European Transport Safety Council; Preventing Road Accidents and Injuries for the Safety of Employees (PRAISE) Seminar, Croke Park

2nd July, 2015

It is a great pleasure to open this seminar as part of the European Transport Safety Council’s Preventing Road Accidents and Injuries for the Safety of Employees – PRAISE – here in Dublin.  I would like to thank the ETSC for choosing to host this seminar in Ireland, and for inviting me here today.  I would also to thank the HSA, the RSA and An Garda Síochána, who have participated in organizing this event.


I understand that many of the people here today, and indeed some of the speakers, have travelled from other EU countries to be part of this important discussion. I thank you for taking the time to share your experience and knowledge with us.


As Minister for Transport, I see the promotion of safety in all areas of transport as my highest priority.  This is nowhere more important than on our roads because, tragically, this is the part of our transport infrastructure where deaths and injuries are most likely to occur.


Road Safety

Ireland’s track record in road safety since the beginning of this millennium has been one of great advances.  We experienced a dramatic decline in road deaths, from 415 in 2000, to a record low of 162 in 2012.  There is no single measure which will ensure road safety, and the sharp decline in road fatalities in those years was achieved by action on a wide range of fronts – enforcement, education, better roads, safer vehicles, and stricter standards for driver training, for example.  The introduction of the penalty points system from 2002 also made a significant impact, as did the creation of the Road Safety Authority in 2006, with all the important work it has done since.


However, we saw the number of fatalities increase to 188 in 2013, the first increase in fatalities since 2005.  This was compounded by a further increase to 196 in 2014.  This has rightly provoked general concern.  It was always clear that, as the figures for fatalities came down, it would become increasingly difficult to lower them significantly further.  What we did not expect, and cannot accept, is that they would go up again.


We have a range of measures in train to deal with this situation.  The core of our approach is set out in the current Road Safety Strategy, which runs from 2013 to 2020.  This contains a wide range of proposals, with no fewer than 144 Actions to be carried out by the key players – including my Department – over the lifetime of the strategy.  The Actions range over education, engineering, enforcement, and evaluation.  We need to keep up the pressure to reduce deaths through these Actions in the coming years, and we will.


One of the key areas of focus in the Strategy is driving for work.  Using the roads is the most dangerous thing most of us do every day, yet it is also a necessary part of our working lives – travelling to and from work, driving for work, meeting clients, or going to meetings.  I understand that it is estimated that up to one in three road collisions involve someone who was driving as part of their work.  If we are going to make our roads truly safe, driving as part of work is an area we have to address.


I am pleased to see that the number of deaths to date in 2015 is 24 lower than at the same time in 2014.  This is welcome news, but certainly no cause for complacency.  The sombre truth is that 72 people have died on our roads so far this year who need not have died.  This is a real number, with real lives behind it, and real families left bereaved.  Let us never lose sight of that.


The main causes of road crashes are distraction, excessive and inappropriate speed, intoxication and fatigue. My Department is examining these areas on an on-going basis to identify measures that can be taken to address and bring about future reductions in fatalities and serious injuries.


Recent and Forthcoming Legislation

Meanwhile, we have continued to strengthen the law in various ways to enhance road safety.  In the Road Traffic Act 2014 we introduced roadside intoxication impairment testing – non-technological cognitive tests to enable the Gardaí to assess cognitive impairment of drivers at the roadside.  The results of these tests may be used in evidence in court.  This is a significant new tool in the struggle to combat impaired driving.


The same Act introduced a new procedure so that we can now test drivers for intoxicants following a collision in circumstances where the driver is unconscious or otherwise incapable of giving consent to providing a blood specimen for testing.  This means that our policy goal of testing all drivers following a collision can be met.


In addition, the Act introduced comprehensive updates to the penalty points system.  We first introduced penalty points in 2002, and in 2012 my Department conducted a review of the whole system.  This led to recommendations for change which were enacted in the 2014 Act.  Crucial changes include increased points for the most dangerous offences such as speeding and operating a mobile phone while driving.


Just ten days ago, I also commenced a new power of arrest under the 2014 Act, which will allow Gardaí to arrest drivers who are driving while disqualified.  This is a vital tool in dealing with those offenders who persist in driving on our roads in defiance of disqualification orders.


In the near future, I shall be extending the system of fixed charge notices to certain road traffic offences by cyclists.  Cycling is a healthy and appealing mode of transport, and I am working to encourage its growth and appeal in Ireland.  However, we have to remember that cyclists are also road users and bound by road traffic law.  As it stands, the power to deal with offences by cyclists is not, in my view, adequate.  Bringing road traffic offences by cyclists within the fixed charge notice regime will not involve creating any new offences, but it will provide Gardaí with a very effective new tool for enforcement.


