I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Road Traffic Bill 2016 and I welcome most of its provisions. The purpose of the legislation is to improve safety on our roads and reduce fatalities and injuries to road users by introducing several measures. They are the detection of drug driving via mandatory testing; the creation of new offences for driving or being in charge of a vehicle under the influence of specified drugs; the lowering of the speed limit in estates to 20 km/h, which I will come back to; and the agreement between Ireland and the United Kingdom on mutual recognition of driving disqualifications, which is very welcome.
I congratulate the road safety organisation, Promoting Awareness, Responsibility and Care on our Roads, PARC, which was established in 2006 by Susan Gray, who lost her husband in a road traffic accident in Inishowen in County Donegal. The group comprises people who have been affected by road traffic accidents and has been campaigning since 2006 on various road safety issues. It supports families of road traffic victims and has been involved in a series of very successful campaigns, including the mandatory testing of drivers involved in fatal and serious collisions, which was introduced in June 2011. They were also involved in the campaign to test unconscious and incapacitated drivers in fatal and serious collisions and the law was changed in that regard in November 2014. They published a booklet called Finding Your Way, for families affected by road traffic accidents, which is widely available to all stakeholders, including gardaí, and is updated on a regular basis.
I acknowledge the work done by that organisation, particularly by Susan Grey who founded it, and the work of the people working with it throughout the country. They include Mr. Alec Lee from Clonmel in my constituency. I should also mention the good work that Deputy Broughan has been doing in conjunction with PARC for a number of years.
The Minister should have bitten the bullet on the housing estate issue and made the 20 kp/h speed limit mandatory. Young Jake Brennan died at six years of age following a road traffic accident in a housing estate. His family have been campaigning for some time for the introduction of mandatory 20 kp/h speed limits. The opportunity to do that in this Bill has been lost. The current position is that local authorities have the option to introduce a speed limit of 30 kp/h. The Minister has reduced that to 20 kp/h in this legislation but the record of local authorities on the 30 kp/h limit is woeful. In fact, few, if any, changes in that regard have come through local authorities over the years. This option has been available to them since 2014 and the guidelines were updated and reintroduced in 2015 but it is all on the basis of it being an option and encouraging local authorities to do it or recommending that it be done. However, it has not happened in the case of the 30 kp/h limit and I am certain there will be no hunger to do it, certainly at local authority official level, in the case of the 20 kp/h limit. There is still time for the Minister to change that provision in the Bill and to make the 20 kp/h limit mandatory. As mentioned by Deputies Eamon Ryan and Catherine Murphy, the redesign of estates and of traffic within estates together with a mandatory 20 kp/h limit would be hugely advantageous for residents, their families and particularly for cyclists and pedestrians. I hope that during the progress of the Bill through the Oireachtas the Minister might take the view that this provision should be made mandatory.
There is another issue relating to road safety worth mentioning, although it is not mentioned in the Bill. I raise it particularly in the context of my constituency of Tipperary. It is the repair, maintenance and standard of roads in the country. The woeful standard and the lack of repair give rise to potholed roads, with the roads almost undermined, difficult to travel and in many cases causing serious difficulties in vehicles. There can also be road traffic accidents as a result of the condition of the roads. This issue must be addressed urgently. It is a question of funding and resourcing local authorities to enable them to maintain and upgrade the roads.
The Minister has been in Tipperary and visited Tipperary County Council in Clonmel on 28 July. The situation in Tipperary is quite clear. Even though there was a Minister and a Minister of State from Tipperary in the previous Government, the county fell behind significantly with regard to roads funding. The ratings for the various road categories in Tipperary compare very unfavourably with the national mean. For example, local primary roads are 5% less than the mean, local secondary roads are 11% less than the mean and local tertiary roads are a full 17% less than the national mean. The reason is that the roads grants profile for Tipperary from 2007 to 2015 has been one of continuous reductions. In 2007, the regional and local grants amounted to €608 million while in 2015 they were down to €294 million. The amount was more than halved in that period. Various other grants show similar reductions. For example, regional and local road grants for restoration and improvement went down from €13.6 million in 2007 to €8.6 million in 2016 while regional and local road grants for restoration and maintenance went down from €4.7 million in 2007 to €2.4 million in 2016. In fairness to Tipperary County Council, it increased the resources from the county to provide for roads by almost €1 million over that period. There is a huge need for additional funding for roads in County Tipperary. The Minister has been made aware of the situation and I hope that in the forthcoming budget he will be in a position to increase the road grants for the county significantly to ensure that the standard and maintenance of roads in the county are at a reasonable level.
I should mention the N24 national primary road which runs through Tipperary. As I told the Minister in Clonmel, it is a significant economic and social corridor for the area but it is also a very dangerous road. There have been significant road traffic collisions on the road, many of them sadly fatal. Promises and commitments have been made to provide bypasses for both Tipperary town, where the traffic comes right through its centre, and Carrick-on-Suir. I ask the Minister to address that matter as well.