Drink-driving has begun to increase in the State after declining during the pandemic, the senior Garda officer in charge of roads policing has said. Up to Monday morning, just over 110 people had been arrested for driving under the influence of drink or drugs across the country since the start of the weekend.
Assistant Commissioner Paula Hilman said the June bank holiday weekend had seen “worrying trends” on the roads and the “tragic” deaths of seven people since the Garda’s weekend safety campaign was launched last Thursday.
“Last year, for the first time ever, [we recorded] an increase in drug-driving and we had more detections for drug-driving than drink-driving,” she said.
However, that trend has now “balanced out” and with licensed premises reopened after pandemic-related restrictions, “we are now seeing those increases in drink-driving”. She urged anyone who had been drinking or taking drugs not to get behind the wheel, saying they were putting themselves at risk as well as their passengers and other road users.
A man in his 20s became the seventh person to die on the roads this weekend when the car he was driving crashed into a wall, in the early hours of Monday morning at a sharp bend outside the village of Ballyneety, about 9km outside Limerick City. He was named locally as Luke Buckley, from Grange, Co Limerick.
His death brings to 77 the number of fatalities on the roads of the Republic since the start of the year compared with 44 and 59 at the same time last year and in 2020 respectively.
Ms Hilman extended her sympathies to the families and friends of the seven victims this weekend saying “it certainly is a tragic bank holiday weekend”. As well as the seven fatalities, eight people were also seriously injured in the same crashes.
“Our message today to everybody travelling home [on Monday] is please be careful, slow down and pay attention on the roads,” she said. “Just one second of inattention can have devastating consequences and we know that afternoon periods are high-risk periods for serious and fatal road traffic collisions.”
The spike in deaths this weekend — which has been the worst weekend of the year — and the rising road fatality numbers to date this year was “undoubtedly a worrying” trend, Ms Hilman added.
“Every [road death] number we talk about; that’s a person. It’s somebody’s loved one, it’s an empty seat at the table and we should never lose sight of that.”
She added investigations were under way into the seven fatalities this weekend, meaning the circumstances of those incidents had yet to be fully determined. More generally, Ms Hilman said men accounted for 85 per cent of victims and that most crashes occurred during afternoon and early-morning periods.
Ms Hilman was speaking to the media at a Garda checkpoint on Navan Road, north Dublin, on Monday at noon. That media opportunity was organised so she could appeal to drivers to exercise more caution in direct response to the increase in fatalities this weekend.
Ms Hilman said speed was a big factor in fatal crashes and that “even a five per cent reduction” in speed reduced by 30 per cent the likelihood of a crash being fatal. She added inattention and driving while intoxicated were also issues of concern.
Over the weekend, Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, issued an appeal to the public to desist from sharing images or video footage from the scene of a fatal crash on the M50 on Friday. Two motorcyclists, in their 50s and 60s, who were in Ireland from the UK for a tour around the country, died.
Images and footage recorded by passers-by began circulating on social media and messaging apps, which Ms Hilman described as “wrong”.
“I would ask people, how would they feel if that was their family member? It’s wrong. Put yourselves in the shoes of that family and in some incidents we may not have even have told the family at that stage,” she said of images circulating before the families of victims were contacted and the news of their loved one’s death was relayed to them.