Why one in five drivers must be breathalysed in the coming year
Action needed urgently to restore fear factor of being caught drink driving, our RSA expert says
It's now some weeks since the publication of the Policing Authority-commissioned Crowe Horwath report that looked into issues around the falsification of breath-test numbers by gardai.
Suffice to say the document made for difficult and shocking reading.
Our chief executive Moyagh Murdock summed it up when she said recently in a national newspaper: "The harm has been done. I think it had an effect on the number killed on our roads.
"Because the enforcement wasn't out there - even though the numbers indicated it was happening - I think it led to people taking chances and also believing they wouldn't get caught".
This is the singular and most important fact that must not be lost in the analysis of this report.
In our submission to the authors of the report we advised that the over-reporting of breath tests also had another profound negative effect.
It probably led to the diversion of Garda resources away from road safety enforcement.
As our partners in road safety it is disheartening to read there is a lack of understanding of the direct link between effective visible random breath testing and improvements in road safety outcomes.
They seem to place greater stock in reactive enforcement - testing people involved in a crash or if they have committed a road traffic offence than preventative methods like mandatory intoxicant testing.
Prevention is always better than cure, as they say, and mounting mandatory intoxicant testing checkpoints have been proven internationally to be the most effective preventative tool in combating drink driving.
There were a number of warning signs that things were not quite what they seemed in the run-up to the revelations exposed in the Crowe Horwath report.
Despite reduced Garda resources, enforcement levels were still being maintained at a high level.
And despite this, deaths were increasing.
The percentage of positive breath tests reported by the gardai was in stark contrast to recent research conducted by the RSA which showed that 29pc of drivers involved in fatal collisions had alcohol in their systems.
There were no obvious improvements in behaviour, again despite high levels of reported enforcement.
A telling moment was the publication of the European Survey of Road User Attitudes back in June 2016.
It surveyed 17,000 drivers in 17 countries across the EU, 1,000 of whom were drivers in Ireland, on a range of road safety issues.
When asked about the likelihood of being checked for alcohol almost 20pc of European drivers said that there was a high likelihood of being checked.
In Ireland the figure was 9pc, half the EU average.
In addition 20pc of Irish drivers told the researchers that they had drunk alcohol and drove in the last 12 months.
So you can see how there was a massive disconnect between the number of people admitting drink driving, the number of detections taking place on foot of high-level enforcement and the number of people saying they were actually tested.
And let's not forget the fact that the role of alcohol in fatal crashes remained virtually unchanged. None of it added up.
The recommendation in the Crowe Horwath report that a minimum of 20pc of motorists be breath tested annually must be actioned immediately.
And it needs to be independently verified.
Training was also identified as a major problem in the report.
This needs to be addressed urgently to ensure that all gardaí are trained and regularly up-skilled on complex road traffic legislation and, critically, the use of alcohol and drug screening devices.
The lack of investment in An Garda Síochána over the last 10 years must be addressed immediately.
A robust mechanism, independently verified, to audit all road safety activity of the gardaí, and not just the recording of breath tests administered, must also be put in place.