Drivers in the North could face zero tolerance on drink-driving with just one pint of beer putting them over the limit, it emerged tonight.
Under new proposals to tighten the law, legal blood-alcohol levels could be dramatically reduced to match continental Europe with a single drink enough to fail a breath test.
Ursula Quinn, campaigner with the Hidden Victims of Road Deaths charity, backed plans for an outright drink ban for motorists.
“Unfortunately there is a hardcore of older drivers who have got away with it for a very long time,” she said.
“I would be saying total zero tolerance, that way there is no confusion. People can’t say I’ll have one pint or a half pint or a shandy, because it’s diluted, they’ll just say I don’t drink and drive.
“I think there is still confusion over what you can and cannot drink.”
Mrs Quinn’s 19-year-old daughter was killed in a high speed car in the Republic as she travelled to university in Cork in September 2002 and has since campaigned on road safety with the PSNI.
Alcohol and drugs is blamed for an average of 25 deaths and 119 serious injuries a year on the roads in the North.
Consultation on proposed stricter drink-driving limits, tougher penalties and revised police powers will be opened tomorrow by Environment Minister Sammy Wilson.
The options include a virtual zero tolerance with the legal limit down from 80mg/100ml to just 20mg (one alcoholic drink), abolishing suspects’ right to blood or urine tests if a breathalyser records readings above 35mg, new penalties for offenders at the low end of the scale such as penalty points, fines and attending drink-driving offender courses, and bringing the high-risk tag, reserved for offenders caught at 200mg/100ml, to a much lower level.
Only the UK, Ireland and Malta persist with higher legal limits despite officials in Brussels urging the three states to match low levels in place across continental Europe.
However, Mrs Quinn, from Lurgan, Co Armagh called for even tougher sanctions for offenders.
“I’d be of the firm opinion that they (drink-drivers) should lose their licence – that’s the only way to get the message across,” she said.
“If someone has been killed through speed, drink, carelessness or dangerous driving whatever the circumstances I think that licence should be revoked immediately.”
Other options being put forward by Mr Wilson’s department include retaining the current regime but the minister said he hoped the initiative would keep road safety on the agenda over the Easter break.
The Northern government’s chief medical officer Liam Donaldson and Coroner John Leckey both called for radical reform of drink-driving laws and an effective alcohol ban for drivers last year.
Barry Griffin, Road Safety Council executive officer, said zero tolerance would be an unfortunate but necessary approach.
“The perfect world is we don’t want people to drink and drive. We support any lowering of the limit because it suggests the state bodies are keen, but if you reduce the limit you must also increase enforcement,” he said.
“We have to change the attitudes and unfortunately zero tolerance is one of the ways forward.
“There are people who are totally irresponsible and we have to stop them.”
Last month the minister launched a novel mobile phone road safety campaign with warnings sent direct to people in pubs and clubs using Bluetooth technology.