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Drunk drivers still a menace on our roads

Editor's Viewpoint

It beggars belief that many motorists in Northern Ireland still risk their own and other people's lives by drinking and driving. In just over three weeks until last Sunday, 241 people were arrested on suspicion of driving while drunk.

Astonishingly, some were so intoxicated that they could barely stand. Others were detected as still being over the limit the morning after their drinking session.

The figures for the period were slightly up on the same time last year, which is utterly depressing.

There have been extensive road safety campaigns pointing out in the most graphic terms the consequences of driving while under the influence of drink or, indeed, drugs.

No one could have missed the warning, but obviously many choose to ignore it.

Last year drinking was the principal cause of accidents resulting in a total of 441 casualties, 72 of which were fatalities or people who were seriously injured. That is an appalling statistic for a totally preventable cause of accidents.

The families of those killed and the people who were seriously injured will bear for life the mental or physical scars of someone's decision to drink and drive. That surely should be a sobering thought.

The PSNI is the first force in the UK to be able to carry out random checks on drivers. Previously they had to suspect the driver of drinking or see him or her commit a traffic offence before they could be breathalysed.

That is a welcome development which should further reinforce the message that it is stupid to drink and drive. At the very least a motorist risks losing their licence for a period of time. At worst they could lose their life or end someone else's.

But that should not be the only deterrent.

The case of Enda Dolan, the young Queen's University student who was killed by a drunken driver in 2014, highlights the demand for tougher sentences for those who commit such crimes.

The driver of the vehicle which struck Enda was given a three and a half year jail sentence, followed by three and a half years on licence after his release. The sentence has been referred to the Court of Appeal as being unduly lenient.

Enda's father at the time described the sentence as a disgrace and urged that the maximum sentence for killing someone through dangerous driving while drunk should be increased from 14 years to 20 years. Few bereaved parents would disagree.

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