Transport Minister defends tough new drink driving proposals

Shane Ross says his drink driving figures are "absolutely reliable" and unaffected by the garda falsification scandal

Transport Minister defends tough new drink driving proposals

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

The Minister for Transport has accused publicans and representatives for the alcohol industry of cynically lobbying against 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 are facing a fine and penalty points, but no ban – provided it is their first offence.

This lower limit falls to 20mg for professional and novice drivers.

Statistics

The minister told the Oireachtas Transport Committee this morning that drink driving is on the increase amongst younger drivers.

He said more than 3,000 people were caught driving over the lower limit between 2012 and 2016 -  adding that the numbers increased significantly last year.

He insisted the latest controversies over garda statistics do not apply to his figures:“Before someone says and I am sure they will – some already have – that they have doubts about these figures because of the recent issues over figures deriving from An Garda Síochána, the figures I am quoting are based on specific notices, issued to specific individuals detected and arrested for drink driving offences and follow a determination of the detected alcohol levels by the MBRS (Medical Bureau of Road Safety),” he said.

“They are absolutely reliable.”

He said the bill does not seek to lower the legal level further - but will ensure that there are proper consequences for people who break the limits that are already in place.

He said certain vested interests “particularly The Vintners Federation of Ireland” have lobbied against the proposals “often in quite a cynical manner.”

“I am not claiming that this bill is the only answer to drink driving,” he said. “But what it will do is strengthen the law and remove the dangerous impression that people who drive over the limit can be allowed to keep on driving right away.” 

Two or three glasses of Guinness

The legislation has faced opposition from rural TDs including Kerry Independent Danny Healy-Rae.

He said the poor state of Ireland’s road system mixed with speeding drivers are to blame for the level of road fatalities:

“Two glasses or three glasses of Guinness will not cause anyone to have a fatality,” he said. “If we are going to go down that road the next thing will be saying that the cough bottle or the medicines for the few [...] will be the cause of accidents as well.”

“Get real about it, check out those figures, because I know what I am talking about is the truth.”

File Photo. Michael Healy Rae TD (left), with Danny Healy Rae TD (right) ahead of talks on government formation, 09-03-2016. Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews

Deputy Healy-Rae’s brother, Kerry South Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae also raised concerns over the legislation when it was first floated last month.

He said the automatic nature of the proposed ban would deny alleged offenders the opportunity to make their case in court adding “I respect the judicial system.”

Deputies have also raised concern that the legislation will unfairly impact on the rural community – where public transport options may be unavailable.

Minister Ross said drivers with alcohol levels of between 21mg and 80mg were found to be responsible for 35 road deaths between 2008 and 2012.

He said rural Ireland stands to benefit the most from the proposed legislation - as 81% of alcohol related deaths occur outside of urban settings.