Drivers could face ban after drinking less than one pint
Less than one pint of beer in the system will be enough to see motorists banned, as part of a "sustained attack" on drink-driving.
Transport Minister Shane Ross plans to overturn the penalty points and fines system for drink-driving introduced in October 2012, where motorists caught slightly over the limit paid a fine and had three points imposed on their licence.
Under the new rules, drivers caught with more than 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood will be hit with an automatic ban, likely to be three months.
It means that one drink - a pint of beer, glass of wine or measure of spirits - would put many people over the limit.
The move comes amid increasing concern about the death toll on our roads, with an average of 152 people arrested for suspected drink-driving every week.
"Clearly, this is not acceptable," Mr Ross told the Dáil Transport Committee. "We are launching a sustained attack on drunk drivers. We are committed to taking action."
Research from the Road Safety Authority suggests that alcohol was a contributory factor in 38pc of collisions between 2008 and 2012. The Garda Christmas drink-driving campaign, which ran from December 1 to January 8 last, resulted in 961 arrests for drink-driving, up 35pc on the same period of last year.
Under the current rules, motorists caught with more than 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, but less than 80mg, receive an on-the-spot fine of €200 and three penalty points. This only applies to a first offence. These drivers will now be hit with a fine, and three months' disqualification.
If the motorist has more than 80mg of alcohol, the existing rules apply - fines, and a minimum six-month ban.
The drink-driving limit was lowered from 80mg to 50mg in October 2012. A lower limit of 20mg applies for novice and professional drivers. They are automatically disqualified if caught over the limit.
The move has been met with concern from some rural TDs, with Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae warning about rushing through changes, saying they needed to be carefully considered.
Two members of the Dáil Transport Committee, chair Brendan Griffin of Fine Gael and Kevin O'Keeffe of Fianna Fáil, asked if there was evidence of collisions being caused by people with alcohol in their system the "morning after".
The minister said he understood they were still impaired, and that there could be no exceptions made for those living in rural Ireland.
"If you're over the limit in Dublin, you're over the limit in rural areas as well," he said.
Road Safety Authority chief executive Moyagh Murdock later said an examination of 1,000 collision files revealed that 330 involved alcohol. Of these, 30pc of victims had alcohol levels below the legal limit.
"Our message is: any level impairs driving. One drink starts to impair," she said.