Later this year, I will be publishing the Road Traffic Bill 2015.  The main focus of this Bill will be to provide for roadside testing for drugs by Gardaí.  We have greatly strengthened the law on driving under the influence of alcohol in recent years, and it is time now to expand the legislation on drug driving in a similar way.  The technology to conduct roadside tests for drugs now exists, and my new Bill will ensure that these tests can and do take place.  We have seen a welcome culture change in the attitude to drink driving, and it is time that the same unwillingness to tolerate drink driving extended to drug driving as well.


The Bill will also contain a range of other measures.  Perhaps of most interest to today’s audience will be provisions that require employers of drivers of buses and heavy goods vehicles to conduct periodic random tests on drivers for intoxicants.  While final details of how this will be done and how widely it will apply are yet to be agreed, I believe that this will further help to promote a culture in which driving under the influence of any kind of intoxicant becomes unacceptable.


Driving and Work

These are just some of the measures we have undertaken and are planning to undertake.  We also need to bear in mind that each of us, as a road-user, has to take personal responsibility.  The law can do only so much, and every driver must recognise their responsibility for their own safety and that of others they encounter on the roads.


In order to promote greater responsibility on the part of drivers, we have introduced in recent years a number of reforms to driver licensing.  Learners must now complete a series of 12 mandatory lessons before taking the driving test.  Learners and novice drivers – that is, people in the first two years of a full licence – will be disqualified for 6 months if they reach 7 penalty points rather than the normal 12.  We need to get away from a culture which says that driving is a right.  It isn’t.  It is a great responsibility.  It needs to be earned, and it can be lost.


I might add that a driving licence is also a valuable document for employers.  Many businesses now look for candidates with full, clean driving licences when recruiting.


Employers also play a critical role in keeping our roads safe by ensuring their employees who drive as part of their job are equipped with the knowledge, skills and training to make them better, safer drivers.  They also have legal responsibilities to provide their staff with a safe working environment, both in the office and on the road.


Therefore it is vital that employers see the development and implementation of safe driving for work policies as a critical part of their business plans – not something that is ‘nice to do’ if you have time, or a ‘tick the box’ exercise.


And let us remember, this does not just apply to those who drive as part of their work.  Employers should be encouraged to take a role in promoting safe driving by those who commute by car as well.  Whether your job is driving, or you drive as part of your job, or your drive to your job, safe driving skills are the same and are essential.


We have many great examples of companies and organisations that have developed effective road safety interventions in the workplace, some of which you will hear about today.


The RSA informs me that these companies really see the benefits of having such policies in place, including reduced insurance premiums, lower fuel costs, less absenteeism, greater staff satisfaction and most importantly, safe employees.


Duty of care, occupational health and safety and road safety compliance are legal necessities in all EU Member States and are an essential consideration for all employers, public or private.  I would urge every employer, regardless of how big or small your staff numbers are, to put in place safe driving for work policies as a matter of urgency.  Not only will such policies protect your staff, as you are legally required to do, they will also benefit your bottom line.


I would like to say a particular word about driver distraction.  Driver distraction is one of the greatest causes of danger on our roads.  Modern technology, for all its benefits, has created new challenges in this area.  A decade ago, we worried about drivers being distracted by talking on mobile phones.  Now we have a range of devices, of apps and of functions, which can be a serious cause of distraction if used while driving.  I would urge employers to include in any safe driving policy a principle that drivers should not use phones, tablets, email, or other kinds of electronic communication while driving.  If people have to take work-related calls while on the road – and we know that will happen a lot – it should be policy for them to pull over in a safe place to take or return the call.


Concluding Remarks

Ladies and gentlemen, as we sit here this morning, 72 people have been killed on our roads, 24 fewer than the same period last year.


We have set ourselves an ambitious target to reduce deaths on our roads to 124 or fewer by 2020.  I believe it is achievable, but not without commitment and effort.  Every individual, company and organisation, whether public or private, has an important role to play in developing a national road safety culture.


We in Government also have commitments to deliver on and we will continue to work with the Road Safety Authority, An Garda Síochána and other stakeholders in road safety to ensure we meet these commitments.


However, we as individuals also have a responsibility to be the safest road-users we can be when we share the roads with others. We have shown in the past what can be achieved when we take personal responsibility for our own actions on the roads and not expect others to be responsible for us.


But complacency is our worst enemy – our challenge is to keep raising the bar and finding new and better ways of making our roads safer – starting with how we ourselves use the roads.


Once again, thank you for inviting me to speak here today. I look forward to working with you all over the coming months to achieve our ambition of making Ireland’s roads among the safest in the world.