Wednesday 18 September 2019

Why we have to take even more drastic steps on drink-driving

Fitting Alco-lock devices one of the possible solutions in a new drive to rid roads of danger

Roadside test.
Roadside test.

Drink-driving has been in the spotlight again recently. First we had questions raised about the number of successful court convictions for drink driving offences. Following clarification from the Courts Service it transpires that conviction rates here are almost 87pc.

The heart-breaking victim impact statement, which was read out during the trial of the driver who smashed into Gillian Treacy and resulted in the death of her four-year-old son Ciaran, had a profound effect.

Attitudes and behaviour have certainly changed. To quote Judge Keenan Johnson: "There has been a seachange in the attitude of the public towards drunken drivers, and for most people it is no longer socially acceptable to drink and drive."

However, he added that our efforts must be intensified to send a message to those people who persist in drinking and driving, or think that drinking and driving is not a serious offence, that this is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in society.

RSA chairperson Liz O'Donnell summed it up well when she said we need to move from a position of disapproval of drink driving to one of abhorrence.

The vast majority of people do not drink and drive. A recent survey of more than 1,000 drivers, commissioned by the RSA, found that two-thirds agree that you should never, ever drink and drive.

Despite the change in attitudes, our survey found that 1-in-10 drivers admitted to drink-driving.

While various measures such as Mandatory Alcohol Testing, lowering the drink-drive limit and the introduction of tougher penalties, have had a profound effect on attitudes and behaviour, we shouldn't for a second think the problem of drink-driving has been eradicated.

Far from it. You will recall our weekly radio broadcasts which highlighted that, on average, 150 drivers are arrested on suspicion of drink driving each week.

There are probably two types of drink driver. At one end of the scale, there is the one who should know better and takes a stupid "chance" to drink and drive.

On the other end of the scale are those for whom drinking and driving is a symptom of a wider chronic problem they have with alcohol abuse.

But what can we do to deal with these attitudes and behaviour? The road safety strategy identifies a potential approach to deal with those who are convicted of drink driving offences.

This could involve a tiered approach by providing alternative sentencing options in the courts for those convicted of drink driving. This could involve the provision of targeted education through rehabilitative courses.

But for those with a more complex relationship with alcohol and who would be deemed as high-risk repeat offenders, a different approach is needed. Additional measures may be needed to 'police' such drivers.

Such a measure, could include fitting Alco-lock devices in the vehicle. It's important to say that these measures would not be a form of treatment or designed to replace it. They are educational in nature and aimed at changing attitudes and behaviour.

They would be voluntary and paid for by the offenders. If completed satisfactorily, they could contribute to a reduction in the period of driving disqualification.

A system involving education courses only is in place in the North. Research into the effectiveness of the scheme has shown the likelihood of re-offending is 1.6 times higher if the offender hadn't completed a drink-drive rehab course.

The RSA is in the process of finalising a report which will make recommendations to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, on the implementation of a drink-drive rehabilitation programme here.

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