Lowering drink-driving limit right now ‘a no-go area’, says Ross

Transport Minister says while he anticipated some opposition to new penalties, he was taken aback by the strength of resistance

 ‘The pressure to resist this seems to be coming from the Vintners’ lobby, I don’t think that it is coming from the people,’ says Minister Ross. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

‘The pressure to resist this seems to be coming from the Vintners’ lobby, I don’t think that it is coming from the people,’ says Minister Ross. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

 

Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said lowering the current 50mgs drink-drive limit is a “no-go area” at the moment due to the anticipated level of opposition and the fragmented structure of the current Dáil.

Mr Ross said while the evidence was clear and “there is no doubt that alcohol impairs, and that even a small amount impairs, to reduce the 50mgs limit now would be very, very difficult. There is no point pretending otherwise”.

The Minister was highly critical of what he described as “utterly disgraceful filibuster” that took place in the Dáil before Christmas in relation to his “highly controversial” Bill providing for a new penalty of disqualification for drivers detected with between 50mgs and 80mgs of alcohol. This new law, which came before the Oireachtas on Tuesday, will replace the current sanction of three penalty points for the offence.

Learner drivers

He said while the current limit could be “fine tuned” at some stage, to attempt to do so now would give people an excuse to delay the current legislation.

“To tackle the drink-drive laws now, in any more complicated way, would delay it.”

Learner and professional drivers are subject to a 20mgs limit, which is also the limit in a number of other European countries. This level is considered effectively zero and allows for minute traces of alcohol in certain products such as mouthwash.

Mr Ross said while he had anticipated some opposition to the new drink-drive penalties, he was taken aback by the strength of the resistance.

“I thought it [changing the penalties] was so reasonable and so logical and so sensible that it would go straight through.

“I wasn’t surprised by Danny Healy Rae and some others but the resistance from people I regard as pretty sensible, who said the move would ‘destroy rural life’ defied logic. It is rural lives that are being lost.

“I was really surprised and taken aback. And I was particularly taken aback by Fianna Fáil. It was a great pity they took that approach and I think a lot of them regretted it.”

The move was also reportedly opposed by a number of Ministers although the new penalties were approved by Cabinet. “The pressure to resist this seems to be coming from the vintners’ lobby, I don’t think that it is coming from the people.”

To support this view, Mr Ross cited a visit to south- west Cork with local Independent TD Michael Collins during the autumn of 2017 where he said the issue was not raised by locals. “You don’t get resistance to the move from the people down there.”

One unexpected benefit from the opposition to the new drink- drive penalties is the extent to which the issue has been publicly debated in recent months.

“That in itself is very useful. It increases public awareness that drink driving is a real problem and that people will be caught, punished and put off the road.”

Since the penalty point sanction for drivers caught between 50mgs and 80mgs was introduced in 2012, some 3,505 drivers have received this sanction.