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Drink driving offences in Ireland

Introduction

The main legislation dealing with road safety in Ireland is the Road Traffic Act 1961. This law has been updated and modernised regularly over the years and following the introduction of the Road Traffic Act 2006 the Gardai have wide powers to reduce and eliminate the offence of drink driving on Irish roads.

Before the introduction of the 2006 Act the Gardai had to be of the opinion that someone had;

  • Committed a road traffic offence or
  • Had been involved in a traffic accident or
  • Form the opinion that the driver had consumed alcohol

before being legally entitled to breath-test a driver. The introduction of the 2006 Road Traffic Act gave the Gardai the power to breathalyse any driver stopped at a mandatory alcohol checkpoint without the need to form any opinion in relation to the driver of the vehicle. The ability to breathalyse any driver is now commonly known as random breath testing.

Under the Road Traffic Act 2011, since 1 June 2011 Gardaí must conduct a preliminary breath test where they believe a driver has consumed alcohol or at the scene of a crash where someone has been injured and requires medical attention.

Rules

Section 49 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 as inserted by Section 10 of the Road Traffic Act 1994 created four separate drink driving offences in Ireland. From 28 October 2011, these traffic offences are replaced.

The new offences, introduced by Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 2010, reduce the drink driving alcohol limits for all drivers. They also differentiate between experienced drivers and new drivers – those with learner permits or who hold a driving licence for 2 years or less, or have no valid licence/permit. Lower alcohol limits apply to new drivers than those that apply to experienced drivers. The lower alcohol limits applying to new drivers also apply to drivers of buses, lorries, trailers, work vehicles, taxis and other public service vehicle drivers.

The new offences are as follows:

  • An offence of driving or attempting to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place while under the influence of an intoxicant to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle.
  • An offence of driving or attempting to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place while there is present in your body a quantity of alcohol such that, within 3 hours after so driving or attempting to drive, the concentration of alcohol in your blood exceeds a concentration of:
    - 50 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood for experience drivers
    - 20 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood for other drivers
  • An offence of driving or attempting to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place while there is present in your body a quantity of alcohol such that, within 3 hours after so driving or attempting to drive, the concentration of alcohol in your urine exceeds a concentration of:
    - 67 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine for experienced drivers
    - 27 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine for other drivers
  • An offence of driving or attempting to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place while there is present in your body a quantity of alcohol such that, within 3 hours after so driving or attempting to drive, the concentration of alcohol in your breath exceeds a concentration of:
    - 22 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath for an experience driver
    - 9 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath for other drivers

What is mandatory alcohol testing and how does it work?

Mandatory alcohol testing means random breath testing. The Road Traffic Act 2006 allows the Gardai (in certain circumstances) to breathalyse the drivers of vehicles without the need to have formed the opinion that the driver had consumed alcohol.

The power can however only be exercised at checkpoints which have been authorised by a Garda Inspector. These checkpoints are specifically designed for the purpose of mandatory alcohol testing. The authorisation must be given by the Inspector in writing and allows Gardai to set up a checkpoint in a public place (or another place). The Gardai can stop any mechanically propelled vehicle (including motorcycles, scooters, electric bicycles, wheelchairs, etc.) and may require the driver of the vehicle to do the following;

  • Provide a specimen of their breath by exhaling into equipment used for indicating the presence of alcohol in the breath, or
  • Accompany the Garda (or another Garda) to a place (including a vehicle) at or near the checkpoint to provide by a breath specimen, or
  • To leave the vehicle at the place where it has been stopped.

Anyone who refuses or fails to comply immediately with the above or to comply in the manner required by the Gardai is guilty of an offence. A Member of the Gardai may also require the driver of the vehicle to move it to a place in the area of the checkpoint and to keep or leave it there until the person has complied with a requirement made of him or her.

The Gardai may arrest (without warrant) anyone who in the opinion of the Garda, is committing or has committed an offence of failure or refusal to comply with a request by the Garda.

Can a Garda stop me randomly while in traffic and breathalyse me?

