RSA spokesman Brian Farrell said a review of 2014 road fatalities from closed coroner files by the Health Research Board shows that nine people died (22.5%) where the level of alcohol detected was at the lower end of the scale.
In seven of the fatalities (17.5%) the blood alcohol level (BAC) was 50mg or less, while the BAC was 51mg to 80mg in two other cases. “That concretes our case — people are dying at lower levels of alcohol consumption,” said Mr Farrell.
Under current legislation, first-time drink-driving offenders receive a €200 fine and three penalty points, but the RSA says this is sending out a mixed message.
Mr Farrell said there are “vested interests” claiming that there are not many people killed on the roads in Ireland with lower levels of toxicology for alcohol. However, the HRB’s review for the authority makes a case for the introduction of a mandatory disqualification.
Mr Farrell said the figures in the provisional report only include those people who, when found dead, had alcohol in their system: “It does not include fatalities where a driver survived and was found to have had alcohol when breathalysed.”
Earlier this year, Transport Minister Shane Ross brought forward an amendment to the Road Traffic Bill, so anyone caught with between 51mg and 80mg alcohol in their system will get an automatic driving ban.
RSA chief executive Moyagh Murdock said she will tell TDs and senators that any amount of alcohol deters driving and encouraging them to support the amendment: “Let’s be clear, we are not changing the level of alcohol permitted in a person’s system, we are changing the penalty.”
The RSA now know that people with a level of alcohol in their system of 50mg to 80mg are being killed every year. “We have the evidence. We have it on our website. If anybody is unsure of the benefits of doing this, we can provide them with that. It is unequivocal.”
Ms Murdock said there is overwhelming support for the change in the law. The RSA carried out a poll that found 93% of those in the countryside and 91% of those in urban areas support the initiative. Toxicology reports for 2014 showed that 35% of car drivers had a positive toxicology for alcohol.
Ms Murdock said the message is not getting through to a small cohort of people that drinking and driving is a deadly mix: “There is no excuse for not understanding the consequences.”
Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn, who is responsible for road policing, said more than 1,600 people were arrested for drink driving so far this year — a 12% increase on last year.
“We would like to remind road users that An Garda Síochána will be out in force over the St Patrick’s Day festival to monitor all high-risk behaviour, including drink driving,” he said.
The senior law officer pointed out that there were no road fatalities during St Patrick’s weekend last year: “We want to retain that record this year.”