Road safety head attacks publicans’ opposition to drink-driving ban

Moyagh Murdock says vintners’ group ‘downplaying value of lives lost’

During a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport on Wednesday (May 17th) Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae described eating a full meal as being as dangerous as a person who consumes alcohol and drives. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

The head of the Road Safety Authority (RSA) has launched a strongly-worded attack on the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland.

Moyagh Murdock has accused the organisation, which represents publicans, of seeking to diminish the lives of people killed by drivers found to have 51-80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in their system.

Giving evidence this morning to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, Ms Murdock described the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) as a vested interest and said the organisation was disingenuous and using information selectively.

The committee is considering a measure, proposed in the Road Traffic (Fixed Penalty-Drink Driving) Bill 2017, that anyone caught driving with a blood alcohol level of 51-80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood should lose their licence automatically for three months.

The proposal comes on foot of research and analysis by the RSA of garda forensic crash data, which the RSA presented in a report, “Alcohol as a Factor in Fatal Collisions 2008-2012”.

The VFI has attempted to downplay the value of the lives of these people, as well as the lives of their families, by reducing them to an insignificant statistic

Last month, the chief executive of the VFI, Pádraig Cribben, claimed the RSA report showed that 1.3 per cent of road fatalities involved drivers with a 51-80mg alcohol level in their blood but there was “no evidence” this was “a determined cause” of what he called “the accident”.

“It is our belief that a proper analysis of that report will show that there is no justification for the measures being proposed by the Minister [for Transport, Shane Ross],” said Mr Cribben.

This morning, Ms Murdock hit back.

She said the RSA research showed that between 2008 and 2012, eight drivers and motorcyclists involved in fatal collisions had blood alcohol content (BAC) levels of 51-80mg. A further 17 drivers had a BAC level of below 50mg.

A garda carries out a mock breath test on a driver
A garda carries out a mock breath test on a driver

“There was therefore a total of 25 drivers and motorcyclists with a confirmed BAC between 21mg and 80mg who were responsible for killing themselves and/or others because they consumed alcohol,” said Mr Murdock.

She continued: “The VFI has attempted to downplay the value of the lives of these people, as well as the lives of their families, by reducing them to an insignificant statistic. Presenting the figure of 1.3 per cent is a selective use of the data in an attempt to undermine the real impact of drinking and driving.”

Driving with a BAC of 50mg/100ml increased the risk of involvement in a fatal collision “by a factor of five”, she said. An automatic driving ban was a “compelling deterrent”, she said.

The fact that other contributory factors, such as speed or fatigue, were also identified as factors “is ancillary to the current debate

Ms Murdock said the RSA report was factual and devoid of emotion. The information came from An Garda Síochána, from forensic collision investigators, public service vehicle inspectors, doctors and coroners. All of the 250 drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes were deemed culpable for causing the fatal collisions.

The fact that other contributory factors, such as speed or fatigue, were also identified as factors “is ancillary to the current debate”, she insisted.

She told the committee that drink-driving at the level of 20-80mg was killing an average of seven to eight people a year. The latest data to hand was “further concrete evidence” of a problem with drink-driving with this level of blood/alcohol content, she said.

“For the period January 1st, 2016-May 2nd, 2017, of 246 drivers tested at the scene of a crash on suspicion of driving under the influence, or driving while intoxicated, 38 drivers tested positive for alcohol at a BAC level of 20-80mg,” she said.

Renewing her attack on publicans, she said: “The VFI’s [interpretation] is not a forensic analysis of [the RSA] report. They are a vested interest and it is inappropriate to suggest that they are ‘one side’ of the debate; they have conducted a disingenuous and selective interpretation of the report and, for the record, are not in full possession of all the facts in coming to their conclusion.”

The VFI has been supported vocally by the Kerry TD and publican Danny Healy-Rea who has asserted, without supporting evidence, that “two glasses or three glasses of Guinness did not cause an accident for anybody”.

Ms Murdock said a survey of 1,000 adults in January 2017, carried out for the RSA, showed 91 per cent of people supported mandatory driving disqualification for three months, as proposed in the Bill.

“In fact,” she added, “many of those who support this state that believe disqualification should be for 12 months.”