No. The Road Traffic Act 2006 does not give the Gardai the power to pull cars over while in traffic and breathalyse the driver randomly. It only gives the Gardai the power to conduct checkpoints for the purpose of random breath testing. If however, the Garda has formed the opinion that you have committed any road traffic offence, or that you have been involved in a road traffic accident, or is of the opinion that you have consumed alcohol then they can stop you in traffic and breathalyse you under the powers given by the Road Traffic Act 2002.

Can the Gardai set up a mandatory alcohol testing checkpoint anywhere?

Yes. Provided it is in a public place and is authorised by a Garda Inspector. The reason the Gardai have been given powers to set up these checkpoints is to reduce accidents caused by drink driving in locations where they will have most effect. So, basically they can conduct checkpoints on main roads, outside pubs or night clubs or anywhere else they feel will reduce the number of drink drivers on the road. The Gardai are however obliged to exercise these powers in a proportional manner.

What proof is needed in drink driving cases?

When a Garda decides to prosecute someone for drink driving they must provide the court with certain proofs in order to obtain a conviction. The proofs required under Section 4(2), (3) and (4) of the Road Traffic Act 2010 (i.e. blood, urine and breath test) are slightly different to that of Section 4(1) (driving while under the influence of an intoxicant).
This charge is normally preferred where an arrested person has failed to provide a blood, urine or breath specimen with the result that it is not possible to bring a case under either Section 4(2), (3) or (4).

For an offence under 4(1) the following elements or proofs must be given to the court;

  • That you drove or attempted to drive
  • That you must have driven or attempted to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle
  • That your driving or attempt to drive took place in a public place
  • That you were under the influence of an intoxicant to such a degree that you could not properly control the vehicle

Normally the Garda will give evidence of their observations and the opinion they formed as a result. Other Gardai or doctors who dealt with the person while in the Garda Station can also give evidence in support of this.

Other evidence that the Garda may give could include the defendants’ inability to perform simple co-ordination tests when asked. For example, you were unable to walk a straight line or unable to put the key into the door lock. Such evidence will support the view that you were incapable of having proper control of their vehicle.

Offences under Section 4(2), 4(3) and 4(4)

The most common type of prosecution for drink driving is under these three sections for driving when over the prescribed limits for blood/alcohol, urine/alcohol or breath/alcohol.

Proof of the concentration of alcohol in the case of section 4(2) and 4(3) will be provided by a certificate of analysis from Medical Bureau of Road Safety. In the case of a prosecution under section 4(4) the concentration is proven by a statement printed from an intoxilyzer, a machine designed to measure the concentration of alcohol in the breath.

What is the procedure if I am arrested for drink driving?

If you are arrested at the roadside for drink driving, the Garda is obliged to inform you in ordinary understandable language that you are being arrested for the offence of drink driving. You will be brought to a local Garda Station where you will be informed of your rights by a member in charge of the station. These rights include consulting with a solicitor but should be noted that failure to contact your solicitor will not excuse you from complying with the Garda’s request for a sample of blood, urine or breath specimen.

In the case of Walsh v O’Buchalla [1991] 1 I.R.56 the right of access to a solicitor was evoked by the defendant who claimed that because he was denied access to his solicitor, the sample of blood taken was unlawful because his constitutional right to access to a solicitor was denied. The High Court rejected this and said that because it was a statutory obligation to provide a specimen when arrested for drink driving, no amount of legal advice would change this obligation. In other words, the solicitor could not have advised their client not to provide a specimen which would amount to advising them to break the law.

If you provide a sample of blood or urine the sample will be divided into two containers in your presence and sealed. You will then be offered a sample of your choice and the remaining sample will be sent to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety for analysis. The results of the test will be posted to both yourself and to the Garda concerned. You may have your own sample independently analysed if you wish.

Similarly, if you provide a sample of your breath the intoxilyser machine will give two immediate print outs of the level of alcohol in your breath. You will be offered a choice of either read-out to retain for yourself and the other can be used by the Garda in court as proof that you were above the legal limit.

If the alcohol level is shown to be over the legal amount then the Garda will either issue a fixed penalty notice or summons you to appear in the District Court to answer the charge of drink driving. Of course, if you are below the legal limit then that is the end of the matter.

