Shane Ross’s first Bill as Minister will allow drivers to be tested for drugs

Further legal advice to be sought before Sinn Féin rickshaw amendment implemented

Minister for Sport Shane Ross: under the Bill, an Irish driving licence-holder disqualified in the UK will also be disqualified in Ireland and vice versa. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Minister for Sport Shane Ross: under the Bill, an Irish driving licence-holder disqualified in the UK will also be disqualified in Ireland and vice versa. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

Minister for Transport Shane Ross has passed his first piece of legislation as a Cabinet member with the completion of the Road Traffic Bill. The legislation had been on the books of the previous administration but fell when the general election was called. With its enactment, motorists can be tested for driving while under the influence of cocaine, heroin or cannabis and prosecuted in the same way as for drink-driving.

The Bill gives effect to an agreement between Ireland and Britain on recognition of driver disqualifications in each country by both. An Irish driving licence-holder disqualified in the UK will also be disqualified in Ireland and vice versa.

The legislation also allows local authorities to introduce a 20km/h speed limit on roads where it is appropriate to do so. Mr Ross said that option, rather than a mandatory 20km/h limit, “is in keeping with the spirit of the Jake’s Legacy campaign”. He could not accede to a mandatory limit in housing estates, which campaigners had called for in the wake of the death of six-year-old Jake Brennan after he was struck by a car on the estate where he lived.

The Minister said a mandatory limit would go against a basic principle that local authorities decide speed limits. It would be highly problematic with extreme difficulty posed by producing a legally watertight definition of a housing estate.

During a Seanad debate on Dáil amendments to the Bill, Mr Ross highlighted the urgency needed to enact the legislation “as we come to the end of what has been a very disappointing year in terms of road safety, with a significant increase in road deaths as against 2015”.

A Dáil amendment from Sinn Féin transport spokeswoman Imelda Munster to regulate rickshaw drivers was passed despite the Minister’s opposition. Mr Ross said he sought legal advice which was that the amendment “does not fatally undermine the Bill”, but he would not enact that section of the Bill until he sought further legal advice on its implications.

Labour Senator Kevin Humphreys expressed disappointment and said “there has been a real danger to pedestrians and to people who travel on these unregulated rickshaws”. Mr Humphreys called on the Minister to bring in robust legislation as quickly as possible.

Other elements of the Bill include the creation of an offence where the owner of a vehicle knowingly permits an unaccompanied driver to use their vehicle.

John O’Mahony welcomed provisions to deal with uninsured drivers. He noted that this year there was a 500 per cent increase in Roscommon in uninsured drivers, a 167 per cent rise in Leitrim, a 113 per cent increase in Mayo, a 28 per cent increase in Galway and a 14 per cent rise in Sligo.

It will also be a mandatory requirement for insurance companies to inform the Department of Transport about the status of “written-off” vehicles and whether they are irreparable and fit for scrap only or useful for viable spare parts only.

Mr Ross said this would mean vehicles records were “locked down” on the National Vehicle and Driver File database and would go a long way to keeping dangerous vehicles off the road.

The Bill stipulates that insurance companies will also be required to provide the department and gardaí with the licence details of policy holders or named drivers and will enhance the robustness of the Garda automatic number plate recognition system. Gardaí will be allowed to conduct impairment tests at a Garda station after arrest, including getting a driver to touch their nose or walk in a straight line, so long as it is within three hours of their being stopped.