RSA challenges vintners’ ‘misinformation’ on drink-driving

TDs urged to back reversal of rule which allows first-time offenders escape conviction

Moyagh Murdock has appealed to TDs to back the plan to change the drink-driving laws. Photograph: Sara Freund

Moyagh Murdock has appealed to TDs to back the plan to change the drink-driving laws. Photograph: Sara Freund

 

The Road Safety Authority has appealed to TDs not to oppose the reversal of a loophole in the law which allows first-time drink driving offenders to escape disqualification.

A proposal from Minister for Transport Shane Ross, which has been approved in principle by the Cabinet, would abolish the provision whereby drivers with an alcohol limit of between 50mg and 80mg per 100ml receive three penalty points and a €200 fine if it is their first offence.

This was introduced by the then minister for the environment Noel Dempsey in 2009.

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI), which has 4,500 members, recently wrote to TDs and Senators urging them to oppose the Minister’s measure. Some vintners are organising meetings with their local Oireachtas representatives as part of their campaign.

Mr Ross subsequently criticised TDs for “shamelessly” succumbing to pressure from the publicans and said he intended to press ahead with his Bill.

In a letter to all TDs last Friday, RSA chief executive Moyagh Murdock appealed to them to support the plan. She said it was necessary to clarify some of the “misinformation” that had been circulating around the measure.

She asked the representatives to consider “the many families left with the devastating loss or injury of a family member or friend” and to be guided “by the indisputable evidence” when considering the legislation.

“This measure will contribute to positively changing the behaviour of some drivers who to date have been slow to join the majority of the population. You have in your gift, the power to save lives by supporting this measure,” Ms Murdock wrote.

Ms Murdock said the proposed Road Traffic (Fixed Penalty – Drink Driving) Bill 2017 would not create a new drink driving offence, nor would the current drink driving limits be changed.

There was “strong evidence” that a minority of people refused to heed the messages around drink driving. Many of these drink drivers had a blood alcohol concentration of between 51 and 80mg, she said.

In the five years from 2012 to 2016 there had been 3,003 fixed penalty notices issued to such drivers.

Between 2015 and 2016 the number rose by over 23 per cent from 501 to 617.

The road safety executive also said there was evidence that younger drivers - those aged 24 and under - were “taking chances by consuming alcohol and driving”.

“Clearly, drink driving is a serious problem in this country and it begins with tacit acceptance of low level drinking and driving by treating it as a minor traffic infringement,” said Ms Murdock.

She set out the “key, indisputable facts based on comprehensive scientific research and statistical analysis of crash data”, which concluded that alcohol was a factor in 38 per cent of fatal crashes.

Between 2008 and 2012, 35 people were killed in collisions where drivers or motorcyclists had a recorded blood alcohol level of between 21 and 80mg/100ml, she said.

“ This means seven to eight people on average were killed per year over this period at lower alcohol levels.”

Ms Murdock rejected concerns that the proposed legislation would have a detrimental effect on rural Ireland.

“Far from damaging rural Ireland, ensuring drink driving offences result in disqualification will protect the lives and wellbeing of families, neighbours, friends and work colleagues in our towns and villages,” she said.

Cabinet approval was given on February 10th for the drafting of legislation to provide that all drivers detected drink driving over the legal limit will receive a mandatory disqualification from driving.

The Department of Transport said it was currently engaging with the office of the Parliamentary Counsel on formal drafting of the Bill.

As part of the pre-legislative scrutiny stage, the Minister will appear before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport to discuss the draft.

“While not yet confirmed, it is envisaged that pre-legislative scrutiny by the Committee will be scheduled in the coming weeks,” the department said.

The views of the committee will be considered in the drafting of the Bill and once drafting has been finalised, the Minister will seek approval of the Cabinet to publish it.