Road Safety Authority had ‘suspicions’ about breath testing
New equipment will record full details of test, including location, and prevent falsification
Moya Murdock, chief executive of the Road Safety Authority, said: “The number [OF TESTS]had to be made up and [the Garda] have to acknowledge that.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Higher tech breath-testing gear, complete with GPS location software, is to be bought by the State, in order to help prevent the falsification of drink-driving enforcement figures by the Garda.
The new equipment, a tender for which is expected to be published shortly, will be able to log the full details – the time, the location, etc – of each roadside test.
“The [new] equipment will have much improved functionality which will lessen the possibility of fabricating figures,” said Moya Murdock, the chief executive of the Road Safety Authority (RSA).
She was reacting to the revelation that An Garda Síochána claimed to have taken one million more breath tests than it actually had.
Suspicion about the garda enforcement statistics arose in July 2014 when Prof Denis Cusack, director of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety at University College Dublin, told the Garda that the number of breath tests the force was claiming to carry out was higher than the number of disposable plastic mouth pieces purchased.
“The [one million extra] number had to be made up and [the Garda] have to acknowledge that,” said Ms Murdock, who was clearly upset and annoyed at what she sees as compromising the road safety message. “We just wonder, what next,” she said.
She said that like the Medical Bureau, the RSA had its suspicions about the volume of breath testing which the Garda was claiming.
“We too always had our concerns – [chairwoman] Liz O’Donnell and [former chairman] Gay Byrne had – because of public perception versus garda claims on enforcement. But not did we ever think of something of this magnitude. It made us look like we were just complacent about the number of guards.”
Asked whether she trusted An Garda Síochána now, she replied: “We have to trust them. I trust them that they have to come clean on this. There are one million breath tests logged that didn’t happen. I have to trust them that they are drawing a line in the sand and this will never happen again. I had definitely undermined trust and confidence.”
She said she felt upset for the families and friends of road crash victims, particularly fatalities caused by drunk drivers, and she urged TDs to rally behind Transport Minister Shane Ross’s Bill to abolish the three penalty points punishment for a first-time drink driving offence and replace it with an automatic disqualification for three months.
“We are far, far too lax and complacent towards drunk drivers,” she said.
Last Friday, Ms Murdock wrote to TDs explaining the evidential basis for banning drivers found to have illegal blood-alcohol levels of between 51mgs to 80 mgs per 100mls of blood in their system.
“Concerns have been expressed that the proposed legislation would have a detrimental effect on rural Ireland,” Ms Murdock said in her letter. “I would refute that. 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.
“We know that 81 per cent of alcohol-related collisions occurred in rural locations. Promoting the safe use of roads in rural Ireland is an integral policy measure to protect and support these communities. Rural Ireland faces many issues, including transport, social inclusion and sustainable communities but the solution is not to be found by allowing or condoning people to drink and drive thus putting their lives and the lives of other road users at risk.”
Ms Murdock’s views were echoed by Donna Price of the Irish Road Victim’s Association who said the incorrect enforcement statistics were “appalling”.
“Somebody has to be held accountable for this. It is just too appalling for words,” she told RTÉ radio. Prof Cusack had identified the problem in 2014 but nothing was done. “Somebody has to be held accountable.
“If there is no enforcement then we will continue to have dangerous drivers taking chances with their own lives and taking chances with other people’s lives. The gardaí must be seen, they must be more visible.”
She said the 188 people killed on Ireland’s roads in 2016 was the equivalent to “a small village being wiped out every year”.