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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 21 Jun 1978

Vol. 89 No. 10

Road Traffic (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 1978: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Bill is primarily concerned with the offence of driving or being in charge of a vehicle while having a concentration of alcohol in the blood or urine, in excess of a prescribed limit. This law, which is commonly known as the "breathalyser" law, was first enacted by the Oireachtas in 1968, following a report by a commission established to examine the issue of driving while under the influence of drink or a drug. The 1968 Act has itself been amended on one occasion since then; its operation has more than once been suspended; procedures have been revised from time to time; regulations have been made and amended to meet changing circumstances and to deal with problems which emerged in specific court decisions. Nevertheless the Director of Public Prosecutions found it necessary some months ago once more to suspend the taking of proceedings under the existing legislation.

I am asking the House to consider urgently the proposals in the present Bill, which are designed to provide a substantial deterrent to those who feel they can continue to avoid the consequences of the criminal action of driving while their capabilities are impaired by drink or by drugs, and which will establish a clear framework within which those who wilfully break the law can be brought before the courts and punished appropriately.

I believe it would be of advantage to the House, and to the public, if I outlined more fully the background to the present situation.

Because "drunk driving" is a criminal offence, the Constitution requires that it can only be dealt with by the courts. It was a central theme of the 1968 breathalyser law, in order that the new principle would be acceptable to the people generally, that the protection afforded to the individual charged under it should be spelt out in the greatest detail possible. The Act and the regulations made under the Act, accordingly prescribed in great detail the procedures to be followed by the Garda, by medical officers called in to take blood or urine specimens, and by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety who carry out analysis of specimens of blood and of urine sent to them by the Garda. Even the equipment to be used—syringes, bottles, seals and so on—were subject to statutory regulation.

It is evident that court procedures as a consequence of these precautions have tended to centre on proof that the prescribed procedures and other matters were observed in every minute detail. The proofs sought in court included proof that the examining doctor was a registered medical practitioner; that the syringe used was actually supplied by the medical bureau; that the prescribed wording of the caution by the garda had been read to and understood by the defendant; that printed forms and certificates used in the course of a prosecution cited precisely the references to statutory matters and that the required procedures within the medical bureau were minutely observed.

The effects of what I have just briefly described were that an accused person found it possible to secure dismissal of prosecution often on a technicality, however trivial or almost frivolous, despite the availability to the courts of a certificate by the director of the medical bureau that the blood-alcohol level of the accused exceeded, and in many cases substantially exceeded, the prescribed limit. It could be inferred indeed, that the special protection afforded by the law to accused persons turned out to be a well-nigh unbreakable wall of total immunity from conviction.

During 1977, the incidence of dismissals of prosecutions and the apparent inequality of treatment of such cases by the courts became such that the Director of Public Prosecutions decided in October 1977 that no further proceedings under the existing breathalyser system would be initiated pending a review of the statutory position. That review has been carried out and the proposals now before the Seanad seek to amend the law accordingly. Review of the law has involved constitutional issues as well as examination of a great variety of court decisions on a multiplicity of points. In reviewing these matters it has been our endeavour to preserve appropriate safeguards for the individual consistent with the protection of the community as a whole.

The figures of road accidents and of road deaths continue to be of unacceptable, indeed frightening, proportion. The number of deaths had shown a very gradual decrease for some years, but now the trend is again upward. A high proportion of accidents involve drivers who have consumed an excess of alcohol. It is recognised that there are many reasons why accidents occur—speed, road and weather conditions, fatigue, mechanical failure, and so on. But we are concerned here with the type of case where a driver is not capable of exercising normal control for the reason that he is, be his own action, under the influence of alcohol, or a drug, or both alcohol and drugs, and that he therefore chooses to disregard the safety of other road users and of their dependent wives, husbands and children. I have no doubt that the public expect the Legislature to take strong action to curb this abuse; to produce an effective deterrent which will show that these actions cannot be tolerated or be pursued with impunity; and, where the law has found such persons guilty of an offence, to put them off the road.

Under the 1968 Act, the limit of blood-alcohol concentration, known as BAC, was set at 125 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. This limit is high by European standards and it is proposed to reduce it to a new limit of 100 milligrammes of alcohol to 100 millilitres of blood. In association with this change, it will also be an offence to drive or be in charge of a vehicle while exceeding an equivalent concentration of alcohol in the urine—the limit in this case will be 135 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine. Urine testing will be available too where drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol are in question.

We can all agree that a defendant must have the right to challenge evidence given to support any prosecution. But the law in its generosity to the individual should not be such, as has happened too frequently, that the courts quite often never came to consideration of evidence of the offence itself, but concentrated on such aspects as proof that procedures were observed in accordance with a formula of words spelt out in forms and other documents. This Bill seeks, in simple terms, to leave to the courts the function of adjudicating on evidence presented.

A major principle of the Bill is accordingly to remove from the law a number of requirements which oblige the Minister to prescribe details of matters which are not of evidential value. These include details of the procedures followed within the medical bureau. We must be mature enough to accept that eminently qualified medical personnel in the bureau carry out and certify blood or urine analysis at least as conscientiously as any qualified analyst elsewhere whose findings we can accept for the gravest of personal reasons without making an issue of their procedures or their qualifications. But in eliminating these details from the statute book, we must protect the right of the person charged to produce evidence, if he finds it possible to do so, in his own defence. To achieve this, the Bill provides that when a person gives a blood or urine specimen, he will be handed a sealed portion of that specimen, which he may have analysed independently. It will be open to him to present an independent analysis in court should he find this appropriate, and it will be for the court to decide the case on the evidence presented to it. This process will remove from the court proceedings consideration of many of the procedural matters formerly prescribed by statute, on which defences have relied in the past.

The commission on drunk-driving visualised the establishment of blood alcohol content by means of breath analysis. Breath analysis is not to be confused with the screening test, that is blowing into a tube or bag, by which the presence, but not the level, of blood alcohol can be indicated. The screening test if positive is, under existing law, followed by arrest and the subject is brought to the Garda station. That procedure is not affected by the Bill. The existing law enables the gardaí at the station to require a subject to undergo breath analysis or to give a blood specimen. Breath analysis has not so far been so used here.

Scientific developments since 1968 have produced different types of apparatus which are capable of measuring blood-alcohol concentration by breath analysis. This method has, indeed, been in use in Northern Ireland for some years. The apparatus can be used at the roadside or at a fixed point such as a police station. Examples of apparatus of this type are at present being tested in England. They are capable of giving both visual and print-out evidence of blood alcohol content. While no change in our law is necessary to enable such apparatus to be used at a garda station, the present law does not enable the Garda to use breath analysis at the roadside. The Bill would make provision for this contingency.

The mandatory disqualification from driving of a person convicted of excess alcohol concentration in his blood or urine will be retained and will apply to offences under this Bill, as will be the power of the courts to impose penalties or fines and/or imprisonment. The maximum fine is being increased to £500. The other amendments proposed do not affect the principles on which the present law is based.

Subject to enactment of the Bill, therefore, the following processes will apply to the offence of driving or being in charge of a vehicle while having an excess concentration of alcohol in the blood or urine, or being under the influence of a drug of a combination of drugs and alcohol:

(1) The existing roadside screening test will continue. This will normally be the first step taken by a garda.

(2) A person suspected of an offence may be arrested without warrant and brought to a Garda station for breath analysis or blood test.

(3) A person who is required to give a blood specimen may opt to give a urine specimen instead. Where a urine specimen is given, a concentration of alcohol in excess of 135 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine will indicate that an offence had been committed. This relates to the concentration of 100 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

(4) Breath analysis may be used by the gardaí at the roadside, as well as at a Garda station, which they are already entitled to do.

(5) Where drugs are suspected, or a combination of drugs and alcohol, a urine specimen may be required for testing.

(6) A person giving a blood or urine specimen will be obliged to comply with the requirements of the designated medical practitioner in attendance.

(7) When a doctor takes a blood or urine specimen, he will seal it in two portions one of which will be given to the subject, who may arrange for its independent analysis if he so wishes; the other portion will be sent to the medical bureau for analysis as to the concentration of alcohol in the blood or urine, the result of which will be communicated to the subject and to the Garda. The doctor will complete a certified statement as at present, authenticating the specimen as to the person, the time and place where it was taken, and so on.

(8) When the medical bureau have carried out their analysis in accordance with normal professional practice to establish blood or urine alcohol concentration, they will issue a certificate of their findings in a prescribed form. The Bill provides that the certificate of the bureau, which will be admissible in evidence, will be proof of compliance with statutory requirements.

(9) It will be an offence for a person not to comply with the instructions of a garda in relation to screening or testing procedures.

(10) The penalties on conviction will, as at present, include disqualification from driving and, at the discreation of the court, a fine up to £500 and/or imprisonment.

I earnestly hope that the House will give this Bill the urgent attention which is warranted in present circumstances.

A half-hearted attempt to deal with one of the most conspicuous evils in the country was how The Irish Times leader described this measure yesterday morning and, while acknowledging the very serious difficulties involved in drafting legislation like this, I must agree with the sentiment that was expressed. Certainly there is in Ireland an unacceptable tolerance to excessive drinking, worse still to excessive drinking combined with driving. I suppose it is fair to say that the drinking habits of the Irish people are reowned the world over. It is a reputation that we have for an unquenchable thirst and a gargantuan capacity for alcoholic beverage of any sort. The reputation I think is unfair and on examination of the alcoholic consumption per capita of the Irish people with other nations we lose that reputation and, far from being thought of as well in front, we come out perhaps very average in the field.

