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THE number of motorists being caught drink driving is increasing for the first time in three years.
Gardai [police] and road safety bosses last night warned of the worrying new trend, which they say has been evident since Christmas.
It reverses the significant downward trend in drink-driving arrests after mandatory roadside breath checks were introduced in 2007.
Garda figures released yesterday showed a 3 percent increase in drivers caught over the limit during the five days surrounding St Patrick's Day festivities.
"The increase in the number of drivers speeding and drink/drug driving -- despite all the evidence as to the consequences of such behaviour -- is disappointing," said Assistant Garda Commissioner John Twomey.
"These people are from our communities and it is our communities who are paying the price for their recklessness."
He promised that gardai would continue with their efforts to stamp out such behaviour.
The limit for drink driving is 80mg, or about one pint of beer -- though this estimate varies from person to person.
This will be reduced to 50mg from September, which means that even a smaller glass of beer or wine could put people over the limit.
A total of 11,651 motorists were breath-tested by gardai at mandatory roadside alcohol checkpoints over the St Patrick's celebrations this year -- a 32 percent increase on the same period last year.
Of these, 37 drivers were arrested at checkpoints and a further 230 were held by gardai during routine patrols.
Meanwhile, more than 1,000 motorists a day were caught speeding over the same five-day period.
The 5,000 detections for speeding over the five-day St Patrick's period coincided with the full nationwide rollout of the privately operated GoSafe speed camera vans, as well as many separate speed checks conducted by members of the Garda Traffic Corps.
If this rate continued, some 365,000 speeders would be nabbed over a single year.
The new figures have caused alarm among gardai and road-safety chiefs. This is because they coincide with a 50 percent increase in road deaths in the first three months of this year.
Serious injury collisions were also up by 20 percent over the five-day holiday period.
Road Safety Authority (RSA) chief executive Noel Brett said he was very concerned about the figures as they seemed to indicate "a return to the bad old habits in the early years from 2000".
He added: "The upward trend in drink-driving detections is something we should all be worried about. While it's disappointing to see so many people getting caught for road traffic offences, it does show that the gardai are out in force on our roads and people need to wise up to this fact."
In the Dail yesterday, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar urged cross-party support for new road safety laws that would make it mandatory for gardai to do breath testing at any road collision in which someone has been injured.
By: Treacy Hogan Environment Correspondent
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