I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Second Stage debate on the Road Traffic Bill 2016. The Bill contains a series of progressive reforms dealing with drug driving, mutual recognition of driver disqualifications between Ireland and the UK and, as my colleague has said, a new optional 20 km/h speed limit in built-up areas. It will be an offence to drive a vehicle or to be in the charge of a vehicle with the presence of certain illicit drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and heroin. The Bill makes provision for preliminary testing of all fluid or drugs by An Garda Síochána at the roadside or in a Garda station.
The Bill, which strengthens the law on drug driving, will introduce penalties for driving after taking cocaine, cannabis or heroin. This law will rightly bring in penalties for drug driving that are similar to those already in place for drink-driving. A driver found to be impaired because of drug driving could face a €5,000 fine and-or six months in prison on conviction, and a one year disqualification for the first offence and two year disqualification for subsequent offences.
It is very important that a different or separate test will apply to drivers who may be impaired after taking prescription drugs. It is important that we provide reassurance to those taking prescription drugs and that we do not frighten people, in particular older people, by demonstrating that in some way were focusing on drugs. This Bill is about illicit drugs and ensuring that the taking of such drugs and driving is prohibited in the same way as drink-driving. People taking prescription drugs should have nothing to fear. We must highlight this when the Government rolls out its campaign to inform the general public of the implications of the Bill. The Medical Bureau for Road Safety found a disturbing connection between fatal road accidents and drug taking.
Our road safety record over the past 20 years has improved significantly. Last year, we saw the lowest number of road deaths since 2012, a total of 166. In 2012 there were 162 deaths. The number of people killed on our roads in 1997 was 472. We have seen the positive impact of policies pursued by previous Governments to reduce the number of people who die on the roads, and I want to note the work of former transport Ministers, including the late Séamus Brennan, Martin Cullen, Noel Dempsey, the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and the Minister, Deputy Varadkar. Combined, these Ministers, supported by Governments, introduced a cohort of progressive policies including the introduction of penalty points, stricter driver and driving laws and a significantly improved road network, with over 1200 km of motorway connecting Dublin with all other cities in the country . They have contributed to the reduction in the number of road deaths.
We all know the importance of the three Es when it comes to road safety. Education informs drivers of the hazards associated with driving, including drink-driving campaigns and dangerous driving. The second E is enforcement. We have seen the impact of policies like the introduction of penalty points, speed cameras, hand-held mobile phones being prohibited while driving, stricter drink-driving laws and compulsory seatbelts, all of which have improved driver behaviour. The third E is engineering. On this front, our road network has significantly improved. We have better road signage, antiskid surfacing and better maintained cars with the introduction of the NCT. We must continue to introduce policies that support the three Es approach to improving road safety.
This Bill will also have a positive impact on road safety and reduce the number of collisions and fatalities on our roads. My understanding is that the new law mirrors one introduced in England and Wales recently. The Irish Medical Bureau for Road Safety conducted a survey over a 10-year period on the presence of drugs in the systems of people who lost their lives on our roads. The results indicate that across the 10-year period just under 10% of people who tragically lost their lives had drugs in their system. We know that drugs affect one’s ability to drive in a number of ways. The new Bill will assist in changing the attitude towards drug driving and I commend it to the House.