Wednesday 22 November 2017

RSA Expert: 'People need to understand that random breath testing is not to catch you out but to save lives'

That's the stark warning this week from Road Safety Authority chief executive Moyagh Murdock

Alcohol impairs driving. Photo: Getty Images
Alcohol impairs driving. Photo: Getty Images

Transport Minister Shane Ross' move to introduce an automatic disqualification for drivers over the legal alcohol limit would contribute considerably towards improving road safety.

Currently, a motorist with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level between 50mg and 80mg gets a €200 fine and three penalty points. Considering alcohol is a factor in two-out-of-five fatal crashes, this is a small price to pay for playing with people lives.

Under proposed legislation this would change. Supported by the Road Safety Authority (RSA), it would ensure that motorists with a BAC of 50mg-80mg would be automatically disqualified for three months.

There is evidence this view is strongly supported by the public. Nationally 91pc of all adults (93pc among rural dwellers) support the law being changed.

Yet, despite overwhelming public support, the proposal has caused a stir in some quarters, particularly political. Some have raised concerns on behalf of the local parish priest who may be deemed over the limit after drinking wine at Mass. Similar concerns have been raised about the perceived detrimental effect on rural Ireland.

It is important to note the current drink driving limit (in place since 2010) is not being reduced - it remains at 50mg. The proposed change is to the penalty rather than the offence - that is an important distinction.

The introduction of the new measure would not change the behaviour or affect the lives of the overwhelming majority. In fact it would contribute to altering the behaviour of the small group of drivers who, to date, have been slow to join the majority with their outlook on drink driving.

Making drink driving offences an automatic disqualification will protect the lives and wellbeing of families, friends, neighbours and colleagues.

But there is strong evidence that a minority still refuse to heed the messages around drink driving.

Increasing the penalties at the 50mg to 80mg level will send out a clear message that such behaviour is not acceptable and will act as a strong deterrent in dissuading that minority who still need to be convinced it's not normal social behaviour to drink and drive.

There is little doubt that consuming any alcohol impairs driving and increases the risk of a collision. Regardless of quantity, alcohol impairs driving. That's a scientific fact, backed by comprehensive scientific and statistical research.

Crash risk doubles at 40mg. At 80mg a driver is six times more likely to crash than one who is sober. And that is just at the lower levels.

Between 2008 and 2012, 35 people were killed in collisions where motorists had a recorded BAC level of 21mg-80mg and were deemed culpable due to alcohol being a contributory factor. That means seven/eight people, on average, were killed each year over that period at the lower alcohol levels.

These facts comprehensively refute misleading claims that driving with BAC levels below 80mg poses little or no risk to road users.

The introduction of random breath testing by the gardai in 2006 led to an immediate decrease in road deaths, as well as a reduction in the number of hospital admissions following crashes.

In the first 12 months following its introduction 92 lives were saved.

The original purpose of random breath testing was not to catch people out, but to save lives.

More lives can be saved as a result of the proposed legislation.

The wheels are in motion and the vast majority of people in this country are behind it.

We hope our politicians, the representatives of the people, will follow suit.

Irish Independent

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