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October 22, 2009

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Ireland to reduce drink-driving limit to improve road safety

The drink-drive limit in Ireland is to be reduced to 50mg alcohol per 100ml blood, leaving the UK as one of only two EU countries still working to the higher 80mg limit.

In a heated debate within the ruling Fianna Fáil parliamentary party earlier this week, Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey (pictured) insisted he would press ahead with the proposal — contained in his Road Traffic Bill, which is due to be published in the coming weeks.

In the Bill, it is proposed to apply the reduced 50mg limit to all drivers except learner, novice and professional drivers, to whom a 20mg limit will apply. Under the new system, experienced drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of between 50 and 80mg will receive six penalty points on their licence and a €200 fine if they do not challenge the conviction in court.

Those with a BAC of between 80 and 100mg will be disqualified for six months and fined €400. Learners, new drivers and professional drivers found to have a BAC of between 20 and 80mg will be disqualified for three months and fined €200.

In a speech delivered earlier this month as part of the European Transport Safety Lecture, Mr Dempsey said: “I am convinced by the evidence from around the world and in Ireland that reducing the BAC will reduce the incidence of road collisions and so save lives and prevent serious injuries.

“I believe there is already support among the general public, who see the reduced BAC as a positive measure to reduce deaths and injuries on the roads. We have to continue to take measures to change driver behaviour and the personal choices made in relation to drinking and driving.”

Support among his party colleagues, however, is less certain, with many not convinced about the minister’s claims. Attendees at this week’s party meeting, which is not open to the media, told the Irish press that most of them did not back Mr Dempsey’s proposals and were in favour of retaining the 80mg limit.

The Irish Road Safety Authority is in favour of the reduction, however, pointing out that alcohol is estimated to be a contributory factor in one in three fatal collisions. Added the Authority: “Even at half the current limit, drivers are twice as likely to be involved in a collision. And we believe about three out of every four drivers are in favour of the introduction of a lower drink-driving limit.”

UK road safety charity Brake welcomed the announcement and called on the UK government to follow suit. Said the organisation: “In 2008, 430 people were killed by drink-drivers, an increase of 20 fatalities compared to 2007. In addition, 1630 were seriously injured and 10,970 suffered lesser injuries from crashes involving drivers over the 80mg limit. Experts have estimated that reducing the drink-drive limit in Britain to 50mg/100ml blood could save about 65 lives and 230 serious injuries per year. Despite this, the Government is dragging its heels on cutting the UK limit.”

Malta is the only other EU member state with an 80 mg limit.

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