I have submitted a plethora of questions to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, on the number of learner drivers paying fixed charge notices, information on the DPP’s appeal against Judge Marie Keane’s ruling, which I mentioned, the number of speeding offences and convictions, the number of drivers disqualified for drink-driving or dangerous driving, fixed notices for drivers parked in cycle lanes, disqualifications per District Court breakdown and so on. That is all information that is not to hand and does not appear in the statistics to which the Minister of State referred. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, told me that since January 2013 a disqualified driver has been required to post his or her driving licence to the Road Safety Authority and the National Driver Licence Service in Cork city. I am informed that 96% of those disqualified simply do not do so.

Approximately a year ago, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, told Ms Susan Gray of PARC on “Prime Time” that if he felt the postal system was not working he would take action and introduce legislation. Here we are, more than a year later, and nothing has happened. The nub of the debate tonight is that I believe the Road Safety Authority should be up to date on every conceivable aspect of the statistics relating to road traffic offences, so we would not have to do a trawling, relentless search through the Courts Service’s records. This is what we want, and it should be an ambition for, if not the outgoing Government, then certainly the new Government.

The recently announced proposals to introduce graduated fines for road traffic offences, perhaps ultimately based on a person’s income, seems ludicrous. If the current system is not implemented in a clearly transparent way that is satisfactory to the House with up to date statistics, why would we introduce a much more complex system and introduce a double standard for people of different levels of wealth? It just does not make any sense. What we need is to have the current legislation which we passed in the House implemented fairly and squarely for every citizen and that we know the facts and the statistics.

Deputy Damien English: The Deputy has many facts and statistics himself, which are very useful, and I do not have the same information as he does. I know he is concentrating on the subject and rightly so. The Department shares some of the Deputy’s aims and it is trying to improve the information flow between it and the RSA. It is probably a matter of applying more urgency to this. The Deputy is correct that the more information we gather the more it can inform our thinking, policies and lawmaking. The main point is that we continue to try to drive down the number of fatalities. The Deputy is absolutely right that one is far too many, and to have 147, regardless of whether the number is increasing or decreasing, is still far too many. It onus is on all of us to try to do this.   The Deputy is correct that statistics and facts help focus our minds on it and help get the message out to people. If, when I am on the road, I park for ten minutes and watch, I often wonder how we do not have more fatalities because so many improvements can be made when it comes to driving. The onus is on all of us. None of us is innocent when it comes to driving 100% perfectly. It is about engineering and education, but it is also about attitude. This is something the Department of Education and Skills is working on, and I hope that junior cycle reform will provide opportunities to introduce new initiatives and programmes to educate young people in second level on the importance of having the right attitude when it comes to driving a vehicle, and on being aware of what is around them and thinking like an engineer. It is about understanding what it is like to drive a bus if one is a cyclist and vice versa. This is the understanding we must achieve. We all have a role in this. I will take what the Deputy has said to the Department of Education and Skills and I will feed back to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport the issues he has raised.

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