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Wednesday 20 February 2019

Half of drink drivers getting off scot-free

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

MOTORISTS charged with drink driving have a 50/50 chance of getting away with it, shocking new figures reveal.

More than 71,000 drivers have faced drink-driving charges in the past five years -- but road safety chiefs admit they are unable to explain why fewer than 39,000, or just 54.5pc, have been convicted.

And new figures, compiled by the Central Statistics Office from Garda data, show the percentage of drink drivers being convicted has decreased over the last two years -- despite a massive increase in breath testing and in the number of cases being taken by gardai.

The conviction rate for those charged with drink-driving offences dropped from 58pc in 2006 to 47pc in 2007 -- and to under 18pc in the first three months of this year.

This compares to a 91pc conviction rate in England and Wales for the 101,400 motorists charged with drink and drug driving there in 2006.

Road Safety Authority chairman Gay Byrne said the low conviction rate here was a "mystery".

"It seems remarkably low. We are fully aware of the conviction rate and it doesn't make any sense. We can't explain it," he said.

Professor Denis Cusack, head of Medical Bureau of Road Safety, said he has searched for an answer to the low conviction rate for the last four years.

"I raised it at an Oireachtas committee, I raised it at a meeting with the Minister for Transport, purely to say 'Does anybody have an explanation?' So far nobody has come up with an explanation," he said.

Professor Cusack, whose bureau tests every drink-driving sample in the country, said that a 100pc conviction rate would be worrying in any democracy.

"On the other hand, if . . . you're down to a 54.5pc conviction rate, that also raises legitimate questions," he said.

There are 32 different drink driving offences, but four account for the overwhelming majority of drivers convicted in the last five years.

  • 24,593 out of 39,420 drivers convicted for failing a breath test (62pc).
  • 5,467 out of 10,952 drivers convicted for failing a blood specimen test (50pc).
  • 3,611 out of 7,287 drivers convicted for failing a urine specimen test (50pc).
  • 1,182 out of 4,997 drivers convicted for not providing a specimen (24pc).

It has been suggested that the low conviction rate is due to solicitors and barristers seeking to exploit legal loopholes on behalf of their clients.

And although charges or summonses were issued in more than 71,000 cases here over the past five years, it is not known how many of those drivers are ending up in court.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) said it had compiled the figures by checking the Garda's Pulse computer system to compare number of Garda proceedings (charges or summonses) against drink drivers with the number of convictions.

Strict checks were used to ensure that drink drivers were not "double counted".

Labour transport spokesman Tommy Broughan, who obtained the figures, said he was "seriously concerned" about the conviction rate.

"It's very low compared to the amount of people the gardai clearly believed were under the influence," he said.

The figures register just 69 proceedings for drug driving over the past five years, with 16 convicted -- a conviction rate of 23pc. Mr Byrne said little progress could be made on this issue due to the lack of mobile testing equipment.

"There is no breathalyser so far that will detect drugs or differentiate between drugs on a driver's breath. The guy in the world somewhere who is working on such a machine will make millions," he said.

Assistant Commissioner Eddie Rock, who heads the Garda Traffic Corps, said he would like to examine the conviction figures in detail.

"I think there are issues that certainly need to be drilled down into to see what exactly is happening," he said.

But he pointed out that the introduction of random breath testing, in August 2006, had "significantly changed" the culture of drink driving.

"There's a reduction of 31 deaths today as opposed to this time last year. None of us are living in a bubble -- we all know the attitude to drink driving has changed," he said.

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