TD should face up to grim facts about drink driving

I READ with dismay recently about Fianna Fáil deputy Mattie McGrath’s anger at Transport Minister Noel Dempsey’s proposal to bring legislation before the Dáil in the autumn to reduce the legal drink driving limit.

Where has Mr McGrath been for the past few years and what has he been doing?

PARC, the road safety group, contacted all TDs in recent months giving them the latest research information on the drink driving issue.

Dr Declan Bedford’s research (which can be downloaded from www.parcgroup.ie) tells us:

* There is no blood alcohol level at which impairment does not occur.

* The relative risk of a fatal crash is four to 10 times higher for drivers with blood aclcohol counts between 50-79mg compared to drivers with zero.

The survey of public attitudes carried out by PARC in March 2008, the biggest of its kind ever undertaken, found that 99% of people would support a lower limit. Indeed, 57% voiced a preference for the “effective zero” approach.

In the three years to 2005:

* 1,015 people were killed in 995 crashes, according to Dr Bedford’s research.

* One in three crashes was alcohol-related (32%).

* In one in four crashes, the driver had consumed alcohol.

* One in four pedestrian deaths related to their own alcohol intake.

* In one in three crashes either no test for alcohol and drugs was taken or results were not available (33%). Only the dead driver is certain of being tested at the postmortem).

Dr Bedford told the conference that the role of alcohol in fatal crashes here was greatly underestimated because drivers involved in a fatal crash, but not killed, were rarely tested.

He added that when they went through all the files the gardaí gave them, they noticed there were very few who were actually tested for blood alcohol.

He found we have no systematic collection of data here. Until we collect the evidence we will never know the extent of the driving impairment problem on Irish roads. The only way to collect this evidence is by introducing compulsory testing of all drivers involved in traffic collisions.

The great majority of the electorate is looking for these changes. If Mr McGrath is not committed to saving lives on our roads he would nevertheless be well advised to back his minister because of the huge numbers of voters in favour of the proposed changes to the drink driving laws.

Is Mr McGrath one of those TDs who attends funerals of road traffic victims, offers his sympathy to the relatives and then blocks any attempt by government to ensure tradgedies like this are less frequent?

Too many Irish people have learned from bitter experience of the inadequacies of the law in protecting life on our roads. Mr McGrath can make a difference by voting yes to the reduction in the drink driving limit and yes to the testing of all drivers involved in collisions attended by the gardaí.

Minister Dempsey is showing great courage in confronting this problem despite the vested interests. It is only right and proper that he gets the support of all TDs and senators with his proposals to put the safety and lives of citizens above any other consideration and to create a civilised society where drink driving is simply not tolerated.

It is not too late for Mr McGrath and the other anonymous backbenchers of similar outlook to reply to our letter and pledge their support for the new Road Traffic Bill, as many TDs have already done.

Susan Gray

Chairperson

PARC Road Safety Group

Inishowen

Co Donegal

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