Sunday 24 September 2017

Time our drink driving laws caught up with the tragic reality

Our Road Safety Authority expert explodes some of the myths around new rules to disqualify drivers

Breath test
Breath test

The Government recently approved the General Scheme of the Road Traffic (Fixed Penalty - Drink Driving) Bill 2017. Under the proposed legislation, drink driving offences committed between BAC 50mg and 80mg will incur an automatic disqualification of three months instead of the current penalty - a €200 fine and three penalty points. There has been some confusion over this measure. The current drink driving limit is NOT being reduced. The limit for ordinary drivers remains at 50mg, which has been in place since 2010.

Offences involving in excess of 80mg will continue to attract an automatic six months disqualification. Which, by the way, was watered down from a minimum one-year disqualification when the limit was reduced.

Measures enacted by previous governments to make our roads safer have been successful. However, there is strong evidence that a minority of people refuse to heed the messages around drink driving. In the five years from 2012 to 2016, there have been 3,003 Fixed Penalty Notices issued to drivers for drink driving offences between the BAC level 50mg to 80mg. Between 2015 and 2016 the number rose by over 23pc from 501 (2015) to 617 (2016).

Increasing the penalties for 50mg to 80mg will send out a clear message that such behaviour is not acceptable and will act as a strong deterrent in dissuading people from drink-driving.

A function of the Road Safety Authority is to deepen our understanding of why crashes happen through the collection and analysis of crash data. The indisputable facts around drink driving and its consequences are based on comprehensive scientific and statistical research.

The most compelling is that consuming any alcohol impairs driving and increases the risk of a collision.

Alcohol is a factor in 38pc of fatal crashes in this country. This breaks down into 29pc of crashes involving drivers and motorcyclist and 9pc of crashes involving a pedestrian. Between 2008 and 2012, 35 people were killed in collisions where drivers/motorcyclists had a recorded BAC level of between 21 and 80mg/100ml (and were deemed culpable due to alcohol being a contributory factor). Broken down further 6pc of alcohol related fatal crashes involve drivers, who were deemed responsible for the crash, at the 50mg to 80mg level.This means 7-8 people, on average, were killed each year over this period at the lower alcohol levels.

At 80mg drivers are six times more likely to have a collision. At 40mg drivers are twice as likely to be involved in a collision.

These facts comprehensively refute misleading claims that are circulating, that driving with BAC levels below 80mg poses little or no risk to road users.

Concerns have been expressed that the proposed legislation would have a detrimental effect on rural Ireland. Far from damaging rural Ireland, making drink driving offences an automatic disqualification will protect the lives and wellbeing of families, neighbours, friends and work colleagues in our towns and villages. Promoting the safe use of roads in rural Ireland is an integral policy measure to protect and support these communities. Rural Ireland faces many issues, including transport, social inclusion and sustainable communities but the solution is not to be found by allowing or condoning people to drink and drive.

There is evidence that this view has overwhelming support from public. Nationally 91pc of all adults, rising to 93pc among those living in rural areas, support the law being changed so that any driver caught over the drink driving limit would be automatically disqualified. It really is time our drink driving laws caught up with public attitudes.

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