The penalties imposed if you’re caught drink-driving in Ireland changed in 2018 to become more severe, even though the laws themselves that govern the limits remained the same. Here, we give you everything you need to know about what will happen if you’re caught drink-driving.
DEFINING THE OFFENCES
In Ireland, it is an offence to drive in a public place if you are either too intoxicated to have proper control of your vehicle, or – alternatively – if you’ve consumed more than the permitted amount of an intoxicant. An intoxicant is defined as either alcohol or drugs, or indeed both. The Gardaí carry out roadside breath-testing for levels of alcohol in a driver’s system, and a saliva test to check for levels of drugs. And it is also an offence to refuse to be tested, if instructed to do so by the Gardaí.
Get caught driving under the influence of either alcohol or drugs, and you will be automatically fined and banned from driving for a varying period of time, depending on your experience and whether it’s your first offence or not. Keep breaking the law under this legislation and you might even end up in prison. Speaking of which, the relevant acts you need to look at are the 2006 Road Traffic Act, the 2011 Road Traffic Act (No.2), the 2014 Road Traffic Act and the 2016 Road Traffic Act, all of which cover what the Gardaí can and can’t do in terms of testing you for suspected driving under the effects of an intoxicant.
The big change took effect on October 26, 2018, under the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act 2018. This alteration meant that drivers who previously received three penalty points on their licence for certain drink-driving offences are now disqualified from driving for three months instead.
There are four separate drink-driving offences as defined under Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 2010. In each instance, the severity of the punishment is defined by whether the person being prosecuted is an experienced or a new driver. Under law, the definition of ‘new’ driver is someone who is driving on either learner permits, or drivers who have held a driving licence for less than two years, or someone who has no valid licence or permit. Lower alcohol limits apply to new drivers and these more stringent restrictions also apply to professional drivers of public-service vehicles – so drivers of buses, lorries, trailers, work vehicles, taxis and any other public-service vehicles.
The four offences are:
- 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;
- 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 three hours after driving or attempting to drive, the concentration of alcohol in your blood exceeds a concentration of:
- 50 milligrams (mg) of alcohol per 100 millilitres (ml) of blood for experienced drivers;
- 20mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood for other drivers;
- 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 three hours after so driving or attempting to drive, the concentration of alcohol in your urine exceeds a concentration of:
- 67mg of alcohol per 100ml of urine for experienced drivers;
- 27mg of alcohol per 100ml of urine for other drivers;
- 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 three hours after so driving or attempting to drive, the concentration of alcohol in your breath exceeds a concentration of:
- 22 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml of breath for an experienced driver;
- 9 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml of breath for other drivers.
It is more common that you will be convicted under the final definition, as breathalyser tests are used in the main, than you will for blood or urine tests, but all are applicable under law to determine how intoxicated you were at the time of the alleged offence.
How severely you are punished will depend upon by how much you are over the drink- or drug-drive limit, and also whether it is your first offence or not – as well as differentiating between experienced and new drivers, as we’ve already said. We’re concentrating on drink-driving punishments first, because drug-driving carries different punishments.
At the bare minimum, if you’re convicted of drink-driving then you are going to be landed with a €200 fine and a three-month ban from driving – it is as simple as that. If you hold a valid licence or permit to drive at the time of the offence and you’re below a certain limit for the level of alcohol in your body, you will be given a fixed penalty notice (FPN) and will have 28 days to pay the fine on the FPN. If you do so, you will not have to go to court but the additional penalty on the FPN will be imposed – in all instances, this will be the driving ban. You cannot receive a drink-driving FPN if you have received a similar notice during your previous three years of driving.
So, to the penalties. If you’re an experienced driver, and you are found with between 51-80mg of alcohol/100ml of blood, or 68-107mg of alcohol/100ml of urine, or 23-35 micrograms of alcohol/100ml of breath, then it’s a €200 fine and three months’ disqualification from driving. If you’re more intoxicated, it gets worse: anything between 81-100mg of alcohol/100ml blood, 108-135mg of alcohol/100ml of urine or 36-44 micrograms of alcohol/100ml breath, the fine doubles to €400, as does the ban – you’ll spend six months off the road as a result.
For new drivers and public-service vehicle drivers, then if you want to avoid a court appearance you may not exceed the maximum figures of the lower level of brackets of experienced drivers. What we mean by that is you may not have more than 80mg of alcohol/100ml of blood, 107mg of alcohol/100ml of urine or 35 micrograms of alcohol/100ml of breath, otherwise you’re going to court. There are also tougher ‘trigger’ points, as drivers in this category will be classed as being ‘over the limit’ with anything more than 21mg of alcohol/100ml blood, 28mg of alcohol/100ml of urine or 10 micrograms per 100ml of breath. Fall between any of these numbers as a new or public-service vehicle driver, and you will receive a €200 fine and three months’ disqualification from driving.
