Set alcohol limit has failed to discourage drink driving

Editorial Comment

The increase in arrests of people suspected of drinking and driving over the Christmas period has again sparked the argument over our relationship with alcohol and road safety. The 2016 Christmas campaign by Gardaí to stamp out drink driving finished up with a 34 percent increase in motorists arrested (738) - up from 549 arrests for the same period last year.

The simple fact of the matter is, people either don't get the message or simply don't care about the consequences of flouting this message.

The figures have quite rightly produced an outcry from individuals affected by the menace of drinking and driving and, in some cases, revives memories of loved ones, relatives or friends lost as a direct result of drink driving.

Alcohol is estimated to be a contributory factor in a third of all collisions on our roads, according to The Road Safety Authority who also point out that a quarter of fatal crashes are attributed to a driver having consumed alcohol. Moreover, provisional figures for road fatalities in 2016 stand at 187 - an increase of 15 percent on 2015's 162 road deaths.

It makes for worrying reading and action is needed now. A rise in traffic corps numbers is one option and should be pursued regardless of drink driving limits.

But we know that alcohol impairs our ability to function fully, yet still we tinker around the edges of what's acceptable.

Today we have a 50mg limit which is the equivalent of a pint of beer or a large glass of wine. Minister Shane Ross aims to reduce the limit to 20mg but this will hardly instil more caution, for if a 50mg limit is widely disregarded under the prevailing attitudes of some drivers, then 20mg simply doesn't stand a chance of being properly adhered to.

Perhaps it's time to introduce zero tolerance? Such legislation would eliminate the 'confusion' that currently surrounds what is permissible and what is not. In short: if you are driving, it's illegal to drink.

This is a situation that has not, as yet, received the recognition it deserves, as pubs in rural Ireland are now much more active in deterring situations where drink driving is likely to occur - with many publicans offering alternative transport.

Driving while under the influence just does not stack up and the more we, as a society, continue to tolerate the 'just one' attitude to drinking and driving, the problem will fester. Added to the dilemma is the fact that fewer Gardaí now form part of the Garda Traffic Corps - which has reduced by over half in recent years with just 681 Gardaí now covering the entire country - and it makes a bad situation even worse.

Stop wasting time resuscitating a message that panders to the opinion that driving under the influence of 50mg of alcohol is acceptable. It hasn't made us more responsible and is unlikely to do so at this late stage. Driving under the influence of alcohol - however small the limit - is dangerous and leads to uncertainty.

It's time we all sobered up to this.

Wexford People