In his 22 years as a member of the Garda Traffic Corps, Derek Cloughley has stopped hundreds of drunk drivers, attended the scenes of horrific crashes and delivered bad news about deaths and injuries to many homes.
One crash, however, stands out in his memory. A couple were in a car that went out of control and struck a gate. The female passenger, who was not wearing a seatbelt, died instantly.
The driver lived long enough to tell gardaí he and his girlfriend were having a blazing row just beforehand.
The sheer force of the impact sticks in his mind. The engine, “still smoking and steaming hot”, was lying on the ground 20 metres away from the car.
Delivering bad news to relatives of people killed and injured on the roads does not get easier as time goes by, he says.
“You are bringing news that is going to destroy or devastate that family . . . You would automatically think that a family might just collapse, but there is sheer disbelief.
“Some people turn angry at you for telling them the news. It is the single greatest thing that will change their lives. It is never easy.”
The Garda's Christmas drink driving campaign started on December 1st, featuring an ad telling the story of Ciarán Treacy, a four-year-old from Portarlington, Co Laois.
He was killed in 2014 when a drunk driver pulled out in front of an oncoming vehicle, driven by the boy’s mother, Gillian.
The drunk driver was seven times over the legal limit after consuming nine pints in local pubs. He was sentenced to 7½ years in jail.
“That ad is everywhere,” Garda Cloughley says.
“It’s on television, it’s in cinemas, it’s on social media. There are posters of Ciarán in pubs. It is a very powerful and emotive message.”
However, despite the Christmas campaign and the increasing social stigma attached to drinking and driving, more than 500 people have been caught doing so in December this year, an increase of 35 per cent on last year.
“There are still people who refuse to heed the message,” Garda Cloughley says.
“Unfortunately there is a cohort of people who refuse to think of the consequences of their actions. Drink driving is about as selfish an act as you can do. It is bitterly disappointing.
“The best-case scenario is that we intercept them. The worst-case scenario is that they continue on their journey, have a collision and there’s another fatality.”
He says the increased numbers caught drink driving is partially down to more Garda checkpoints but also because gardaí are using data sources to establish where drivers are most likely to be caught.
However, it is also down to an increased number of drivers taking a chance.
Garda Cloughley expects that, as a consequence of the rise in drink driving, the number of road deaths in the Republic this year could exceed 200 for the first time since 2010.
“We don’t want tragedies over the new year. We are asking people: just don’t do it, don’t drink and drive.”