I think that the problem in Ireland is not the amount we drink as much as where we drink. The tradition in Ireland has always been to drink outside the home, to drink in the local pub, and it is very much part of Irish life that the average man goes to his local.

The average man.

Yes, indeed, the average man, which causes problems of its own. There is absolutely no harm in the average man going to his public house and having his few pints every night of the week. There are these average men who suffer from insecurities or inadequacies of one sort or another and use the publichouse, if you like, to lift themselves or to bring themselves away from the realities of life and that is when problems present themselves not only to those men but to their families as well.

I think that the crux of this whole matter is that as we have developed economically and socially over the past ten or 20 years we have increased prosperity, and we have more money to spend on drink. We have a tradition of drinking out all the time and now that we have cars to drive to pubs we have gone away a little bit from walking down to the local. We tend now to drive to our publichouses. In Dublin we go to the places that are fashionable, perhaps, where the "jet set" meet if you are young, or where it is fashionable to have a meal and drink after wards if you are of that standing and can afford to do that type of thing. That is the system we have developed.

In rural Ireland we have seen the extraordinary growth of enormous country publichouses cum lounges that provide musical entertainment. Far from people drinking in towns in the country they tend to go out to smaller villages or, indeed, to crossroad publichouses that have enormus lounges and car parks. It is frightening to pass by one of these places at the weekend particularly when you see car parks choc-a-bloc full with cars and the publichouse jammed with people drinking and listening to the music. I am not suggesting that all the people who drink in places like that drive in a drunken condition but the fact is that we have accepted this as part of our life style and our social living. It is something which has caused immense hardship to people through the carnage and destruction that occurs afterwards and great hardship in terms of loss of human life to the country generally.

There are two ways in which we can deal with a problem like this. One is the provision that we have before us to deal with the problem head on and to say we are going to prosecute and to convict somebody and impose a hard sanction on him so that it will be a deterrent to others. There is another and far more fundamental way of dealing with the problem and that is to educate people so that they will not have the tolerance they have now towards excessive drinking and driving. That is an area in which we have fallen down.

The 1968 Act was declared inoperable eight or nine months ago. We could have had a debate in both Houses on how we might educate people towards a healthier attitude, particularly younger people, and we have failed in this respect. Younger people are participating in a type of activity that their fathers before them engaged in, in drinking and driving as part of their ordinary social evenings out. It think that is something that has been overlooked. I say that in passing. It is something that we can deal with, and it is something that I would ask the Minister to give some consideration to. Having considered this matter now, I propose to put down a motion on the Order Paper in the hope the time may be given to it, to discuss the question of educating younger people towards healthier attitudes and educating everybody towards the proper attitude we should have towards this social evil of drinking and driving.

However, the measure we are concerned with now is dealing with the problem as I say head on. The first attempt that was made in this respect was in 1968 when the existing legislation was passed. The Act provided for the introduction of breathalyser/blood sampling and it provided for an acceptable level, if that is the correct expression to use, of 125 milligrammes of alcohol to 100 millilitres of blood. It provided for an extremely complicated procedure and, as the Minister has very rightly said, one is caught between two stools in a measure like this. Where does the right of the individual cease in the protection of his rights and the common interest or the public interest start? It is an extremely difficult and vexed question. Probably rightly so, although in hindsight it was not a very effective measure, in the first measure the country had, it provided for immense rights for the individual and a tremendous onus of proof on the State where somebody was to be convicted of such an offence. While one must acknowledge the seriousness of the problem, one cannot forget that people can be convicted sometimes unjustly and one has to bear that in mind and one has as far as possible to protect the right of the individual.

The 1973 amending Act was caused by the fact that the road safety bureau was considered by the courts to be the judicial decision-making body rather than the courts. We have always to be conscious of the necessity to be fair and just to the individual but in an area like this where we have had such problems and the carnage and deaths that have occurred on our roads, so far as we can, consistent with the right of the individual, we have to lean towards putting the State in the strongest possible position.

I am not going to go through it in detail but it is worth the Members' while to look through the regulations that were made under 1968 Act. There was provision for a caution to be given to a defendant once he was brought into the Garda Station and arrested and that caution literally runs in small print to over two pages in the regulations. It advises him of every conceivable right he would have and brings him through the Road Traffic Act. How anybody, presumably in an inebriated state, could follow, understand or appreciate what was being said to him is quite beyond me but that was the law and that was what was done. It was regarded as proper that somebody should be advised fully of his rights.

In practice, I have come across the rigour with which the prosecution had to handle their case. Having cautioned somebody the regulations went on to indicate the procedure to be adopted by the Garda and the doctor in obtaining the blood sample, putting it away and all the rest of it. Regulation 8 provides for the taking of a specimen of blood and it goes on:

The member of the Garda Siochána shall, in the presence of the arrested person, hand to the medical practitioner a closed envelope supplied by the Bureau under paragraph (a) of sub-article (1) of article 5. (3) the medical practitioner shall, in the presence of the arrested person and the member of the Garda Siochána—

(a) open the envelope and verify that the same identification mark is on the label affixed to the blood specimen tube and on the copies of the form of certificate to be completed by him under subsection (1) of section 43 of the Act,

(b) take from the arrested person by means of an unused disposable syringe supplied by the Bureau under Article 5 a specimen of venous blood which shall, as far as is practicable, amount to, five millilitres,

(c) ensure that alcohol is not introduced into the specimen,

(d) eject the blood from the syringe into the blood specimen tube contained in the container and then stop the tube with the stopper provided,

(e) mix the preservative and anticoagulant throughly with the blood by repeated inversion of the stopper tube,

(f) complete and sign the form of certificate and place a copy of the certificate...

It goes on and on including advice on how to close the envelope.

The gardaí and the prosecution generally were faced with a difficulty when they presented their case in court. They went in in the initial stages and they presented their case in a properly reasonable fashion and solicitors or barristers then picked up this regulation and went throught it word for word. Where the State, for example, had omitted to prove that the doctor who came to the station was a registered medical practitioner it was presumed in court, of course, that he was a doctor—the prosecution fell. Where they failed to show that the container was sealed in the presence of the defendant, the garda and the doctor, the prosecution fell. The thing was riddled with loopholes from start to finish. This led to the Act getting very sick and ultimately reaching its death and being buried in October last year.

The difficulty that we are faced with in this area is providing some law that is effective as far as the State is concerned and in so far as possible is fair to the individual. When the Act was declared inoperable the Minister undertook to investigate immediately, to survey the situation and to come up with some alternative legislation. It has taken him eight months to do that and I think, quite candidly, that the delay was inexcusable. It is not to say simply that because the original 1968 Act was declareed inoperable by the Director of Public Prosecutions last October that the Department of the Environment were not aware that the original Act was in serious difficulties and was not proving an effective measure at all. For one reason or another, the Bill took eight month to come before this House and the Minister now asks that we deal with this measure urgently. I think that is fair. I think it is proper that the Bill should be dealt with urgently and on this side of the House we will do everything we can to expedite its passage, but I must record my disappointment it has taken so long to introduce this Bill. I assume the Minister was aware of the views of the Medical Bureau of Safety. Many Senators in the past couple of days particularly will have seen statistics in the newspapers and results of surveys here, there and everywhere. In the first four months of 1978 192 were killed, up 50 per cent on last year. I would not dare suggest that this was entirely due to the non-operation of the 1968 Act. There are more cars on the road. Perhaps there is more drinking going on without reference at all to the original deterrent being gone, but it is an indication of how much worse the situation has become.

The Medical Bureau of Safety carried out a survey among 5,000 motorists in respect of their alcoholic intake and discovered that over half of them had an alcoholic content of over 200 milligrammes of alcohol for 100 millilitres of blood which, in fact, is twice above the level which, we propose to make it today. I do not approve at all of this equating the alcoholic content in the blood with a gallon of whiskey or whatever it is to be, but the medical bureau indicated that in their view a content of alcohol in the blood of 200 milligrammes to 100 millilitres of blood was equal to more than a half bottle of whiskey before somebody went out to drive. The Garda themselves reported in investigations they carried out in one holiday weekend that of the fatal accidents that had occurred over the weekend more than two out of three of those were caused in their view by alcohol. The extent of the problem is very great indeed. For that reason, and only for that reason, we are prepared to facilitate this Bill in every way. Any improvement in the situation has to be welcomed and the Minister is naturally anxious to get the measure through at this stage.

However, if I may say so, the indecent haste with which the Minister has introduced this measure after a delay of eight months and before the Houses of the Oireachtas are due to go into recess will not I hope be taken as a precedent for the introduction of further legislation or other legislation by other Ministers in the future. I received this Bill in the post yesterday morning, as I gather most of my colleagues did. It is a complex measure and certainly the Minister is going to say it took eight months to produce. I think we should be given more than 24 hours to pass it. I do not think it is good enough that a measure in this area, trying to improve a serious situation, should have been let go for so long and should be pushed through the House. If we table many amendments or ask that we be given time to consider the Bill we leave ourselves open to the accusation that we are blocking an urgent piece of legislation. I would argue that point very strongly. I still feel that we should facilitate the Government in this respect but I think it is something on which they stand indicted. For example, I do not see why we should not sit a little bit longer if necessary. We are all anxious to go on holidays. We have all a lot of things to do before we go on holidays but I feel this Bill should be given every consideration possible.