End up in court for any reason, and the length of the ban increases. For experienced drivers found with between 51-80mg of alcohol/100ml of blood, or 68-107mg of alcohol/100ml of urine, or 23-35 micrograms of alcohol/100ml of breath, if it’s your first offence you’ll get a six-month ban and if it’s your second or any subsequent offence, you’ll be disqualified for a year. For the higher brackets mentioned earlier, namely 81-100mg of alcohol/100ml blood, 108-135mg of alcohol/100ml of urine or 36-44 micrograms of alcohol/100ml breath, it’ll be a one-year ban for your first offence and two years off the road for any subsequent similar offence thereafter.
Get caught with a higher level of alcohol in your blood and things become ever more serious. For between 101-150mg of alcohol/100ml of blood, 136-200mg of alcohol/100ml of urine, or 45-66 micrograms of alcohol/100ml breath, it’s a two-year ban for a first offence and four years’ disqualification for a second or any subsequent offence. For anything in excess of 150mg of alcohol/100ml blood, 200mg of alcohol/100ml urine or 66 micrograms of alcohol/100ml of breath, it’s either a three-year or a six-year ban, depending on whether it’s your first offence or not.
If you are convicted of being too intoxicated to be in proper control of your vehicle, the minimum disqualification for a first offence is four years and it’s six years’ disqualification straight off for a second or subsequent offence. It should be stated that in all the penalties we’ve listed above, these are the MINIMUM penalties a judge may impose if you end up in court for drink-driving, and there is the discretion to increase the punishments from these levels. The maximum penalty solely for being convicted of drink-driving is a €5,000 fine or six months in prison – or both.
You can find out more about how the these laws are enforced on drink-driving and any appeals process you can go through at www.citizensinformation.ie, which has a useful section on drink- and drug-driving at https://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/travel_and_recreation/motoring_1/driving_offences/drink_driving_offences_in_ireland.html .
HOW MUCH CAN I DRINK AND STILL DRIVE?
Most of the driving safety bodies in Ireland advocate one simple answer to this query: drink nothing. How much alcohol stays in your system after you’ve had a drink or many drinks depends on a wide range of factors, such as the amount of drink you have, how long you are drinking for, your body size and metabolism, and how long it has been since you had your last drink – and so it varies from person to person, meaning there is no definitive number of drinks that can be stated that would still allow you to drive and remain below the limit.
Also, many people make the classic mistake of having drinks at night, going to bed, and then driving reasonably early the next day – but it is accepted that if you have, say, ten pints of beer or lager, then you will likely not be safe to legally drive a car for 20 hours after you’ve had your final drink. So finishing a session at midnight and then driving at 8am the following day may land you in a whole heap of trouble. A lot of drink-driving convictions take place on the morning or the day after the person in question was actually drinking alcohol, so be warned.
It’s therefore simple: don’t drink and drive, especially if you’re a new driver or a public-service vehicle driver. It’s just not worth the risk to you or to other road users, nor is it worth putting your driving licence in jeopardy for the sake of a few pints.
The authorities take a much dimmer view of drug-driving and, under the provisions of the Road Traffic Act 2016, from April 13, 2017, the Gardaí were granted the power to conduct preliminary drugs tests at the roadside or in Garda stations. Drug-testing devices check a driver’s saliva for traces of cannabis, cocaine, opiates (heroin and morphine, among others) and benzodiazepines (Valium, for instance). Just like drink-driving, it is an offence to refuse to provide the Gardaí with a saliva sample if asked, and the Gardaí may also carry out an impairment test. You may even be taken to a Garda station so that a sample of your blood may be retrieved.
If you are caught driving under the influence of drugs and you are impaired to such an extent that you don’t have proper control of the vehicle, the MINIMUM disqualification on a first offence is four years and it rises to six years for any subsequent transgression. For cannabis, cocaine and heroin, it is illegal to drive, even if your driving is not impaired, and in these instances, there is a ban of at least one year for your first offence and two years for every offence thereafter. The Road Safety Authority has a page on drug-driving and the punishments (https://www.rsa.ie/en/Utility/News/2017/GARDAI-CAN-NOW-TEST-MOTORISTS-FOR-DRUGS-AT-THE-ROADSIDE/), so check that out if you need more clarification.