Transport minister Varadkar denies new crackdown on drink driving a soft touch
TRANSPORT Minister Leo Varadkar has rejected claims that a penalty points system introduced as part of a new crackdown on drink driving is a soft touch.
The new regime, in force from midnight tomorrow, will give authorities a sliding scale to deal with offenders instead of mandatory court appearances.
Mr Varadkar dismissed accusations that removing the automatic driving ban for first time lawbreakers was too lenient.
"It's important that people don't mistake this as being a soft touch," he said.
"It's not, it's actually getting a lot stricter."
The new measures, which take effect from midnight on Thursday, will see the drink drive limit reduced from 50mg to 20mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood for specified drivers, which includes people who have been driving for less than two years and professional drivers.
The limit for other drivers will be reduced from 80mg to 50mg.
If a motorist is caught driving over the limit but between 50mg and 80mg, and has not already been disqualified, they will be served with a fixed penalty notice, a fine and three points on their licence.
Motorists caught over the limit but between 80mg and 100mg will receive a fine and a six-month driving ban.
The specified drivers - learners, newly qualified and professional drivers - who are over the 20mg limit up to 80mg will be fined and disqualified for three months.
The old system would have seen offending drivers sent straight to court and if convicted of an offence, immediately stripped of their licence.
Minister Varadkar explained: "It's a system of graduated penalties.
"If somebody is between 50mg and 80mg they'll get penalty points. If they are above 80mg they'll be banned from driving."
The launch of the new measures will coincide with a bank holiday weekend.
By reducing alcohol limits to as low as 20mg for specified drivers, Mr Varadkar said the message was to encourage people not to drink at all if they intend to drive.
"We want this to be a weekend in which nobody loses their lives," he said.
"The evidence is that when limits are reduced in other jurisdictions, in Australia for example, there's an 18% reduction in deaths associated with drink driving. So that could be another 11 or 12 lives saved this year."
The Department of Transport, Road Safety Authority and An Garda Siochana worked together to develop the new measures.
Garda spokesman Chief Superintendent Aidan Reid warned roadside checks would increase - and not just at weekends, but through the week too.
He said: "The advice is never ever drink and drive. You're either fit to drive or you're not fit to drive.
"We're asking people not to drink and drive and to slow down. Speed is still the number one issue in our roads."
Drivers are also advised to carry their licence at all times.
Anyone who fails to produce their licence when stopped will be automatically classed as a specified driver, whose alcohol limit is 20mg.