Even in small amounts, alcohol impairs driving ability and any amount of alcohol increases the risk of involvement in a road traffic collision.
Comprehensive international research shows that beginning at very low levels of alcohol consumption, this risk becomes greater as blood alcohol concentration (BAC) increases and the functioning of vital processes for safe road use, such as vision and motor skills, becomes increasingly impaired.
According to the Road Safety Authority (RSA), some common driving errors associated with alcohol consumption include:
- Your peripheral vision is affected making it difficult to see signs and other road users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists
- Increased reaction time to hazards
- Driving too fast or too slow
- Driving in the wrong lane
- Running over the kerb
- Quick, jerky starts
- Not signalling, failure to use headlights
- Straddling lanes
- Running stop signs and red lights
- Improper overtaking
Alcohol consumption is a significant road safety issue in Ireland and is a factor in 38% of all deaths on Irish roads, as well as many other collisions resulting in injuries. Reflecting the significance of the issue and the serious problems it continues to cause, the RSA has added 17 further questions on alcohol to the Driver Theory Test, effective from October 10, 2016.
A survey conducted by the RSA in 2015 found that 1 in 10 drivers in Ireland admitted to consuming alcohol before driving in the past 12 months. Furthermore, of those who admitted to drink-driving, almost 2 out of 5 said they had consumed two or more drinks.
Though the ability of all drivers are impacted by any alcohol consumption, it’s evident from research, both Irish and international, that the younger a drink driver is, the more likely they are to be involved in fatal road traffic collisions. It’s also clear that men are far more likely to drink and drive than women.
While drink-driving remains a serious problem, there have been a number of important changes to the laws regarding drink-driving in Ireland during the past decade, beginning with the introduction of mandatory alcohol testing in 2006, which had led to significant improvements in road safety.
The introduction of mandatory alcohol testing, or ’random breath testing’ as it is commonly known, in 2006 gave Garda the power to breathalyse any driver stopped at a mandatory alcohol checkpoint without the need to first form an opinion in relation to the driver of the vehicle, as was previously the case. The RSA reports that mandatory alcohol testing has significantly improved road safety and saved 92 lives in the first year of operation.
The Road Traffic Act 2010, which was enacted in October 2011, saw the reduction of the drink-driving limit from 0.08% BAC (80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood) to 0.05% BAC (50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood) for non-specified drivers and to 0.02% BAC for specified drivers.
Specified and non-specified drivers were newly introduced categories, with a lower drink-driving limit for the specified category comprising learner drivers, newly qualified drivers (two years or less) and someone who is a professional driver (e.g. a bus, goods or public service vehicle driver).
The legal limits for fully-licenced drivers in Category B are:
- 50 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood
- 67 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine
- 22 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath
The legal limits for professional, learner and novice drivers are:
- 20 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood
- 27 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine
- 9 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath
The Road Traffic Act of 2010 also introduced a new penalty system for drink-driving offences. For a full breakdown of the drink-driving limits in Ireland and the penalty systems, as well as other information relating to drink-driving and the law, please see the details provided by the Citizens Information Board.
Under the Road Traffic Act 2014, as well as mandatory testing of drivers at collision scenes, a specimen of blood can now also be taken from a driver who is incapacitated (e.g. unconscious) and is therefore unable to consent to the procedure. If a driver refuses to consent to a certificate of analysis being issued from the specimen taken from them when they regain capacity, it is an offence.
It is also important to remember that as well as never consuming alcohol before driving, motorists may still be under the influence of alcohol the next day following a drinking session, particularly if they have consumed a lot of alcohol.
A fifth of fatal road traffic collisions that occur between 6 a.m, and 12 noon are alcohol-related, according to the RSA. While you can control how much alcohol you drink, you can’t control how fast your body gets rid of that alcohol – there is nothing you can do to speed up the process.
The RSA states that person gets rid of roughly one standard drink per hour, which is the equivalent of half a pint or a small glass of wine. It’s very important to bear this in mind when driving the morning after drinking alcohol, both for your safety and that of other road users.
For statistics on alcohol-related road collisions in Ireland please follow this link.
In the following presentation, Dr Declan Bedford outlines how implementing evidence-based policy and legislation has reduced drink driving on our roads.