There are matters in the Bill that I think could be improved upon. I believe, for example, that the question of the level of 100 milligrammes—it is coming down from 105 milligrammes to 100 milligrammes—is a vexed one. Studies in the United Kingdom indicate that 50 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood is acceptable. Anything over that is hazardous to road safety. In Scandinavian countries they have extremely stringent laws in this respect. I understand from a colleague with whom I had lunch today and who was in one of the Scandinavian countries not too long ago, that a citizen who drove him from the airport to his hotel refused to have one glass of beer in the hotel with him because of concern over their drinking and driving laws. Indiana University are reported in one of the newspapers as discovering that 60 milligrammes of alcohol to 100 millilitres of blood puts a motorist in the situation where he is twice as likely to have an accident, and it goes up like that.

It sounds a very difficult question. My own view on it is that it should come down to 80. Within the EEC we speak constantly of uniformity throughout in so far as that is possible. I think this is an area in which we should at least be in line with the law in Britain. I see no reason why there should be any difference at all and I am satisfied from what I have read, and I am open to discuss it with anybody who wants to say anything different, that the permitted level of alcohol in the blood should stand at 80 milligrammes.

As to the other changes in the Bill, the noticeable change of course is that there is a complete shift in the burden of proof. From now on instead of the State having to prove that everything has been done correctly the presumption will be that everything is done correctly unless the accused person can show otherwise. As a general principle I am opposed to that type of legislation because in an area like this mistakes can happen, and what is more important is that the knowledge of what happens is peculiarly within the State's knowledge. The accused person has no way of knowing what has happened. But I am satisfied that because of the seriousness and extent of the problem we have in this instance to take this step and I support generally those measures.

Under section 18 of the Bill there is something about which I am concerned and again it involves the shifting of the onus of proof. There was a well-known ploy of getting out of the consequences of the 1968 Act whereby somebody who was, say, involved in a crash and who was, to use the term, blown out of his mind, went in as quickly as possible to the local pub and had a few drinks. Then when the Garda came along it was quite pointless to breathalyse him or to blood test him because all he had to do was go into court subsequently and have somebody on his behalf get into the witness box and say that after the crash this man, for medicinal purposes, of course, and to relieve himself of the shock of the accident, had to go into a publichouse and consume further alcohol. That alone provided sufficient evidence for a justice to dismiss any prosecution because, of course, it could not be shown what the alcoholic content in his blood was before the consumption of further alcohol.

Section 18 provides that where circumstances like that occur and where either through the defendant or on behalf of the defendant evidence is given that a person might have consumed alcohol after the alleged offence but before the blood sample was taken that evidence would be disregarded unless the defendant could prove on the technical basis that the alcohol content in his blood was below the permitted level at the time the alleged offence occurred. I accept that that will knock, and rightly knock, some blackguard who is involved in an accident and who runs into a pub, or indeed the fellows who are really well up in it who have a bottle in the car for such circumstances and who take something out of it, but there are circumstances in which a miscarriage of justice could occur. It occurs to me, for example, that under the legislation as it is drafted if somebody was involved in an accident and a doctor came on the scene and administered a drug to him, that drug could come under the terms of the Bill as an intoxicant and could, therefore, distort the level of intoxicant in the blood. That person, having been administered with the drug by a doctor, could be found to be over the level and faced with a prosecution. The defence that is given to him to prove that the level of alcohol in his blood was beneath it before the drug was administered to him is impossible for him to discharge because he must do it on the technical basis and literally he has no defence unless in the presence of everybody he has a blood sample taken from him by a doctor at the scene of the accident and tested and brought into court afterwards. I think it is unlikely and we cannot reasonably expect that doctors, of that indeed victims of a car crash, would be thinking of those things at the time an accident occurred. I do not think that provision is a good one. In view of the speed with which we hope to get this through the House, I should tell the Minister that I propose tabling an amendment providing for that situation, that where a drug or whatever intoxicant in some way is administered by a doctor it should be excluded on the doctor giving evidence subsequently in court.

After that I think the Bill generally speaking is one that requires examination on Committee Stage rather than on Second Stage. I am sure there are a number of people who want to get in on the Second Stage debate so I will not hog the floor any longer.

I was impressed by the editorial in The Irish Times yesterday. I opened my speech with a quotation from it and I want to close my speech with another quotation from it. I think this is really where the nub of this whole problem lies. It says further down in the editorial:

No legislation however will be worth anything unless it has the backing of public opinion to the effect that drunken driving is criminal because it put at risk the life of other people.

We must get over the problem through education and I would urge the Minister to do anything he can in that respect so that rather than have to rely on legislation like this we will have a better attitude towards this problem and get over it in the only genuine way we can.

The Bill is literally a matter of life and death. The carnage on our roads at present makes the Northern Ireland situation, about which we spoke in this House recently, look like a skirmish. The greatest killer in the country is the motor car and the moterbike generally and the greatest cause of those deaths is the appalling number of drunken drivers whom we have on our roads.

This Bill is extremely urgent. It is a matter of life and death and in fairness, not only to the number of good drivers on the road but particularly in fairness to the number of people who could die on our roads over the summer. I think we should make every effort, and I am delighted with Senator Molony's offer of co-operation, to get this Bill through this House and to the other House as soon as possible.

The delay in this must be put in some kind of context. Seeking legal advice drafting this Bill with its huge number of complexities, the closing of the various loopholes, is a very time-consuming business and it is not our wish, and I am sure it is not the Minister's wish, to rush this through the House or indeed rush it through the Dáil. I know that on both sides of the House we are all anxious to sit here as long as possible until we are sure that the Bill is correct but at the same time we are also conscious of the fact that there is a long summer ahead of us and with the increased amount of traffic on our roads it would be very responsible of us to get this through as quickly as possible and on the Statute Book.

I know that people on the other side of the House, and indeed perhaps people on this side of the House, might feel that the Bill is not perfect in all respects. Some might feel that the limits should be changed, that penalties should be somewhat different and so on but in deference to the fact that this summer break is coming up I think we should get this on the Statute Book and if we feel that we need to play around with it after that and change it again if necessary in my view. I do not see why we should not do that.

Will the Minister give us a commitment on that?

I am speaking personally. The old Act and the ministerial orders made under that have led, as Senator Molony said, to a highly complex procedure for taking blood and urine tests, for testing these and presenting them to the court. Eventually the Act was, in fact, suspended and I am pleased that the present proposals before the House are now much tougher and in being tougher in my view are also much simpler and easily understood by the average person.

One objection that has been made in the public press, and I note the view that Senator Molony put forward that he felt the figure should be 80 milligrammes, is the question of the level: 100 milligrammes of alcohol to 100 millilitres of blood is what is proposed in the Bill and I feel that this is a realistic figure in Irish conditions. Under this Bill something less than three pints of beer or its equivalent can lead one to six months in prison, to a £500 fine or to a 12-month disqualification or, if serious enough, to a life disqualification on a person's driving licence. For less than three pints of alcohol I think that is a realistic situation.

I am aware, as Senator Molony pointed out, that there are other Countries who take a tougher approach to this, the 85 milligrammes to 100 millilitres and, personally speaking, I think that this is something we can work towards. We are talking in a situation like that of allowing the average person to drink perhaps one-and-a-half pints, or at the most two pints, and I think that that is unrealistic at present.

I, too, have had a chance to look at the report referred to by Senator Molony. The United States study spoke about the 50 milligrammes as being the highest that can be safely accepted and that if we go above that one's ability to drive is severely impaired, and particularly one's ability to deal with a sudden crisis. I think that is the crunch of the matter. While the new Bill is realistic in Irish terms, I think we have to go on—and I join with Senator Molony in this—conditioning the public to the fact that drink and driving just do not mix and conditioning the public from here on to follow the lead presented by this Bill. We must also lay it clearly on the line that this type of legislation must be kept constantly under review because we are talking about the lives of people and that is very important.

I hope this Bill will be a deterrent to the large number of people who take cars in their hands after consuming a quantity of drink. We should spell out in this House that this Bill is introduced not from the point of view of the drivers themselves because their lives are in their own hands but for the sake of the lives of people who may be killed by drunken drivers.

I agree with Senator Molony on the extent of the human misery resulting from the carnage on our roads. The figures which he quoted are quite realistic. Two out of every three deaths are the result of drunken driving. From January to April 1978, 192 people were killed on our roads. The corresponding figure last year was 125. That is an increase of 50 per cent during a time when the breathalyser test was not in operation. It has been shown also that the peak time when people are killed on our roads is between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. and that is the time when more people who have had drink are driving on our roads. It is logical to assume that the major cause of all our accidents is driving while under the influence of drink.

I join with Senator Molony in his references to the old legislation under which an number of cases were laughed out of court. This Bill has got over the problem of the large number of technicalities which up to now prevented conviction. Some of these are failing to caution people in the precise prescribed language, failing to give the defendant the chance to take a breathalyser test prior to a blood test, and failure to prove that the medical practitioner taking the samples was registered. All of these technicalities, while they can be important, must not be placed in a higher order than the lives of the people we are trying to save by introducing this type of legislation. I am aware that it is a turnabout in the normal bases of legislation in the sense that we are now assuming that all of these technicalities have been followed unless the defendant himself can prove that they have not been followed. When we look at the national scandal, the problem of drinking and driving, whose victims far exceed the number of people who have died tragically in Northern Ireland, we must have recourse to this type of legislation in order to deal with it.

