Calls for tougher penalties as Girne crash driver found to be 9 times over legal alcohol limit

Last week, a longstanding campaigner for safer roads in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus called for tougher penalties for drivers found to be over the legal limit to deter drunk driving, which has become a growing scourge on North Cyprus’ roads. Drunk drivers were responsible for 12 of the 47 fatalities in 2023.

Within days of the call by Dr Mehmet Zeki Avcı, another drunk driver was involved in an accident in Kyrenia/Girne and, when tested by police, was found to be more than 9 times over the legal limit.

Police named the culprit as Irena Brannigan, a 43-year-old woman who crashed her car on İskenderun Caddesi in central Girne early on Friday morning, 19 January.

According to a police report into the accident, they received reports that a car had crashed into the central reservation on İskenderun Caddesi at around 6.30am.

Brannigan was said to have been driving “carelessly” as she headed down İskenderun Caddesi in a westerly direction. She lost control of her saloon car and hit the curb of the central reservation. The car ended up on the opposite side of the road where it skidded and came to halt after hitting the central reservation again. Miraculously no one else was involved or injured in the accident.

Police were quickly on the scene and breathalysed Brannigan, who was found to have a staggering 466 milligrams of alcohol in her blood.

The maximum permitted alcohol level in the TRNC is 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milligrams of blood, making Brannigan 9.36 times over the legal limit. The reading is one of the highest levels of drunk driving ever recorded by police in North Cyprus.

Police said Brannigan was immediately arrested and the investigation into the accident continues.

Drunk drivers caused 1 in 4 road traffic deaths in 2023

Driving standards in the TRNC are poor compared to most parts of Europe, with police regularly fining drivers for speeding and careless driving. However, in recent years, the number of incidents caused by drunk drivers has significantly increased.

Last year, traffic fatalities rose steeply to 47, nearly double the 24 people killed on the roads in North Cyprus in 2022. Twelve of the fatalities in 2023 – one in four people – were due to drunk drivers.

Dr Mehmet Zeki Avcı

Dr Mehmet Zeki Avcı, who is President of the Association for the Prevention of Traffic Accidents (TKÖD) and a member of the Traffic and Transportation Services Commission, spoke out about the rise in road traffic deaths due to drink driving in a written statement on 8 January.

Dr Avcı said there had been 7 fatal accidents in 2021, 8 fatal accidents in 2022 and 12 fatal accidents in 2023 all due to drunk drivers, and called for tougher punishments to act as a deterrence.

“Since [the TRNC’s] drunk driving laws are not a deterrent, such crimes are making our roads increasingly dangerous and causing more deaths,” Dr Avcı said.

He observed that most drunk drivers causing accidents in the TRNC were found to have between 200 to 300 milligrams of alcohol in their blood. He voiced his concern over the growing scourge of people drink driving in the TRNC and even more alarming was the levels of excessive drunk driving.

One driver breathalysed by police was found to be 10 times over the limit, with an astonishing 489 milligrams of alcohol, while another involved in a fatal road traffic accident had 425 milligrams in their blood.

Dr Avcı underlined how even a moderate amount of alcohol impairs a person’s ability to drive. He stated that those whose blood alcohol level was over 50 milligrams would experience a decrease in their perception, reflexes, reactions, and evaluation abilities.

The long-term campaigner for safer roads said there was an urgent need for “deterrent penalties” for drunk drivers and suggested:

– An instant 6-month driving ban for anyone found to be drinking while twice over the legal limit and their car removed for 3 months

– Anyone found more than three times over the legal limit to have their licence revoked and car seized, and they be brought before the courts within 5 working days.

Currently drivers who are up to three times over the limit can get away with a fine and a 3-month driving ban. Dr Avcı argues that a short sharp shock may help drunk drivers to break their bad habits before they drink even more excessively and kill someone.