The passage of the 2010 Road Traffic Bill through the Oireachtas is effectively the reduction of alcohol limits from 80 to 50 for drivers. I welcome anything that makes our roads safer. There has been much debate about this however we have to bear in mind that 66% of road fatalities happen for other reasons. This point has become lost in the sometimes emotional argument about drunk driving.
I welcome the thrust of the Ministers 2009 Road Traffic Bill. The cornerstone principle of reducing Irish road fatalities that he is trying to achieve is laudable.
The fact that the fatality rate in road traffic accidents per million population was 63 in 2008, a decrease of 19 per cent from the 2007 rate of 78 is significant movement in the right direction.
When you take account of the facts that since 1998, our population has increased by 19 per cent, the number of registered motor vehicles has increased by 65 per cent, the number of driver licence holders (both full and provisional) has increased by 35 per cent and that the number of fatalities on Irish roads has decreased by 39 per cent one can say that something is working in Ireland today.
All of this progress is however of little comfort to the 279 families that have lost a member due to traffic accidents during 2008.
The conventional wisdom as published by the Road Safety Authority is that one in three road fatalities involves alcohol and the proposed reduction of the Blood Alcohol level is an effort to address this. International research as presented shows a reduction of up to 18 per cent in fatalities when you go from 80 to 50. In rough figures this could mean the saving of 20 more lives on Irish roads every year. Again this is welcome. Having said this I would ask the Minister to look at the reasons for the other 200 deaths on Irish roads. Can the Road Safety Authority produce the same type of data, the same type of awareness, and the same type of altering of public opinion on what is acceptable in Irish society on the other two thirds of road fatalities?
The debate on the reduction of blood alcohol level from 80 to 50 has taken place both here in this house and elsewhere. This debate and the pursuit of reduced road fatalities should not merely centre on the contentious and emotional drink driving aspect. As I have said it seems to me that 2 out of every 3 road fatalities are not alcohol related. I would hope that the Minister does not forget this and await with interest his proposals on this 66 per cent of road fatalities.
I have no doubt that because of the nature of our lives today; fatigue is already one and will become one of the bigger contributory factors in road fatalities. We travel long distances to work, work longer hours because of our economic situation and cannot avail of an adequate public transport system. We have a new motorway network with no rest facilities. You will soon have to travel from Dublin to Limerick on the M7 without being able to stop. This is nonsensical and it was disappointing to learn this week about the suspension of the provision of motorway stops.
The UK at 80 and Malta at 90 are the only other EU countries with the same or higher drink driving level compared to Ireland. This fact has been often quoted in the debate for moving our rate to the European average of 50.
However looking at the road fatalities per million figures throws up some interesting facts. Ireland has a rate of 63, The UK’s rate is 43 and Malta has a rate of 37. I use these figures to underline my point again that the Minister, if he is really serious about reducing road fatalities must look at that other 66 per cent or that 2 out of 3 road fatality ratio.
The percentage of fatal collisions occurring on rural roads was 72 per cent in 2008. There is a definite disproportion here, another of our Irish urban rural divides. The weather we have experienced since last November with both deluges of rain along with severe frost and snow has had a serious impact on the quality of our road network and especially our rural road network. Tertiary, Local and Regional roads along with our National Secondary and even some of our National Primaries are in some instances in an appalling condition.
I hope that we are not storing up an even larger problem in regards to road fatalities and injuries during 2010 because of this. It is disappointing that the Minister for Transport has chosen not to fundamentally address the problem. His recent roadwork’s allocations have made no effort to deal with the destruction of part of our national infrastructure in a supplementary or even meaningful manner.
It is fine for him to say that he is now allowing our Co. Council’s complete discretion in how they spend their allocation, however there is a touch of the Henry Ford when he went about selling the Model T in the Minister’s allocations.
“You can have any colour as long as it is black”
There is no real choice for our local authorities in 2010.
Clare County Council has estimated a bill of approximately €11m following recent flooding and freezing conditions.
In all, the Department of Transport and the Minister have announced almost €15.6m for regional and local roads in Clare, which is in itself a decrease of about 3% on last year’s figure never mind the monies required to repair the damage.
Some people make little of the argument and problem with this new state sponsored rural isolation, they will not accept the link between this phenomenon and the reduction in the legal limit along with the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing. I feel that this is something the Minister must acknowledge. While he may say that it is not his responsibility in the Department of Transport, he does to my mind have such in that he shares in collective responsibility at Cabinet.
The Minister must ensure that schemes such as the Rural Transport Initiative are maintained and not scrapped as proposed in the McCarthy report. Whilst it may sound insensitive and crass there is to my mind no point in reducing road fatalities associated with alcohol by approx. 20 per annum and merely transferring this statistic to another sector.
In conclusion I welcome this Bill and urge the Minister to apply the same rigour shown here to all elements of causes of road fatalities.