Drink role in fatal crashes highlighted


Alcohol may have been a factor in more than 1,000 fatal crashes on Irish roads between 1999 and 2008, a meeting on road safety was told today.

Some 30 road safety experts from the EU joined Irish delegates at a European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) lecture, entitled "Alcohol and Driving", which was hosted by the Road Safety Authority, in Dublin Castle.

The lecture marked the first day of Irish Road Safety Week, which runs from October 12th to 18th.

Research presented at the event revealed that driving under the influence of alcohol contributes to as many as 10,000 deaths on EU roads every year, and the key lecture, given by Prof Denis Cusack, director of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, examined interventions made in other states to tackle the problem of drink-driving and how these could be applied in Ireland.

Stefan Siegrist, deputy director of the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention, highlighted the effect of lowering the drink drive limit in Switzerland. The limit, which was lowered from 0.08 to 0.05 in 2005, led to a 44 per cent cut in alcohol-related fatalities in the period 2005 to 2008 following the introduction, when compared to the period 2002 to 2004.

Prof Richard Allsop, board director of the ETSC, pointed to the European nature of the drink-driving issue. “Driving whilst under the influence of alcohol is estimated to contribute annually to some 10,000 deaths on EU roads," he said.

"National data show that on average 15 per cent of road deaths are recorded as occurring in accidents in which an active driver is impaired by alcohol, despite the fact that in the EU as a whole, only 1-2 per cent of driving is done by drivers with an illegal blood alcohol content (BAC).

"If no one drove while impaired by alcohol, an estimated 6,000 lives would have been saved in 2008 alone," Prof Allsop said.

“Yet measures to tackle drink driving are available including comprehensive legislative provisions, thorough police enforcement and modern in-car technologies. Focusing on repeat offenders and drivers caught with very high BACs is an important first step, but is not enough by itself. It is also necessary to persuade moderate drinkers to organise their lives so that they do not drive after drinking,” he added.

Speaking at the lecture, Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey said: “Alcohol may have been a contributory factor in over 1,000 fatal collisions on Irish roads between 1999 and 2008. The stark reality behind these statistics is lives lost, grieving families and shattered communities.”

“The overwhelming body of scientific evidence could not be any clearer. Any amount of alcohol impairs driving and increases the risk of being in a collision. Thankfully the majority of people in this country now believe that drinking and driving is simply not acceptable behaviour in today’s society."

Gay Byrne, chairman of the Road Safety Authority, said: “As a society, we must finally lay to rest any lingering doubts that drink-driving and its consequences are unintentional. There is nothing unintentional about drinking and driving. Drink driving does not happen by chance. Drink driving happens by choice."

A new road traffic Bill, expected to come before the Dáil in the autumn, will contain a provision to reduce the drink-drive limit to 50mg and to introduce a 20mg limit for learner and professional drivers. The legislation also includes a requirement for the mandatory testing of drivers at collisions where injuries occur.

This would remove the legal discretion currently available to gardaí to decide whether a driver at a crash site should be tested, but falls short of testing all drivers at crashes attended by the Garda.

The United Kingdom (0.08) and Malta (0.09) are the only other EU countries with the same or higher drink drive level than Ireland.

At least 18 drivers killed in crashes between 2003 and 2005 had a blood alcohol level between the current limit of 80mg and the Government’s proposed new lower limit of 50mg, according to a recent Health Service Executive (HSE) report.

The report, Alcohol in Fatal Road Crashesin Ireland 2003 to 2005 , is an updated version of earlier research and, for the first time, examines the role of alcohol concentration below the current legal limit but over the 20mg mark, at which international research suggests driving impairment occurs.

The Government’s Road Safety Strategy 2007-2012 aims to reduce collisions, deaths and injuries on Irish roads by 30 per cent.