A county council in southwestern Ireland has approved a motion that will allow people living in isolated rural areas to drink and drive.
The Guardianreports that the Kerry County Council voted 5-3 to create a special permit allowing rural residents to consume "two or three drinks" and then operate motor vehicles without being charged with drunk driving.
Councillor Danny Healy-Rea said this will help prevent depression and suicide, as many people, especially the elderly, have become virtual shut-ins since more stringent anti-drunk driving measures were introduced in Ireland. Proponents of the measure who, naturally, include pub owners, say relaxing drunk driving laws would allow more people to get out of the dreary misery of their lonely homes and socialize.
Healy-Rea, who also happens to own a pub of his own in Kilgarvan, told the Guardian that rural residents could safely handle a couple of drinks before getting behind the wheel.
"They're traveling in very minor roads, often on tractors, with very little traffic and it's not right they're being treated the same as the rest of the traveling public and they have never killed anyone," he said.
"The only outlet they have then is to take home a bottle of whiskey and they're falling into depression, and suicide for some of them is the sad way out," he added.
Under the Road Traffic Act of 2006, it is illegal for an "experienced driver" to have more than 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood within 3 hours of or driving or attempting to drive. For "inexperienced drivers," the legal limit is 20 milligrams per 100 milliliters. This .05 percent limit is lower than the .08 percent prevalent in the United States.
Not everyone in County Kerry is on board with the controversial plan to relax drunk driving rules.
Kerry Mayor Terry O'Brien told the BBC that the motion didn't "make sense."
Kerry Councilor Gillian Wharton-Slattery refuted Healy-Rea's link between being stuck at home and suicide.
"Depression causes suicide. It's not caused by not being able to go to the pub," Wharton-Slattery told the Guardian. "There's more things to do in Kilgarvan than go into your pub."
Noel Brett, head of Ireland's Road Safety Authority, told the Irish Independent that the motion was "unthinkable."
"It is unthinkable that we would go back to a system that sought to increase our drink-driving limit," Brett told the paper. "We have made substantial progress in Ireland in reducing deaths and injuries on our roads, particularly in rural areas which are the hardest-hit... I think we need to proceed with that and continue with the life-saving policies that we have in place."
According to Alcohol Action Ireland, an average of about 120 people die each year as a result of drunk driving in the nation of 4.5 million. By contrast, the US state of Louisiana, which has a similar population, experienced 339 drunk driving deaths in 2008.