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Gardai may be allowed take blood samples at crashes

Gardai are to get sweeping new powers that will allow them to take blood samples from unconscious or seriously injured drivers at the scenes of road crashes.

The draconian new laws are designed to ensure drivers suspected of drink driving who have been involved in a crash do not escape prosecution.

However, the proposals are expected to have to overcome tough legal challenges if they enter law. Experts warned that the Constitution prohibits such intrusive procedures without agreement.

Legislation introduced earlier this year gives gardai powers to breath-test drivers involved in an accident where an injury has been caused.

But until now gardai have been legally prohibited from taking blood samples from drivers who have been injured, who are unconscious, or who have been admitted to hospital.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar last night promised to push ahead with the tough new laws despite the prospect of a legal challenge.

The new powers will oblige any driver admitted to hospital to provide a blood or urine sample, which will be checked for the presence of alcohol or drugs. Blood samples will be taken by a medical professional after a request from gardai.

Samples taken from unconscious drivers will not be sent for testing until the driver wakes and gives consent.

But refusing to provide the sample will be an offence, and could result in a jail sentence of up to six months.

The measures are contained in the new Road Traffic Bill published yesterday.

But legal experts last night warned that the provisions of the Constitution meant that the new laws would be subject to intense scrutiny.

The bill was introduced to the Dail transport committee yesterday for comment and for suggested changes. Members will submit changes within a month, after which the minister will decide what changes to implement.

Other changes proposed include:

•All newly qualified drivers will have to display 'R' or 'restricted' plates for two years after they pass their test. During that period they will get double points for offences including speeding, not wearing a seatbelt, using a mobile phone and failing to obey traffic lights.

•Gardai and speed-camera operators will no longer have to attend court to give evidence in speeding cases.

•The Road Safety Authority (RSA), instead of local authorities, will issue new credit-card sized licences from 2013.

•Local authorities will no longer test commercial vehicles for roadworthiness. This function will move to the RSA.

•The minister will have new powers to provide electric and car-club parking bays in urban areas.

•The RSA will also compile a 'risk register' setting out the types of commercial vehicles likely to fail tests, which can be provided to gardai for random checks.

Irish Independent