Cabinet to discuss Ross’s Bill to change drink driving penalties

Alcohol industry lobbying hard against Minister’s plan to impose mandatory driving ban on offenders

The proposed drink-driving law seeks to impose a mandatory three-month driving ban on anyone found to have 51-80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in their system. File photograph: Philip Toscano/PA Wire

The proposed drink-driving law seeks to impose a mandatory three-month driving ban on anyone found to have 51-80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in their system. File photograph: Philip Toscano/PA Wire

 

People who have lost loved ones killed by drunk-drivers will hold a vigil outside Leinster House on Tuesday as the Cabinet considers whether to back Minister for Transport Shane Ross’s proposed new drink-drive law.

It seeks to impose a mandatory three-month driving ban on anyone found to have 51-80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood in their system. Currently, first-time offenders are banned only when the reading is above 80mg.

Research by the Road Safety Authority, based on a study of Garda crash site forensic reports, shows that between 2008 and 2012, 16 people died in crashes involving drivers in the 50-80mg bracket.

Between 2012 and 2016, there were 3,003 fixed penalty notices issued to drink-drivers in the 51-80mg range.

The drinks industry has been lobbying politicians across parties in the hope of heading off the proposed toughening of the law. They argue that many factors, including speed, contribute to road deaths.

Strong lobby

Mr Ross said he was absolutely determined to defeat the vintners’ lobbying campaign. He said the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI), the publicans’ lobbying organisation, was “running a very strong lobby” against the proposals.

“Vintners sell alcohol and they have been lobbying every single TD that I know of to vote against this Bill. I am absolutely determined that we will defeat the vintners and make sure that our roads are safe from the scourge of drink-driving.”

Rather than introducing new laws the VFI says enforcement of current legislation is the most effective way to reduce road fatalities. VFI chief executive Padraig Cribben said: “We believe the existing law is proportionate in that anyone caught with over 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood receives an automatic ban. Enforcing current legislation will act as a severe deterrent to anyone considering driving over the limit.”

Mr Ross said it was imperative that alcohol and driving be “separated”.

‘Prepared to take the risk’

This view is supported strongly by the RSA and the Irish Road Victims’ Association (IRVA), whose founder and chairwoman Donna Price spent Monday writing to TDs and Ministers urging them to support Mr Ross’s proposals.

“Basically, we need an effective deterrent and at the moment, there isn’t one,” she said. “People are prepared to take the risk, have a few drinks and if caught, take the penalty points, pay the fine, and carry on driving.”

She said impaired drivers, including those tired or using mobile phones, had to be taken “off the road” and it should not be a matter of party politics. She urged Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to support the proposed mandatory driving ban.

She said she and others from the IRVA would be waiting outside Leinster House from 9.30am on Tuesday, hoping Ministers and eventually all TDs would support toughening the law.