Padraic Hanley, Head of Drink Driver Education Programmes at The Learning Curve Institute, blogs on the new drink driving limits in Ireland which come into effect today, the 27th of October 2011.
On the face of it Ireland’s new Road Traffic Bill No.2 looks like a pretty good and welcome piece of legislation. The second amendment to the Road Traffic Act 2010 introduced by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar, will allow for mandatory breath testing at lower drink driving limits and is due to come into effect over the Halloween bank holiday weekend. But will this controversial and costly piece of legislation, which is undergoing its second incarnation in as many years, live up to it’s expectation?
Under the new legislation the Garda Siochana Traffic Corp were to be issued with 1000 breathalyzers calibrated for the new limits, which will replace the existing equipment. Unfortunately only 500 of them are being made available now and the rest will arrive “later”. So already the effectiveness of the new initiative is reduced by 50%, and this will increase further as breathalyzers are removed from active service for maintenance purposes.
An already dwindling and under-resourced Garda Traffic Corp has been issued with instructions to mount hundreds of Mandatory Alcohol Test (MAT) checkpoints nationwide from this Friday to enforce the new lower limits. This will include roadside breath testing at the scene of a Road Traffic Accident (RTA), where an injury has been caused, and the testing of an unconscious driver once removed to hospital. But will these extra detection initiatives translate into increased conviction rates and licence disqualifications?
The Minister has promised a “toughening-up of the drink-driving regime” and has assured there “will be no loopholes” in the new legislation. The new laws will reduce the Blood Alcohol Level (BAC) from 0.8 mg per 100 millilitre to 0.5mg for experienced drivers and to a virtual zero for learner and commercial drivers. Minister Varadkar hopes that reductions in the blood alcohol limit will mirror similar changes made in Queensland Australia, which saw fatal accidents fall by 18 per cent. But is the new regime really that tough? In reality how similar is it to the Australian model?
As Head of the Learning Curve Institute’s Drink Driver Education Course and lecturer and programme developer on their FETAC Drug & Alcohol Addiction Course I have conducted extensive comparative research into the effectiveness of interventions to reduce the occurrence of drink driving and thereby reducing alcohol related harm. This research included a comparison of the Irish and Queensland models and I will briefly outline some of the differences between the two jurisdictions.
Ireland and Queensland have a similar population of about 4.4 million people. They are both English-speaking states and have many social, political and cultural similarities, including a high prevalence of alcohol use. Ireland’s new lower drink driver limits are now also the same as those introduced in Queensland since the mid 1980’s. However, it is the differences between how the two jurisdictions have applied, enforced and supported the lower BAC levels that have caused such drastic reductions in Road Traffic fatalities.
- Queensland police conduct 3 million MATs each year and even with such coverage will only catch a fraction of offenders.
Irish police conducted 55,000 MATs in 2010.
- In Queensland the evidential Breathalyzer is the only evidential test required to secure a licence suspension.
In Ireland the lower of two further tests conducted in a Garda station, a written Garda statement and an independent analysis are required.
- In Queensland disqualification from driving is effective immediately on a positive breathalyzer result and your vehicle could be impounded for up to 3 months.
In Ireland you can drive away within hours, continue to drive for months after the offence and are entitled to apply for a 50% remission off the disqualification.
- In Queensland the Courts uphold 90% of on the spot disqualifications.
In 2010 in the Irish District Courts out of 21,153 drinks driving offences disposed of; only 8,651 resulted in a disqualification.
- Queensland Courts insist on mandatory attendance at Offender Rehabilitation Programmes, similar to the Learning Curve Institute’s Drink Driver Education Course, which have shown a 55% reduction in high risk and repeat offending.
Irish Courts provide for a similar sentencing option – with little evident awareness of this amongst the legal profession and the Judiciary.
- In Queensland cumulative disqualifications for multiple drink or drug driving related offences are applied. This means that disqualifications for drink driving offences are served (one after the other) and ensures the longest possible disqualification.
In Ireland concurrent sentences for drink driving and other offences are applied. This means that disqualifications are served (at the same time) thereby a person only serves the longest period for multiple disqualifications, and the shortest period does not affect the offender.
So, what is Ireland’s barrier to emulating Australia? Why isn’t Ireland leading the way in this field, demonstrating best practice? Where does the blame lay – poor legislation, lack of political will, scarce resources, vested interests or something more? Ultimately and without question the price of this inertia will be paid for on Irish roads.
The Learning Curve Institute offers a 2 day Drink Driver Education programme. Full details can be found here: Drink Driver Education programme
The Learning Curve Institute also offers a host of FETAC accredited programmes in Addiction, Mental Health, Counselling, Social Studies, Languages and Communications all over Ireland on a regular basis. For full details go to www.thelearningcurve.ie
To arrange an interview with Padraic Hanley, Head of Drink Driver Education, please contact The Learning Curve Institute on 098 25530 or firstname.lastname@example.org