Change in laws to crack down on drink-driving

Plan to overhaul road traffic legislation comes amid anger over conviction rate

Six out of 10 people due before courts for drink driving were able to escape without conviction. File photograph: Frank Miller

Six out of 10 people due before courts for drink driving were able to escape without conviction. File photograph: Frank Miller

 

The Government is planning the biggest overhaul of road traffic legislation in 50 years as part of a fresh effort to crack down on drink-driving and other safety concerns.

The Irish Times reported on Monday that six out of 10 people due before the courts for drink-driving were able to escape without a conviction.

Many solicitors say the low conviction rate is linked to technicalities and loopholes in the law, as well as issues such as Garda resources.

A spokeswoman for Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe said the Government is planning to consolidate a complex mix of primary and secondary legislation dating back to the early 1960s.

In the meantime, officials are focusing on the enactment of the Road Traffic Bill (2015) which will introduce roadside testing for drugs similar to those used to test for alcohol.

Road safety campaigners have long called for a root-and-branch review of road traffic legislation.

Susan Gray of the Parc road safety campaign said: “The system is broken and the sad fact remains that many more lives will be lost – and many others will be horribly injured – as a result of foot-dragging.”

She said a forensic review of legislation is needed to ensure drivers are not able to escape conviction on technicalities.

Liz O’Donnell, chairwoman of the Road Safety Authority, has also expressed support for an overhaul of road traffic legislation to help ensure there are fewer loopholes available to drivers.

 

New approach

Former minister for transport Noel Dempsey said a new approach to road traffic law was required as a pattern had emerged of the department bringing forward a new Act every two to three years to catch up with the latest loopholes. “I think we need to start again and simplify and consolidate the Road Traffic Acts. I don’t think you can fix what is there because of the way the processes have developed around these cases,” he said.

 

But solicitors with expertise in road traffic law were sceptical that an overhaul of the law will have a significant impact on conviction rates for drink-drinking. Evan O’Dwyer, a defence solicitor who specialises in road traffic offences, said whatever legislation is drafted will continue to face robust legal challenge.

“There is so much at stake for drivers who risk losing their licences for two or three year that they will test all aspects of their case,” Mr O’Dwyer said.

 

Source of dispute

However, the volume of drink-driving cases resulting in non-convictions is a source of dispute among some solicitors.

 

Charlie O’Connor, who has been in practice for more than 30 years in Cork, Kerry and Limerick, said he was astonished by the low conviction figures.

“I don’t believe them to be accurate – the only way that those figures can be accurate is if they include cases that are adjourned or pending because there are just not that many acquittals,” he said.

“Defendants in the majority of drink-driving cases plead guilty, well less than half are contested and of those very few are won, particularly since the introduction of the intoxilyzer.”

The figures on conviction rates were supplied through a parliamentary question tabled by Tommy Broughan TD.

They show that out of more than 20,000 people due before district courts for drink-driving between January 2013 and May 2015, a total of 8,391 were convicted.

The conviction rate here compares unfavourably with England and Wales, where 97 per cent of drink-driving cases brought before magistrates’ courts result in conviction.