New law to cut drink-drive limit

 

Legislation to shake up drink-driving limits and the penalty points regime was passed last night in the Dáil despite a concerted late lobbying campaign against the changes by vintners.

Under The Road Traffic Bill 2009 drivers caught with blood alcohol levels between the new lower alcohol limits and the existing one – between 50mg and 80mg - face a €200 fine and three penalty points rather than a driving ban.

Mr Dempsey came under huge pressure from a group of backbenchers who opposed his proposal last year to lower the limits. He had initially suggested a sanction of six penalty points for those convicted of drink driving for the first time. In response to backbencher pressure this was reduced to three penalty points.

The Bill also provides for mandatory alcohol tests following a road crash where someone is injured. Mr Dempsey ruled out compulsory alcohol tests for all collisions because he said it would not be a good use of Garda time. 

Ann Fogarty, a spokeswoman for Public Against Road Carnage (Parc), welcomed the move, although she noted the absence of a driving ban for people found over the limit was “unprecedented in Irish law”.

Ms Fogarty said the new law obliges a garda attending a crash where someone has been injured to test the driver for alcohol.

However, she said two weaknesses remained. The first is that if the driver is uninjured there is no mandatory requirement to test them. The second arises in cases where the garda does not have a roadside breathalyser with them. 

“When the garda doesn’t have a roadside breathalyser, one has to be procured within one hour and the power to test moves from an mandatory power to a discretionary power," she said. "Once that hour passes they cannot be tested and we know there is a shortage of roadside breathalysers."

The AA has also welcomed the new law, saying it brought Ireland into line with other European states. Britain and Northern Ireland are the only other jurisdictions with an 80mg limit. A new lower limit of 50mg is planned for the UK.

During the debate last night Labour transport spokesman Tommy Broughan noted the “intense lobbying” around Leinster House by “vintners who are perhaps seeking to water the bill down.

Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) chief executive Pádraig Cribben said today publicans were extremely disappointed with the move, which he said would do nothing to save lives. He said the Government had underfunded speeding enforcement which was the biggest single cause of road deaths in this State. “It will further marginalise rural Ireland and it will criminalise people who don’t need to be criminalised.”

The legislation received all-party support, although some rural TDs criticised elements of the legislation because they favoured urban areas with good public transport services.

The Bill is expected to be completed in the Seanad before the summer recess in early July. It also proposes changes in the penalty point regime but does not provide for drug driving as no reliable test is currently available, according to the Minister.

Fine Gael TD for Cork South West PJ Sheehan said the legislation would have a serious effect for areas of the country. 

He asked the Minister to show a “bit of leniency for people living in Ballydehob. You must remember that in Ballydehob or in Ballsbridge, one is entitled to the same privilege. We have no Luas service in west Cork. Neither have we a CIÉ service every 10 minutes or a taxi service.”

Mr Dempsey said that “the people of Ballydehob will get the same consideration from me as the people of Balliver, Ballinabrackey and various other 'B' around the country. The reason we are heading towards the lowest death rate in Europe is because we are prepared to put legislation like this in place.”

The Minister agreed with Mr Broughan that they would have to “revisit” the issue of people selling goods including newspapers or collecting for charities at busy junctions.

Mr Broughan had asked the Minister to ban such selling. “People walk in between cars when stopped at busy junctions.” He said “the practice of working at junctions can be dangerous for the workers involved. People collect money for charity in this way but often constituents ask me why it is permitted to sell at junctions.”

Mr Dempsey said the obligation for pedestrians to exercise due care was covered in the regulations and he did not want to duplicate it but he said they should “take a good look” at it to clarify the rules.

Mr Broughan said the problem also applied to politicians. “During the most recent election and the previous one, the former taoiseach urged his supporters to canvass at junctions. There is significant territory to be covered and I would appreciate the Minister doing further thinking on the issue.”