I am delighted to join you here today to launch this very worthwhile conference. I would like to commend the Irish Advanced Motorists organisation for bringing together today's audience. Conferences such as this afford us all the opportunity to listen, share and learn from each of the contributions. Only by adopting this approach can we assist road safety.
"Road Safety: Education, Enforcement and Engineering" is an appropriate theme given that road safety is a subject that needs to be tackled on several fronts.
One of the biggest challenges we face is the idea that road collisions are inevitable, that somehow road deaths and injuries are part of daily life, albeit a deeply regrettable one. However this need not be the case. 9 out of 10 road deaths are a result of bad driver behaviour. Speeding, drink driving and non-wearing of seatbelts are the main killers.
So how do we turn things around? There is no one answer to this question. To bring about positive change on road safety requires a combination of initiatives by a combination of people and organisations. Government, road users, the Gardai, Local Authorities and the Road Safety Authority all of us have a role.
The best place to start is to focus on the person with the most power the person behind the wheel. That person is not someone else, that person is every single driver.
Road Safety Strategy
In line with best international practice, our strategy is nationally planned, nationally pursued and nationally enforced. Furthermore, it is measured against objectives. It is a strategy designed to get results, and results have been gained, to a point.
Penalty Points have worked. The number of road deaths fell to a 40-year low when they were first introduced in 2002. People responded - they slowed down and obeyed the rules.
However, that dramatic impact waned. The primary glitch in the system, an administrative one, was identified, a remedy brought forward and a new system now in place. It is clear Penalty Points have made a positive contribution and will continue to make a positive contribution to road safety.
That is why we have introduced an additional 31 offences, specifically focussing on matters of driver behaviour.
Many road users do not realise the value of their driving licence until faced with the prospect of losing it. If you obey the rules of the road, then Penalty Points will not impact on you. But if you break the rules, thereby putting lives at risk, you will lose your licence and feel the pinch in your pocket with increased insurance costs.
We have also introduced the Garda Traffic Corps. This dedicated unit, is headed by an Assistant Commissioner and is focused solely on road traffic matters. By the end of 2008, 1,200 Gardai will be deployed to the Traffic Corps. This is over twice the number engaged in traffic duties prior to the roll-out of the Traffic Corps. The growing presence on our roads of a dedicated highly visible corps of officers will promote a greater level of general deterrence against the type of behaviour that leads to road collisions.
We have invested massive resources in roads. Better roads have a major road safety dividend. Every county, every community is benefiting from improved, safer roads.
We introduced a revised speed limit. The move to kilometres per hour has seen speed limits decrease on over 90% of the country's roads.
To achieve greater integration across Government, the Taoiseach has established a new High Level Government Road Safety group, comprising of the Ministers for Transport, Justice, Finance, Health and Education has been formed.
The new Road Safety Authority is being established. With an annual budget of €30m and over 300 staff, it will get the resources it needs. The team we are putting together in the Road Safety Authority, with Gay Byrne as Chairman and Noel Brett as CEO, is dynamic, focussed and determined.
Which brings me to the new Road Safety Bill.
The Bill provides for Mandatory Alcohol Testing as well as a number of other drink driving initiatives. The other key measures to be contained in the Bill include:
This Bill leaves nobody in any doubt about this Government's seriousness on Road Safety. The severity of the punishments for those found guilty of serious driving offences underlines that seriousness. Combined with increased Garda enforcement, these new measures will help us to stamp out irresponsible and dangerous driving and in doing so, save lives.
The Road Safety Bill is tough, sensible and necessary. Tough because reckless drivers that put lives at risk will face stiffer penalties. Sensible because it frees up Court and Garda time as well as paving the way for reform of the licensing regime. Necessary because of the tragic loss of lives on our roads.
To improve road safety we need to win over the hearts and minds of ordinary people and change their attitudes. Education, engineering and enforcement are crucial in achieving road safety objectives. I understand your speakers will be focussing on these issues throughout the morning. I am pleased to hear Mr. Christopher Bullock, CEO of the IAM emphasise the importance of driver behaviour. We can implement a range of policies which can help to improve the road safety situation, but with 9 out of 10 collisions the result of driver error, their full potential will never be realised without a change in road user behaviour.
In conclusion, I want to thank the Irish Advanced Motorists for organising this conference, which co-incides with the 50th anniversary of the organisation. I will be launching an advertising campaign on behalf of the National Safety Council later today promoting better, safer driving. The IAM, in particular, Mike Kavanagh, has been instrumental in developing these ads and in promoting better driving standards generally. I hope that this morning's conference results in a fruitful and informative outcome.