The level of intent is generally taken into consideration by the courts when determining the punishment being handed down to somebody who commits a criminal offence. However with mandatory sentencing in the Road Traffic Act this appears not to apply to drink-driving offences.
This means the courts are obliged to apply the same penalty to somebody who is convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol on a boreen less than 3m wide as somebody driving on a national primary route between Cork and Dublin, where the two offenders have the same alcohol readings. This is despite the much greater risk of causing a serious accident leading to serious injury or death, in the case of the offender who chooses to drive on a national primary route, under the influence of alcohol.
Roads in Ireland are categorised under road classification, and include national primary roads including motorways and other primary routes, national secondary routes including regional roads and secondary regional roads, and local roads which include three different categories eg roads over 4m wide, roads less than 4m wide, and roads less than 3m wide.
If the courts were allowed the flexibility under the Drink Driving Act, judges would then have an opportunity to access the very high level of intent to endanger the lives of others, arising from the enormous negligence displayed, when somebody decides to drive a vehicle under the influence of alcohol on a national primary road, on a national secondary road, or on a busy regional road. Judges would then have the option to impose substantial fines, plus a longer driving ban.
On the other hand, judges should also have the flexibility under the Drink Driving Act, to access the much lower intent to endanger others, when imposing a penalty on somebody found to be driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol on a minor local road that’s less than 4m wide (a boreen) where obviously there is little or no traffic. For this offence a judge should have the option to impose a fine and not to ban the offender from driving.
This reader's opinion was originally published in the print edition of the Irish Examiner on 2 November 2019