Automatic drink-driving ban 'could save eight lives a year'
Up to eight people a year are killed by drivers with just a small amount of alcohol in their systems, the Road Safety Authority (RSA) has warned.
Writing in today's Irish Independent, RSA chair Liz O'Donnell said consuming any alcohol increased the risk of a fatal collision. She called for politicians to face down "narrow vested interests" and support legislation that would result in an automatic ban for any motorist caught over the limit.
The Dáil Transport Committee will today begin pre-legislative scrutiny of a new bill which will result in motorists caught with between 50mg and 80mg of alcohol being automatically disqualified for three months.
The current penalty is a €200 fine and three penalty points.
There is no proposal to change the existing drink-driving limit of 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, but many rural TDs are opposed to the changes, suggesting they will affect the ability of people living in rural Ireland to socialise, especially in areas where there is little or no public transport available.
But Ms O'Donnell pointed to analysis of collisions between 2008 and 2012, which found that 35 people were killed in incidents where drivers or motorcyclists had a recorded blood alcohol level between 21mg and 80mg.
Gardaí have also suggested that people with 40mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood were twice as likely to be involved in a collision.
"Increasing the penalties at the 50mg to 80mg will send out a clear message that such behaviour is not acceptable in society and will act as a strong deterrent in dissuading people from drinking and driving," Ms O'Donnell said.
"We must do all we can to reduce road deaths and ensure the safety of our citizens. This legislation will support us in this fight," she added.
Transport Minister Shane Ross will tell the Dáil Transport Committee today that the bill could potentially save lives.
"If we could prevent 35 deaths over the next five years, wouldn't it be worth it?" he will say. "If we could prevent people getting the idea that driving over the limit was acceptable and could prevent them, perhaps, going on to drive at higher and higher levels, would that not be worth it? I certainly think it would.
"There are many factors in road safety, and indeed many aspects to drink-driving. This bill is not a solution to all of them, and it is not meant to be. What it is, is a measure which we can and should introduce now, which will save lives."
The Road Traffic (Fixed Penalty - Drink Driving) Bill 2017 was published in February and comes amid growing concern about the rising death toll on the roads.
Some 47 people have been killed so far this year, up four on the same period of 2016.
In January, 615 motorists were arrested for driving while intoxicated. Almost 7,300 were arrested for the same offence last year.
Fianna Fáil's Robert Troy has expressed concern about the proposed changes, saying there was a difference between someone having a glass of wine with a meal and someone drinking a bottle and then driving.
Another Fianna Fáil TD, Kevin O'Keeffe, has also questioned whether the move was a "knee-jerk reaction to enforce a total ban on drink-driving", while Independent Alliance TDs, including Kevin 'Boxer' Moran and Sean Canney, are understood to be unhappy with some aspects of the legislation, along with a number of Fine Gael deputies.
Experts cite intoxicated driving, speeding, use of mobile phones and non-wearing of seat belts as the primary causes of fatal road collisions.
An Garda Síochána's recent Christmas drink-driving campaign resulted in 961 arrests, a 35pc increase year on year.