Driver Behaviour Needs to Change Grieving Mother Warns

By Seamus Whelehan

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A grieving mother says there needs to be a change in driver attitude when it comes to drink and drug driving.

Christina Donnelly, the mother of a 24 year old killed by a drunk and drugged driver, has said that despite the lowering of the drink driving limit, the message is still not getting through and Christmas has proven this.

His tragic death outside Castlemartyr just a decade ago made Brendan Donnelly a symbol, a rallying cry, the face of a movement for harsher penalties for drunk and drugged drivers.

For Christina Donnelly, Brendan remains her loving son whom she lost in a horrific accident, and she still asks the question that may never be answered –why?

Despite the lowest number of road fatalities recorded on Irish roads since records began in 1959, there seems to be an increase in the numbers detained under suspicion of drunk driving.

Ten people were detained by Gardaí on Christmas Day, suspected of being under the influence of an intoxicant.  A further twelve were caught between midnight and 9am on St. Stephen’s morning.

149 people lost their lives on Irish roads last year as a result of 142 fatal crashes, making it the lowest number since records began 60 year ago.

While deaths due to collisions are down, there was a 32% increase in pedestrian deaths recorded.

“Although the figures are marginally improved, they are not good enough” the Minister for Transport, Shane Ross has said.

Despite the warnings, thousands continue to take a chance.  In 2017 almost 9,000 drivers were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of an intoxicant, an increase of 11% on the previous year.

Turning her grief into hope, Christina Donnelly successfully campaigned to have Brendan’s law implemented last October.

Twelve months after her son’s death in 2009 the Waterford mother set about making changes to legislation which allowed a person to drive a vehicle between the time they are charged and subsequently convicted.

The Amendment to the Road Traffic Act has seen increased penalties for motorists with a blood alcohol level of between 50mg-100mg.

Since 26 October 2018 those caught within the detected limit face a €200 fine and an immediate three month ban on driving.

In 2016, through Christina’s campaigning, the Cabinet approved legislation that made changes to the Bail Laws, banning those who have been charged with serious road traffic offences from driving.

While the changes in legislation are welcome Mrs Donnelly urged people to think before getting behind the wheel about what their actions could cause.

Each year the total number of deaths due to impaired driving increases, with many families affected. A decrease in the annual number is a step in the right direction, but each death due to impaired driving is one too many, she said

Mrs Donnelly’s son, Brendan and his friend Lee Salkeld, lost their lives in a horrific accident on the 26 October 2009 as they travelled from Waterford to Cork Airport, heading on a short break to Amsterdam.

A 29 year  old who drove like a “tornado” up the wrong side of the road, tanked up on a cocktail of alcohol and cocaine ,caused a head on collision just outside Castlemartyr with the car in which Brendan and Lee were travelling in.

The driver had consumed eleven cans and bottles of beer, seven pints of beer, two vodkas, three shots of aftershock and a line of cocaine, before attempting to drive home after a row with his wife.

He was jailed for five years and disqualified from driving for 15 years, but served just 3 years and five months.

Mrs Donnelly said the news that her son was killed in a road crash was like “a tsunami had driven through my home and taken out a loved one, because they thought they could get away with drink driving.”

“The message is still not getting through. They think they won’t get caught, or they won’t cause a fatality or injury to others, and they are taking the back roads and byroads. That very back road they take could be the absolute end of them or an innocent victim” she said.

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