Belfast Telegraph

Roads campaigner's shock over reduced bans for drink drive offenders

A road safety campaigner says he is
A road safety campaigner says he is "shocked" that over 550 people had their road bans reduced last year.
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

A road safety campaigner says he is "shocked" that over 550 people had their road bans reduced last year.

The minimum punishment for driving under the influence of alcohol in Northern Ireland is usually a 12-month driving ban.

However, that can be reduced by 25% if those convicted take part in a voluntary drink drive course.

During 2018 there were 2,305 convictions for drink drive offences here.

In the same period, 1,036 offenders were referred to the course - a referral rate of approximately 45%.

The figures, which were obtained by the BBC, revealed that almost 75% of those who took the course were male.

The 558 people who completed the course represented a decrease of 12% on the previous year.

The 16-hour course is managed by the Department for Infrastructure and costs £155 to take part.

Of those who completed the course in 2018, 97 were aged 17 to 24, 436 were aged 25 to 64 and 25 others were over the age of 65.

Enda Dolan, a first-year architecture student at Queen's University Belfast, was killed by drink driver David Stewart.

His father Peter has continually campaigned for tougher sentences for those who cause death by dangerous driving since his son's death in 2014.

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The number of drink/drug related offences by policing district in Northern Ireland

Reacting to the figures, Mr Dolan said he believes the number of people doing the course is due to the "basic concept that we don't have a major deterrent in relation to drink driving in this country".

He added: "That goes back to the disgusting sentences that have been handed to people who have been convicted for death by dangerous driving. That's what it's all down to.

"I have been campaigning about a change in the law over this past number of years now and I'm still trying to get the message out there that the law needs to be changed.

"Fourteen years for being convicted of death by dangerous driving isn't sufficient in this world that we're living in at the minute.

"The maximum sentence in Northern Ireland, 14 years, has never been used."

According to research by the Department of Justice, those who completed the course were less likely to reoffend than those who did not attend.

Offenders who had completed a course were up to 3.5 times less likely to drink drive in the year after it than those who had not done the course.

The course aims to prevent drink drivers from reoffending by showing them the effects of alcohol on driving and the legal alcohol limits for drivers.

They are also educated on how they can still be over the limit and/or affected by alcohol the morning after drinking.

Offenders are informed about the effects of alcohol on their body, alcohol-related illnesses and sensible drinking.

There is also discussion around alternatives to drink driving and ways to avoid reoffending, and the loss suffered by relatives of victims of drink drivers.

A similar scheme exists in Britain.

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