Rules will allow blood samples from unconscious drivers

Tightening of drink driving rules as part of Christmas road safety campaign

Under the new rules, medical authorities may take a sample from a driver who has been incapacitated and is unable to provide consent to the procedure. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Under the new rules, medical authorities may take a sample from a driver who has been incapacitated and is unable to provide consent to the procedure. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

A major tightening of road safety rules, including measures to take blood samples from drivers injured in crashes, will come into effect on Thursday.

Minister for Transport Pascal Donohoe will announce the closure of a loophole, which allowed drunken drivers to avoid blood tests through being unconscious or by claiming injury, at the launch of the annual Christmas road safety campaign.

Under the new rules, medical authorities may take a sample from a driver who has been incapacitated and is unable to provide consent to the procedure.

A driver will be asked on regaining capacity whether they consent to the issuing of a certificate of the test results based on the sample.

The certificate stating the level of alcohol in the bloodstream may be used in a subsequent prosecution.

If  the driver refuses to allow the sample to be used, the refusal will be an offence in much the same way that refusing to provide a sample to the gardaí is currently an offence.

Penalties for this offence can include disqualification from driving.

New drug testing

Mr Donohoe will also announce the immediate introduction of new roadside impairment testing for drugs.

The testing will provide An Garda Síochána with additional powers.

Drivers can be asked to perform a range of balance and co-ordination movements, which may indicate if they have been driving while under the influence of drugs.

These tests are non-technological, cognitive tests and will typically involve touching the nose or walking in a straight line.

The Department of Transport was told international experience has shown these tests to be sufficiently precise and objective enough to be used in court.

The new tests will be an important added resource to gardaí in identifying and prosecuting intoxicated drivers, and are seen as a significant new tool for the gardaí in enforcing the law against drug driving.

New breathalyser machines

Further development of the drug testing system will be incorporated in the forthcoming Road Traffic Bill, the heads of which are expected to be published in coming weeks.

It is understood this will involve legal provision for new “breathalyser type” machines that can test spittle for drugs.

Mandatory Alcohol Testing will become known as Mandatory Impairment Testing to reflect the changes.

Mr Donohoe will also name a number of driving offences to be added to the penalty points list.

It is understood these will affect learner and novice drivers among others.

The tightening up of the rules comes amid mounting concern over the number of people being killed on the State’s roads, which is set to rise for the second year in a row.

As of Wednesday morning, 179 people had lost their lives on the State’s roads since the beginning of the year, eight more than the figure of 171 for a similar period in 2013.

The total number of deaths in 2013 was 190 and there is concern figures for 2014 will exceed that number.

Road deaths numbers hit a record low in 2012 when 162 people lost their lives.