MOTORISTS finally face new lower drink-drive limits from Thursday night, the Irish Independent has learned.
The new breath test limit of 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood -- down from the current 80mg -- is equivalent to drinking less than one pint of beer.
There will also be a virtual 'zero tolerance' limit of 20mg for learner and professional drivers.
The new limits are being made legal from midnight on Thursday.
Gardai are to mount hundreds of mandatory alcohol tests (MAT) checkpoints nationwide over the October bank holiday weekend to enforce the new lower limits.
The new three-tier drink driving regime involves a controversial 'second chance' for those who are just over the limit.
Under the current system, all drink drivers are prosecuted in court -- and banned for 12 months if convicted.
Gardai now have powers allowing them to impose three penalty points and an on-the-spot fine of €200 for motorists caught slightly above the new legal limit of 50mg.
This will replace the current automatic court appearance and disqualification for one year, while these drivers will also escape a drink-driving conviction. However, drivers will be legally obliged to notify their insurance companies when renewing their premiums.
Motorists will only be allowed to use this lower penalty regime once in a three-year period. If caught a second time, they will go to court.
Drivers found with between 80mg and 100mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood will be served with a fixed-charge notice of €400 and will be disqualified from driving for six months, instead of the current 12 months imposed by courts. They will also have a conviction recorded against them.
Drivers who test above the 100mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood cannot avail of the fixed-charge option and must appear in court. A minimum ban of one year, and possible fines of up to €5,000, can be imposed.
The number of drivers being prosecuted for drink driving is steadily falling.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said this bank holiday weekend was regarded as a pivotal event every year for road safety, given the tragic legacy of crashes in previous years.
While last year was the safest year on the roads since 1959, with 212 people killed, October was by far the worst month with 36 fatalities.