The County Kerry Council in southwest Ireland passed a measure on Monday that allows rural drivers to legally drive while under the influence of alcohol.
The council voted 5-3 - with 12 absent and seven abstaining - to issue special permits to individuals who live in rural areas and wish to drive home on remote countryside roads after consuming two to three alcoholic beverages. The council will have to rely on Justice Minister Alan Shatter to implement the changes to current drinking and driving laws by issuing special permits.
Councilor and County Kerry pub owner Danny Healy-Rae introduced the bill, arguing that citizens driving while intoxicated in rural areas have never killed anyone. He defended the measure by asserting that it would prevent loneliness and reduce the risk of suicides among those who live in Ireland's backcountry.
"A lot of these people are living in isolated rural areas where there's no public transport of any kind, and they end up at home looking at the four walls, night in and night out, because they don't want to take the risk of losing their license," Healy-Rae told TheJournal.ie.
Tougher drunk driving laws have been credited with reducing the number of people killed on Irish roads. The overall number of road deaths has fallen by 56 percent in the last five years and in 2012, 161 people were killed, the lowest since records were kept, according to the Road Safety Authority. In addition to lowering the legal limit from 80 mg per 100 ml of blood (.08 percent in U.S. terms) to 50 mg, Irish authorities have also increased the volume of mandatory alcohol checkpoints.
The Irish Department of Transport, Alcohol Action Ireland and the Road Safety Authority have all voiced opposition to the proposal, citing the overwhelming evidence linking alcohol consumption with impaired driving.
"Unfortunately, rural areas are among the most dangerous roads in Ireland. We need to be looking at how to make our roads safer, particularly in rural areas, instead of trying to reverse existing measures, which are clearly working," an Irish Department of Transport spokesman told Sky News.