No convictions for one-in-five drink drivers
ALMOST one-in-five people arrested and charged with drink driving last year were not convicted, new figures compiled by the Sunday Independent reveal.
The Cavan/Monaghan district and Waterford city had the lowest conviction rates -- both at 75 per cent. Nationally, 83 per cent of the 12,230 people charged with drink-driving offences have been convicted in the courts.
Of those found guilty, 9,275 were fined, while 679 received prison sentences. There were also 112 community service orders handed down in 2009.
Meanwhile, Kildare had the country's highest conviction rate, with 95 per cent of all persons charged receiving convictions.
Just 20 cases were dismissed or struck out in Kildare, with 367 drivers put off the road and 30 drink drivers also receiving prison sentences along with their disqualifications.
Donegal, regarded as having one of the worst road safety records in the country based on population, also had one of the lowest conviction rates in the country, with only 79 per cent of those charged with drink driving being convicted.
In total, 403 people received driving disqualifications in Donegal, with 24 prison sentences imposed. Dublin city also had one of the lowest conviction rates at just 77 per cent.
In all, 2,309 people were put off the road in the capital, with 2,053 fines and 130 prison sentences being imposed. Kerry was the only district in the country not to impose a prison sentence as part of the 274 convictions for drink driving offences.
When contacted by the Sunday Independent to explain the low conviction rate in some areas, the Department of Justice said it was a matter for the Department of Transport. However, the Department of Transport claimed it was an issue for Justice.
Brian Farrell, spokesperson for the Road Safety Authority, expressed dismay at the high number of drink- driving cases revealed in the latest figures.
"It is shocking to see so many people still chancing it and drinking before getting behind the wheel of a car," said Mr Farrell. However, "the high numbers also indicate the good work of an Garda Siochana in catching these people," he added.
"Although it is difficult to comment on the reasons why so many cases fail to get a conviction, we do live in a democracy and respect everyone's right to challenge the charges against them," he said.
Susan Grey, spokesperson for road safety group Public Against Road Carnage, claims Ireland is still ambivalent about drink driving.
"The drink-driving culture is still here and will remain here until people see a higher enforcement of the law," she said.
"We're seeing less and less checkpoints on the road and as well as that people aren't scared of getting caught."
Gardai carried out more than 55,000 mandatory alcohol testing checkpoints across the country in 2009.
Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney believes that more people should be receiving community service orders and that only repeat offenders or those involved in a serious crash should be sent to our already overcrowded prisons. Mr Coveney also questioned the nationwide diversity in conviction rates for those arrested and charged with drink driving.
"Ultimately, we need to know that if people are caught that the law treats them the same regardless if they're from Mayo or Cork. I think these figures question what's wrong with the criminal justice system," he said.
New legislation is due in the coming months, which will reduce the drink-drive limit from 80mg to 50mg, with novice and professional drivers only permitted to have 20mg of alcohol present in their bloodstream. However, drivers caught with between 50mg and 80mg will receive a €200 fine and three penalty points if they do not challenge the penalties in court.
This is the first time in Irish history that a drink-driving conviction will not result in an automatic driving disqualification.