The Government road safety strategy 1998 – 2002 states that international research demonstrates that alcohol is an important factor in up to 40% of road accidents. It is conservatively estimated that in Ireland alcohol is the primary cause of 25% of all road accidents and 33% of fatal accidents.
Drink driving continues to present a major challenge. The number of detections remains consistently high and the results of the testing systems reveal that the depth of the problem is not diminishing. Some 12,864 detections for this offence were made by the Garda Síochána in 2001. This represents an increase of 58% on the position in 1998. Some 91% of blood and urine specimens and 82% of breath specimens analysed in 2001 by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety were above the alcohol limit for driving. Some 58% of blood and urine results and 32% of breath results more than twice exceeded the limit.
Evidential breath testing, EBT, which was introduced in 1999 and involves the determination of alcohol concentration in expired breath, was operational in 40 Garda stations by the end of 2001 and is being extended to more stations across the country during 2002. It is intended to bring the total in operation to at least 60 by the end of this year.
In a move to further strengthen and support the detection and enforcement of the drink driving laws, the Road Traffic Act, 2002, extends the grounds on which a member of the Garda Síochána may require a driver to provide a preliminary breath specimen to include situations where a driver is involved in a road accident or where the garda considers that a road traffic offence has been committed. This is in addition to the current grounds where the garda has formed an opinion that a driver has consumed alcohol. Breath testing on the basis provided for in the Act will ensure that we can use the resources available to us in an effective and targeted manner. Breath testing is carried out in a similar basis in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.