Northern Ireland Assembly Consultation on the draft Road Traffic (Drink Driving) (Amendment) Bill and additional measures to tackle drink and drug driving in Northern Ireland

Response from Brake, the road safety charity
5 October 2012

About Brake
Brake is a leading UK road safety charity, working to prevent the five deaths and 66 injuries that occur every year on roads across Britain and caring for bereaved and injured victims. We have been working for 18 years to tackle the menace of drink and drug driving by championing the most effective, research supported solutions to impaired driving. As a charity that supports the victims of road crashes, we also work to ensure that there is a proper deterrent against taking risks on the road that tear families apart , and that the police and other emergency services who fight road crime are properly resourced and supported.

 

REPEAT OFFENDERS
Q1. Which option do you consider to be the most effective in tackling repeat offenders?
Option A: Introduce graduated penalties for repeat offenders where either one or both offences is above the new lower limits (either 20mg/100ml or 50mg/100m - as applicable) but remains below a BAC level at which there is currently no offence i.e. below 80mg/100ml. In all other circumstances the current minimum 3 year disqualification period will apply: or
Option B: Apply the minimum 3 year disqualification period for all repeat offenders irrespective of BAC levels; Please indicate your preference by ticking the appropriate box (?)
Option A ?

Option B x
Neither ?
Brake welcomes the Northern Ireland government's commitment to ensuring repeat drink-drivers receive appropriate penalties, and particularly lengthy driving bans, to protect themselves and other road users. We believe the most effective way of achieving this aim is to implement a blanket minimum three year disqualification for all repeat offenders, regardless of BAC level. As recognised by the 2009 consultation on drink-driving, drinking even small amounts of alcohol significantly impairs driving ability . If proposals to roll out remedial training to a wider proportion of offenders are successful it is likely that many second-time offenders will be aware of this danger . There is also widespread awareness that drink-driving (i.e. driving over the legal limit) is extremely risky and frequently leads to casualties, so as long as the new limit of 50mg is widely communicated to the public Brake can see no reason to defer to a higher limit for the purposes of imposing a full penalty for repeat offences. There is no excuse for an offender who takes the same risk and breaks the same law twice; they are knowingly and wilfully endangering themselves and others and flouting the law. A blanket three year ban sends out a clear message that repeat offending won't be tolerated, in a way that is easy for the public to grasp. Such an approach would also reinforce the new drink-drive limit rather than referencing back to the old limit.

We believe that concerns over the public considering a blanket three year disqualification too punitive are misplaced. Our research shows the public consistently supports harsher punishments for driving offences, including for drink drive offences , suggesting they would be supportive of blanket three year disqualifications for repeat offenders, especially if the reasons were made clear . The public safety benefits of a blanket three year ban are persuasive. A repeated breach of the limit demonstrates a recklessness and disregard for the safety of others that needs to be met with swift and effective enforcement.

As set out in our 2009 consultation response, Brake believes 20mg is the safest and most appropriate drink drive limit for all drivers based on a range of evidence that even very small amounts of alcohol significantly affect crash risk. Given that the Northern Ireland government has opted to implement a 50mg limit for most drivers, which Brake supports as a step forward, Brake argues it is even more important that the punishment for repeatedly breaching that limit should be appropriately high. Driving with more than 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood poses a serious risk, therefore individuals caught repeatedly in breach of this limit should be subject to a minimum three year ban, to protect themselves and other road users.

REGISTERED HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS
Q2. Do you agree with the proposal to extend the role of the registered health care professional when investigating drink/drug offences as follows

To allow nurses (in addition to medical practitioners):
a) to take blood samples in hospitals as well as in police stations; Yes
b) to take blood samples from a person incapable of consenting; and Yes
c) to assess whether drug testing should proceed Yes
a) Brake fully supports the proposal that nurses are allowed to take blood samples in hospitals. We find it extremely concerning that at present some offenders might escape justice due to a lack of available doctors, and can see no reason why this loophole should not be closed. We see no relevant distinction between a hospital and a police station for the purposes of this legislation, and agree it is unreasonable that presently nurses are allowed to take blood samples in police stations but not hospitals.

b) Brake fully agrees it is reasonable to allow nurses to take samples without consent in hospitals, given that they are already permitted to do so in police stations, to close a loophole that could allow some dangerous drink drivers to escape justice.

c) Brake agrees nurses should be allowed to assess whether drug testing should proceed, given that this is based on a straightforward opinion rather than exhaustive diagnosis, and given that this should help to ensure dangerous drug drivers do not escape justice because of a lack of availability of medical staff to carry out these preliminary assessments. If offenders are escaping detection and appropriate punishment for drug-driving because of a lack of medical practitioners, then the number of qualified personnel allowed to perform assessments should be expanded.

