The first major changes since the introduction of the drink drive limit in 1968 could be in force in Northern Ireland by early next year. This is one of a series of changes set to be introduced as part of a major driving law shakeup. The age that drivers can apply for a provisional licence would be reduced by six months, while learner drivers would have to undergo driver training for a minimum of a year before they can be awarded a full licence.
The current UK drink drive limit is 80mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood. Plans have been mooted for a reduction in these levels throughout the country, but it appears that Stormont will be the first government to make those changes. New reforms would see the drink drive limit reduce by 40% to just 50mg per 100ml, and there would be other changes to the existing drink drive laws too.
Provisional licence holders and professional drivers would be subject a maximum 20mg level, and police would be given the powers to set up roadside testing points where they would be able to stop and breathalyse any driver. A graduated penalty scheme would see first time offenders, that are only marginally over the limit, receive fixed penalties, whereas repeat and serious offenders would still end up in court.
There has been some criticism over the one year minimum learning period, with critics saying that it may not be appropriate for some groups. One example given was that of pregnant women who need to pass their test and start driving as soon as possible. The Chairman of the Driving Instructors Association in Northern Ireland, Tom Burns, also said that they were not consulted on the idea of lowering the age that people can start learning, and that it was out of kilter with the mainland.
Other changes include the lifting of the 45mph restriction on learners; drivers would be tested on their driving skills at a range of different speeds. New drivers under the age of 24 would not be allowed to carry more than one teenage passenger apart from family members for a period of six months either.