Sunday 18 August 2019

Shane Phelan: 'There simply is no wrong time for drivers to be breath tested'

Alcohol was involved in 38pc of road deaths between 2008 and 2012. Stock picture
Alcohol was involved in 38pc of road deaths between 2008 and 2012. Stock picture
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

An apparent upsurge in "morning after" roadside breath testing in recent months prompted some TDs to complain that people going to Mass and bringing their children to school were being unfairly targeted.

This has coincided with the introduction, in the face of strong opposition from some rural TDs, of legislation which means first-time offenders caught over the limit get an automatic three-month driving ban.

Before the measures were introduced by Transport Minister Shane Ross last October, drivers detected with a blood-alcohol concentration of between 50 and 80 milligrams could get away with a fine and three penalty points.

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Ill-judged comments, since withdrawn, by another Independent Alliance minister, Finian McGrath, in an interview with the 'Sunday Independent' have brought the issue to the fore again. Mr McGrath claimed gardaí had become politicised and were conducting unnecessary breath tests. He also suggested the focus for breath testing should be between midnight and 2am after the pubs have closed.

His comments were out of touch with the reality of what is happening on our roads.

According to leading road safety campaigner Susan Gray, there is no wrong time to do a roadside breath test. Her point of view is borne out by the road death statistics published each year by the Road Safety Authority (RSA).

There were 73 fatal collisions resulting in 78 deaths in the first six months of 2018.

Nine of these, or 11pc of the collision deaths, happened between 8am and 10am. This just happens to be the same number of deaths which occurred between midnight and 2am, the period Mr McGrath suggested gardaí should be focussing on.

The figures do not reveal whether intoxication contributed to any of these deaths, but previous research indicates it was likely to have been a factor in at least some cases. Alcohol was involved in 38pc of road deaths between 2008 and 2012.

As to whether or not gardaí are giving disproportionate attention to certain parts of the day, we simply don't know. Better data, including the time, location and number of drivers tested, would be needed to tell this.

Independent TD Tommy Broughan, who frequently raises road safety matters in the Dáil, said the upsurge in testing can be attributed to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris's desire to reverse cuts to mandatory roadside testing levels during the austerity years. The checkpoints are not only aimed at improving road safety, but also serve to detect other types of crime, the TD said.

Perhaps Commissioner Harris is only doing what the public believes to be most effective.

A survey for the RSA last year showed 62pc of people believed enforcement was "very influential" in saving lives, while 31pc said it was "fairly influential". This scored higher than court penalties, road traffic laws, news coverage and education in schools.

Irish Independent

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