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New proposals to lower drink driving levels

Policy changes ‘priority’ in 2009

By Noel McAdam

Proposals to drastically reduce drivers drinking limits in Northern Ireland are to be unveiled in the near future, it was confirmed today.

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has decided to make the issue of drink driving a policy priority for the New Year — particularly in relation to young people.

But he has ruled out measures linked to graduated licensing — allowing new drivers to build up their driving skills and experience gradually — including night-time curfews and passenger restrictions.

The DUP Executive Minister said they would be a “disproportionate response” to the issue of young people who drive.

He is, however, considering lowering permitted alcohol levels for most drivers from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg.

And the consultations expected shortly will also include plans for an even lower limit of 20mg for learner and novice drivers and professional drivers. Responses to a new UK-wide initiative, called Learning to Drive, are being considered by the DoE and will feed into new consultations which are also likely to include the following:

  • change or abolish the 45 mph limit for L and R drivers,
  • improve driving tests, and
  • more choice of instructors.

A key problem identified in the report is that too many newly-qualified drivers are having too many accidents. It says across the country, around 750,000 people qualify for a full car driving license ever year, and three-quarters of the total are under 25.

One in five of those then go on to have an accident within six months of qualifying, which the report says is “unacceptable”.

“Too many casualty accidents involve young drivers and — unlike the overall figures — the numbers have gone up in recent years,” it adds.

The present system needs an overhaul, according to the report, because newly-qualified drivers are overconfident, overestimate their own ability while the driving instruction process and test are inefficient and too narrowly focussed. Mr Wilson said he has decided to prioritise the issue of drink driving, which is relevant to all drivers, including learners and novices. A public consultation on new lower drink driving limits is expected shortly.

“The evidence shows that alcohol has a greater impact on young drivers. In addition, it is often not clear how much alcohol there is in a drink. The alcohol content of many drinks has increased and in some cases drinks are served in bigger glasses.

“At 20mg, even one drink would put most people over the limit. My proposals would prevent them from having to decide how much to drink. The only choice they would have would be whether to drink or drive — they could not do both,” the East Antrim MP said.

His comments came after more than 100 deaths on the roads in Northern Ireland over the last year, a breakdown which includes 22 passengers, 19 pedestrians and 41 drivers.

“The drink driving culture has changed — but not enough,” the Minister said last month.

“Over the past five years, around 20% of all road deaths and serious injuries have been linked to alcohol or drugs, mainly alcohol.

“That works out at an average of about 25 deaths and 120 serious injuries every year. That is not on, and I intend to do something about it.”

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