The Medical Bureau of Road Safety (MBRS) are the body that tests specimens of blood and urine for alcohol and drugs. Since 1968 they’ve operated from offices in UCD Campus in Dublin.
Every year they release an Annual Report. These reports contain drink driving statistics about the results of samples taken during the previous year.
The year 2020 is the latest one available but it’s insights are especially interesting as they cover the first year of the COVID pandemic.
New tests reveal high incidence of drug driving.
Compared to 2019, the year 2020 saw a huge 39% increase in drug testing.
Previously the MBRS tested blood specimens for the presence of drugs if the blood/alcohol results were below 80mgs of alcohol per 100 mls of blood.
That seems to have changed in 2020. The threshold has been raised from 80 to 100.
Now, if your specimen of blood shows an alcohol content of 100mls of alcohol or less, it will be subjected to an analysis for the presence of drugs.
As the limit for alcohol in your blood is already set at 50mgs, the new powers of the MBRS to test for drugs in samples of 100mgs (instead of 80mgs as before) indicate a push towards increased prosecutions for drug driving.
Tests for drugs in blood increased 39%
over the 2019 figures and
a massive 64% over 2017.
Its worth remembering (because people don’t know this) that cannabis can stay in your system for up 28 days.
What this means is that if you consume a cannabis joint on 1 June, it can still be present in your blood (at above the legal limits) by 27 June.
That means you could be disqualified from driving today for something you did 3 weeks ago.
Drugs on the march
5,967 blood and urine specimens were analysed by the MBRS in 2020 for alcohol and/or drug testing.
This was a 23% increase on 2019 and a 56% increase on 2017.
Tests for drugs in blood increased 39% over the 2019 figures and a massive 64% over 2017.
Are people drinking more?
Despite travel restrictions imposed at the beginning of Covid, 2020 saw a 23% increase in blood and urine specimens taken compared to 2019.
Compared to 2019, most counties in Ireland saw sharp rises in drink driving arrests in 2020.
Some of these increases were alarming.
While Cork County saw an increase of 14% and Dublin 42%, Waterford increased by 69%, Louth by 87% and Meath by a staggering 92% over similar figures in 2019.
But some counties did decline.
County Mayo saw the number of its specimens delivered to the MBRS decline by 21%, Offaly by 38% and Clare by 54%.
Some of this is due to a substantial increase in alcohol sales compared to pre-pandemic levels.
In the UK this figure is reported by the data analytics group, Kantar, to be 17% higher than before Covid. There is no reason to believe the same hasn’t happened here.
The pandemic has driven alcohol consumption upwards, but much of the increase has been less noticeable as people began drinking more at home.
Another reason for the sharp increase has something to do with the way Gardai were deployed at the outbreak of Covid.
For most of 2020, Gardai manned thousands of checkpoints across the country to stop motorists and ensure that their movements were not in contravention of lockdown regulations.
The sheer unprecedented volume of these checkpoints meant that the potential for arrests were massively increased.
The question is whether the numbers will decline in line with a reduction of Covid checkpoints for 2021, or whether the numbers will remain largely consistent, mirroring the rise in alcohol consumption seen in the UK.
That might herald a “new norm” in our use of alcohol, and bring other societal problems with it.
In Part 2 I’ll look at the breakdown of arrests by gender as well as the peak times when you run the greatest risk of being arrested.