Penalties for drink driving offences

Penalties on conviction for drink driving will vary depending on the amount of alcohol that has been detected in your system. Another factor the court will take account of is whether the offence is your first offence or otherwise. Under the penalties introduced by the Road Traffic Act 2006 all convictions for drink driving carried a mandatory disqualification from driving.

From 28 October 2011 (through the Road Traffic Act 2010) the penalties for drink driving offences are changed.

Administrative penalty system

If you hold a valid licence/permit at the time of the offence and your alcohol level is below a certain limit, you will be issued with a fixed penalty notice. If you pay the fine stated on the notice within 28 days, the additional penalty stated on the notice will be imposed but you will not have to go to court. You are not eligible for a drink driving fixed penalty notice if you have received a similar notice within the previous 3 years. The alcohol limits and penalties applied under the fixed penalty notice scheme are as set out below:

Driver type Concentration of alcohol Fine Additional penalty
Experienced drivers (a) Not exceeding 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood
(b) Not exceeding 107mg of alcohol per 100ml of urine
(c) Not exceeding 35mcg of alcohol per 100ml of breath
€200 3 penalty points
Experienced drivers (a) Exceeding 80mg but not exceeding 100mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood
(b) Exceeding 107mg but not exceeding 135mg of alcohol per 100ml of urine
(c) Exceeding 35mcg but not exceeding 44mcg of alcohol per 100ml of breath
€400 6 months disqualification
Other drivers (a) Not exceeding 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood
(b) Not exceeding 107mg of alcohol per 100ml of urine
(c) Not exceeding 35mcg of alcohol per 100ml of breath
€200 3 months disqualification

Court system

If you have to go to court the disqualification periods for drink driving convictions are as follows:

Concentration of alcohol First offence (period of disqualification) Second offence (period of disqualification)
(a) Not exceeding 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood
(b) Not exceeding 107mg of alcohol per 100ml of urine
(c) Not exceeding 35mcg of alcohol per 100ml of breath
6 months 1 year
(a) Exceeding 80mg but not exceeding 100mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood
(b) Exceeding 107mg but not exceeding 135mg of alcohol per 100ml of urine
(c) Exceeding 35mcg but not exceeding 44mcg of alcohol per 100ml of breath
1 year 2 years
(a) Exceeding 100mg but not exceeding 150mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood
(b) Exceeding 135mg but not exceeding 200mg of alcohol per 100ml of urine
(c) Exceeding 44mcg but not exceeding 66mcg of alcohol per 100ml of breath
2 years 4 years
(a) Exceeding 150mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood
(b) Exceeding 200mg of alcohol per 100ml of urine
(c) Exceeding 66mcg of alcohol per 100ml of breath
3 years 6 years

The above penalties are minimum penalties and the judge has the discretion to increase these penalties.

The maximum penalty for drink driving is €5,000 or 6 months in prison or both.

Removal of a disqualification

You can apply for the early restoration of your driving licence when half your disqualification period is over. However, you cannot apply for an early restoration:

  • If the disqualification is for 2 years or less
  • If the disqualification is not your first disqualification order within the previous 10 years

The court can reduce the period of disqualification to two-thirds of the original period of disqualification or to 2 years, whichever is the greater.

When a court is considering an application for the restoration of a driving licence it will look at the nature of the offence, the character of the applicant and the conduct of the applicant after conviction.

Rates

Appeals to the Circuit Court to reverse a conviction for drink driving are free of charge.

Appeals to the District Court for the early restoration of your driving licence if you are disqualified will cost €55.

How to apply

If you have been convicted of drink driving in the District Court you may appeal the conviction to the Circuit Court. The appeal must be lodged in the District Court Office within 14 days of your conviction. The court clerk in your local District Court will assist you in this process. Alternatively, your solicitor will assist you.

If you have been disqualified from driving for more than 2 years and wish to apply to the courts for an early restoration of your licence you may do so in person or through your solicitor following payment of the appropriate fee. You may apply for the early restoration of your driving licence only when half of your disqualification period is complete.

The District Court and Circuit Court clerk will inform you about the date and venue of your appeal.

Where to apply

Your local District Cout office.

Page updated: 4 December 2013

Language

Gaeilge

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Contact Us

If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.