Minister Mallon clamps down on drink driving

Date published: 09 November 2020

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has announced that a change to legislation which will prevent suspected drink drivers from trying to evade prosecution by delaying testing, comes into effect from today.

Minister Nichola Mallon
Minister Nichola Mallon

Minister Nichola Mallon said:

“One of my priorities is to improve and promote road safety.  From today, a change in law will abolish a driver’s right to request a replacement blood or urine specimen where a breath specimen is marginally above the legal alcohol limit. The removal of the ‘statutory option’ is a much needed update to road traffic legislation in Northern Ireland.

“This right was first introduced as a safeguard at a time when breath testing equipment was a new technology and there was a need for caution.  While advances in technology and rigorous testing of devices has made the requirement obsolete, up until today, drivers could still put the option to use but for the wrong reason. It can be used as a delaying tactic as the time taken to arrange a replacement sample to be taken by a doctor, means it is likely the alcohol level will have fallen since the point of detection. This can lead to rightful prosecution being successfully evaded.

“Make no mistake, drink driving can kill. There is no excuse and I want to take a zero tolerance approach. All road users deserve to feel safe and should be protected from those who recklessly get behind the wheel. This action is to help keep our roads safe and protect everyone in our community.​”

The Minister added:

“Keeping our roads safe is everyone’s responsibility. The current Covid-19 crisis means frontline services are facing unparalleled pressures and with Christmas approaching this is a timely step in increasing the fight against drink driving and the harm it causes. However, the simple message remains, any alcohol consumption is unsafe when driving – it’s not worth the risk. The only safe amount of alcohol you can have, and drive, is none. Don’t risk it.”

T/Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said:

“The Police Service welcomes the removal of the ‘statutory option’ from road traffic legislation in Northern Ireland. Police officers and our emergency service colleagues regularly respond to serious collisions in which people are killed and seriously injured, where the consumption of alcohol has been a factor. Our message is clear. One drink can impair. One drink can cause a collision. One drink, can cause a collision which kills or injures. Never, ever drink and drive. There is no safe limit.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. The ‘statutory option’ relates to a driver’s right to opt for a blood or urine specimen to replace a breath test if that breath test is marginally over the prescribed limit -  no more than 50 mcg per 100 millilitres of breath. - Article 19(2) of the Road Traffic (NI) Order 1995.
  2. Powers to enable the removal of the ‘statutory option’ are contained in Section 6 of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2016.
  3. The 2016 Act completed its passage through the Northern Ireland Assembly in January 2016 and contains a range of measures to tackle the harm caused by drink driving.
  4. The removal of the statutory option represents the second phase of implementation of the measures contained in the 2016 Act.  Commencement of breath testing at authorised check-points was introduced in November 2016.
  5. The final phase will be the introduction of the new drink drive limits.  This has been delayed due to the lack of roadside breath testing equipment but progress is being made on the procurement of appropriate devices.
  6. All media queries should be directed to the Department for Infrastructure Press Office at:
  7. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.
  8. Follow the Department on Twitter @deptinfra and on Facebook @DepartmentforInfrastructure

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