The standard of driving here has improved over the years but it is still not good enough. It needs to be improved dramatically. If we add the drink situation to the rather low standard of driving on our roads, there is a very lethal weapon which we cannot ignore in the hands of drivers.

I thank the Opposition for agreeing to get this through the House as speedily as possible. I reiterate that this Bill is a matter of life and death.

I want to express my full support for the Bill. As Senator Molony suggested, we have overindulgent attitudes towards excessive drinking here, and that tolerance extends to the crime of drunken driving. It would be nice if we could educate our society to be more responsible in these matters, but in the present imperfect state of human nature we have to apply the sanctions of the law.

The Bill combines the safeguarding of the public with respect for individual rights. There is only one section on which I would like further explanation and that is section 11 (2), lines 21 to 28 on page 5. This section suggests that the same rigorous procedure shall apply to a person who may be sitting in the driver's seat of a car and who is not actually driving or attempting to drive but who is in charge of the vehicle. This means that the full rigours of the law can be initiated and continued against him. It is questionable whether a man in such a circumstance falls into the same category of guilt as the man who is actually driving or attempting to drive. A man who may be sitting in the driver's seat and in possession of the keys of the car may be in the process of being persuaded not to drive. I would like some comment on that section.

If I could find a fault with the Bill it would be that the level of 100 milligrammes should be brought down further to the accepted English and European levels of 85. I cannot understand why Senator Brennan should think that there are special Irish conditions which justify a higher level of tolerance. If those of us who like to drink and go to parties and so on were honest about it we would admit that we have on occasion got home by the grace of God, which is a somewhat erratic and undependable commodity. It is for the reason that I would recognise that what at most has to be suffered here on the part of most of us is a question of social inconvenience. I have been listening to acquaintances discussing this subject over the last few days and the point has been brought out that there are individuals who claim that because of maturity, of more responsible temperament and so on, even though they are technically under the influence of drink, they can crawl home safely by the kerb. That is a dangerous self-delusion. No matter what the individual variations, anyone who is under the influence of drink is a danger to himself and to the community at large.

There is an impression at large, in certain cynical sections of the community, that in Leinster House there is a vintners, lobby and that the reason why, for example, the problem of under age drinking is not being tackled—and the question of identification cards would seem to be a simple expedient—is because there are vested interests in Parliament, as there are in many other parliaments. If only to scotch that unworthy rumour, this Bill should be given as rapid a passage as possible in both Houses and there after implemented without fear or favour.

Drunken driving forms part of the enormous social problem here. We seem to have a very high level of tolerance for the habit of drinking, including drink when associated with driving. Legislation which can be effectively enforced is clearly an important step forward in solving the drunken driving problem. We must change our attitude to drink here. It is little short of madness to spend millions of pounds per week on drink and kill people in the process.

Before turning to a few relevant statistics, it can be said that drunken driving does cause deaths, personal injuries and untold suffering and grief. To drive a car safely, especially in modern traffic conditions, requires skill, judgment and continuous and close attention. The consumption of alcohol can, of course, impair a person's ability to drive. Indeed, the importance of alcohol as a causal factor in road traffic accidents is now universally acknowledged.

With regard to statistics, I would like to refer to two surveys. The first is derived from an article entitled "Blood Alcohol Levels in Road Traffic Fatalities". It is published in the journal of the Irish Medical Association, December 27th, 1975. This survey covered road traffic fatalities in Dublin, Kildare and Limerick. It revealed that the alarming figures of 46 per cent, or almost one in every two drivers killed at night, had blood alcohol levels above the then legal limit. The second survey to which I refer was conducted by the Garda and was reported, in turn, by the National Road Safety Association. This survey, which is a very revealing account, covered three separate months selected at random in 1977. It involved a total of 119 fatal accidents. The Garda were satisfied that no less than 40 per cent of these accidents, involving the deaths of 52 people, were the direct result of heavy drinking, mainly by drivers, but also by pedestrians. A similar examination last year, in the same survey of road deaths over one of the bank holiday weekends—and again this is alarming—shows that two out of every three persons killed on the roads were killed as a result of driver errors caused by heavy drinking. Many factors can contribute to driving fatalities but the biggest single factor is drink. Alcohol is the killer.

This is not an anti-drink Bill but rather amends and extends the laws relating to drunken driving offences. The aim of the Minister is to introduce workable legislation. The old Act was suspended when it was found to be unworkable, with several cases of where drivers who had been accused of drunken driving went free because of legal technicalities. The procedural requirements have been amply detailed in the Minister's opening address. Previously, every link in the legal process was tested, every fine legal point, an emphasis on justice. In other words the legal technicalities rather than justice tended to dominate the outcome in cases of drunken driving. The Bill does simplify procedures and should allow the courts a degree of discretion which they did not have under the earlier legislation. For example, the person charged will now be able to present to the court, in his own defence, independent evidence by way of blood or urine analysis. This process will allow the court to decide on the evidence presented to them and in so doing remove from the court's consideration many of the procedural tangles and pitfalls in the earlier legislation on which so many defences have relied in the past.

The Bill seeks to leave to the courts the function of adjudicating on the evidence presented. I welcome the retention of the possibility of the suspension of driving licences on conviction. It is not unfair to take a licence from a convicted person who is a threat and a menace to the public on the roads. A disqualification order is also, and this is clearly important a highly effective deterrent.

Reference has been made already by previous speakers to the blood alcohol limit and whether it should be 125, or 100 as in the United States, or lower. This limit is important in a debate of this nature, but I submit that the speed and certainty of conviction, which in genuine offences is facilitated in this Bill, take precedence at present over the blood-alcohol limit itself. If this limit, now reduced to 100 in this Bill, proves through experience to be inadequate, then I suggest that the matter can be reviewed by the Minister and appropriate action taken at his discretion.

I agree with Senator Molony that a major educational programme is necessary in regard to drink. It is particularly depressing to see so many young people crammed into lounges and then travelling home in cars and motor bikes after drinking sessions there, possibly putting their lives at risk.

This Bill is urgent and necessary and there is a widespread expectation among the public that the legislature take appropriately strong action to curb drunken driving. I welcome the Bill and commend the Minister for his work in bringing it before us.

I, on behalf of the Labour Party, welcome the Bill. I have not had a lot of time to go through it but from what I can see it seems to be a sensible piece of legislation.

Having said that, I must make the observation, though I am not a legal expert, that some of my colleagues may take issue with some of the legal aspects in it but, in spirit, we welcome the Bill and will facilitate the House in having it put through as quickly as possible.

This legislation is, of course, welcome. It is necessary and it is urgent because its successful implementation can and will save lives. It is also welcome because it is the first Bill from the very important Department of the Environment to be introduced in Seanad Éireann.

The object we wish to achieve is to stop the driving of motor vehicles while under the influence of drink or drugs and to punish those who do so. We need not go any further than this. In fact, we should not go any further than this. The offence is being under the influence of an intoxicant to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle. The breath, blood and urine tests are not conclusive of a driver's actual capacity to control his vehicle. For example, a young person just starting to drink, with a lesser concentration than 100 milligrammes per 100 millilitres, may be quite incapable of driving. A young person may take very little drink indeed to ensure that he or she is in a state to drive a car up the nearest tree, whereas a middle aged person with, say, 30 years' experience of drinking, may be found to fail the statutory test and at the same time be fully-capable of having and exercising proper control of his motor car. I am a little concerned on this point and I seek reassurance from the Minister on it. A person who does not commit the basic offence ought not be punished and if a person is innocent of the real offence, which is driving under the influence of drink to such an extent as to be incapable of driving, he should have the opportunity of establishing his innocence. This could be done by providing that failure to pass the statutory blood test or urine test will in itself establish a presumption of guilt which can be rebutted by the defendant. This suggestion would not alter in any way the general framework of the proposed Bill. It would not help the guilty to escape but would act as a safeguard of some sort for the innocent.

This legislation is most important. It will affect many people and it should therefore be capable of being easily understood. I find it difficult to understand what is meant by the words "a special and a substantial reason" in section 19 subsection 1. This sections deals with the refusal of someone to permit a blood or urine sample to be taken. It may be clear to other Senators what the term "special and substantial reason" is but it is not clear to me. Is it to be a medical reason or a social reason or even a religious reason? Are we to decide the meaning and the context in which it is to be used or is this to be left to the courts to decide? I would welcome clarification or reassurance from the Minister on this point, because those who will have to implement this legislation will assume that we know what we are talking about.

This legislation will be as successful as we permit it to be, because it is difficult to provide legal deterrents, to impose sanction on drunken drivers, when drunkenness is socially acceptable.

I welcome the Bill because it will reduce deaths on the road but it does not go far enough. A case has been made for reducing the alcohol limit to 80 or 85 millilitres and it has been said that there is really no difference between 85 and 100 millilitres. There is a difference. It is 85 in Britain and I cannot see any reason why it should not be 85 here. There is no difference between driving a car here and driving a car in Britain except that it is more difficult here because of the condition of our roads. For that reason alone it should be reduced. A strong case has been made that it should be reduced to 85 millilitres and I am sure we will discuss it here and maybe amend it. If such an amendment would delay the Bill, it should be allowed to go through and then, if we feel as strongly as we feel now that it should be reduced to 85, we should introduce a Bill of our own, but we will allow the Bill to go through today because it is necessary. In fact it is eight months too late and in that eight months there have probably been a number of deaths caused by drunken driving. We would condemn the Government for not bringing in the Bill sooner.

