Coroner queries drink-drive limit

A CORONER for the county with the country’s worst record on road deaths has said a lower legal alcohol limit will not significantly reduce the carnage.

Dr John Madden, who chairs inquests for Donegal North East, said lowering the limit to 50mg/100ml would punish people who are not dangerous. People who died in road accidents where drink had been a factor were more likely to have alcohol levels three times the current limit, he said.

In his 14 years as coroner, he said, people whose alcohol levels which would be deemed illegal under the proposals “rarely, if at all, feature at local inquests”.

“Lowering the limit will just penalise the ordinary Joe Soap who can have a couple of pints, respect the limit and leave it at that.

“It will have no effect on reckless people who do not care about others and ignore the limit regardless of what it is. Lowering it further will not stop these people,” said Dr Madden.

While 2007 was not as bad as previous years, Donegal is regarded as the county with the worst record on road deaths.

Last year, the Road Safety Authority published figures which showed the county had the highest number of fatalities per head of population. In a four-year period up to 2005, 113 people lost their lives on Donegal roads.

Dr Madden, who is also a general practitioner, said the situation improved in 2007 but he believes reducing the legal alcohol further will not bring about a significant reduction.

“The solution is not to lower the limit for safe drivers but to increase the expectation there will be more enforcement and the belief drivers will be breathalysed on a regular basis. This will make people think twice about drinking too much.

“Drivers who have had one or two pints are not the problem. Reason and science, not emotion, should inform this debate,” he said.

The Department of Health recently criticised the Department of Transport for failing to support the proposed reduction to 50mg/100ml from 80mg/100ml.

Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said he is waiting for the results of an expert report from the Road Safety Authority in March but admitted the limit is unlikely to be reduced for at least 18 months.

Dr Madden pointed to figures in Britain which examined the benefits of a 50mg alcohol limit and said if they were adapted for the Irish population between one and four lives a year would be only be saved.

Britain and Ireland are the last two countries in Europe to have blood alcohol levels in excess of 50mg/100ml.

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