Drug driving cases increase this year despite fall in traffic

Some 2,537 people have been caught by gardaí at all times, not just weekends

Assistant Commissioner Paula Hillman said the increase had occurred despite traffic volume having fallen by between 20 and 70 per cent when Covid-19 restrictions were at their most stringent. Photograph: iStock

Assistant Commissioner Paula Hillman said the increase had occurred despite traffic volume having fallen by between 20 and 70 per cent when Covid-19 restrictions were at their most stringent. Photograph: iStock

 

Drug driving has become the most rapidly growing hazard on the roads of the Republic, with cases having more than doubled since the start of the year despite traffic volume plummeting because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chairman of the Road Safety Authority (RSA) Liz O’Donnell said Irish society now had a serious problem with drinking and taking drugs and then driving. She added anyone who saw a family member or loved one driving while intoxicated or about to get into a car with an intoxicated driver “had a duty to intervene”.

“We know the way Irish people celebrate Christmas, and this is what we have to guard against,” she said at the formal launch of the Garda’s road safety campaign for the Christmas and New Year period and which was set to run until January 5th.

Some 2,537people have been caught driving under the influence of drugs so far this year, up by 113 per cent on last year.

Assistant Commissioner Paula Hillman said the increase had occurred despite traffic volume having fallen by between 20 and 70 per cent when Covid-19 restrictions were at their most stringent.

She said gardaí were also catching people drug driving on all days of the week and any time of the day, rather than the traditional spike in intoxicated driver cases usually associated with weekends.

Ms Hillman, who is head of the Garda’s National Roads Policing section and also leads the force’s community engage bureau, revealed speeding offences had increased this year despite the pandemic; up by 26 per cent to 151,000 cases so far this year.

She added the Garda’s Christmas and New Year road safety enforcement campaign, which was already underway, would specifically focus this year on those driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

“The drink driving detections have increased by about 25 per cent but… we have seen that (large) increase in detections for drug driving,” Ms Hillman said. She added drugs were now readily available and people had changed their social patterns and daily routines during the pandemic, which was perhaps now being reflected in detection trends.

Prof Denis Cusack, head of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, which provides the technical support to the Garda for drink and drug driving testing, said enforcement by gardaí of drink and drug driving had increased very significantly in the past five years.

There were 127 roadside drug testing devices in operation within the Garda at present compared to 75 devices at the end of last year.

It was “astonishing” that drug driving had increased this year despite the periods of lockdown. It was “a sad reflection” that some people were still willing to risk their lives, and the lives of others, by driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

Ms O’Donnell said the RSA was “concerned” that traffic volume had dropped so significantly this year and yet there had been “no road safety dividend” as eight more people had been killed on the roads this year compared to last year.

The increase in speeding and drug driving had “undeniably” caused deaths this year while still a relatively large number of passengers in crashed vehicles had died as they were not wearing a seat belt.

Ms O’Donnell added while many pubs were closed, people were still drinking at home and often the measures of spirits they poured for themselves were twice as large as those served in a pub. This also had a knock-on risk of a driver being over the limit the morning after a night drinking.