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Sunday 25 March 2018

RSA takes aim at drink-driving in rural areas and by young

CEO Moyagh Murdock says mindset needs to change over alcohol, writes Paul Melia

RSA chief Moyagh Murdock: ‘Do younger drivers think that one or two or three is not drinking?’ Photo: Damien Eagers
RSA chief Moyagh Murdock: ‘Do younger drivers think that one or two or three is not drinking?’ Photo: Damien Eagers
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Road Safety Authority (RSA) boss Moyagh Murdock is in no doubt about what is causing the mounting death toll on our roads - alcohol, and lots of it, particularly in rural Ireland.

"There is an epidemic of drink in this country," she says. "Dublin has a very low tolerance of drink driving, but rural Ireland is very different. It appears to be a way of life.

"One of the things we've seen is an attitude that one or two (drinks) is okay. Any alcohol in the system is clearly contributing significantly (to deaths). We have seen people four or five times over the legal limit.

"We have seen with the older generation that where they may have had alcohol, it is significantly lower than in the younger generation. Do younger drivers think one or two or three is not drinking?"

The most recent figures show that 86 people have been killed on the roads so far this year, up 15 on the same period of 2015.

The carnage not only carries an enormous human cost, but a financial one too - each fatality costs around €2.3m.

It's not that long ago when the annual death toll stood at more than 400 drivers. In 2006, 368 were killed.

Read more: Revealed: The shocking figures behind drink-driving in Ireland

But many drivers appear to believe a return to business as usual won't have a societal impact.

"It's a very short-term memory they have. Ten years ago, we had a death a day and our findings are showing that up to 30pc of drivers (in fatal collisions) have alcohol in their systems, even in the safest years. I think it's our relationship with alcohol, it seems to be all or nothing."

Ms Murdock was appointed as RSA chief executive in February 2014, having previously worked with Bus Éireann, TEAM Aer Lingus and Bombardier in Belfast.

From Newry, she says research shows that alcohol played a role in almost 40pc of fatal collisions between 2008 and 2013, but that younger drivers don't appear to realise that if they are convicted of drink driving it will have consequences.

"Young people have taken a casual approach here, but it's going to affect you.

"It's a criminal conviction and it impacts on your employment prospects for anything involving garda vetting, such as teaching, but also for public-service jobs.

"You won't be going on the J1 to America and you may be restricted from travelling abroad."

To help raise awareness, the RSA is reviewing the driver theory test to include a targeted focus on alcohol.

Read more: Drink driving is no laughing matter - so our courts and media mustn't make it one

Newly qualified drivers will also be reminded of their responsibilities.

"Up to now, there are two or three questions around drink-driving (in the test), I aim to have a dedicated module on alcohol, the law and driving.

"There will be 20 new questions set up and between five and 10 will be on drink-driving. I would be optimistic we'll have this in place before the end of the year.

"We'll also have a different approach after the test as well. When you successfully completed your test, we used to send a congratulations letter. That needs to be reviewed.

"We'll put in information around drink-driving. It won't be windy, but a short, punchy information note about your responsibilities as a new driver."

A hard-hitting public-awareness campaign is also planned and work is under way to change the law and oblige drink drivers to re-sit the test.

"We hope to have a campaign in pubs and clubs, based on the wheelchair spot in a car park.

"In the US, they have drink-driving warnings with the wheelchair symbol.

"It says that every 40 seconds in the US, a drunk driver makes someone qualified to use this spot.

"A recidivist court is also being looked at, where people detected drink-driving must go through a behavioural course after serving their disqualification. We would like to see people having to re-sit the theory and driving test and we are looking to introduce that as well.

"The ministers (for Transport, Shane Ross and for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald) are very committed to it.

"It's the deterrent. It will show that a licence is hard to get but easy to lose."

The cut in garda resources in recent years has had an impact on roads policing and Ms Murdock says the response needs to be "more strategic".

Data shows that Cork, Galway, Dublin and Donegal are the worst offenders for drink-driving, with Donegal, Cork, Wexford, Cavan and Galway the top speeding counties.

Read more: Policy of 'none for the road' is the only way to tackle our motorist death figures

"They (gardaí) need to use the information we have far more strategically. The metropolitan area of Dublin is the benchmark, where you see more enforcement. What we want to do with the gardaí is roll out the lessons from Dublin to other counties.

"One of the big challenges is the limited resources for police and competing priorities. We've seen big issues with border security and gangland in the last 12 months. They are major constraints. Finances are only in the place now where we can do it.

"The uplift in the economy and people getting back into cars is definitely contributing to deaths."

While the lack of rural transport is often cited as a reason for higher drink-driving rates there, Ms Murdock says it wouldn't make a difference to many.

"Personal responsibility has to be come first. There needs to be a designated driver. A single farmer and the little quiet pub probably isn't the biggest risk area. It's young people out partying. Some do it for sport, they wouldn't care. Rural transport wouldn't make a difference to these people.

"It's behaviour and attitude more than anything. Our relationship with alcohol isn't healthy. The morning after, there is no rural transport.

"You can't blame road safety on not having a garda on every corner of every street. People knowingly get into cars, knowingly having drank, even though everyone knows drink-driving is wrong and morally bankrupt.

"It's a bad day when you have to have a garda at every pub. It's very depressing if we cannot change a mindset."

Read more: Boxes of death: Why I don't want to use details of your horrific last minutes in a crash to convince others to slow down

Irish Independent

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