Sunday 17 December 2017

Transport minister accuses publicans of 'cynical' lobbying over drink driving changes

Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

TRANSPORT Minister Shane Ross has accused publicans of “cynically” lobbying against a proposal to hit drivers caught over the drink driving limit with an automatic three-month ban.

Speaking at the Dáil Transport Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny of the Road Traffic (Fixed Penalty – Drink Driving) Bill 2017 this morning, Mr Ross said there was clear evidence that incidents of drink driving among younger drivers was increasing, and that thousands of motorists had been caught driving just above the legal limit, with a rise last year.

The bill allows for drivers caught driving with between 50mgs and 80mgs of alcohol per 100ml of blood to be hit with an automatic disqualification of three months, instead of receiving a €200 fine and three penalty points as currently applies.

The current drink driving limit is 50mgs per 100mls of blood, falling to 20mgs for professional and novice drivers, and there is no proposal to reduce this.

Mr Ross said the proposals were supported by the Road Safety Authority (RSA), road traffic victims’ groups, the AA and Gardaí.

“Unfortunately, certain vested interest groups, particularly The Vintners Federation of Ireland, have lobbied – often in quite a cynical manner – against it,” he said.

“I am not proposing to lower alcohol limits.  What this bill is about is ensuring proper consequences when people drive while over the existing limits. The current limit is not changing.

“I am not claiming that this bill is the only answer to drink driving.  But what it will do is strengthen the law and remove the dangerous impression that people who drive over the limit can be allowed to keep on driving right away.”

He said that between 2012 and 2016, 3,003 fixed penalty notices issued to such drink drivers in the 51mg to 80mg alcohol concentration bracket, with numbers increasing significantly during 2016.

He said these figures came following an analysis of blood or urine samples by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, and did not arise from figures issued by An Garda Síochána, which are in question.

The RSA believes up to eight lives could be saved every year if the measure was enacted.

Deputies have expressed concern that the changes will impact on people living in rural Ireland, who do not have public transport options.

But the minister said “no part of the country would benefit more in terms of lives saved”, as 81 per cent of alcohol-related deaths occurred in rural Ireland.

A survey from the Road Safety Authority this year showed that 91pc of the public supported an automatic ban.

“Some legislators and certain vested interest groups like the vintners would seem to be very much out of step with public opinion where drink driving is concerned,” he added.

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