Northern Ireland

NI driving laws face overhaul

Breathalyser test Image copyright PA

The drink-drive limit in Northern Ireland would be reduced by almost 40% under a proposed new law.

Stormont Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said it was the first major shake-up in the law since the alcohol limit was introduced in 1968.

Under the plans, the permitted blood alcohol limit would be reduced to 50mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood - down from the current UK limit of 80mg.

It is thought the bill could become law by early next year.

Image copyright PA

The legislation also proposes changes for driver training and testing:

  • It would introduce a mandatory minimum learning period of 12 months while holding a provisional licence
  • However, the age that people can apply for a provisional licence would be reduced from 17 to 16 and a half
  • Drivers would be restricted for two years not one
  • Restricted drivers would have a zero alcohol limit
  • However, the 'R' restricted plates would be replaced with a new plate that has yet to be decided
  • During the first six months after passing the driving test, new motorists up to the age of 24 would not be allowed to carry more than one teenage passenger apart from immediate family members
  • The 45mph speed restriction on learner and restricted drivers would be removed
  • Instead, driving test candidates would be assessed while driving at particular speeds
  • Learner drivers would be allowed to take lessons on motorways
Image caption Quad bike riders will have to wear helmets on public roads

Mr Durkan said Northern Ireland's drink-drive laws would be brought into line with Europe, including the Republic of Ireland.

"Radical measures are necessary if we are to pursue an ambition of zero road deaths," he said.

"This new legislation will tackle drivers who shamelessly continue to drink and drive.

"It will provide powers to radically overhaul how we train, test and protect our vulnerable new drivers.

"It will also reduce the risk to riders of quads on public roads by requiring them to wear helmets."

'Out of kilter'

The chairman of the Driving Instructors Association in Northern Ireland said the lowering of the minimum age for learner drivers "has been sprung on us".

"It wasn't in the consultation paper that we responded to, and we are told it was a ministerial decision," said Tom Burns.

"We are going to be completely out of kilter with the mainland, who are talking about raising the age to 18 - it doesn't seem to have been thought out.

"Also, the one-year minimum period for learning is too long for many people, and it doesn't suit people like pregnant women for example, who have to get their test as soon as possible."

Checkpoints

The legislation proposes a number of other measures on drink-driving:

  • New blood-alcohol limits of 20mg/100ml for learners, novice motorists and professional drivers
  • A new graduated penalty regime with fixed penalties for first offences at lower limits, and continued court prosecution for high-level first offences or any second or subsequent offences
  • Powers to allow police, under controlled circumstances, to establish roadside checkpoints where a constable can require drivers to take breath tests.
  • Automatic referral to a course for drink-drive offenders, unless a district judge decides that attendance would be inappropriate. While an offender may be referred automatically, attendance would be voluntary.

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