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Safety chiefs horrified by 106pc leap in drug-driving

Shock rise despite 70pc drop in traffic

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‘Major problem’: Road Safety Authority chairperson Liz O’Donnell. Photo: Keith Arkins

‘Major problem’: Road Safety Authority chairperson Liz O’Donnell. Photo: Keith Arkins

‘Major problem’: Road Safety Authority chairperson Liz O’Donnell. Photo: Keith Arkins

Road safety chiefs have expressed horror at a 106pc hike in the number of motorists arrested for suspected drug-driving so far this year - with hundreds testing positive for drug and drink-driving during the three-month Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

The figure soared despite a 70pc drop in road traffic volumes because of the pandemic lockdown since March.

Garda and Road Safety Authority (RSA) figures indicated cocaine and cannabis are the drugs now most commonly detected in drivers killed in collisions.

The authority revealed there was a 17pc increase in driving under the influence in specimens analysed between January and June.

RSA, gardaí and road safety campaigners are shocked by the massive hike in drug-driving, with 1,216 arrests so far this year. That compares with only 591 arrests in the first six months of 2019, a staggering 106pc increase. A key element is the new testing equipment issued to gardaí and a broader testing regime.

One in three drivers killed in road traffic collisions also tested positive for alcohol in their system.

Junior Transport Minister Hildegarde Naughton said the figures were a major cause of concern.

"The data on drink-driving highlights the fact that, despite improvements in road safety, we continue to see a cohort of drivers engage in risky behaviour," she said.

"The evidence of drink and drug-driving during the Covid-19 lockdown period demonstrates the blatant disregard that some drivers have for the law and road safety."

RSA chairperson Liz O'Donnell admitted Ireland now had a major problem with drug- driving. The warning came as motorists were urged to drive with care over the August bank holiday weekend as gardaí said they would be operating nationwide safety and speed checks.

Road safety officials expressed concern at the spiralling number of lives being lost on Irish roads despite traffic volumes having been slashed for almost three months by the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

A total of 83 people have died on Irish roads this year, a near 7pc increase over the same period in 2019.

Officials warned that, when the lockdown and its impact on traffic volumes is taken into account, Ireland is facing an effective 25pc-plus rise in fatalities.

One road safety campaigner, Christina Donnelly, pleaded with drivers not to engage in drink or drug-driving, to slow down and to exercise maximum care on Irish roads over the holiday period.

"Every bereaved family is a member of a club that none of us ever wanted to join," Ms Donnelly said.

"We have been sentenced to life membership of this club through having lost a loved one on Irish roads.

"I'm issuing this safety appeal because I don't want any other family to suffer the heartache of being in this club."

Ms Donnelly's son, Brendan (24), died in a head-on collision outside Cork on October 26, 2009 caused by a drunk driver.

Of the 83 lives lost on Irish roads this year, 35 were drivers, 20 were pedestrians, 14 were passengers, 10 were motorcyclists and four were cyclists.

Safety chiefs are alarmed given that normal traffic volumes have been massively reduced by the closure of schools, colleges and childcare facilities as well as tens of thousands of workers working from home since March because of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

Irish Independent