Ireland’s DUI rate among highest in Europe, new study shows

New motoring laws being introduced next month will give a break to first offense drunk drivers who are just over a new reduced alcohol limit.

Instead of being banned from driving for a year they will receive penalty points on their licenses and a €220 on-the-spot fine.

Also, instead of the current one-year ban for the lower end of the existing slightly higher limit, drivers will be put off the roads for only six months.

Safe-driving campaigners have criticized what they view as a more lenient regulation, but the Road Safety Authority (RSA) has claimed that the new drunk driving regime sends out the wrong message.

Under the planned new three-tier drunk driving regime there will be a controversial “second chance” for those who are just over the limit.

The new breath test limit of 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood -- down from the current 80 milligrams -- is the equivalent of drinking less than one pint of beer.

The lower punishment regime is designed to avoid an outcry should thousands of drivers get caught under the lower limit.

The reduced sanctions are also aimed at stopping the courts system being clogged up and cutting the huge cost and time spent bringing drivers to court.

Under the current system, all drunk drivers are prosecuted in court, and banned for a minimum 12 months if convicted.

The change to a more lenient court-free system for drink drivers comes at a time when the Road Safety Authority (RSA) warns that any amount of alcohol increases the risk of a fatal car crash.

The government has insisted that the new penalties are “proportionate to the new lower drink-driving limit.”

A spokesman for Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said the moves are an attempt to “ensure that the new regime is not unduly punitive.”

The new system will be reviewed in 18 months to see if it is working properly to reduce the incidence of drink driving.

RSA chief executive Noel Brett rejected claims that allowing some drunk drivers to escape a motoring ban was sending out the wrong message and encouraging people to take a chance.

“We believe that these are proportionate penalties, fairly targeted and we are comfortable with them,” he said.

The number of motorists being prosecuted for drunk driving is steadily falling. In 2008, 28,000 motorists were prosecuted. That fell to 21,153 cases last year.

Changes in driver behavior have also resulted in a dramatic fall in the numbers being killed on the roads. Last year, 211 died, the lowest on record. This compares with 376 fatalities in 2002.

Susan Grey of safety campaigners PARC, an organization based in Co. Donegal where eight people died in a single road accident last year, said, “It’s sad to see that for the first time ever we will have a situation where a driver caught with drink will not get an automatic ban.”