Lower drink-driving limits come into effect from midnight, reducing the maximum blood-alcohol level to 20mg per 100ml of blood in some cases.
The changes, which bring Irish law into line with European levels, will see the current limit of 80mg drop to 50mg for most drivers.
Under the regime, professional drivers, learner drivers and those who are newly qualified will be subject to a lower 20mg limit, as will other categories such as those driving tractors or cars with trailers.
A penalty system is also being introduced to deal with offences detected under the limits.
Previously all drink-driving offences were dealt with in the courts and an automatic disqualification applied to convictions.
Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar yesterday joined the Road Safety Authority and An Garda Síochána to raise awareness of the limits, ahead of a Garda safety campaign for the bank holiday weekend.
Mr Varadkar said the measures sent out a very clear signal that drinking and driving “cannot be tolerated and will be prosecuted”.
The Minister said similar measures in Queensland, Australia, saw an 18 per cent reduction in fatal collisions and 14 per cent in serious-injury collisions.
“Sweden saw a reduction of 9.7 per cent in fatal crashes and an 11 per cent decrease in single-vehicle collisions.”
Mr Varadkar denied the system was more lenient than one in which those found to have been driving over the limit automatically ended up in court.
“It’s a system of graduated penalties. If somebody is between 50mg and 80mg, they will get penalty points. If they’re above 80mg, they will get banned from driving.
“So in many ways it’s actually stricter. I think it’s important that people don’t mistake this for being a soft touch – it’s not.”
He said the system delivered a “zero tolerance policy” on drink-driving for learner drivers and those who drove professionally.
The Minister said enforcement was the key and the Government fully understood that An Garda Síochána was under pressure and already over budget this year.
Garda Chief Supt Aidan Reid said the force was ready to enforce the drink-driving limits from the time they come into effect at midnight.
He said the changes would have a “significant impact” on all drivers.
Chief Supt Reid said the system of penalties took account of first-time offenders, but that overall the effect would involve a court appearance for anyone subsequently caught drink-driving.
He also reminded drivers that it was a legal requirement to carry a valid driving licence when driving. “If a driver cannot produce his or her driving licence when required to undergo a preliminary breath test, the lower limit of 20 mg will apply to that driver, until such time as the driver produces a valid driving licence.” Asked what the lower alcohol levels meant in terms of the quantity of alcohol a person could safely consume, he said the only advice was never to drink and drive.
AA director of policy Conor Faughnan welcomed the graduated penalty system and said 80 per cent of motorists surveyed by the organisation were in favour.
DRINK-DRIVING: LIMITS, PENALTY POINTS AND FINES
THE REDUCTION in the alcohol limit can be implemented following the enactment of the Road Traffic No 2 Act 2011. Fixed-charge penalties under the system will apply as follows:
* For a blood-alcohol level of 50mg-80mg, the driver will be arrested, brought to a Garda station and required to provide breath or blood or urine specimens.
* In all cases where the level is between 50mg and 80mg and the driver is not a “specified” person (eg, a learner or a professional driver) and has not had a fixed penalty for drink-driving in the previous three years, a fine of €200 and three penalty points will apply.
* Points will remain on the driving licence record for a period of three years.
* Any driver accumulating 12 points in three years will be disqualified from driving for six months.
* For a blood-alcohol level of 80mg-100mg, the arrested driver will be required to provide breath, urine or blood samples after arrest. The applicable fine will be €400 and the person will be disqualified for six months.
* For a blood-alcohol level of 20mg-80mg, the arrested driver will be required to provide breath, urine or blood samples. The applicable fine (provided the person has not received a fixed penalty in the previous three years under the scheme) will be €200 and the person will be disqualified for three months.
* District Court penalties will apply where the blood-alcohol level is above 100mg or above 80mg for those classed as “specified” persons, where the person is not eligible to be served with a fixed penalty notice or where a fixed penalty has not been paid.
* A sliding scale also applies to convictions with a consequent driving ban of between six months and six years, depending on the blood-alcohol limit applying to the driver concerned.
* The maximum fine remains at €5,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment.
(The Irish Times, 27th October 2011)