Belfast Telegraph

Get tough on drink drivers, says bereaved dad as fatalities soar in Northern Ireland

By Victoria Leonard

A grieving father whose son was killed by a drunk driver has repeated his call for tougher sentencing, after it emerged that drink and drugs were the principal factor in a quarter of fatal collisions here last year.

A newly-released PSNI report on drink and drug driving in Northern Ireland shows the number of fatal collisions involving the substances reached a five-year high in 2016.

Last year's peak of 16 deaths involving drink or drugs was over twice that seen in 2015, when seven people died.

Between 2012 and 2016, 54 collisions in which drink or drugs were the principal factor resulted in people being killed, while 208 resulted in serious injury.

Peter Dolan's 18-year-old son Enda was in his first term at Queen's University when he was struck by a van driven by David Stewart in October 2014.

Stewart, who had taken drugs and up to 13 drinks before getting behind the wheel, is serving four-and-a-half years behind bars and will subsequently face the same period on licence.

Mr Dolan told the Belfast Telegraph that current sentences do not deter drunk drivers, nor do they reflect the devastation suffered by the victims' families.

"Stewart originally got seven years but his sentence was increased to nine years after we appealed," he said. "That means he will be out of jail in four-and-a-half years for taking the life of my eldest child.

"The impact that Enda's death has had on our family has been unreal, and we are facing another Christmas without him at the table. His sister and brothers are devastated.

"He would have been 21 now and every day I wonder what he would have been doing if Stewart had made a different decision. It's just a nightmare, a traumatic experience. Enda was an architecture student at Queen's and I have an architectural practice, and I often wonder where he would be in his career."

Mr Dolan called on judges to implement stiffer sentences for drink driving, and said he would like to see the maximum tariff for causing death by dangerous driving increased to 20 years.

"The situation isn't going to get any better until there is a major deterrent," he continued.

"I am disappointed that people are continuing to drink and drive despite all the warnings.

"We need the support of MLAs - before Stormont collapsed Justice Minister Claire Sugden was undertaking a review of sentencing guidelines. Until that happens there will be more devastated families standing outside our courthouses.

"I'd like to sit down with the Lord Chief Justice and tell him about the impact on our family."

Between 2012 and 2016, 13,772 people were referred for prosecution by police for drink or drug driving.

Last year, males accounted for over four fifths of people referred for prosecution for a drink or drug driving offence.

The PSNI has now launched its annual Christmas crackdown on drink driving, featuring random breath tests at vehicle checkpoints.

As part of last year's winter drink drive operation, officers carried out over 12,600 preliminary breath tests at the roadside.

Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray said: "Our message is very simple; Never EVER drink and drive."

"Just one drink can impair your decision making. Just one drink can cause a collision. Just one drink could kill.

"We are determined to catch those people who take life-threatening, unacceptable, and simply stupid risks.

"Do not take the risk. The consequence of taking just one drink can be catastrophic."

"I do not want police officers knocking on doors at any time of the year, but especially over Christmas and the New Year, to tell families that a loved one has been killed on the roads."

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