'Zero tolerance' as new drink-drive rules rolled out
Motorists face a zero-tolerance attitude to drink driving under new rules coming into force from midnight.
Lower limits will mean anyone caught with more than 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in their system will get a conviction and face a hike in their insurance premiums.
The new breath test limit of 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood -- down from the current 80mg -- is equivalent to drinking less than one pint of beer.
A lower 'zero-tolerance' limit of 20mg will apply to learner and professional drivers and people who have held a full licence for less than two years.
Under the current system, all drink drivers are prosecuted in court -- and banned for 12 months if convicted.
But gardai now have powers allowing them to impose three penalty points and an on-the-spot fine of €200 for motorists caught slightly above the new legal limit of 50mg. Drivers will be legally obliged to notify their insurance companies when renewing their premiums.
Motorists will only be allowed to use this lower penalty regime once in a three-year period. If caught a second time, they will go to court.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said the new rules were not a "soft touch".
The law was designed to help reduce deaths and serious injury on the roads, and the introduction of a similar limit in Australia resulted in deaths falling by 18pc, he said.
"On the October bank weekend last year 11 people lost their lives," he said. "I don't want to see anyone lose their lives this weekend. We're reducing the drink-driving limits, but it is not more lenient. It's a system of graduated penalties. It's important that people don't mistake this as being soft touch; it's much stricter.
"This really says to learner and professional drivers that technically it's a zero-tolerance policy. Enforcement is key.
"We understand the gardai are under pressure but focus for the Minister for Justice will be to deploy resources on the street as much as possible."
Drivers found with between 80mg and 100mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood will be served with a fixed-charge notice of €400 and will be disqualified from driving for six months. They will also have a conviction recorded against them.
Drivers who test above the 100mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood cannot avail of the fixed-charge option and must appear in court.
A minimum ban of one year, and possible fines of up to €5,000, can be imposed.
Road Safety Authority chief executive Noel Brett said that drivers should not attempt to calculate how much alcohol they could consume before being unfit to drive.
"Don't balance some notional limit in your head," he said. "Everyone is different, it depends on your tolerance to alcohol, your state of mind and your body size. The message is: never drink and drive."