Ross wants to cut drivers’ alcohol limit but fears opposition from rural TDs

Minister says country needs 'a shock' to break complacency around relationship between drinking and driving

Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said he favours cutting the alcohol limit for drivers. File photograph: David Sleator

Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said he favours cutting the alcohol limit for drivers. File photograph: David Sleator

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Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said he favours cutting the alcohol limit for drivers, but believes this road safety measure would be blocked by objections from rural TDs.

With 188 road deaths so far this year, a rise of 26 on 2015, the Minister said the country needed “a shock” to break the complacency around the relationship between drinking and driving.

Mr Ross said he favoured reducing the current limit of 50mg for fully licensed drivers to 20mg, the level set for professional and inexperienced drivers.

This would see even one small alcoholic drink place a driver over the limit.

Mr Ross said while he strongly favours cutting the limits, many rural TDs would strongly oppose the move.

“This is a very controversial suggestion and many groups would oppose it for a variety of reasons. But there is a clear benefit from getting close to a zero limit. The current law is just too unclear around what is allowed; is it one pint or two? It should be zero.”

In an interview with The Irish Times, the Minister also said he disagreed with the current law which sees drink drivers get penalty points, rather than a disqualification for their first offence.

“I do not agree with this. All drink drivers should get a disqualification”.

Mr Ross said something was going badly wrong when research showed younger drivers, particularly younger male drivers, were increasingly drinking and driving and that alcohol had a role in 40 per cent of all fatal crashes.

All EU member states should be working towards a zero limit for all drivers, he said, adding he has not discussed the idea at Cabinet.

Sharp rise in road deaths

The Dublin Rathdown TD said he was “hugely disappointed” by the sharp rise in road deaths this year and was determined to reverse this trend in 2017.

He plans to double the penalty points, from three to six, for drivers detected using a mobile phone and said his department was also working on the introduction of new penalties around texting and using social media apps on mobile devices while driving. An increase in points for mobile phone use was suggested by Independent TD Tommy Broughan and Mr Ross said he supported the idea.

The Minister also believes shame can be an effective deterrent and he intends to publish the names of all drivers convicted of drink-driving and those disqualified from driving in a list, similar to that used for tax defaulters, and on a website.

“The idea of shaming people is, quite honestly, often more powerful than fining them or issuing penalty points. In certain areas there is a huge amount of embarrassment about being convicted for drink driving.”

A Bill providing for the publication of the names of disqualified drivers has been submitted to the department by the Road Safety Authority.

Mr Ross plans to allow six months to see if a combination of a 10 per cent rise in the numbers in the Garda traffic corps in 2017 (currently at a low of 681 officers, compared to the intended strength of 1,200) and the introduction of drug-driving legislation help reduce road deaths.

If road death trends have not reversed by the end of June, then Mr Ross said there were additional sanctions he was considering.

Disqualified drivers

One of these would see an increase in the six-month period off the road imposed on disqualified drivers.

“If you take offenders off the road for longer you create a greater deterrent and make the roads safer. Most disqualified drivers are serial offenders.

“If you increased the ban, and increase it significantly, you would undoubtedly have less crashes.

“But there is no one bullet to sort this. It is multi-faceted. If by the end of June we have not got results, we will have to revise the whole strategy on road safety. But there are a number of things we can do.”

Asked for his view on why road deaths are rising, Mr Ross replied: “People feel it is open season again when they get behind the wheel. We are back to the 1970s and 1980s and that attitude that people are not going to be caught.”

He also said there was too much dependency on the idea of individual responsibility and enforcement remained key.

“Drivers will ignore the ad campaigns if they feel the authorities are lax or cavalier. On its own, TV ad campaigns by the RSA can’t work.”

He also said it was too easy to blame the Garda, who he said was severely under-resourced.

“There is a tendency amongst all of us to point the finger at gardaí and say they are not doing their job. They are under a lot of constraints.

“Those who say there are not enough patrols and the traffic corps is depleted are probably right.”

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