The Bill that I am moving today will, following its enactment, allow for the early introduction of significant provisions in road traffic legislation to support and reinforce the existing drink driving enforcement regime. The provisions will further communicate the message that drink driving will not be tolerated. Drivers, who in the opinion of the Garda Síochána, have consumed intoxicating liquor and drivers, who are involved in collisions where injury is caused, will be required to undertake preliminary breath tests with the enactment of this Bill.
This Bill is the seventh major legislative initiative that has been taken on traffic law in the past decade.
The legislative progression during that time has seen the introduction of the fixed charge and penalty points systems, a new structure of speed limits based on metric values, the introduction of Mandatory Alcohol Testing checkpoints, the establishment of the Road Safety Authority, the introduction of the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between this country and the UK and, most recently, the roll out of a network of privately operated safety cameras.
This year will also see the introduction of lower Blood Alcohol Concentration levels for drivers and preliminary impairment testing by An Garda Síochána for drug driving enforcement.
On-going initiatives such as safety cameras have had a significant and very positive influence on road user culture in Ireland. It is fair to say that our roads have, without question, become increasingly safe for all users over the last decade.
Since 2001, Ireland has seen a rapid improvement of road safety with fatalities down by 41%, following the implementation of a comprehensive set of road safety measures. Road deaths per million population were cut by half from 107 in 2001 to 54 in 2009. That downward trend continued into 2010.
Despite the significant gains in recent years, it remains unacceptable that so many people should still die on our roads. It has never been more important for all of us to ensure that complacency does not now set in. This new Bill will help us to keep people safe on our roads.
I would now like to turn to those provisions and move the Road Traffic Bill 2011.
My commitment to endorsing mandatory breath testing at collision sites where injury is caused is again being represented in this Bill. I want the necessary legislation in place, as quickly as possible, so that no driver can avoid being tested for alcohol intoxication where serious road collisions occur. This legislation will also serve a dual purpose by sending a strong message to all drivers who still contemplate the notion of drinking and driving.
This Bill allows for the bringing forward of consolidated provisions relating to the obligation to provide a preliminary breath specimen that are planned for commencement later this year under the Road Traffic Act 2010.
Senators will be aware that new Evidential Breath Testing instruments will be necessary to measure the lower blood alcohol concentration levels provided for in the 2010 Act. The Medical Bureau of Road Safety is well advanced in procuring the new Evidential Breath Testing equipment for detecting and measuring the lower levels of BAC.
Once the preferred equipment has been selected, a significant amount of testing will be required by the MBRS before the instruments can be put to use.
A detailed training programme for An Garda Síochána in the use of the instruments will also be undertaken. It is estimated that the testing and training programme will be complete and instruments distributed to Garda Stations in the Autumn.
Section 9 of the 2010 Act provides for the mandatory breath testing of a driver who (i) in the opinion of a member of An Garda Síochána, has consumed intoxicating liquor or (ii) has been involved in a road traffic collision, which has resulted in an injury.
Linked with section 9 of the 2010 Act, section 14 provides for the mandatory testing of a driver of a vehicle involved in a road traffic collision where the driver is injured and is removed to hospital.
Section 14 provides that a member of An Garda Síochána shall test that driver in the hospital unless, following consultation with a doctor treating the driver, such testing would be prejudicial to the person’s health.
There is a close inter-relationship in the 2010 Act between section 9 and 14 and the provisions in the Act for the lower BAC levels. I have been advised that, because of this link, it will not be possible to commence sections 9 and 14, either in part or in their entirety until the new evidential breath testing apparatus, of which I spoke earlier, is in place. I would prefer if the mandatory testing provisions were introduced earlier than that.
This Bill, therefore, provides for the amendment of existing legislation, namely sections 12 and 15 of the 1994 Act, to reflect the provisions contained in sections 9 and 14 of the 2010 Act and thereby, the early introduction of those provisions.
The Bill also provides for the amendment of section 4 of the Act of 2006, dealing with Mandatory Alcohol Testing, to reflect theamended provisions in section 12 of the 1994 Act as a result of section 2 of the Bill.
On previous occasions, I have been asked to explain why there is no provision to test drivers involved in all road traffic collisions. This is because, in many instances, the collisions result in material damage to vehicles only, are generally minor in nature and are settled by the drivers concerned.
The issue of mandatory testing of drivers at collision sites was the subject of much debate during the making of the 2010 Road Traffic Act.
It was acknowledged during that process that road traffic legislation, particularly the provisions relating to intoxicated driving, is one of the most challenged in our courts. This necessitates that the drafting process of any new legislation must also focus on making the provisions as robust as possible.
Consequently, I am acutely aware of the need to strike a balance between the practicalities of the mandatory testing provision and the need for any changes to be consistent with existing intoxicated driving legislation.
While drafting the 2010 Act, there was a concerted effort made to consolidate all intoxicated driving legislation into a cohesive format that would be robust enough to withstand any future challenges. In this context, it was important that the mandatory provision was knitted into the fabric of this legislation.
I sought legal advice on the relevant drafting of the Bill before us today, given the association with so many other vital provisions in the Road Traffic Acts. I did not want for some oversight, in providing for mandatory testing, to undermine the entire testing regime and undo all that we are trying to achieve.
Indeed, it is because of that detailed examination of the likely impact on other provisions that, following the advice of the Office of the Attorney General, sections 2 and 3 of this Bill also recognise the powers of arrest conferred by law on An Garda Síochána and the interaction between those provisions and the requirement to preliminary breath test drivers. This necessary and explicit clarification will avoid any possible undermining of those provisions when introducing mandatory testing.
This clarification will also need to be reflected in the related intoxicated provisions of the 2010 Act. As Senators will be aware, it is intended to commence all of the intoxicated driving provisions of the 2010 Act later this year. Accordingly, it is my intention to amend sections 9 and 14 of the 2010 Act in a new Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2011 to be drafted soon. This will ensure that all the necessary initiatives will come on stream together.
To conclude, the key determinant of road safety performance is the behaviour of road users. Consequently, the primary focus of our Road Safety Strategy is positively to influence that behaviour.
This can be attained through initiatives across a range of areas including the enactment and enforcement of laws that promote good road user behaviour. Such laws must also be underpinned and supported by the application of fines, prison sentences and driving disqualifications as well as the necessary technological resources.
This Bill is yet another element of that overall programme and will, without doubt, build on those achievements in recent years. It will help to deliver additional improvements to the manner in which all drivers interact with our road system.
Senators will, I am sure, make very worthwhile suggestions for other initiatives in the area of road safety for inclusion in this Bill. However, while these may or may not fall within the parameters that I have set for this particular Bill, I am particularly anxious to secure the passage of this short Bill as quickly as possible so as to allow for the early introduction of the provisions contained therein. Any such suggestions will be afforded detailed consideration within my Department with a view for their inclusion, where appropriate, in the next Road Traffic Bill which is planned for later this year.
I look forward to the cooperation of Senators in facilitating the speedy passage of this Bill and I commend the Bill to the House.