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Time to re-examine drink-drive penalties

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 21/11/2016

The latest figures about the number of people convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs are alarming, especially as we approach the festive season
The latest figures about the number of people convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs are alarming, especially as we approach the festive season

The latest figures about the number of people convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs are alarming, especially as we approach the festive season.

Last year more than 2,000 drivers were convicted, an increase of almost 40% in two years. In 2015, a total of 2187 drivers were convicted, which amounts to some 40 a week on average.

The media campaigns make horribly clear the risks and consequences associated with such behaviour. Lives are destroyed and lost, and families are left devastated.

The results are traumatic, and there is now a sense of shame associated with those who are convicted.

This is a long way from the days when people who were found guilty were regarded as unlucky, or suffering the misfortune of the rogue who breaks the rules.

Neverthless, the figures continue to rise. This may be partly because there is a regular PSNI "blitz" against drink and driving, but whatever the cause, the message is simply not getting through, or more specifically which part of the message is falling on deaf ears?

The SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan suggests that a new look at the penalties for drink driving might be a deterrent.

People will certainly ask why the drunk driver who killed the student Enda Dolan was jailed for only three and a half years, though judges are bound by sentencing guidelines, and they also take into account both mitigating and aggravating factors.

It is no surprise, however, that Enda's parents have met the Justice Minister to lobby for the minimum jail term for people convicted of death by dangerous driving to be raised from 14 to 20 years.

The anti drink and driving advertisements in the media are powerful and they hit home the message of the awfulness of drink driving. However, it is worrying that given the increase in the social awareness and stigma involved, the figures keep rising.

It is difficult to understand how anyone who has drink taken can drive a vehicle and take the risk of being over the limit, with all that this implies.

It is indisputable that more effective measures need to be taken, and the vast majority of people might indeed welcome a campaign for lengthier sentences.

It is also imperative on everyone to behave responsibly on the roads, not only at Christmas, but all the year round.

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