The penalties are not severe enough. Disqualification from driving and fines of up to £500 are not enough to keep people from driving cars while under the influence of drink. From time to time drivers have been disqualified and appealed to the courts and got back their licences. There is no indication in this Bill of how long the disqualification should be for. Is it disqualification for life, or for one month? If a person, because he was under the influence of drink, causes the death of another person, then that person should be put off the road for life. There may be strong cases made by the defending solicitor for persons who drive while under the influence of drink. There may be cases where a person might be under the influence of drink because of grief or some other reason and then perhaps a case could be made but there can be no case for allowing that person to drive a car. I would condemn anybody who would sit in a car with a driver while he is driving the car under the influence of drink and allow that person to drive the car. I would also condemn the publican who serves the drink and the person who is at a party with the driver of a car and allows that person to become intoxicated knowing that he would be driving home.

The Bill is welcome. We will not delay it but we should improve it as soon as we possibly can. Anybody on the road who is a danger to other people should not be allowed drive cars.

There are other reasons why people are killed on the roads by drivers. We should also look at those aspects. We have many mechanically unsound vehicles on the roads today. There should be an annual check of all vehicles. If we do not ensure that all vehicles on the road are mechanically sound then we are allowing drivers to commit crimes on the roads. We must try and avoid those crimes by bringing in legislation to ensure that cars are examined annually.

We are a bit lax here in looking at the lounge bar situation. There is no doubt that the law is broken every night of the week by some of those people who own lounge bars and pubs. Late night drinking is taking place all over the country, and we must do something to see that they obey the law. If we ensure that the car is mechanically sound, that the person driving the car has a driver's licence and is fit to drive the car, and ensure that a stop is put to late night drinking, then we will be doing something for the people who frequent the roads.

I would just like to say a few words. The technicalities of the Bill have been touched on by many speakers. Some speakers, however, have endeavoured to inject into the discussion the defence of an individual who had a few "jars". Too often in society this type of defence is put forward in tragic and sometimes callous circumstances. The gardaí should be assisted, and if this Bill is not the suitable vehicle to assist them to the full we should amend it, if necessary. In certain aspects I, like the previous speaker, feel that there should be tougher legislation than that being put forward at present. There are many tragic tales that could be recited here in relation to drunken driving. I should like to quote from last night's Evening Press under the heading “Drove Off After He Killed Cyclist”:

A 19-year-old motorist knocked down and killed a cyclist at Julianstown in January last and then left the scene... Mr. Duffy was struck by a car while heading in the direction of Drogheda from White Cross around 7.30 p.m. and his body was not found until the following morning——

It is not permissible to mention the names of individuals in the case.

I will just mention the name of the man who was struck. The report continues:

The accused walked into the Drogheda Garda station at lunchtime the following day and admitted driving the car which killed Mr. Duffy. In his statement he said that he had four or five pints of ale and was returning home to Drogheda when the accident occured.

He did not realise the cyclist was dead but knew he must have been hurt because of the extensive damage to the care. The judge fined him £50 and said he had displayed some sense of responsibility by pleading guilty to the charge.

This is the type of nonsense we see from callous individuals. The defence was that he had a few prints of ale the previous night. He was not concerned about the individual he knew he had knocked down, but he was concerned about the extensive damage to the car. The dead man was not found until the next morning, having been knocked down at 7.30 on the previous evening and the driver was fined £50.

I submit that the penalties in the Bill are not nearly severe enough to deal with this callous type of situation, as illustrated in yesterday's paper. I hope the Minister takes into consideration the type of situation that is developing throughout the country where people are pleading the few jars as an excuse for having killed a person. Surely at some stage during the night the man's conscience must have pricked him? Surely at some stage, if he thought the individual was not badly hurt, he could have ensured that medical aid was forthcoming, but he did not, and then we find that he was fined £50. He was disqualified for five years but he should have been disqualified for life, apart from the other portion of the penalty.

I hope the Bill will prevent this type of situation. Recently in my constituency a person was knocked down and killed in a hit-and-run accident. The driver of the car was drunk but nevertheless was taken to hospital as an accident case and the hospital failed to give any evidence as to the man's condition. The situation there is that it was known the man was drunk. He was seen coming out of a publichouse, unable to drive a car, and was chased by a squad car. When they arrived at the scene the man had been in a crash and was taken to hospital. There was no means by which the drunken charge could be pinned on that driver. I hope the Minister will examine this to ensure that the people who break the law, and who kill as this man killed, will get the due process of the law. I hope the Minister will take note of this situation and ensure that the evidence will be forthcoming, from whatever source. If the Bill does not make provision to publish people who are guilty and who have killed in an accident, and if the gardaí in the process of apprehending them are impeded, I hope the Minister will ensure that the matter will be rectified. It is not alone in this country it is a problem. I quote from US News & World Report:

For example, safety experts have focused much attention on accepted drinking, which is blamed for half the nation's traffic deaths. Yet a recent seven-year 100 million dollar federal attack on the problem has hardly made a dent in it.

This shows how serious the situation is. A vast amount of capital was poured into a scheme to break the problem but it has hardly placed a dent in it. It continued:

Under the programme, federal funds provided officers more equipment and legal guidance for making arrests. The results were startling in some areas. In Fairfax County, Va., one project site, the number of drunk-driving arrests shot up from 125 in the year before the programme started to 3,600 two years later.

It shows that the assistance of the mechanical aids available if applied effectively, should bring a substantial increase in the number of convictions, taking the situation as it applied elsewhere.

I want to say a word in relation to the licence and the fact that one can take a licence away. Not alone would I take the licence but I would take away the car in some cases. The case I quoted earlier gives an indication of the mentality of people who have no regard whatsoever for the public. I would hope that the Minister would introduce some scheme whereby they would have to undergo a new driving test before getting their licence back. This should be a special driving test that would apply to drunks who have been convicted because of their condition to ensure that they had rehabilitated themselves and are now in a fit condition. The new test should be substantially different from the previous one. The Minister must be more severe on those people in relation to their licences. It is not good enough to give back their licences to convicted drunken drivers.

The question of education has been mentioned, and this has undoubtedly been tried elsewhere. I want to quote again from the U.S. publication. A Federal Highway Agency official is quoted:

We found that problem drinkers whose arrest rates were double those of social drinkers needed longer and more-intensive therapy.

Under the programme arrested drivers were tested and classified. Social drinkers were sent to lectures about how alcohol affects the body. Problem drinkers were assigned to small groups where they could discuss their problems for a period of a year or more with counsellors and fellow drinkers.

It goes on to state:

Recent studies showed that the drunk drivers who received lectures on alcohol use became involved in just as many accidents later as those who did not attend.

The whole question of education is an involved one and one that must be examined. It is not enough to say that we have this problems without doing something about rectifying it. I agree that there should be some type of educational programme, some type of remedial programme, medical, education or both, to ensure that the people so afflicted would be rehabilitated before getting their licence back.

There are many aspects of the Bill that will be questioned. The one I want to question is that of the drugs situation. We need some clear indication of what is meant by "drugs", the type of drugs, the level of drugs, how one can be assessed in relation to drugs and drinks, because if one follows some of the sections in the Bill to their logical conclusion, one can take a cough bottle which indicates that it is dangerous to exceed the stated dose and after that you find on the bottle that drowsiness will occur. All types of drugs have some side effects that affect people in different ways at different times.

I ask the Minister to give us an explanation in relation to drugs. One can readily understand that there are limits which one would not exceed in the content of alcohol that will show up in the blood or urine, but in relation to drugs, how is one to safeguard himself, if he genuinely wants to safeguard himself, against the section under which he can be convicted, fined £500 and his licence taken away? In this section we are due a detailed explanation so that if people wish to protect themselves, as many would do, in the alcohol field, they could say "I will take two pints instead of three; I will take four whiskeys instead of five". But in relation to drugs, and the side effects of drugs, drugs prescribed by doctors, people who are taking drugs for one reason or another, the Minister should give an indication of how people can protect themselves. If they exceed these doses, if they become irresponsible as a result of exceeding does that are prescribed, then they must suffer the consequences. In relation to alcohol one can readily see the situation.

There is not much more I want to say other than to repeat that there is need for follow-up legislation to ensure that in relation to hit-and-run drivers the full information will be available even if the man has to be examined at the hospital, even if he has to be examined at a later stage. As I said, in my constituency not so long ago a person was killed in tragic circumstances by a person who was well under the influence, and the hospital would not give the information. Can the Minister tell us if information will be forthcoming that will allow a conviction in that case?

My contribution will be brief for two reasons: one, I welcome the Bill and two, I have no wish, in common with my colleagues on this side of the House, to delay the passage of the Bill. The Minister in his opening speech referred to the fact that the operation of the 1968 Act on more than one occasion had been suspended. He went on to say that the Director of Public Prosecutions had found it necessary some months ago to suspend the taking of prosecutions under the existing legislation.

Therefore I welcome the Bill in so far as it is an attempt to rectify the unsatisfactory situation that has existed for some time. I want to join with my colleagues in expressing our condemnation of the disregard that people who drink to excess and subsequently drive show not alone towards themselves but to other road users. Unfortunately, and tragically, the results of this recklessness can be counted in the numbers of dead and maimed, which are growing steadily year by year. There is now clearly no doubt that people generally throughout the country are calling for measures to rectify this situation, to bring about an improvement in these tragic events that we have witnessed or have had to deal with regularly.

