TÁNAISTE Brian Cowen is likely to come under pressure from Fianna Fáil backbenchers to resist changes to drink-driving legislation, after it was confirmed that the Road Safety Authority (RSA) has formally recommended dramatic reductions to the drink-driving limits.
Despite its commitment to lower the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level as part of its Road Safety Strategy 2007-2012 published last year, the Government is expected to face strong opposition to the RSA’s proposals from its own TDs, as well as publicans and representatives of the drinks industry.
Official road safety experts have recommended that the current BAC of 0.8 (80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood) should be reduced to 0.5.
The lower figure would bring Ireland into line with the level in the vast majority of EU members states. Only Britain and Malta have similar high BAC limits to this country.
The RSA has also proposed that learner and recently qualified drivers should face the more restricted limit of 0.2. Similar lower drink-driving limits for novice drivers are already in place in many countries, including Sweden, Spain, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands. It has also recommended that the 0.2 limit should apply to professional drivers, such as hauliers and coach drivers.
However, RSA chief executive Noel Brett said the 0.2 limit could only be implemented as part of a graduated driver licensing system, which will place a range of new restrictions on learner drivers.
The proposed changes will put additional pressure on gardaí, the Courts Service and the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, which supplies, tests and analyses breathalyser equipment.
The Department of Transport said yesterday that the Government had noted the contents of the RSA’s recommendations at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. The Government said the RSA’s report would be taken into account in the drawing up of a new Road Traffic Act, which is expected to be enacted by the end of this year.
The RSA has pressed for lower drink driving limits based on international studies, which have consistently shown that the relative risk of motorists being involved in a crash increases with every drink taken. It is also estimated that alcohol is a factor in more than one-third (36.5%) of all fatal road collisions in the Republic.
Under the Road Safety Strategy, the Government promised to reduce the existing legal drink-driving limit by summer 2009.
However, earlier leaks about the RSA’s proposals generated a high level of public resistance, with several Fianna Fáil TDs expressing concern about the effect of lower drink-driving limits on the quality of rural life.
Though sympathetic to publicans when framing his finance budgets, Mr Cowen has yet to make an official statement on his attitude to the proposed BAC changes.
Under current legislation, motorists caught driving over the legal alcohol limit can face minimum disqualification periods ranging from one to six years and a maximum fine of €5,000.
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