One pint too much as drive limit cut
THE drink-driving limit is finally being cut in a move that will mean just one pint of beer or one measure of spirits will put most drivers over the limit. And an even lower limit is to be introduced for learner and professional drivers such as truckers.
This amounts to an effective zero tolerance policy for these categories of drivers.
The limit for drivers with full licences is coming down from 80mg to 50mg of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood or urine, and for L-drivers and professional drivers the new limit will be 20mg.
A high-powered government advisory group has decided that these are the most appropriate limits to help cut road carnage, the Irish Independent has learned.
Transport Minister Noel Dempsey has already pledged to introduce whatever measures the group recommends.
The group's decision is being presented to the board of the Road Safety Authority at a meeting today.
The advisory group had been asked by the Government to decide whether the limit should be cut to 50mg, 20mg or zero.
The Government originally intended to introduce a limit of 50mg, but controversially dropped this from its final road-safety strategy just before Christmas.
It instead appointed the advisory group to handle the politically sensitive issue of what limit should be set.
After considering the matter for the past three months, the group is recommending the new lower limit of 50mg for motorists holding full licences and they expect that this will be implemented by the Government "as a matter of urgency".
The 20mg limit will remain in force for at least two years after learners pass their driving test under the new graduated licensing system.
When contacted last night, the RSA refused to comment on any specific new limits beyond pointing out that lowering the drink driving limit is contained in the Government's road-safety strategy.
The new limits will be brought to Mr Dempsey, who two months ago pledged to act "immediately", even though the Government's own road safety strategy set an official deadline of June 2009 for the new limit to be in force.
Last year, the top civil servant in the Department of Health criticised the RSAbecause the agency was not urging a new limit of 50mgs.
The current limit of 80mg is the highest Europe. Only Ireland and the UK still have such a high limit. Fianna Fail is already running into opposition to the changes, particularly from rural publicans.
There was even a deep suspicion that Fianna Fail might try and long-finger the measure, in the face of a possible backlash in next year's local elections.
Kerry County Council passed a motion earlier this week, supported by three councillors who are publicans, opposing any lowering of the legal limit.
Gay Byrne, RSA chairman, said yesterday he "burst out laughing" when he heard about the council's motion. "It could only happen in Kerry," he added
Alcohol is now officially recognised as being a factor in four in 10 road deaths here.
When Sweden lowered the limit in 1990 to 20mg, fatal alcohol-related accidents were reduced by 10pc.
Similar reductions were experienced in Austria, Belgium and France.
Drivers currently driving just below the legally permitted maximum level are estimated to be two to three times as likely to be involved in an accident as drivers with a zero blood alcohol limit known as BAC.