Licenses for Drunk-Driving Irish Seniors Pushed by Rural Politicians

Friday, 25 Jan 2013 02:27 AM

By Dale Eisinger

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Some Irish senior citizens should be eligible for licenses allowing them to drive while drunk, decided a county council in a rural area where there is no public transportation.

The proposal calls on the minister for justice to allow the county of Kerry, in southwest Ireland, to issue the permits to those most isolated by the countryside, mainly senior citizens. Residents with the permits would be allowed "two or three" drinks and still be able to drive.

Some locals say the current drunk-driving laws keep older generations in the county at home, causing depression and loneliness, as they fear losing their licenses.

“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,” Councilman Danny Healy-Rae told news site TheJournal.ie.

In 2011, the blood-alcohol limit was dropped from .08 to .05 for drivers and .02 for drivers with a learner's permit, according to the BBC. The limit is one of the strictest in the world. The rural-permit proposal doesn't specify a new BAC level, but just says residents can exceed it.

The motion was passed Monday, by a vote of five to three. TheJournal.ie reported that seven councilors abstained and 12 were absent for the vote, which came at the end of a long meeting.

Kerry Mayor Terry O'Brien said the motion did not "make any sense." It is unclear from media reports whether O'Brien can veto the motion.

Healy-Rae defended the decision.

“The pub is invariably the only social outlet left in rural Ireland and they’re getting scarce now – just one or two in every village,” Healy-Rae said.

The BBC reports that some of the councilors are pub owners themselves. But Healy-Rae said this had nothing to do with the vote.

Conor Cullen, a spokesman for advocacy group Alcohol Action Ireland, told the BBC he opposes the move.

"Almost one in three crash deaths in Ireland is alcohol-related," Cullen said. "Even in small amounts, alcohol impairs driving ability - any amount of alcohol increases the risk of involvement in a fatal crash."

The current drunk driving limits allow for drivers to have about a pint of beer before getting behind the wheel.

Stricter limits on drunk driving started being pressed in 2008. Since then, alcohol-related road deaths have fallen by about 42 percent, according to various reports.

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