Drink-driving ban appeals permit motorists to stay on road

Decision to contest new three-month ban may leave driver on road for several years

Motorists caught drink-driving under the new automatic three-month ban system introduced last week will be able to continue driving and avoid the bans if they decide to fight their cases.

If drivers do not accept their bans when a fixed-charge notice is sent to them in the post, their cases will eventually reach the courts.

Once in the courts, if they are convicted and a ban imposed, they can choose to appeal the conviction.

And during the entire process, which would take several years, the motorists can continue to drive because their guilt has not been established under the law. They would eventually be banned if convicted and were later unsuccessful at appeal.

A senior prosecutor in the DPP’s office said recently a very large number of drivers caught drink-driving over the last 15 years had opted to fight their cases, often over of a period of years, because it meant they could continue to drive.

Susan Gray of the Parc Road Safety Group said drink-drive suspects were deliberately prolonging their own cases. Their lawyers were then objecting to the delays, arguing in court "justice delayed was justice denied" and suggesting their clients right to fair treatment had been undermined by delays.

Ms Gray believed the new system of automatic bans would be open to the same delaying tactics.

Parc had lobbied Minister for Transport Shane Ross to deal with drink-driving suspects whose cases fell under the new system by way of an automatic summons to court.

Court appearance

Because a court appearance was public and obliged suspects to, for example, take time off work it would act as a greater deterrent than administering the new so-called automatic three-month bans by way of fixed-charge notices, Parc said. “If they think they are going to be hauled before the courts they will think twice,” Ms Gray said.

A spokesman for Mr Ross confirmed that under the new automatic driving ban system, drivers could choose to accept their bans or not on receipt of their fixed-charge notice.

The spokesman confirmed that could result in cases going to the courts and even to an appeal process. And while the matter was before the courts, suspects would not be banned from driving.

It effectively means the new three-month automatic driving bans will only be automatic if the drivers accept their guilt when a fixed-charge notice arrives in the post and immediately agree to the ban and a €200 fine.

Mr Ross said the old system of imposing three penalty points for those in the lower end of the drink-driving range was a slap on the wrist for what he termed “lethal” driver behaviour. And he believed the new automatic driving bans would make the roads much safer and dissuade those inclined to drive after consuming modest amounts of alcohol.

Legal limit

Those drivers with between 50mg and 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood will be dealt with under the new system. The legal limit for driving is 50mg.

Those lower levels of drink-driving were already illegal before the introduction of the new measures last Friday. However, up to now, drivers detected in the lower range received three penalty points for a first-time offence. That is now changed to a three-month ban and €200 fine.

The new three-month bans work in the same way penalty points are imposed for a range of motoring offences under the fixed-charge system.

A notice will arrive in the post confirming to the drivers they have been caught drink-driving and outlining the three-month ban.

The drivers must then accept the penalty by signing the notice and sending it back to the National Driver Licence Service (NDLS) with their driver's licence. If they do not, their cases go to the courts.