Shane Ross, T.D. | 05/04/2017 | The Irish Daily Mail |
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. It’s a basic maxim which used to be self-evident but increasingly is challenged by those who are taking free speech to ludicrous levels. Increasingly, there are people who believe that if they want something to be true – regardless of the facts –all they have to do is repeat it endlessly, to anyone and everyone who will listen. The untruth then gathers legs, through social media and then mainstream reputable until voila!
The lie becomes an established fact.
Which is why today, when I appear before the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Transport, Tourism and Sport (for pre-legislative scrutiny of the Road Traffic (Fixed Penalty – Drink Driving) Bill 2017) there are many who insist that this measure will bring our current drink driving limits down to practically zero; that the odd glass of wine with lunch will now be outlawed and anyone taking cough medicine before getting into their car will be in danger of losing their driving licence.
I’m blue in the face repeating myself here – but let me say once more for the hard of hearing that the new legislation will NOT change the current drink-driving blood-alcohol limit. Do I need to say that again? I think I do. There is NO CHANGE to current alcohol limits. Priests can still say Mass and use wine for the consecration, barmen can burp, Danny Healy-Rae can take his cough medicine and all of us can indulge in sherry trifle before getting behind the wheel of a car.
What IS being changed is the PENALTY for drivers detected drink driving with blood/alcohol concentration (BAC) of 51mg to 80mg. Back in the day when the BAC limit was reduced to 50mg the same people who are screaming that my new Bill will shut down rural Ireland, successfully lobbied the then government to exclude first time drink-driving offenders from receiving an automatic disqualification. Currently they can just pay a fine, cop three penalty points and get back into their cars. It’s hypocrisy of the highest order, a signal that we’re not really that serious about drink driving. This Bill will ensure that all those detected driving over the legal limit will receive a mandatory disqualification from driving.
Changing this anomaly won’t, of course, end the horrific increase in road traffic fatalities we’ve witnessed over the past year. It’s not a magic wand. Drink driving is not the only problem in road safety. There’s also speed, use of mobile phones, the reluctance to wear seat belts and, increasingly, driving under the influence of drugs. But alcohol is a factor in 38% of fatal crashes. For those who say these fatalities only occur when a skin-full of pints has been taken let me tell them what the facts say:
Between 2008 and 2012, 35 people were killed in crashes where drivers/motorcyclists had a recorded BAC level of between 21 and 80mg (and were deemed culpable due to alcohol being a contributory factor). This means that 7-8 people, on average, were killed per year over this period at lower alcohol levels. The culpable party was not a pedestrian or the passenger – as has been suggested by vested interest groups’ intent on muddying the statistics – but a driver with a BAC at the lower alcohol levels. There have been attempts to rubbish these statistics. So much so that the Road Safety Authority wrote to every public representative last week to put them straight.
Then one politician tried to create a link between the research behind my new Bill and the recent Garda breath-testing debacle. There is no connection between the data and research supporting this Bill and the current travails of the Gardai. This bill is not about the number of tests carried out, it’s about a change to the penalty and anyone trying to tell you any different is either too lazy to get their facts right – or have a vested interest in seeing people who drink and drive remain on the road.
I’ve been accused of damaging the social fabric of rural Ireland by insisting that this Bill will save lives. Yet eight out of ten alcohol related collisions occur in rural areas. For those who say this Bill is not needed, and that I have ‘no real grasp of the complexities of drink-driving’ I ask you? Are you sincerely saying that the 7-8 people killed annually at the lower alcohol levels are collateral damage? Are their lives worth you having that extra pint and getting away with it? I dare you to say that to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives because of drink drivers who should have been off the road.
We need to seriously change our attitude to drink driving in this country. This Bill is a necessary step in doing that and I make no apologies for it.
Shane Ross T.D.