Northern Ireland

Alex Attwood wants tougher drink-driving laws

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Media captionEnvironment minister Alex Attwood: "I think we can do a lot more to create less death"

Northern Ireland's environment minister has outlined his proposals to change the drink-driving laws.

Alex Attwood says he wants to cut the blood alcohol limit from the current level of 80mg/100ml to 50mg/100ml.

There would be another, lower, limit of 20mg/100ml for young drivers and people who earn their living from driving.

Mr Attwood also wants to give police powers to randomly stop drivers without the need for reasonable suspicion.

He also proposes, in certain circumstances, removing drivers' right to opt for a blood or urine sample instead of a breath test.

Other plans include:

  • A new graduated penalty regime that will allow for fixed penalties for first offences at lower limits and court prosecution for high level first offences or any second or subsequent offences
  • Automatic referral of offenders to an approved drink-drive rehabilitation scheme.

The minister said that while much progress had been made towards eliminating a drink-drive culture, more work needed to be done.

He said that over the past five years, 75 people had been killed and 463 seriously injured by drivers impaired on drink or drugs.

"This is totally unacceptable and I am determined to do what I can to tackle this issue once and for all," Mr Attwood added.

"I have listened to the public on this. There is widespread public support for a step change in how we deal with drink drivers and I believe that what I am proposing will make a real difference."

Zero tolerance

Such a change would put Northern Ireland on a different legal standing to the rest of the UK.

However, there have recently been discussions about dropping the drink-driving limit in the Republic of Ireland.

The 50mg/100ml applies in several European countries, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. Some of the countries have variations, with newly-qualified drivers in Spain having a lower limit.

Image caption Alex Attwood proposes the most radical change to drink-driving laws in 40 years

Julie Townsend, from the road safety charity Brake, said she welcomed the move and hoped the rest of the UK would follow suit.

"We actually want a zero tolerance approach to drink-driving," she said.

"We would like to see a 20mg limit across the UK and we have got evidence that the majority of drivers would actually support that tougher stance.

"And the reason we want a zero tolerance approach is that it sends out a very clear message that it's none for the road.

"You shouldn't be drinking even a small drink before getting behind the wheel because it's dangerous and you're putting yourself and others at risk."

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