Controversial Road Traffic Bill passed by Seanad and now goes to President

Upper House takes just two hours in total on legislation after weeks of filibustering in Dáil

The Bill provides for the extension of an automatic three months driving ban to first time drink driving offenders caught with between 50 mg and 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. Photograph: John Giles/PA

The Bill provides for the extension of an automatic three months driving ban to first time drink driving offenders caught with between 50 mg and 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. Photograph: John Giles/PA

 

The contentious Road Traffic Amendment Bill has been passed by the Seanad after just over an hour’s debate on Tuesday on amendments to the legislation.

There was a round of applause from the visitors’ gallery where representatives of road safety campaign groups and relatives of road traffic victims were present for the debate. A number of senators also applauded the Bill’s passage.

The Upper House discussed the legislation for just over two hours in total over two sessions, compared to weeks of debate in the Dáil in an extended row over its impact on rural Ireland.

In bitter exchanges rural TDs were accused in the Dáil of filibustering over the two provisions of the Bill - the extension of an automatic three months driving ban to first time drink driving offenders caught with between 50 mg and 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood; and making it an offence for the owner of a vehicle to allow a learner driver use the vehicle unaccompanied.

The maximum amount of alcohol that can be drunk to allow legal driving has not changed and remains at 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.

Independent TDs Michael and Danny Healy-Rae and Mattie McGrath spoke extensively and repeatedly on both provisions and repeatedly highlighted the lengthy waiting times for driving tests. They were sharply criticised for filibustering on the Bill, with repetitive speeches, some of over an hour in the Dáil.

In the Seanad Independent Senator Brian Ó Dómhnaill submitted an amendment that it should be a defence in relation to an owner and learner permit holder driving unaccompanied if they could show they had made every effort to take a driving test and had taken the required number of driving lessons.

He highlighted the cases of two widows in Donegal who had never driven before and live in an isolated part of the county. “To go to church, to Mass, to the shops or the post office requires a car,” but they faced lengthy delays getting a driving test.

He said the amendment was “to try and provide a level of flexibility until such time as the driver licence process is faster”.

Waiting times

Independent Ronan Mullen supported the amendment and said it was not advocating a “free-for-all but a reasonable restriction on prosecution where some other social good is being served by a person being able to be on the road”.

Independent Senator Victor Boyhan opposed the amendment as “not right” and said a friend had lost two sons in road traffic incidents outside their door near UCD, because of “someone in possession of a car who thought they could drive but quite frankly couldn’t”.

Mr Boyhan said however that the latest figures showed the longest waiting times for driving tests were 26 weeks in Castlebar, 25 weeks in Cork, 24 in Ennis, 26 in Skibbereen and 21 weeks in Wicklow.

Fianna Fáil Senator Diarmuid Wilson who supported the amendment said that until the waiting list was brought down to four or five weeks “some flexibility” should be shown and the Bill should not be enacted.

He added that someone who failed the test should be given another test within a reasonable time.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross agreed that Mr Ó Dómhnaill was articulating real worries in rural Ireland and acknowledged the driving test delays but said “we have to have a measure. We can’t make exceptions for people when they’re not safe on the roads to let them through for any reason whatsoever because they’re driving what is a killer vehicle.”

Mr Ó Dómhnaill called for a vote on the amendment but none was taken because a minimum of five senators must back such a vote and only four stood in support.

The legislation now goes to the President for consideration.