independent advocate reducing alcohol harm

Alcohol and driving

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.

The link between alcohol use and road deaths is recognised internationally as being a cause of major concern. The European Commission estimates that at least a quarter of road deaths can be attributed to alcohol. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates the role of alcohol in road deaths to be even greater.[i]

Too many crashes and deaths on our roads are alcohol-related and therefore avoidable.

Using evidence-based policy to reduce deaths and injuries

Since 2006, three key evidence-based policies have been adopted to reduce alcohol-related deaths and injuries on our roads:

  1. Random breath testing at Garda checkpoints was introduced in July 2006
  2. Testing of drivers involved in collisions when there appears to be an injury was introduced in June 2011 meaning Gardai should conduct a preliminary breath test at the scene. However, Gardai can use their discretion and not conduct a test in certain circumstances.
  3. New lower drink drive limits were introduced in October 2011. The drink drive (BAC Blood Alcohol Concentration) limit was reduced from 0.8 (80 mgs/100mls) to 0.5 (50mg/100mls). A further lower limit of 0.2 (20 mgs/ 100mls) was introduced for “specified” drivers which includes the learner driver

In 2012, 161 people died on the roads (provisional figures), a downward trend since 2006.[ii]

Random breath testing

Ireland introduced random breath testing in July 2006, giving the Gardai the power to breathalyse any driver stopped at a mandatory alcohol checkpoint. Its introduction and enforcement led to an immediate decrease in the number of road deaths, as well as a reduction in the number of hospital admissions resulting from road crashes.

  • In the first six months after its introduction, there was a 10% drop in admission to hospital following road crashes compared to the corresponding six months in the previous year.[iii]
  • In the first 12 months following its introduction 92 lives were saved.[iv]

There has been a significant improvement in compliance by drivers since random breath testing was introduced. In 2007, one in 25 drivers breathalysed were found to be under the influence; for the first 11 months of 2012, that figure was one in 49. [v]

There was a significant and worrying fall off in the number of checkpoints conducted in 2009 and 2010, a trend which was reversed in 2011.[vi]   It is essential that increased, sustained and visible enforcement of mandatory alcohol testing by the Gardai is fully resourced if this measure is to continue to maintain effectiveness in reducing deaths and injuries on our roads.

Mandatory testing of drivers

Mandatory testing of drivers involved in collisions when there appears to be an injury was introduced in June 2011 largely due to the fact that nine out of ten drivers who survived crashes where someone died were not tested for alcohol. However, in the six months following the implementation of this legislation, more than half of drivers were not tested. Of 213 drivers who were involved in fatal collisions, 113 were not tested for a range of reasons.[vii] It is essential that barriers to testing all drivers involved in relevant collisions are removed so that alcohol testing is effectively mandatory.

Lower drink drive limits

Robust evidence exists to show that lowering the drink drive limit reduces alcohol-related harms on the roads. Lowering the drink drive limit was a proposal that received widespread popular support – two thirds of motorists surveyed in two independent polls supported a reduction in the drink drive limit. [vii] The Garda Siochana Analysis Service reviewed the first year of the lower limits and found that there has been a decline in the number of arrests for drink driving in all but one age group category. A new feature of the revised limits is an increase in the number of those driving over the limit the ’morning after’. These drivers tend to have BAC levels in the lower ranges.

In the following video, Dr Declan Bedford talks about how implementing evidence-based policy and legislation has reduced drink driving on our roads.

What needs to happen?

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

The Steering Group Report on a National Substance Misuse Strategy makes a number of recommendations which would reduce the harms caused by alcohol. Alcohol Action Ireland calls for the recommendations of the Steering Group to be implemented in full. The Report recommends the introduction of the following measures to further counter drink driving

  • 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
  • Provide for the use of alcohol ignition interlocks as a sentencing option for those convicted of repeat drink driving offences
  • 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

In addition, 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
  • Make testing of drivers involved in collisions when there appears to be an injury mandatory by removing barriers to testing all drivers

Follow this link for the facts on alcohol and driving in Ireland.



[i] Laurel (2003) Towards Alcohol Free Roads in Europe, Swedish National Road Administration

[ii] 01.01.13 Road Users Thanked As Road Safety Strategy Target Achieved Three Years Ahead of Schedule: 2012 Drop in deaths lowest on record. Road Safety Authority Press Release

[iii] Bedford (2008) Drink Driving in Ireland. Presentation made at conference organised by the Road Safety Authority

[iv] Road Safety Authority (2009) Ireland: Drink Driving Facts

[v] Road Safety Authority Press Office (13.12.12) Review of the Lower Drink Driving Limits

[vi] Garda Annual Report 2009 and personal correspondence August 2010/January 2013

[vii] 03.08.2012 Over half of motorists in fatal crashes not given alcohol test

[viii] AA Motorists Panel Survey (October 23rd to 26th 2009) / Millward Brown Lansdowne for Road Safety Authority (2009)

[ix] see [v]