THE war on drink driving is being won because motorists now run a huge risk of being caught.
One-in-10 Irish drivers was breath tested at the roadside during the first six months of this year.
Only a tiny fraction of them were over the limit, but this is because the crackdown is finally having an effect.
Gardai used to check about 13,000 motorists every year. This was roughly one for every pub in the country. But new figures show an astonishing 241,695 motorists were stopped at mandatory alcohol checkpoints between January and June this year.
This represents one in 10 of the 2.4 million drivers of cars, lorries, motorcycles and tractors on Irish roads. Just 4,944 tested positive and were arrested.
Crucially, this is the first set of six-monthly figures following the introduction of the new lower drink-drive alcohol limits in October last year.
The new breath test limit of 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood -- down from 80mg -- is equivalent to drinking less than one pint of beer.
There is also a virtual 'zero tolerance' limit of 20mg for learner and professional drivers.
Despite the stricter limits, the numbers caught drunk behind the wheel has plummeted over the past three years, our investigation also reveals.
And this coincides with a corresponding increase in the number of garda checks.
Almost 30pc fewer drink drivers were caught between 2009 and 2012.
Official garda figures show that the number of mandatory roadside alcohol checks actually increased from 53,969 in the first six months of 2009, to 57,523 during the same period in 2010, and 71,122 in 2011.
Arrests during the January to July period have fallen by 28pc over the past three years, even though the frequency of checkpoints has steadily increased.
A total of 7,685 people were arrested for drink driving in the first six months of 2009. This fell to 6,476 in the same period in 2010, with a further decrease to 5,480 in 2011.
The figure was down to 4,944 for the first six months of this year.
The trends imply that motorists are aware they have a stronger chance of being stopped by gardai than in years gone by, and that the message on drink driving is hitting the mark.
A steep rise in garda checks followed the introduction of mandatory alcohol tests in 2006.
This enabled gardai to carry out random tests on motorists at the roadside. Prior to this they first had to form an opinion that the driver was intoxicated.
These powers have also been directly linked by authorities to a significant drop in road deaths.
The disclosure also dispels speculation that the fall in drink-driver arrests is due to the garda manpower crisis which has seriously affected the dedicated Traffic Corps.
Road Safety Authority spokesman Brian Farrell said: "The figures demonstrate that the gardai are enforcing the drink driving laws and people should think twice before getting behind the wheel after drinking alcohol."
Gardai say the figures indicate "increased compliance among the community".