It is for that reason that I also want to join in expressing surprise that the Bill we are now discussing took so long to arrive before us. We will, of course, get an opportunity on Committee Stage to express any reservations we may have on certain aspects of it, but I feel there is a duty on us to assist its speedy passage and I accept that it would certainly not be for the benefit of the community that the passage of the Bill should be delayed until after the summer recess.

I want to refer to the penalties, but before I do so I want to draw attention to the fact that the limits of alcoholic content being set here are considerably higher than what prevails in other European countries. With regard to the penalties, I welcome the fact that they are being increased substantially. A fine of £500, I hope, will have the deterring effect that is desirable. There is also discretion being allowed to the justice to impose a penalty of up to six months' imprisonment, in addition to the fine, if he feels that the circumstances of the case merit the imposition of that kind of penalty.

However, there is one aspect of the penalty provision that I want to question. I listened to Senator Dowling's contribution and I felt he was relating his remarks and his observations to the extreme offenders in these circumstances; he was referring to people who deliberately drive while drunk or under the influence of drugs and who have been the cause of or have caused accidents that have tragic consequences. I should like to remind the Minister that there are people at the other end of the scale. They are people who on rare occasions have an extra drink or two and who marginally could find themselves over the limit and who without having been involved in an accident could be stopped at a roadside check and be found to be marginally over the limit. In these circumstances I feel that the imposition of an automatic disqualification is rather severe, and I should like to request the Minister to have a look at that point.

In relation to disqualification, though I accept the desirability and the necessity for a substantial fine and for a term of imprisonment, nevertheless I say that there are cases and circumstances—they may be rare, but they are there and most of us have encountered them—where automatic disqualification would be a very severe penalty, and therefore I suggest that there are circumstances in which he might consider allowing the district justice or the judge sitting discretion as to whether disqualification should be imposed. I do not for a moment say that a person who has been responsible for an accident in which people have been maimed or, even worse, killed should in any circumstances be allowed to escape a very substantial penalty, including disqualification.

I overheard, as I came in some time ago, a reference to the availability of drink from certain sources, and lounge bars and so on have been referred to. There is just one observation I would make, and the experience of many of us will bear this out, that the real danger of the availability of drink that can lead to drunken driving is usually where late night exemption for drinking facilities apply, be they night parties, dinner dances, social occasions or festivals. Regularly—and I doubt if anybody will dispute this—those of us who have attended these have seen ample evidence that the late night availability of drink is certainly one of the channels which can give rise to the tragedies which can occur in the circumstances we are discussing. That is all I want to say on the matter. I welcome the Bill. I feel it is necessary. I would just ask the Minister to consider that in the case of people who are just marginally over the limit on the rare occasion an automatic disqualification is a severe hardship.

I should like to say a few brief words on the Bill. I would like to welcome it. I am glad to see that this is the second Bill that has been initiated in the Seanad during the past week or so and it is pleasant to see. I cannot agree with the Opposition suggestion that there has been any undue delay with this Bill. My own reservation would be, if anything, that it has been brought forward almost too rapidly. As the Opposition are well aware, the situation has gradually arisen and has proved to be extremely complicated legally. Perhaps we to some extent under-estimate the extreme gravity of this Bill which we are introducing. It is necessary that we should bring it in, but it will bring about very considerable changes in social life as we understand it in the country as a whole.

The new limit of 100 milligrammes is a very reasonable limit unless one is going absolutely and completely to ban any taking of alcohol at all and driving. There are logical arguments in favour of that, but if one does that then one is talking of limits of around about 40 or so. In other words, to prevent any extraneous matters one is saying that if you drink at all you do not drive. We are not saying that in this Bill. It is not my opinion and it has not been suggested on either side of the House. We are trying instead to think of a reasonable limit and this is, at first sight at any rate, a reasonable limit but quite a severe one. It means in practice that when this Bill comes into law thereafter it will be very difficult for anyone to consider going out for an evening and taking more than the most modest quantity of drink and then considering driving. I am not saying that it is not right and proper that this should be so, but it will certainly make a very major change here. This is a severe limit in relation to the norms of drinking in this country.

It will also have rather greater implications outside Dublin and Cork and some of the other cities than is fully realised as yet, because in effect under this Bill if you are going to go out for an evening and you intend to have more than a couple of drinks you will not be able to drive. If you meet friends in town or something like that and you take a few drinks there is no way that you can legally safely drive, so if you are in town or somewhere like that you will take a taxi, and such will be available to you. That will not be the situation in the country areas, and I do not think that the implications of this have as yet been fully realised.

However, it is necessary that we bring in this Bill in view of the fact that very large numbers of people are being killed. Even larger numbers have been seriously and permanently injured and others have received some degree of injury totally unnecessarily, totally avoidably, due simply to the matter of drinking and driving. Were there any other situation in which people were being killed every day I am sure there would have been a vast outcry long before now, and it is high time we brought in a Bill of this nature. It will change very considerably in the future much of life as we understand it.

I do not think that we should consider this question of driving and alcoholism totally on its own. It does raise many other aspects of alcoholism generally, and I hope that this will not be an isolated Bill and other Bills will in due course follow it or accompany it. One aspect, for example, which is missing from this Bill, and missing for very good reasons at this stage, is the situation where someone is drunk in charge of riding a cycle or walking. We are not here concerned so much with the injury or death of the individual himself but the fact that such a person may cause an accident. Where there is a fatal accident on the road all those involved and not just simply the driver of the car should have tests taken for the limits of alcohol in their blood. It would seem to me a total miscarriage of justice, even if it were in fact legally so, that a drunken pedestrian could cause an accident if someone swerved to avoid him and because the actual driver happened to have 101 instead of 99 milligrammes he would find himself facing a fine of £500 or imprisonment and the person who in fact was the initial cause of the accident would escape completely. This is something that we have to look at in general terms of the whole question of alcoholism.

One is rather sad to see the necessity for this Bill being introduced, because I think alcohol drinking in moderation is very reasonable and it is a pity that we have to be as severe as this.

Senator Dowling has mentioned the question of drugs, and I must say that from a medical point of view I am rather unhappy to see the inclusion in this Bill of the question of drugs because it is a very wide question in itself and something rather different from the general import of the Bill. Basically in this Bill we are dealing with alcoholism. I know it is necessary to consider the question of drugs, and we see in section 10 (1) (b) that intoxicant includes alcohol and drugs and any combination of drugs or of drugs and alcohol. There are other similar sections.

There are really two aspects of this, and section 17 refers to a person under the influence of a drug or drugs. If somebody is medicinally receiving drugs or taking drugs without taking any alcohol at all he may nonetheless because of the influence of the drugs be totally unfit and incapable of driving a car, and I am not quite sure under this Bill how we are going to examine this, how we are going to determine it. It is something different from the situation of someone who of his or her own free will goes out and has a few drinks. Secondly —I think there is the other aspect to drugs, that is, that somebody who is on certain drugs might, because of the potentiating effect of the drugs, come below these limits that we have here and yet because of the combination of the drugs and the alcohol be totally unfit to drive a vehicle.

This Bill must be particularly brought to the notice of medical people and in turn they must bring it to the notice of their patients, because there are a number of drugs which are currently being prescribed which very substantially interfere with a person's ability to drive or to make judgments when driving. This is a very large area in itself, a very important area. I can understand the Minister including it in the Bill, but I do hope that it will be looked at as a somewhat different problem and one which perhaps we should come back to on some other occasion.

We are going to introduce what will, unfortunately, probably become all to common, a scale imprisonment for driving when somebody's blood alcohol limit exceeds 100. Let us be quite clear about this: that person may not be considered to be drunk as a lay person would understand it but in terms of the law he will be drunk. He will have exceeded the limits and he will be liable to imprisonment.

We must be very careful in the actual administration of this law. In no sense must the law be allowed to come almost to contempt in that a prison sentence becomes almost commonplace. One has the situation in the Nordic countries in which a very high percentage of the prison population are convicted on what is regarded as the technicality of having a certain limit of alcohol in the blood. It no longer carries the social stigma it once did. It is right that there should be a prison sentence included in this, but I hope that it will be interpreted in an appropriate manner so that only in the very flagrant cases of drunken driving will it be used and not simply where somebody has exceeded this particular specific limit.

I must dissociate myself entirely from the attack made on vintners. I fully agree with Senator Howard and I would put it even more strongly than he. Most publicans and vintners go to a great deal of trouble, often under very difficult circumstances, to prevent people from having too much or to prevent them driving or otherwise behaving foolishly. Certainly there is no lobby here in that sense. I would think that we must look at our licensing hours. Statistics have been quoted here very frequently. One that has not been quoted is the fact that a very high percentage of these accidents occur within a matter of an hour from closing time. We bear a grave responsibility here if we insist on having specific closing hours. We then have a large number of cars suddenly driving out together on the roads. We all have the experience of driving at that partcular time. This problem must be looked at as well.

I hope that the Minister will find it possible to consider some of these comments. I congratulate him rather than condemn him for bringing in the Bill so quickly and so thoroughly. It seems to be a very practical Bill, but it is unfortunately a very severe measure which I am very sad to see has to be introduced.

I should like to join those who have welcomed the Bill and to recognise its necessity in view of the fact that the previous Bill had been reduced to impotence because of recourse to technicality on the part of lawyers and those accused of drunken driving. The situation had been reached where the courts were devoting themselves to the adjudication of technicalities rather than to the administration of justice with regard to people who were found guilty of drunken or dangerous or careless driving.

