Why Minister Noel Dempsey lacks courage

25 September, 2009

The Government, and particularly Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey,  seem determined to annoy the majority of the population by reducing the permitted blood alcohol limit for drivers from 80m milligrams to 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood.  So as usual we get more legislation, when what we need is better enforcement of existing laws.  This contrasts sharply with the UK, where the Government sensibly opted for applying resources to law enforcement rather than reducing the limit from 80mg to 50mg.

The adverse social effects of the proposed change will be enormous, particularly in rural areas, and are simply not outweighed by potential savings in road deaths or injuries.  There is no evidence that any such savings exist to any material extent.

In an earlier post on this topic, I said:

I hope the Minister will have the guts to leave the current 80mg limit in place.  However, the temptation to be seen to be doing something about supposed “road carnage”, and politicians’ natural tendency to legislate rather than manage, suggest I will be disappointed.

Proponents of the reduction (notably Minister Dempsey) make much of the statistic that over the past 2 years there were allegedly 36 fatalities in traffic accidents where drivers had alcohol levels between 50 and 80 milligrams.  This statistic is, and is mischievously designed to be, bogus and misleading. 

Firstly, it is impossible to say to what extent (if at all) the alcohol level had anything to do with the actual cause of any given accident; probably other factors were much more important.   The total no doubt includes many cases where the driver with alcohol taken was entirely blameless, and was the victim rather than the cause of the accident.

Secondly, the number of fatalities referred to (36) is a very small proportion of the total road fatalities in the period, so I suspect that if you selected a group of (say) Dublin pedestrians on a totally random basis, a similar proportion would have blood alcohol level within this range of 50-80mg.  Probably any control group of normal Irish adults would exhibit such a tendency!

In addition, studies have shown that the absolute number of additional fatalities or accidents that can with any conviction be attributed to alcohol levels between 50mg and 80mg is tiny.  Based on the numbers in the seminal Borkenstein study, referred to here, the increased risk of being involved in a serious accident at 80mg over 50mg is one tenth of the chance of winning the national lottery jackpot, measured on a daily basis.

Noel Dempsey has been brainwashed by the road safety industry, and is mistaking action for leadership.

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One Response to “Why Minister Noel Dempsey lacks courage”


  1. […] if it’s the right policy to reduce the permissable blood-alcohol levels (and I argue in this post and in this post that it’s not), there is no point in opposing it just because jobs will be […]


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