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'Low-alcohol' crashes kill up to eight a year


Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Up to eight people a year have died in road accidents where a driver had 'low levels' of alcohol in their system.

Transport minister Shane Ross now plans to overturn the penalty points and fines system for drink-driving introduced in October 2012.

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 applies only to a first offence.

Under the new plan, drivers caught with more than 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood would 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.

Ross said there was ample evidence to prove that even the smallest amount of alcohol impaired drivers.

According to the Road Safety Authority (RSA), between 2008 and 2012, a total of 35 people were killed in collisions where drivers or motorcyclists had an alcohol level of between 21 and 80mg per 100ml of blood.

In each case, the drivers were deemed culpable owing to alcohol being a 'contributory factor'.

"This means that seven to eight people a year, on average, were killed in accidents recorded where drivers were recorded at the lower alcohol levels," Shane Ross said.

A further 16 people were killed in collisions where drivers had a blood alcohol level of between 50 and 80mg.

Ross's comments come as motorists with a drink-driving conviction may be forced to pass a breathalyser test built into their car, under a proposed plan to introduce 'alco locks' for repeat offenders.

The sophisticated electronic device wired to the ignition can stop a vehicle from moving if a driver fails to provide an alcohol-free breath test. The technology will also incorporate a camera to confirm that the person blowing into the machine is actually the driver.

The Sunday Independent has confirmed that a costing of the scheme has now been completed by the RSA.

Officials from the Department of Transport met RSA representatives in December and provided "detailed feedback" on the draft cost benefit analysis. The study is now with the RSA for completion, and will also include the input of officials from the Department of Justice and senior garda officials, regarding possible legal implications. A final report will be sent to Shane Ross in a matter of months.

The 'alco locks' option is one of a number of road safety proposals to be put forward by the RSA - and if implemented will provide an alternative sentencing option for judges.

Meanwhile there is increasing concern regarding the death toll on our roads, with an average of 152 people arrested for suspected drink-driving every week.

The minister has been accused of pushing an "anti-rural agenda" as a result of the proposals to replace penalty points with a blanket ban.

Irish Road Victims Association chair Donna Price said it was "unbelievable" that certain rural TDs would oppose legislation that is being introduced to "save lives".

"Our roads need to be kept safe for innocent users. Also, there's an allowance built into the legislation at the moment whereby we don't prosecute anybody below 50mg, unless you're a novice or a commercial driver," she said.

Donna Price said 'alco locks' should be introduced as soon as possible for those who repeatedly flout the law.

"Cars should also be impounded and disqualified drivers who are in contempt of court should be jailed. We want a zero tolerance stance," she added.

Sunday Independent