Obviously I join everybody else who has said that it may be necessary to look at this Act after the summer recess. There is every good reason for passing it now with all expedition through the House so that it may become law but it is as a gesture of good faith that this is to be done. Twenty-four hours is certainly not enough for a House of Parliament to pay proper attention to the minutiae of a Bill as complex and as technical as this, and I would like to join with those who have asked the Minister to give us some kind of reassurance that this Bill could come up for a speedy review and amendment if it were found to be defective in one direction or another after the summer season. Its necessity for the summer season I think is quite beyond dispute.

There is one aspect of it that has not been raised. It is a thorny one and I would like to raise now, that is, the manner in which the drunken driving laws have been enforced in the past. When the breathalyser test was brought in in England—I cannot remember how many years ago, I am sure it was more than ten—and thereafter applied to Ireland, I recall very vividly that one of the statements that was made over and over again was: "We hope we will not see police cars outside every licensed premises in the country so that people cannot go in to have a drink without a terrible sense of menace surrounding them. It was generally felt that such an arrangement would be in violation of a very long-standing cultural phenomenon which is largely regarded as begin, that is, that the people who in these islands intend to go out and have a few jars of an evening should be allowed to do so in peace. I think Falstaff put it very well when he said "Can a man not take his ease in his inn?"

That benign attitude surrounding our drinking is something that regrettably in some senses will have to go. There were rapid reassurances from all legislators and commentators that we were not ever going to have anything like this. We would never approach the situation in the Nordic countries where there are policemen with tracker dogs outside pubs waiting for people to emerge in order to arrest them. If we are serious about the Bill, is there any better place for the police to be stationed? If one bears in mind the number of social implications that are involved in excessive drinking, if one considers the other kinds of misdemeanours that are becoming all too prevalent at closing time outside licensed premises, there is a strong case to be made for at least selective surveillance of licensed premises and enforcement of that law before the car leaves the car park, before it goes on to the highway and becomes a menace.

I am not suggesting that the police should go in and start offering the breathalyser to everybody who had a drink, but referring to the public scandal which most of us have witnessed from time to time of people walking out of public bars literally paralytic, lurching towards their cars, eventually getting them open and sometimes against the persuasion of their neighbours and friends driving off in a swirl of dust onto the highway. We all have seen this happening. Selective surveillance of pubs, looking out for that particular kind of phenomenon, should be a natural comcomitant of this legislation. It is there that the action is, and that kind of surveillance would help to discourage a lot of other disgraceful behaviour and absurdly anti-social activity around pubs at night. Bottle breaking is one, brawling and fighting is another, interfering with other people's cars, for instance, dancing occasionally on the bonnets of other people's cars as I have seen being done by athletic young people with a few jars.

I suppose the most repellent of all is the motorbike brigade who come out and get on to their motorbikes and start revving up. They are likely to do that for about 20 minutes, sometimes in the middle of a residential area, sometimes in the presence of other people who are trying to carry on a conversation. The level of noise is something the Minister for the Environment will have to look into. There seems to be no recourse at all in law against these hooligans who are committing daily and hourly assault on our eardrums. It is one of the most obnoxious forms of assault that there is. The sheer bad manners of it and the swaggering impertinence of the people who perpetrate it seem to go totally unpunished. That is another kind of abuse which could fall within the ambit of policemen thus stationed at that crucial hour in the evening which is usually the prelude to these rather savage deaths on the roads.

What I am suggesting is that this is where perhaps the most effective action can take place but, like Senator Conroy, I would be very keen that that surveillance be done selectively and intelligently and that it would not be brought to bear against the ordinary citizen, that the man coming out of the pub who is able to walk to his car is given the benefit of the doubt, but the man or woman who is not should visibly not be given the benefit of the doubt. One could make a very swift change in our drinking mores which have deteriorated so rapidly in the direction of savagery, particularly among the young generation. But they are not the worst. Many of them learn their deplorable habits from their elders.

Senator Murphy said that one person who tried to bring him into the drinkers' lobby in this matter said that this law is aimed against the social drinker, as if the social drinker were some kind of depressed class, like the poor or the underprivileged. The kind of social drinker that should be the first focus is the one who tends to be too sociable, who drinks too much and then becomes anti-social as a result of it. There is this dreadful quality in Irish drinking. Brendan Behan's famous remark about it puts it best where he said: "In the locality where I grew up, to get drunk was not a disgrace, it was an achievement". It is a kind of Christy Mahon syndrome. Synge catches it very well. There is a swaggering bravado about the whole thing.

Excessive drinking is a kind of virility in our society, almost as much as the noisy motorbike. Anybody who knows anything about the matter knows that it is the very opposite. It usually leads to sexual impotence and to a diminution of all the other healthy life-affirming drives, such as the drive to ordinary ambition. The number of young people who are destroyed by it is deplorable. Its result on the person and on the body are deplorable and visible. Our attitude towards it should be less tolerant and should cease to be indulgent and amused. If we do recognise that we have something equivalent to a booze-fuelled culture, or so it seems at certain times of the day and certain times of the year, then the attitude which condones or encourages that is obviously deplorable. There is a sense in which excessive drinking is not a genial or a cheery activity. It is an extremely sinister activity—a death dealing activity. There is a sense in which that should be carried through in terms of social legislation side by side with a Bill such as this.

I agree with Senator Conroy that this Bill is a very limited one. It deals only with one aspect of drinking and one aspect of driving. There are other aspects of both which have to be followed through. But above all there is an aspect of necessary education in coming to cultural and psychic maturity with regard to the whole attitude to drink. I would hate to reach the stage of neurosis that the Nordic countries have reached about it. I do not know what the opposite to neurosis is, but if you pass the central point of health and stability and move in the other direction, there lies a great deal of middle Ireland in this whole matter of drink, and it is that which has to be brought into reasonable focus.

With those reservations, I would like to welcome the measure.

This legislation is to be welcomed. In the other EEC countries an alcohol content of only 80 is permitted, while we are permitting a level of 100 here. Down the years and in the generations which have immediately passed we had the reputation of being more susceptible to alcohol than any other European nation. Notwithstanding the fact that we have a high moral outlook and conduct there has been a huge increase in the number of fatalities since the withdrawal of the old road code which was in force up to seven or eight months ago.

I would like to lay emphasis upon one aspect of this Bill. We have been seeing over the years that there were certain loopholes and they were becoming more evident. As Senator Martin said, the courts had great opportunities to discover and pronounce under the defects of that code before it was withdrawn. Even at that, I feel it was a deterrent for any driver going to a lounge or hotel to partake of liquor to know that there was a code there under which he could be prosecuted and convicted. When it was withdrawn he then had an assurance that there was no code in the sense that there was not a blood test. He went in with a greater assurance that he could drink to excess and have a reasonable chance of getting off without the penalty of being disqualified. That is something which has been proved in practice, and it is a tragedy to have to recall that 50 per cent more people were killed and injured in the last four or six months than were killed in the same period in the previous 12 months. We must ask ourselves as a nation whether by our softening for that time we as a people contributed to the death of these people in a special way. We must come to the conclusion that we have done so. This is an improvement to an extent, but it is allowing a higher alcoholic content in the blood without conviction than in any other EEC country.

There is a possibility that somebody can go out tomorrow and have a drink and be very highly intoxicated and go home and try to sleep it off. When he thinks he is well enough the next day without taking anything, he is still in a condition in which he can commit a serious offence on the road. Every Senator knows that such a circumstance can arise, and it does arise.

People who are continually drinking in excess, even when they are not known to be going into a publichouse or coming out of it, can still be capable of being in this condition, and should be put on the test. I have known people to be involved in serious accidents and the argument they put up was that they did not have a drink that whole day but nonetheless they were intoxicated. I do not want to say anything more about that, but these circumstances can obtain and the testing of persons for alcohol content in that sort of situation should always be resorted to. Everybody has sympathy for the man who takes drink to excess, but that sympathy is a false sympathy when it leads to him risking his own life and the lives of other road users in consequence of the impairing of his senses and his understanding as a result of drink. If there is to be better driving, more safety, less drunkenness and less quarrelling and less of the sort of revelling that brings about many of the deaths that have occurred, not only on the roads outside lounges, hotels, publichouses and other places and if there is to be any improvement in safety standards, the Bill is to be welcomed.

I would subscribe entirely to the view expressed by Senator Martin that people who frequent publichouses, even if they are not going to drive, should, if they are likely to be involved in any dispute or any interference with a neighbour or anybody else that they have not even yet met, should also be made amenable to the law. It is important for that reason that the Bill should be implemented as expeditiously as possible. I hope that it will be successful in doing all the things that it is hoped it will do and that all who see the penalties imposed will be deterred from having these penalties imposed on themselves, from committing offences that bring about the penalties and so ensure that the loss of life on the roads as a result of accidents will be considerably reduced.

I must comment on and strongly disagree with the concluding statements made by Senator Howard. Like Senator Howard I am a publican but possibly unlike Senator Howard I am a publican who caters for late night drinking. The views expressed by Senator Howard are very similar to those expressed by his association in a recent petition to the Minister for Justice concerning drinking hours. To my mind they are inaccurate and indeed most unfair. One would get the impression that the publicans are passing the buck in this serious matter to establishments designed for late night meals and late night drinking. One would indeed get the impression from them that there is no drunkenness in the ordinary publichouses. My experience after 16 or 17 years is that a person who has a meal with a drink, a person who is on a licensed premises catering for cabaret or late night shows, drinks much less than the person who stands at a public bar. Indeed, it has been my experience that the average spending at a cabaret show is something in the region of £1.25 per head. I am sure that the Senator Howard would admit that in a publichouse at a public bar the average rate of spending per head is much more than this.

