Moyagh Murdock has accused vintners of "downplaying the value" of lives lost through drink driving
The chief executive of the Road Safety Authority has lashed out at vintners over their opposition to proposed new drink driving laws.
Transport Minister Shane Ross is proposing an automatic driving ban for first-time offenders caught at the lower limit.
Currently drivers caught with alcohol concentrations of between 50mg and 80mg face a fine and penalty points but no ban – provided it is their first offence.
The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) has accused the minister of trying to mislead the public to get the legislation over the line – insisting that only 1.3% of road deaths involve people at the lower limit.
The federation also claimed that despite the presence of low-levels of alcohol in certain road fatalities - there is no evidence that alcohol was the cause of the collision.
Addressing the Oireachtas Transport Committee this morning RSA chief executive Moyagh Murdock said driving with a blood alcohol level of between 50mg and 100mg “increases the risk of a fatal crash by a factor of 5.”
She said an analysis of road fatality statistics between 2008 and 2012 revealed that 35 people were killed and eight others were seriously injured in accidents involving drivers with blood alcohol levels below 80mg.
“The VFI have attempted to downplay the value of those lives as well as the lives of their families by reducing them to an insignificant statistic,” she said.
“Presenting the figure of 1.3% is a selective use of the data in an attempt to undermine the real impact of drinking and driving.”
In its own submission to the committee last month, the VFI said proper enforcement of Ireland’s current drink driving laws would provide the most effective method of reducing fatalities.
VFI chief executive Padraig Cribben told the assembled TDs that the RSA had provided evidence that alcohol was present in collisions leading to fatalities - but no evidence that alcohol was the cause of the accidents.
He insisted that “speed, drugs, dark clothing, dangerous behaviour, fatigue and distraction” were all contributory factors to road deaths.
He said the increase in fatalities since 2012 can be linked to a major increase in the level of traffic – with a corresponding reduction in garda numbers on the roads.
“Of course, legislation that would reduce or eliminate this 1.3% would be welcome and justified if there were evidence that in these cases alcohol was a determined cause of the accident,” he said. “There is no such evidence.”
This morning, Ms Murdock said the VFI had outlined a “disingenuous and selective interpretation” of the statistics – adding that she felt it was “inappropriate to suggest they are “one side” of the debate.”
“The vintners are no shying violets,” she said. “I don’t believe they are getting a hard deal but I would point out that they are a vested interest, they represent a small cohort of pub owners and publicans and the drinks industry.
“The Road Safety Authority represent all road users.”
She insisted that the proposed legislation would have a “strong deterrent effect on would-be drink drivers.”