Radical shake-up of law for drivers

a police officer holding a breath test kit
a police officer holding a breath test kit

Tough new driving laws are set to target both drinkers and freshly-qualified drivers in a bid to slash the number of lives lost on the roads.

Among the proposals introduced to the Assembly yesterday are a de facto ‘zero alcohol’ limit for all new drivers, and a curb on the number of teenage friends who can travel in the same car at once.

It is billed as the first real shake-up of drink-driving laws since the limit was introduced in 1968, and is part of a bid to cut road deaths down to zero – although it is not only the young who will be affected.

The new piece of law would reduce the maximum blood-alcohol limit by more than a third for general motorists, and by three-quarters for novice and professional drivers.

According to figures cited by the Department of the Environment, whose minister Mark H Durkan is pushing the changes, in recent years 17 to 24-year-olds were responsible for 42 per cent of fatal crashes in which drivers were to blame – even though they make up just a tenth of drivers.

However, other measures may relax restrictions on young drivers, such as changing the R plate system.

“Radical measures are necessary if we are to pursue an ambition of zero road deaths,” said Mr Durkan.

“This bill will provide a new regime that is both fair and proportionate in effectively targeting the harm caused by drink-driving. These limits are already accepted as the norm in many countries across Europe and I believe road users here have the right to that same standard of protection from impaired drivers and riders.”

The minister continued: “I am committed to bringing forward a package of measures that responds to public concerns and will tackle some of the biggest road safety challenges we face today.

“I see this as a historic opportunity to drive forward road safety and I look forward to working with my Assembly colleagues on the passage of this bill.”

The piece of law, called The Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, is set to be debated on May 27.

If introduced as it stands, the bill’s tougher provisions would mean that new drivers cannot take their practical test within one year of obtaining their provisional licence.

Currently there is no limit on when they can take it.

The driver will have to fill in a new logbook as they learn too.

However, the age at which they can begin to learn to drive will be cut from 17 to 16-and-a-half.

No-one under the age of 24 would be allowed to carry more than one young person aged between 14 and 20 for six months after they have passed their driving test, unless they are a member of their immediate family.

This is a means of combating the peer pressure felt by young drivers, said the department.

The legal blood-alcohol limit would fall from 80mg/100ml at present to 50mg/100ml for most drivers, and 20mg/100ml for professional drivers and for “novice” drivers (that is, those who have been driving for less than two years).

This would bring Northern Ireland into line with the Republic of Ireland. At present, Scotland is also planning to make similar changes, but not England and Wales.

As for enforcing these new limits, the bill would also give police the power to set up random drink-drive road stops.

Anyone who has received six penalty points in the first two years would be offered a remedial course, and the bill says that any drink-drive offenders will automatically be referred to a course unless a judge decrees otherwise.

Another planned measure is that anyone using quads on public roads must wear a helmet.