Employers could be held liable for drink-driving staff
EMPLOYERS face the prospect of being held liable for road crashes caused by their intoxicated employees as part of a fresh crackdown on drink-driving being considered.
Courts may soon be given the powers to punish employers for the actions of their staff members who are found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar revealed yesterday that he was considering placing the "onus" of responsibility on to bosses so as to "ensure employees are not under the influence of intoxicants when driving on public roads".
It is understood that the new laws will focus on employees who cause serious road accidents while under the influence of drugs or alcohol that they consumed at company-sponsored events such as Christmas parties and work outings.
Such measures, which have been implemented in other jurisdictions, may now be included in future road traffic legislation. However, a spokesman for the minister insisted that the plans were at a "very early stage".
"This issue is likely to be complex and is only at a very early stage of development," a spokesman told the Irish Independent. Mr Varadkar mooted the controversial measures during a speech at a road safety conference in Dublin yesterday.
Other proposals being considered include:
* Tightening the ban on texting while driving in order to eliminate any 'ambiguities';
* The setting up of a register of heroin addicts with the view to banning them from the road if they are unfit to drive;
* Extending the current 'alcohol' legislation to deal with all intoxicants;
* Providing for roadside testing for drugs with devices to detect a range of commonly used illegal substances at the roadside.
Mr Varadkar said he was particularly determined to tackle what he accepted was a "grey area" in the law regarding texting while driving.
Under the current road traffic legislation, using a mobile phone while driving is prohibited. However, Mr Varadkar said motorists were confused as to whether this law applied to sending text messages. "There is a grey area. The law says that you can't operate a mobile phone while driving," he said.
"But it's not 100pc clear as to whether that applies to sending a text or doing an internet search, while the phone is in a cradle for example. So I'm going to sign regulations in the next few weeks just to make it very clear that it is illegal to operate a mobile phone under any circumstances while driving."
The issue dominated yesterday's conference, which was held in Dublin Castle. It heard that almost one in every 10 road crashes could be avoided if drivers were better educated about the dangers of texting while driving.
The finding has prompted the Road Safety Authority (RSA) to call on mobile phone companies operating here to launch an awareness campaign, highlighting such dangers.
Phone usage is considered the biggest contributor to this, and phone companies in the US have now begun to target the problem with high-profile awareness campaigns aimed at discouraging people from using their phone in the car.
Michelle Kuckleman of AT&T said the 'It can wait' campaign – launched across the US last year by a number of phone providers – was directly attributable for an 8pc reduction in road crashes, and prevented about 30,000 collisions.
An RSA spokesman said he would be in favour of such a campaign in this country but that it was up to phone and technology companies to get the ball rolling.
Garda assistant commissioner John Twomey announced that a one-day awareness campaign would be held next week discouraging in-car phone use.