Irish County Votes To Let Some Drive Drunk

On January 21, 2013, the County Kerry Council in southwest Ireland passed a measure that allows rural drivers to legally drive while under the influence of alcohol.

It just so happens that the councilor who introduced the bill is the owner of a pub– and so are all the others who voted with him in favor of the bill.

Councilor and County Kerry pub owner Danny Healy-Rae argued that citizens driving while intoxicated in rural areas have never killed anyone. He defended the measure by asserting that it would prevent loneliness and reduce the risk of suicides among those who live in Ireland’s backcountry, where the lack of public transit forces them to stay home. Healy-Rae told,

A lot of these people are living in isolated rural areas where there’s no public transport of any kind, and they end up at home looking at the four walls, night in and night out, because they don’t want to take the risk of losing their license.

Usually, there are 27 councillors in the chamber but it was a long day and the debate dragged into the night. In the end, there were only 12 or 13 councillors remaining and a handful abstained, the mayor said.

The council voted 5-3 – with 12 absent and seven abstaining – to issue special permits to individuals who live in rural areas and wish to drive home on remote countryside roads after consuming two to three alcoholic beverages. It will be Justice Minister Alan Shatter‘s job to implement the changes to current drinking and driving laws by issuing special permits.

Healy-Rae said he wants those with permits to be able to have two or three drinks (no more than that) and be exempt from the drinking laws.

County Mayor Terry O’Brien, however, stands opposed, charging that the ones who voted for the motion own pubs and have a vested interest in seeing relaxed standards. He also is disturbed at the idea of believing that anyone could have the authority or experience to judge a person after two or three pints.

Tougher drunk driving laws have been credited with reducing the number of people killed on Irish roads. The overall number of road deaths has fallen by 56 percent in the last five years and in 2012, the lowest number of people were killed on the road since records were kept, according to the Road Safety Authority. In addition to lowering the legal limit from 80 mg per 100 ml of blood (.08 percent in U.S. terms) to 50 mg (.05 percent), Irish authorities have also increased the volume of mandatory alcohol checkpoints.

The Irish Department of Transport, Alcohol Action Ireland and the Road Safety Authority have all voiced opposition to the proposal, citing the overwhelming evidence linking alcohol consumption with impaired driving. An Irish Department of Transport spokesman told Sky News,

Unfortunately, rural areas are among the most dangerous roads in Ireland. We need to be looking at how to make our roads safer, particularly in rural areas, instead of trying to reverse existing measures, which are clearly working.

Before becoming law, the motion has to be approved by the Department of Justice — O’Brien doesn’t think the government will pass it, and neither do I.