56. Deputy John Curran asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the action she will take to deal with those persons who continue to flout the law by driving while it is further reported that banned drivers are responsible for killing 11 to 14 persons on roads every year, in view of the recent reports that there are almost 8,000 drivers who have multiple concurrent disqualifications on their licences; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12442/17]
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I would like to thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I am deeply conscious of the serious issue of road safety and mindful of the increase in 2016 of road traffic fatalities on the corresponding figure for 2015. I am also mindful of the traumatic impact of road traffic collisions on those directly affected and their families, as well as the impact of dangerous driving more generally on the quality of life of residents in local communities across the country.
The Deputy will appreciate that I have no direct role in the enforcement of road traffic legislation, which is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner. I am informed that road traffic legislation is enforced as part of the day-to-day duties of members of An Garda Síochána, as well as through a programme of high visibility road safety and enforcement operations, carried out in partnership with other state agencies. Garda operations specifically target road use behaviour known to contribute significantly to collisions, including driving while intoxicated, as well as speeding and use of a mobile phone. Both strategic, targeted operations and general methods of enforcement have a valuable role to play in An Garda Síochána's road traffic enforcement programme, which targets locations with a view to preventing the commission of offences, detecting errant motorists, changing their behaviour and ultimately reducing death and injuries on our roads. An Garda Síochána will continue to target persistent offenders, make optimal use of the Garda PULSE system and utilise Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology to identify and target vehicles, with 'warnings' also placed on the ANPR system. I am informed by the Garda authorities that 19,290* offences of driving without a driving licence, contrary to section 38 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961 as amended, were detected in 2016. This is the category of offence which drivers caught driving while disqualified are prosecuted under.
An Garda Síochána has identified a number of key road traffic initiatives in the Annual Policing Plan 2017, as follows:
- Work in partnership with other agencies including the Road Safety Authority, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, and Road Safety Officers in local authorities to reduce road deaths and serious injuries,
- Increase use of technologies and analytical tools to develop and implement plans to reduce the occurrence of road collisions, and the use of our roads for criminal activity,
- Expand the Fixed Charge Processing System, including penalty points,
- Strengthen and re-develop the Traffic Corps to tackle all forms of criminality on our road network, and
- Ongoing planning, risk assessment and operational preparation for major emergencies in conjunction with major emergency management partners.
Underpinning road traffic enforcement measures, An Garda Síochána’s Modernisation and Renewal Programme (2016-2021) sets out key strategic objectives for Road Policing which will inform and guide An Garda Síochána's Road Policing plans over the next 5 years. Under the Programme, the Garda Commissioner will undertake a number of road safety traffic enforcement initiatives, including expanding the use of technology and increasing checkpoints.
A number of important actions are being taken to build on the vital work of An Garda Síochána, Road Safety Authority (RSA) and other stakeholders: In January, An Garda Síochána indicated that there will be a 10% increase in the traffic corps during the course of 2017, which should also lead to better outcomes in relation to road traffic enforcement. An Garda Síochána also indicated that it was intended to have a stronger focus on road traffic enforcement in the training provided to new recruits at Templemore;
- The Deputy will be aware that road traffic legislation is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Mr Shane Ross, T.D. I am, however, informed that the Road Traffic Act 2016 (the 2016 Act) provides for insurance companies to collect driver numbers and other details when selling insurance policies, and to validate them with the National Vehicle and Driver File, which will ensure that disqualified drivers are not able to obtain insurance. I am further informed that this project is currently in development and a test version is due to be ready later this year;
- The Deputy will also be aware that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is working with key stakeholders to introduce the new roadside tests for drugs provided for in the 2016 Act, which will be known as preliminary drug tests. It is intended that the provisions will be commenced at the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. This will provide a valuable opportunity to highlight the dangers of drug driving over the Bank Holiday weekend. I look forward to the introduction of the preliminary drug tests and am confident that these new road traffic enforcement measures will impact positively on road safety;
- The Deputy is aware that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport announced earlier this year that his Department will review Section 29 of the Road Traffic 2010 with the intention of ensuring that all drivers, if caught drink driving, will, in future, receive a mandatory disqualification. I support Minister Ross's intention to amend section 29 of the Road Traffic Act 2010, which should assist us in ensuring more effective enforcement of road traffic offences and making our roads safer. My Department will continue to assist the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in bringing these changes forward.
By working together with the RSA and other agencies, An Garda Síochána will continue to confront dangerous road-user behaviour through public presence, legislative enforcement, education and partnership.
*(Figure is operational, provisional and liable to change and is valid as of 6 March 2017.)