PRELIMINARY BREATH TEST
Q3. Do you agree with the proposal to remove the need for a preliminary breath test as a pre-requisite to an evidential breath test [following the acquisition of new evidential breath testing equipment]? Yes
Brake welcomes these plans to modernise the drink-driving laws and streamline police processes to enable more efficient drink driving enforcement. Therefore, we fully support the proposal to remove the need for a preliminary breath test, given that the accuracy of breath tests has now made such a preliminary test redundant. We welcome the Assembly's willingness to invest in new breath testing equipment and to free up police officers' time to improve traffic enforcement.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS ON THE DRAFT BILL
Q4. Do you have any additional comments on any of the issues included in the draft Road Traffic (Drink Driving) (Amendment) Bill? Please prefix your comments with the particular aspect to which they refer.
2.1 Brake supports the Northern Ireland government's determination to make roads safer by decreasing the drink drive limit. But as outlined in the 2009 consultation, we believe the safest and most appropriate limit is a zero-tolerance limit of 20mg per 100ml alcohol given that even 20mg-50mg alcohol significantly increases crash risk , and given that this lower limit makes it absolutely clear that it should be none for the road. However, a 50mg limit is a step in the right direction – far preferable to the current limit – and Brake supports the adoption of a 20mg limit for the most at-risk drivers if this limit will not be introduced for all drivers.

Brake would strongly urge the Northern Ireland government to not only widely publicise the forthcoming change in the law to encourage compliance, but to use the opportunity to communicate the message that to be safe, drivers should not even take the risk of driving after one small drink, or the morning after having more than one or two the night before. Brake knows from its research into public attitudes and behaviour that there is widespread misunderstanding on these points : many drivers think they're unaffected after one or two drinks, and don't understand how long alcohol stays in their system.

2.2(i) We are concerned that removing the automatic disqualification for drink-driving offences at the lower end of the spectrum, and introduction of such a low fine, will work against the assembly's stated intentions, and undermine the new limit. For a crime as serious as drink driving, which kills or seriously injures 88 people per year in Northern Ireland , we argue that a fine as low as £100-£200 and six penalty points is not a sufficient deterrent. We call for a fine of at least £500, but preferably of around £1,000 for fixed penalty notices for driving offences, along with a minimum driving disqualification of 12 months for those exceeding the drink drive limit. Fines handed out in courts for repeat and higher-level offenders should be far higher still, accompanied with lengthier driving bans.

2.2 (i) We support plans to increase the minimum disqualification period for those caught driving with large amounts of alcohol in their bloodstream, but we feel that at the highest levels the current proposals are not sufficient. A driver with a blood alcohol level between 80mg/100ml and 100mg/100ml is 11 times more likely as a completely sober driver to cause a fatality . Because of the significant risk posed to human life, drivers with the higher level of 125mg/100ml or more should be banned from driving for at least three years. We recognise that disqualifying drivers for significant periods of time can have detrimental effects on the offender but these are limited compared to the horrendous effects on families bereaved by drink-drive crashes .

2.5 Brake fully supports and welcomes the Northern Ireland government's plans to allow random drink- and drug- testing checkpoints. Research shows random testing of this kind has a significant impact on road safety . The combination of greater and high profile enforcement through checkpoints with the change in the drink-drive law, and a high-quality public information campaign should go a long way to stamping out drink driving in Northern Ireland, demonstrating that it won't be tolerated.

2.6 Finally, Brake welcomes the Northern Ireland government's plans to remove statutory option to give a blood or urine sample instead of a breath sample. As the proposals state, the statutory option is outdated given advances in breathalyser technology, and serves only as a hindrance to the successful prosecution of drink-drive offenders.