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Sinead Ryan: Laws, deaths and checkpoints ... yet we still drink drive


A garda checkpoint.

A garda checkpoint.

A garda checkpoint.

I SAW a funny ad posted on Twitter recently, from the 1970s.

It was issued by the road safety authorities in the UK and the tag line ran, "Don't have that 5th pint"!!. It showed four empty pint glasses and an X over the fifth in case the message wasn't clear enough.

It is completely laughable in an age when you will soon be fined for smoking a cigarette in your car, and when you worry if you have taken a dose of cough medicine in case it puts you over the limit.

Yes, things are different these days and you'll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't agree with a ban in principle on drink driving.

But in practice? Well, that's a different thing altogether.

The startling ten-year garda figures on drink and drug driving make for a sobering picture.

Some 35,747 arrests were made in Dublin alone since 2004, almost ten every single day.

It means (and think about this) that over one in twenty of all motorists have been arrested for drink or drugs while driving.

Just take a look around next time you're stopped at lights. If there are 40 cars sitting there with you, two drivers are, most likely, intoxicated enough to fail a roadside test. And yet, there they are.

What's worse, we all know that's not the full picture.


The high numbers were the people caught; not those who thought "Ah, I'll never be stopped", and were proved right.

It's amazing to think that there can be such a massive cohort of people who still think either: (a) "I'm fine, it's the other guys doing it you need to worry about", (b) "I'm actually sharper after a pint", or (c) "Sure the cops are all out catching real criminals, I'll be grand".

I think in Ireland we have a very particular view of what constitutes 'social' drinking.

We actually think we're genetically different to say, the Swiss, or Germans or Swedes. We can 'handle' it better; it's expected of us to have a pint in the pub rather than say, a coke.

There can certainly be more pressure to drink "just the one" when you're out - I've experienced it myself. I daresay I've even said it to others.

We use excuses like: "Sure you're having something to eat, it'll soak it up", or "You'll be here a while, it'll be long gone out of your system by the time you're driving home".

Despite all the campaigns, the laws, the court reports, the road deaths, drink and drug drivers are still with us, taking enough quantities to fail a roadside test, and in the case of 'polydrug' use - that is, both alcohol and drugs on board - it's on the rise.

That's despite those terrible ads on the radio and TV with the weekly death statistics for our roads. It's despite every single family in Ireland knowing someone who has died on the roads and despite our ongoing assault from different agencies, including the Guards, about the dangers.

While rural counties are by far the worst offenders (Monaghan, Cavan and Louth topping the list), it's easy to be complacent in Dublin, but we shouldn't be.

Busy suburbs like Blanchardstown, Tallaght and Swords have terrible numbers - over one in 20 drivers are caught drink or drug driving there routinely every year.

You might think that it's the older generation who are mainly responsible. After all, they drank and drove over the decades when it was deemed "okay" by law.


But in fact, according to research from the Road Safety Authority, the biggest offending group are 22-36-year-olds.

Most are male (86pc in fact), and before you blame non-nationals, 72pc of drunk drivers are Irish. Interestingly, although females account for far fewer offences, the one age group which has seen no decrease in numbers arrested since 2008 are older women (58-67-years-old).

So, we've tried everything but it's not working? Well checkpoints are on the increase, so that's good. Nothing like a blue flashing light ahead to sober you up.

We're better at convicting people in court and more cases get there these days. We now have penalty points to swiftly take repeat offenders off the road.

Yet, sometimes it can feel like we're still swimming against the tide. How many of us won't be here next Christmas because of a drunk driver?