Alcohol tests still not carried on all drivers in fatal, serious crashes


Gardaí are continuing to exercise discretion in deciding not to test drivers involved in serious collisions for alcohol consumption, despite the introduction of legislation two years ago removing this authority.

Figures released by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter show that in 10 per cent of the 608 fatal and serious injury collisions last year, the driver was not tested because gardaí exercised discretion that it was not required.

Just 80 of the 208 drivers involved in a fatal collision last year were tested at the scene for alcohol. In 13 cases a driver later provided a sample.

The most common reason (39 cases) for not testing drivers involved in a fatal crash was that the driver needed medical treatment.

However, in nine cases the driver was not tested because a garda exercised discretion.

A similar pattern of Garda discretion is evident among those involved in a serious injury collision; just 144 of the 403 drivers were tested at the scene.

While medical grounds were cited in 172 cases as the reason for not testing, in 52 instances gardaí used discretion that no test was required.

The Road Traffic Act (2011) makes it mandatory for gardaí to test every driver involved in a fatal or serious injury collision.

Prior to its introduction in June 2011, up to 90 per cent of surviving drivers involved in serious collisions were not tested.

The only exception is where a test is considered prejudicial to the driver’s health, and this exception is due to be removed.

The Road Traffic Bill 2012, due before the Dáil this year, provides for medical professionals to take a blood sample from an unconscious driver for testing.

It is unclear why Garda discretion is still being cited as a reason for not testing a driver. Mr Shatter said he had received assurances from Garda authorities “that every effort is being made to ensure the relevant legislative provisions are fully complied with”.

Susan Gray, founder and spokeswoman for road safety group Parc, asked for Mr Shatter and the Garda Commissioner to identify Garda districts where discretion was still being used.

She claimed the CT(68) form, used by gardaí to record the details of a fatal or serious collision on Pulse, still contains a field in which gardaí can state they used their discretion not to test. A spokesman for An Garda was unable to confirm if this was correct yesterday.

Ms Gray said it was remarkable that despite the passing of legislation removing the discretion, “it is still happening”.

“There is no provision in law saying that testing a driver involved in a fatal or serious crash is not required. The only discretion is where it may be prejudicial to the health of the driver.”

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