Blanket ban on drink driving would not save lives: Publicans

The organisation that represents publicans outside Dublin has denounced plans by Transport Minister Shane Ross to strengthen drink-driving laws, saying there is no evidence to support his assertion that the move would save lives.

Mr Ross’s proposal for a blanket ban for drink-drivers would not save lives on the roads, according to Padraig Cribben, CEO of the Vintners Federation of Ireland.

The group is holding its annual general meeting in Athlone and high on the agenda is the minister’s proposal, which is based on his reading of a report by the Road Safety Authority on drink-related accidents between 2008 and 2012.

Currently, drivers caught with between 50mg and 80mg of alcohol per 100ml blood in their systems will get three penalty points and a €200 fine for their first offence. 

Mr Ross wants to see harsher punishment for these levels, including a mandatory driving ban, even for first offenders. The measures would save 35 lives over the next five years, he has claimed.

“There is no justification in that for what the minister is proposing to do,” said Mr Cribben. 

“That report shows that in 11% of accidents alcohol was the sole factor. What the report says is that there was a presence of alcohol but it does not show that the alcohol actually caused the accident.”

Speaking on Today With Sean O’Rourke on RTE radio, Mr Cribben added: “The punishment must fit the breach of the law. We feel the punishment of those caught with levels 51 and 80 millilitres of alcohol is appropriate.

“There are 62% of people being killed on the road where there is no alcohol involved.”

That echoes his views expressed last month to the Oireachtas joint committee on transport, tourism and sport when he said other factors included speed, drugs, dark clothing, dangerous behaviour, fatigue and distraction.

“What we have in this report, on a very forensic analysis of it, is evidence of a presence of alcohol but no evidence that alcohol was the actual cause of the accident,” he said. 

“We do not believe it would in actual fact contribute to saving one life,” he told TDs and senators on the committee.

The VFI chief blamed an increase in road deaths over recent years on more traffic on the roads along with a corresponding “significant reduction” in Garda checkpoints.

Earlier, VFI president Pat Crotty said Brexit is already having an effect as the numbers visiting Ireland from the UK are falling.

“The value of sterling is a key issue for us as a tourist destination,” he said in a statement.

Visitor numbers to Ireland from Britain dropped 7% in the three months to March 31 from the same period last year, according to figures released by the Central Statistics Office. Sterling has declined about 9% against the euro since last year’s referendum.

A survey carried out for the VFI revealed that over half of us visit the pub at least once a week.

Nine out of 10 Irish people said they wanted to see our “pub culture” preserved, while 88% of overseas tourists say they visited a pub during their stay.

Mr Cribben said pubs have had to adapt in order to survive: “Consumer habits have changed and as a result of that, the offering by publicans has changed.

“So what we are seeing now is an emphasis on entertainment, on food, on sport.”

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