Dáil Debate on the Road Traffic Bill

Dáil Debate on the Road Traffic Bill

Dáil Contribution to the Debate on the Road Traffic Bill

I very much welcome the provisions of the Bill. My children at home, three lads, are at a point where we are trying to give them a little more independence and let them go to the shop by themselves to pick up sweets or whatever it is. We are trying to drum into them road safety and how they should be safe on the roads. While I was thinking about the Bill, I realised the language I am using with them about that is wrong because I am not actually concerned about their road use. Their road use is very unlikely to be problematic. What I am actually worried about is drivers. I am worried about distracted, impatient, speeding or bad drivers.

The Bill goes to the heart of that in a very simple sense. It addresses speed. I have spoken about this previously. God help us, it is 30 years since I studied physics for the leaving certificate and we learned the equation e=1/2mv2. The kinetic energy of any moving body is equal to half its mass times the velocity squared. The fact the velocity is squared is the important part of the equation. The size of the vehicle also matters but it is the less important factor. The faster it goes, the more kinetic energy it has. The more kinetic energy it has, the more dangerous it is in a collision. I have provided these figures previously. The Minister of State is well aware of them; that is why he is taking this action. One in ten collisions involving a car moving at 30 km/h colliding with a pedestrian will result in a fatality. If the car is travelling at 50 km/h, the rate moves to five in ten. If a car travelling at 60 km/h – Members may think, “God, 60 km/h is no great speed” – collides with a pedestrian, that will result in a fatality in 90% of cases.

I am not just worried about fatalities. I want to be able to send my own young fellas down to the shops with a level of comfort and security. Figures for the eight years from 2014 to 2022 indicate that 852 children were seriously injured. We often overlook the definition of “seriously injured”. It is an injury that results in the hospitalisation of a child, possibly for a prolonged period, such as a fracture or whatever.

We often mischaracterise the issue of road safety as relating mainly to rural roads. Of course, that is important. God help us, many of the collisions in Waterford in the past 12 or 24 months have been on rural roads. When drilling down into the figures, however, we find that nine out of ten collisions involving a child occurred in urban areas and on roads with a limit of 60 km/h or less. We want to get rid of all those collisions but doing so will require significant change in driver behaviour. What is being done through the Bill is that if we at least slow down the vehicles involved in collisions, the statistics tell us the outcomes will be better.

An issue of concern on which I have previously provided facts and figures is that information on drivers is not collated. When there is a collision involving a child or cyclist or whoever, we find out a lot about the child or cyclist but very little about the driver or the car that was being driven. We should rectify that omission.

I wish to raise a tangential though road safety specific issue. It relates to the close passing of a person in Galway. There is no provision for an online reporting portal for close passes. Anybody who is regularly on a bike knows all too well that when a car passes you at speed with inches to spare, it can be incredibly unnerving. I have been on a bike for many years and am a confident cyclist but, by God, it shakes me up when one of these things passes me at speed. If it is that disconcerting for me, as a confident and experienced cyclist, it will be extremely off-putting for anybody who is looking to make a modal shift, leave their car at home and jump on a bike. The person to whom I refer tried to report a close pass. She started the process on 16 May 2023. Fair play to her, she kept at it. I have seen the video of the close pass. It would shake you up. She had her child on the back of the bike, which was a long-tail cargo bike. The child was extremely frightened as well. It was reported to Traffic Watch but she heard nothing back. Some 38 days later, she phoned again and took a call from a garda. On 12 July, she got back on to them. I could give chapter and verse here. What it all boils down to is that at the end of the process she got a reply on 16 January. She was told to put it on a USB key and send it in again for it to be reviewed, finally. She was then told that a fixed charge notice should be issued but, unfortunately, the statute of limitations on reporting close passes is 107 days and, as more time than that had elapsed since the incident, the Garda could not issue a fixed charge notice. I would not like to hazard a guess as to whether the delay she encountered was strategic or accidental but it is not uncommon. This person stuck at it. I have a list of all the instances. She stuck at it and went back to the Garda more than 15 or 20 times to find out at the end that it could not issue a penalty. This is highly frustrating and it goes to the issue of driver behaviour.

Whereas Deputy Shanahan could not use all the time allocated to him, I could use more than I have.

There has been a lot of talk about enforcement. I agree that if we reduce speed limits, we need to have enforcement in place but I have not heard about the other side of the coin, which is road legibility. I refer to the ring road in Tramore. The speed limit on that road is 50 km/h at present. It is an appropriate limit. The road is in a built-up area and drivers should not do more than 50 km/h on it. Everything about the road screams 80 km/h, however. It is very difficult to drive on that road and adhere to the speed limit. If you drive on the road and adhere to the speed limit, people will either drive up into your bumper or overtake you. As well as enforcement and passing these laws, we need to empower active travel teams to making roads legible in such a way that a road with a speed limit of 50 km/h feels like a road on which you should drive at 50 km/h. Reference was made to roads that pass school gates. There should be visual cues in such instances. Drivers should know they are in that kind of area and be encouraged to drive accordingly.