ROAD safety campaigner Gay Byrne said yesterday he was "guffawing down the phone" after a Fianna Fail backbencher said alcohol could relax nervous or "jumpy" drivers.
Fianna Fail TD Mattie McGrath said he was putting the point out there that a very limited amount of drink could be beneficial for some drivers.
"I know people for whom drink is a relaxant and they might be more nervous without it," the Tipperary South TD said in a radio interview.
Mr McGrath declared on the Eamon Keane lunchtime show on Newstalk 106: "People say that after one drink it lessens your concentration -- you're not as good a driver, or you're not able to drive. I don't accept that.
"That can be argued the other way as well. Some people, if drink is such a sedative, it can make people who are jumpy on the road, or nervous, be more relaxed. All these arguments can be argued both ways."
He went on to claim that road death figures involving alcohol were misleading.
Mr Byrne,chairman of the Road Safety Authority, laughed when told of the remarks. "It is just funny -- congratulations to him for that," he said. "He is trying his best."
"Every single piece of evidence, every last vestige, is pointing the other way. The whole of continental Europe is on the lower limit. There is no further debate on the matter because the results are in. I just find it laughable -- funny. You can say that I am guffawing down the phone at this one."
Mr McGrath, who is leading the charge on maintaining current drink-drive levels, said he had strongly-held views and wanted fair play. "I'm not representing the vintners -- I want proper scientific evidence and medical evidence. People between 50 and 80 (milligrams) aren't causing these accidents."
He added: "I'm not condoning drunk driving in any way, shape or form. I know people for whom drink is a relaxant, and they might be more nervous without it."
Asked if they would drive better with drink, Mr McGrath replied: "I'm not saying that now! Don't make a headline. I know people who enjoy a drink to relax and it can make them relaxed. You can have all the evidence you like and you can twist and turn it any way you like. The figures they're giving us at the moment are false because they include pedestrians who are knocked down or passengers in cars where the driver mightn't even have a drink taken.
Tackled on his views about 'jumpy' drivers becoming more relaxed, Mr McGrath said: "Fair enough, I'm not a medical person so I'm not going to argue. I just put my point out there.
"I've consulted widely over the weekend on this issue ... this is coming on top of several other regulations. I'm not saying it's going to close down rural Ireland but it's going to have an adverse impact.
"Why not examine the two-tier idea, that we have one system for the towns and the cities, and we have one system with the present limit, which I'm accepting totally, for the rural areas?" he asked.