New Garda chief unveils tough new drug-driving laws

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan said new legislative measures aimed at combating the growing problem of drug-driving would "undoubtedly save lives".

Speaking at the launch of the Christmas and New Year Road Safety Campaign, the police chief said gardaí would enforce the new powers “rigorously”, but said that awareness and driver behaviour were equally important.

Under new provisions, gardaí will have additional powers to test drivers for drug-induced impairment.

As part of the roadside impairment test (RIT), drivers will be required to undergo five impairment tests: a pupil-dilation test; modified Romberg balance test, walk-and-turn test; one-leg-stand; and a finger-to-nose test.

Gardaí will also have the power to order a blood sample be taken from an injured driver who is either unconscious or unable to give his consent. This power can only be carried out where the designated doctor agrees with the decision.

The driver must give his consent for the sample results to be released when he or she has resumed consciousness. It is already an offence to refuse consent.

The measures will see the closure of a loophole that allowed drivers under the influence of drink or drugs who are involved in serious accidents to avoid blood tests through being unconscious or by claiming injury.

“It is dangerous to drive under the influence of drugs, it is illegal to drive under the influence of drugs and the impairment test will help in identifying that,” Commissioner O’Sullivan said at the launch, organised by the Road Safety Authority and the Garda Síochána.

She said the measures were “very useful tools” and would “undoubtedly save lives” and reduce serious injury. She said the measures would be “rigorously enforced”.

Liz O’Donnell, the RSA chairwoman, said the theme of this year’s campaign was drug-driving. She said there were more and more people on the road at Christmas and more people socialising.

She said people driving after taking drugs often “delude themselves” that they are better drivers. She described such behaviour as “dangerous and reckless”.

She said an RSA study of 17-to-34-year-olds showed that 5% of drivers admitted driving under the influence of drugs and 20% said they were a passenger with a driver under the influence of drugs. Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said it would be a “catastrophe” for a young driver over the festive season to find themselves in a Garda station responsible for making another person a victim.

He said he would bring in further legislative measures next year, introducing roadside chemical testing devices, which gardaí could use to accurately record if someone had taken illegal or prescribed drugs. Professor Denis Cusack of the Medical Bureau for Road Safety said the new measures were aimed at “people foolish enough to put themselves and others at risk”.

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