independent advocate reducing alcohol harm

Alcohol and driving

 Even in small amounts, alcohol impairs driving ability and as blood alcohol concentration (BAC) increases the functioning of vital processes for safe road use, such as vision and motor skills, becomes progressively more impaired. In short, any amount of alcohol increases the risk of involvement in a road traffic collision. 

While the introduction of random breath testing and the lowering of the drink-driving limits have improved road safety in Ireland, drink-driving remains a significant issue. 

Almost one in three crash deaths in Ireland is alcohol-related. Even in small amounts, alcohol impairs driving ability – any amount of alcohol increases the risk of involvement in a fatal crash. 

This research data from the Road Safety Authority (RSA) showed the impact of drink-driving in Ireland. A report published by the RSA in 2016 found that between 2008 and 2012, alcohol was a contributory factor in almost two-fifths (n=330, 38%) of the 867 fatal collisions for which files were available for analysis. Out of all fatal collisions during this five-year period, almost one-third (29%) of drivers had consumed alcohol prior to the collision. 

A study carried out using coroner data for 2014 by the National Drug-Related Deaths Index on behalf of the RSA indicated that alcohol was present in roughly one-third (31%) of road traffic collision fatalities occurring in 2014. One-third (33%) of drivers had alcohol in their toxicology screen at the time of the collision, and 96% of these drivers were male. Furthermore, a survey by the RSA in 2015 revealed that 284,000, or one in ten, Irish drivers admitted to driving while under the influence of alcohol. More than one-half (56%) of these drivers were aged between 20 and 39 years. 

The most recent research from the RSA indicates that over a third of road user fatalities with a toxicology result available, killed between 2013-2017, on Irish roads had been drinking. These fatalities were typically male, and under the age of 45. Pedestrian fatalities had the highest proportion of fatalities (45.8%), followed by drivers (39%). 

 

In light of this body of research, in 2018, the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act 2018 was signed into law. The provisions of the Act include mandatory disqualification plus a €200 fine for a first drink-driving offence if a motorist has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above 50 mg/100 ml. The amendment to the Act ensures that all drivers found to have a BAC above 50 mg/100 ml will receive a driving disqualification, without exception. This removes the concession in previous legislation by which some drink-drivers were able to obtain penalty points instead of a disqualification. 

 

What needs to happen? 

Ireland has good legislation, but it needs to be fully resourced and implemented. 

Alcohol Action Ireland recommends the following actions: 

  • Increased, sustained and visible enforcement of mandatory alcohol testing checkpoints by Gardai in order to reduce the number of deaths and injuries on roads. Greater enforcement will increase the risk of drivers being caught drink driving, shift attitudes and behaviour, and save lives 
  • Introduce appropriate hospital procedures to provide alcohol testing of drivers who are taken to hospital following fatal/ injury collisions 
  • Introduce driver rehabilitation programmes for repeat drink-driving offenders and those at high risk of re-offending 
  • Monitor and regularly publish the volume of driver alcohol testing, including mandatory alcohol testing, undertaken by An Garda Síochána on a county and national basis 

To find out more about drink-driving and wider road safety issues please visit the Road Safety Authority’s website.