Cabinet approves tough new drink driving plan

If enacted, the new legislation will introduce a mandatory driving ban for anyone caught drink driving

Cabinet approves tough new drink driving plan

Transport Minister Shane Ross, 09-02-2017. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

The Cabinet has approved the General Scheme of a new bill that will introduce a mandatory disqualification for anyone caught drink driving.

The bill was brought forward earlier this month by the Minister for Transport Shane Ross as part of a suite of measures to tackle the number of fatalities on Irish roads.

Announcing the new plans earlier this month, Minister Ross told the Oireachtas Transport Committee the current legislation - under which first-time drink driving offenders face three penalty points and a fine - sends out the wrong message.

The minister highlighted Road Safety Authority (RSA) figures indicating that alcohol was a contributory factor in 38% of collisions between 2008 & 2012.

He also described as 'shocking' Medical Bureau of Road Safety data suggesting that 22% of people detected driving intoxicated were four times over the legal limit.

Increase in arrests

A Drink Driving campaign conducted by the gardaí over the recent Christmas period resulted in 961 arrests - a 35% increase on the same period in 2015.

Speaking today, the minister said drink driving continues to be a very serious issue in Ireland, adding that “we can no longer be ambivalent in our attitude toward this destructive practice.”

He said the introduction of a three month disqualification in place of penalty points is “quite proportionate.”

“Drink driving is serious, and potentially fatal,” he said. “Even a small amount of alcohol can impair people’s reactions, and that cannot be tolerated when people are behind the wheel of a car.”

He called for the new Road Traffic (Fixed Penalty – Drink Driving) Bill 2017 to be passed “quickly and without amendment.”

“It is important to get it out there and working; and with it the message that drink driving will no longer be without serious consequences,” he said.

“This is an important step on the road to enacting what will be a focused, timely and urgently needed piece of legislation which will ultimately save lives.”

The General Scheme will now be submitted to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for formal drafting.

It will also be referred to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport for consideration.

Healy-Rae opposition

The legislation may yet face opposition from, amongst others, Kerry South Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast last week Mr Healy-Rae questioned the wisdom of introducing mandatory penalties.

“Anything that is automatic means that you don’t have the opportunity to go to court,” he said. “I respect the judicial system.”

“It would be more fair to go before a court and state your case, to have the gardaí state their case and then see what the judge’s ruling is.”

He refused to come out fully against the proposals but insisted the legislation will need to be debated in the Dáil.