I thank the Chairman and the committee for the opportunity to come here today for a pre-legislative discussion on the road traffic (fixed penalty - drink driving) Bill 2017.
By way of background, we in the Vintners Federation of Ireland represent publicans in the 25 counties outside of Dublin. A total of 93% of our members are in family-owned and family-run premises with relatively small businesses. The most recent Revenue figures show that 52% of all publicans are in licence bracket 1, with a turnover of under €190,000 per annum - I stress that is turnover - and 78% are between brackets 1 and 2, with a turnover of less than €390,000 per annum.
The vast majority of our members live and work in the communities they serve. In many instances their customers are not alone customers but are also neighbours and friends or the sons and daughters of neighbours and friends. Our members are responsible citizens and members of the community in which they live and would not want in any way to be associated with any negative impact on their communities.
The question of fatalities on the road is a very emotive subject. Many have lost lives and many families have been affected. There is no community or sector of a community that has not been touched by a road fatality. Our members are not immune from that and many also have been affected. The issue of alcohol as a factor in road fatalities is also a very emotive subject and the federation is clearly on the record in saying that we do not condone drunk-driving and that the full rigours of the law should be visited on those who have been caught drunk-driving.
However difficult it may be, we need to try to take the emotion out of this discussion and look at it as objectively as possible on the basis of the evidence available. The primary document that is currently being used in respect of this proposal is a report from the Road Safety Authority entitled, Fatal Collisions 2008-2012, Alcohol as a Factor. It is a fairly substantial piece of work. It is our belief that a proper analysis of that report will show that there is no justification for the measures being proposed by the Minister. This report states that alcohol is a contributory factor in 38% of all deaths on the road. This headline has been bandied about by many commentators in the context of the current proposal to give the impression that by implementing this legislation, this figure will be significantly reduced. We have seen that in many articles and heard it from many commentators. We need to analyse this figure more. Of this 38%, 9% are pedestrians and can in no way be affected by the proposal, leaving 29% where alcohol is a factor, as per the report.
I enclose in my presentation table 28 from page 56 of the said report. That gives the breakdown available in the various alcohol bands where alcohol was deemed to be a factor. The first glaring figure is that in 80.4% of accidents the individuals involved were over twice the legal limit. As we have stated, in those cases the full rigours of the law should be implemented. If members look at the second line on the table, it shows that 4.6% of the 29% - not 4.6% of all the accidents - are in the 51-80 mg blood alcohol level bracket. That equates to 1.3% of the total. Of interest, and as noted by Deputy Catherine Murphy in her contribution last week, there are twice the number in the 21-50 mg blood alcohol level bracket compared with the 51-80 mg bracket. In effect, the Minister is addressing 1.3% of total road fatalities. Of course legislation that would reduce or eliminate the 1.3% would be welcome and justified if there were evidence that in those cases, alcohol was a determined cause of the accident. However, there is no such evidence in this report.
In section 4.3.7 on page 53 of the report it states:
Twenty eight (11%) of the 250 collisions cited alcohol as the sole contributory factor. An additional 3 had alcohol and a vehicle factor noted (2 with worn tyres and 1 with other).
There is no evidence provided in the report to show if any of the 11%, where it says alcohol was the sole factor, were in the 51-80 mg category or indeed which category they fall into. Looking at the level that were two and four times over the limit, it would be a fair assumption that they fall into the higher bracket.
Further on in that same page the report states, "In 301 of the 330 alcohol related collisions, other behavioural contributory factors in combination with alcohol include speed, drugs, dark clothing, dangerous behaviour, fatigue and distraction." Again, there is no evidence that alcohol was a factor, other than a presence. The report does not say which of the other factors were relevant or to what level any of them contributed to the said accidents. What we have in the report, based on forensic analysis, is evidence of a presence of alcohol but no evidence that alcohol is the cause. I put it to members that those are two very different things. It is also important to note the level of evidence regarding culpability. The report under section 1.3 on page 14 states:
Where culpability is cited this is not judicial culpability. This report is focused on the pre-crash behaviour of the parties involved in the collision and not the result of a prosecution.
The underlining of the words "not judicial" is in the report and is not mine and highlights that the authors of the report were at pains to point out that factor.
What we are looking at here is opinion based rather than judicial based. In essence, on the basis of the above, there is no evidence to support the step being proposed by the Minister and we do not believe it will contribute to saving one life.
Before the committee last week, the Minister referred to an increase in fatalities on the road between 2012 and 2016 and said, "We need to look into why this is the case". We do not believe too much searching is required. Since 2012, there has been a major increase in commercial activity and there has been a significant increase in employment leading to much higher volumes of traffic on the roads. Anyone who travels regularly, like members, can confirm this. At the same time, there has been a corresponding significant reduction in Garda presence in the Garda traffic corps. It is not rocket science when those two factors are put together to work out why there is an increased number of road accidents and the Minister should not need to look into why this is the case.
The Minister accused the federation at last week's meeting of being cynical in our opposition to this legislation. We reject that accusation totally. We have put our case in a reasoned and logical way to anybody we have spoken to based solely on the report that the Minister has been relying on and we have adhered to the figures in that report at all times. We are certainly not prepared to take a lecture on cynicism from a Minister who comes into this committee and makes a virtue of doing something he says will save lives, which we dispute, while at the same time opposing a public health (alcohol) Bill), which all medical commentators can confirm will save lives, because as he says, "of the effect it will have on retailers. It could well put some of them out of business". That is cynicism in the extreme. The Minister may have more friends in the retail trade than in the pub trade, but that might be cynical of me and, therefore, I will not suggest it.
In any situation the penalty must fit the breach of law. There is a graduated penalty system in place that fits the breach of law and this is true in almost all areas. It is true not only in Ireland but across the European Union. The Minister appears to accept a graduated penalty system is appropriate, as what he is proposing is part of such a system. The graduated system in place is appropriate.
A holistic approach to all the causes of fatalities on the road needs to be put in place. It needs to cover all the aspects covered by the Road Safety Authority, RSA, including speeding, the use of phones, drugs, alcohol, etc. In addition, having legislation without enforcement is futile. The Minister said he has been breathalysed twice in recent times. I travel between 25,000 and 30,000 miles a year in my job. I have done so for 40 years, which is the guts of 1 million miles. I have never been breathalysed. Over the past five years, I have travelled approximately 100,000 miles and I have been stopped twice. There needs to be proper enforcement.
A forensic analysis of the RSA report does not support the proposal put forward by the Minister. We believe that the current provisions are adequate and appropriate and should not be changed.