Tis the Season – Information On Drink & Drug Driving
As we all know early morning check points are prevalent, especially at this time of the year. The Gardai do have the power to set up mandatory check points anywhere in a public place. These powers were given to Gardai to reduce accidents and deaths on our roads as a result of drink driving.
It is important to understand that the Gardai cannot randomly pull over a car and breathalyse the driver. But they can conduct checkpoints for the purposes of random breath testing. However, if the Garda has formed the opinion that you have committed any road traffic offence or if you have been involved in a road traffic accident or if he/she forms the opinion that you have consumed alcohol you can also be stopped in traffic and breathalysed.
All of us mere mortals usually get a bit of a fright when we see a Garda Check point up ahead of us even though most of us usually have nothing to worry about. So, who can the Gardai stop? The answer is literally any mechanically propelled vehicle, this includes motorcycles, scooters, electric bicycles and wheelchairs.
If you are pulled over what can you then expect? At the check point you can be asked to do the following: –
Provide a specimen of your 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 or vehicle at or near the checkpoint to provide a breath specimen or,
leave the vehicle at the place where it has been stopped.
What a lot of people do not understand is that refusing or failing to comply with one of these requests can lead to being found guilty of an offence of failing to comply. The advice here is always co-operate. If you don’t, you can be arrested for failing to comply and you’ll be in even more trouble if you are before the Courts on a drink driving charge.
What happens if you are arrested?
If you are arrested at the roadside for drink driving or failing to comply you must be told why you are being arrested.
You will then be brought to the Garda Station where you will be informed of your rights by the Member in Charge of the Gardai Station.
These rights include the right to consult with your Solicitor.
You will be asked to provide a sample. If you provide a sample of blood or urine the sample will be divided into two containers in your presence and sealed. You will be offered to take one sample and the other one will be sent to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety for analysis. The results will be posted to you and to the prosecuting Garda.
(It is open to you to have the sample independently analysed also. If you provide a sample of breath the intoxilyser machine will print out the levels of alcohol in your breath immediately)
If the alcohol level in the sample is over the legal limit the Garda will either issue a fixed charge penalty notice or Summons you to appear in the District Court to be prosecuted for drink driving.
It is important to remember that even if you fail to provide a specimen of blood, urine or breath a Garda can still prosecute you. In this case the Garda will give evidence to the Court in relation to their observations and how they formed the opinion that you were under the influence. You might have been asked to walk in a straight line and if you were unable to do this, this evidence will be given to support the Garda’s view.
What are the Penalties if convicted?
The penalty depends on how much alcohol was in your system, these range from being disqualified for three months to six years.
New offences under the Drink Driving law were introduced in 2018. The changes mean that if your alcohol level is below a certain limit you will be issued with a fixed charge penalty notice. If you pay the fine within 28 days, you will be disqualified for three months but will not have to go to Court.
However, if you have already received a fixed charge penalty notice for drink driving in the previous three years, this form of penalty will not be open to you and you will be prosecuted in Court.
The maximum penalty for drink driving is €5,000 or six months in prison or both. In relation to being disqualified there are mandatory minimum time frames depending on the alcohol levels present, but these periods of disqualification can be increased at the discretion of the Judge hearing the case.
Learner Drivers and Novice Drivers are subject to even stricter rules in relation to alcohol limits as are drivers of Buses, lorries, trailers, work vehicles, taxis and other public service vehicle drivers.
In April 2017 new measures came in giving effect to the 2016 Road Traffic Act in relation to driving having taken drugs. This allows Gardai the power to take saliva samples to test for cannabis, cocaine, opiates (such as heroin & morphine) and benzodiazepines (such as Valium). In the case of cannabis, cocaine and heroin, even if your driving is not impaired, it is illegal to drive over the limit. If you are someone that holds a medical exemption certificate showing that a certain drug was lawfully prescribed you should really keep it (or even a copy of it) in your glove compartment. Otherwise, if you are stopped, you will be subjected to the normal impairment tests as everyone else.
This is a broad outline only of the law on Drink Driving which is a highly technical area. Readers are advised not to take this article as legal advice. For one on one advice on this topic please contact me directly. Drive safely.
Ahern Robert O’Rourke Williams & Partners, The Old Rectory, Cork Road, Carrigaline, Co. Cork
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