To abolish late night drinking in establishments such as I mentioned would, to my mind, only increase the amount of rapid drinking done in a very short time. It is correct to say that people standing at a public bar drink more in the last 30 or 45 minutes because they know that drink will not be available to them at a later stage. It is also correct to say that people who know that they will not be able to get drink at a late hour are in a position to buy it in large quantities before the publichouse closes or in a supermarket or carry out sales department earlier in the day, and instead of enjoying this drink slowly with a meal or cabaret, drink it in cars. And it is the drinking in cars of a bottle or a half-bottle that brings about many accidents in this country. I feel that a person who will walk into Senator Howard's pub at 10.30 in the morning and drink until lunchtime could do more damage than the person who will walk into my establishment at 10.30 at night and enjoy a meal or a cabaret show. The point that I am driving at is——

That McGlinchey's is better than Howard's.

That goes without saying. I have never seen Senator Howard's premises so I cannot comment on that. The point I am trying to drive home is that our hours are much too restricted. It is absolute nonsense that a person should be considered a criminal in the eyes of the law if, on a Sunday evening at 10.30 he is sitting in a publichouse having a few drinks. Because he or she is not permitted to sit in that publichouse at that hour, there is the tendency to drink to excess at an earlier hour.

When one visits any European country where there are no set drinking hours, one finds that instances of drunkenness do not appear to be as noticeable as in this country. No publican wants to be responsible for making a person drunk, and certainly no publican wants to be responsible for a person under the infuence of drink driving a car.

I am very much in favour of these proposals. I often wonder at some very intelligent people who fail to accept that they are unfit to drive and, like most publicans, I have often tried to prevent people from driving their cars. The headstrong attitude of some, while under the infuence of drink, continues to surprise me. The penalties proposed in this Bill are sharp and they need to be sharp. It must be driven home to every man and woman who enters a public house that if he or she breaks the law as far as drunken driving is concerned, he or she will have to answer to the law. Not alone do I welcome the Bill but I suggest to the Minister that it should be obligatory on every publican and hotelier to have displayed in a prominent position, possibly near the exit doors, the penalties outlined in this Bill. It should be made quite clear to anyone who is drinking, who has a car outside the door, that the law, the Government and the people of Ireland will not tolerate any breach of this law.

I support the argument for the urgency of this legislation. I want to add my brief contribution to those of Senators who advocate the necessity for further legislation as soon as possible. Analysis of the other causes of the serious proportion of fatal accidents should proceed with clerity. I agree with Senator Butler on the need for an annual examination of the roadworthiness of vehicles which is, I think, the rule of some countries. Insurance companies could be persuaded to issue certificates at a fee. I also feel that the standard of driving is far below that of the EEC and that a code of discipline could be introduced.

Then there is the question of seat-belts. The number of mascots, toys, stickers and so on that sometimes impairs a driver's vision amazes me. This is something that should be considered in further legislation. Of course, within the Minister's immediate authority is the elimination of some of the dangerous accident spots right through the whole country. In other words, I just want to make a plea that we will continue to press for further legislation so that safety on the road can be something to be proud of in this country.

First, I should like to thank the Senators for their contributions and to express my appreciation at the fact that they regard this Bill as a matter of great urgency. It is a matter of urgency indeed. The fact that we are facing the peak of the holiday season when we will have far more cars on the road from day-to-day has been mentioned in the debate. If we had not got agreement to get this Bill through this House and the Dáil next week we would be left in a very dangerous position without anything having been done about the fact that the previous Act is in a state of suspension.

The matter of the delay in bringing in this measure was referred to by a number of Members. I can assure the House that the delay was absolutely necessary. There were many, many discussions with the legal profession and we had to seek counsel's opinion on many aspects of the Bill, even from some of the counsel who blew holes in the last Bill, in an effort to close the loopholes that did exist and to ensure, as far as possible, that this Bill would be effective and workable. The delay was necessary and was not one day longer than it had to be.

I shall deal with some of the points referred to. Senator Molony spoke of the necessity to educate everybody about the evils of driving and drinking. The National Road Safety Association this year got a grant of £250,000. Much of this money will be used in this education process and also for propaganda purposes, in order to cut back on the number of accidents, fatal and otherwise, which we have. I would support any initiatives by local organisations or otherwise to promote road safety in any form. I would also point out that An Foras Forbartha are having a seminar this year in an effort to educate people more and more about the need for road safety and taking the proper precautions. Again, I would certainly support any group or groups of people in local initiatives with regard to this.

Senator Molony also referred to section 18 and the question of taking alcohol after the initiation of the breathalyser. This is exactly the same as in section 35 of the 1968 Act. There is no change at all with regard to that.

Senator Murphy dealt with section 11, subsection (2), which refers to the person in charge of a vehicle. Again, there is no change with regard to this; it is exactly as in the 1968 Act. There is a difference in the level of fines which the court can impose. The maximum fine in this case for being drunk in charge is £100 for the first offence. Disqualification arises only after the second offence in this regard.

Senator Cassidy referred to section 19, a special or substantial reason for refusing to give blood. Again, I must say there is no change with regard to this visá-vis the 1968 Act. It is a matter for the courts to decide what is an acceptable reason for not wanting to give blood. It is for the courts to decide whether an adequate reason is that the person says he cannot stand the sight of blood or whatever else he may say. It is the same as the law that was enacted before and it has not proved to be any source of difficulty when it comes before the courts. It has not been one of the difficulties we have experienced.

Senator Howard suggests that the court should have discretion with regard to the disqualification of drivers. Again, this has not changed. The mandatory disqualification is the same as in the last Bill. Any change in this, in my opinion anyway and in the opinion of my colleagues and the people who drafted the Bill, would only show weakness. By lifting this we would show weakness at a time when the number of fatal accidents resulting from driving after excessive drinking has increased so rapidly. It would show remarkable weakness in the face of this terrible danger. If discretion were given to the courts as Senator Howard suggests, it would cut right across the whole basis of the law, the 1968 Act as well, which is being amended, and the recommendations of the Commission which recommendations were the reason for bringing in the 1968 Act. This Commission had representatives of medical, legal and many other interests, and the gardaí as well. There was no change in the mandatory penalty. Senator Dowling suggested that when a disqualified person gets his licence he should be tested. This provision is in operation in some countries, including Germany and the United States; it could be considered for a future Bill but not on this occasion.

Senator Dowling was also one of the speakers who mentioned drugs. There is no machinery in this Bill to provide for measuring drug concentration in the blood. We appreciate that it is possible for a person to be observed by a garda to be incapable of driving or to be driving incapably. If the garda uses a breathalyser on that person and that person is under the influence of drugs it will not register on the breathalyser on any form of breathalyser. So, what happens is that the garda realising that this person is incapable—he might look bleary-eyed and be totally incapable of walking properly or otherwise appear to be incapable—requests a urine test under medical supervision, of course. This is sent to the analyst to establish whether drugs are present or not but it is not measured in the same manner as the BAC.

This is not designed or intended in any way to interfere with people who are on drugs prescribed by their medical practitioner. If a person is on a prescribed drug and if a dose of those particular drugs even though it is in accordance with the medical practitioner's instructions renders that person incapable of driving, that person should not be driving. That is what it amounts to, because that person is a menace to other road users just as much as the person who has excessive alcohol. The courts are usually fully capable of dealing with that situation.

Senator Butler suggested that the level might be 85 instead of 100. It was 125, now it is down to 100 and my information is that the vast majority of the people who were caught under the previous Bill were at 200. However, we are at the same level now as the United States. It is not because it happens to be the level in the United States that we decided that it should come down to 100 but because we thought 125 was far too liberal as I think has been borne out here in the debate by the approach of many Senators, some of whom thought the new level was not though enough.

Again, I would like to thank the House for the manner in which they have received the Bill and for the very helpful debate which we have had. I also assure them that in no way did we delay one hour longer than was absolutely necessary. We cannot even guarantee that this Bill will work, we believe it will. That is the advice available. If it is found to be defective in any way it will be amended immediately. That is the intention and that is what we will do.

May I ask one question of the Minister? Several Members of the House expressed concern about the fact that we were asked to deal with this Bill with great haste, and in view of the technical nature of the Bill would the Minister give a commitment that perhaps in the autumn the matter might come before the House again lest after consideration Members of the House might have ideas as to how the Bill might be improved or changed in some way to the betterment of the Bill?

What I suggest is not a guarantee to bring in legislation or amending legislation, but certainly the House could have a further discussion on the Bill in the next session by way of motion. Even by that time, I may, add, we may know how it is working and be a bit wiser.

Could I ask the Minister how soon this Bill will be in operation on the roads?

I have got the agreement of the Dáil to give all Stages of this Bill on Tuesday and then having been passed through this House already it has only to go for signature to the President. I do not know how many days must expire after the Houses of the Oireachtas pass a Bill; there is some minimum number of days——

Before the end of July?

It will be operational early in July.

Question put and agreed to.

I think the House is aware of the urgency and I would ask the House to take the next Stage as soon as possible.

I would suggest tomorrow morning.

Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 22 June 1978.