The Irish Times view on drink-driving: Enough stalling. Pass the Bill

Some 258 people were killed on the roads last year, and alcohol was a factor in almost 40 per cent of those cases

Make no mistake: the challenge to the Government’s drink-driving legislation is commercially driven and designed to maintain alcohol sales. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

Make no mistake: the challenge to the Government’s drink-driving legislation is commercially driven and designed to maintain alcohol sales. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

 

Enforcing the law and saving lives should not pose a problem for elected representatives. But intensive lobbying by the Vintners Federation of Ireland and resistance by a small number of Oireachtas members has delayed the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill to such an extent that it may not pass in the lifetime of this Government. Filibustering by Independent TDs has become a feature of debate as they plead the cases of financially threatened rural pubs, socially isolated farmers and learner drivers.

Some of the exchanges have carried worrying overtures of “alternative facts”. Evidence produced by the Road Safety Authority, grounded in coroners’ report findings into actual road deaths, has been dismissed on the basis that two or three glasses of beer could not possibly cause a fatality. Even when it was grudgingly accepted that seven drivers might die every year, following this level of alcohol consumption, the fatalities were represented as a trade-off in combating rural isolation.

Some 258 people were killed last year, the lowest number since records began, and the majority occurred in rural districts. Alcohol was a factor in almost 40% of those cases

Conflicts of interest were hardly mentioned. Nor did they appear to matter. Among the Bill’s primary rejectionists are the owners of an off-licence and a pub. An attempt by Minister for Transport Shane Ross to soften the impact of the drink-driving measure by way of a pilot bus scheme to serve local villages was rejected as inadequate. Make no mistake: this challenge is designed in part to maintain alcohol sales. Efforts to create an impression of anti-rural oppressive legislation are diversionary.

Bill will ban first-time driving offenders for three months if caught with blood-alcohol of between 50mg/100ml and 80mg/100ml. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times
"Decades of publicity campaigns and Garda enforcement measures have gradually altered public behaviour. Roads are safer but pockets of resistance, encouraged by publicans and some within the drinks industry, remain." File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

So what is being proposed? The law, as it stands, imposes fines and penalty points when a driver’s blood/alcohol level exceeds 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres. The intended change will not reduce alcohol levels but impose a mandatory three-month driving ban for a first offence. Separately, car owners who allow a person drive unaccompanied on a provisional licence will face penalties. And a vehicle in the charge of a lone, unqualified driver may be seized by gardaí. These modifications are intended to enforce established road safety regulations and have been approved by the Road Safety Authority, Road Traffic Accident Groups, the AA and the the Garda Síochána. In the Dáil, however, they have been criticised as “criminalising” young people and their parents.

Legislators must show more urgency on alcohol consumption and road safety. Decades of publicity campaigns and Garda enforcement measures have gradually altered public behaviour. Roads are safer but pockets of resistance, encouraged by publicans and some within the drinks industry, remain. Some 258 people were killed last year, the lowest number since records began, and the majority occurred in rural districts. Alcohol was a factor in almost 40 per cent of those cases. The death toll from drink driving is unacceptable. Pass the Bill.

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