“I am delighted to have been invited here today and to welcome you to the European Transport Safety Lecture on “Alcohol and Driving”
As we are too well aware, drinking and driving is a major road safety issue in Ireland, and we need to do more to change driver behaviour.
Today’s event is an important forum for the many agencies and organisations involved to come together, to hear and discuss the lectures and presentations, and to put a spotlight on the drink driving issue.
The lecture by Professor Cusack and the presentations from Mr Siegrist and Ms Erenli will provide a great deal of information and food for thought. They will address the issues in detail, and we can look forward to a thought-provoking morning.
My own message is straightforward. Intoxicated driving is one of the main causes of fatalities and injuries on our roads, and that is not acceptable.
As you know, Government has made a commitment to reduce the legal blood alcohol concentration levels for driving, and to provide for alcohol testing at collisions. That commitment will be honoured with the passage of the new Road Traffic Bill that is very near completion and will be published later this month.
In that Bill I will be proposing a reduction to 50 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood for all drivers except learner, novice and professional drivers for which a 20 milligrammes limit will apply.
Various views have been expressed recently in support of, and against, such a reduction, but I am convinced by the evidence from around the world and from here at home that reducing the BAC will reduce the incidence of road collisions and so save lives and prevent serious injuries.
I believe there is already support among the general public, who see the reduced BAC as a positive measure to reduce deaths and injuries on the roads. We have to continue to take measures to change driver behaviour and the personal choices made in relation to drinking and driving. We have already seen the positive impact on driver behaviour of interventions such as roadside Mandatory Alcohol Testing checkpoints.
We have an integrated Road Safety Strategy here in Ireland which is being implemented in a coordinated way by a number of agencies and we are seeing a steady reduction in fatalities overall. The lowest number of fatalities on record in 2008 at 279 has been followed by a continuing downwards positive trend this year with fatalities so far at 186, down 38 on the same day last year.
Of course this is still far too many, for the families, friends and communities of those involved. Noel Brett recently put it very starkly: just over 13,000 people have been killed on Irish roads between January 1980 and September 2009.
I believe that this figure would have been 15,000 had Government not moved in 1998 to adopt our first road safety strategy with specific targets to lower deaths and injuries on our roads.
Today driving under the influence of drugs, is another area of increasing concern to us. I will also be including provisions in the new Road Traffic Bill on Preliminary Impairment Testing, which are designed to help the Gardai to form an opinion as to whether or not a person is intoxicated.
Legislation is of course only one aspect of road safety. As I have said, it is the integrated and co-ordinated activity of a variety of agencies that makes things happen.
Many of them are here today, and I would like to express my thanks to them. Their commitment is making a difference.
The European dimension of today’s event is also important in widening our perspective on road safety, interacting on matters of common interest, and learning from others. I welcome Mr Richard Allsop from the European Transport Safety Council, Mr Stefan Siegrist on the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention, and Ms Eva-Maria Erenli from the Austrian Road Safety Board.
The agenda and the discussion later on promise a very interesting morning.
My thanks to Mr Noel Brett and the RSA for organising and hosting the event, and I wish it every success.