Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae has claimed that eating a big meal and falling asleep at the wheel is one of the overriding causes of road crashes as well as drinking small amounts of alcohol.

Speaking during an Oireachtas Transport Committee debate on legislation on drink-driving proposed by Minister for Transport Shane Ross, the Kerry TD said: "Can I just say to you, and many people will agree with me, if you actually eat too much and get in behind the wheel of a car, you are a danger on the road because you are liable to fall asleep after eating a big meal.

"I for one, when I am going home out of here this evening, when I know that, I won't eat going in behind the wheel because I know what it will do."

The Road Traffic (Fixed Penalty-Drink Driving) Bill 2017 proposes that anyone caught driving with a blood alcohol level of between 50mg and 80mg per 100ml be given an automatic driving ban.

Under the current law, driving bans are only handed out for first offences above the 80mg per 100ml level. 

During this morning's debate, Mr Healy-Rae said: "There could have been many other overriding reasons and causes of the accident as well as what you are saying about the consumption of a small amount of alcohol."

Road Safety Authority Research Manager Velma Burns criticised the TD’s comments.

She said: "I disagree that there are other overriding factors because the research shows that when alcohol is consumed when driving, that leads to other risky behaviours.

"So the alcohol consumption comes first and I don't think it is a fair comparison to talk about the impact of a big meal on driving compared to the impact of alcohol."

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Earlier, RSA CEO Moyagh Murdock accused the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland of playing down the value of the lives of some people killed in road crashes through selective use of road fatality data.

She told the committee that driving at the level of 20-80mg of blood alcohol content is killing an average of seven-eight people a year.

Ms Murdock outlined the result of the RSA's pre-crash report to the committee.

The report presents the evidence gathered by experts from numerous fields, including garda investigators, forensic collision investigators, PSV inspectors, coroners, and medical experts, as well as information from witness statements to the prior activity of those involved in 867 fatal collisions.

Ms Murdock said: "From our research, all of the 250 drivers who consumed alcohol and were involved in a fatal collision were deemed culpable for causing the fatal collision due to their actions.

"The fact that other contributory factors were also identified in many of these collisions is ancillary to the current debate. Yes, in some cases speed was deemed to be a factor, in addition to alcohol; in some cases fatigue was a factor in addition to alcohol.

"It is disingenuous to say that there is no evidence to say alcohol was a factor in collisions where the toxicology showed levels 51-80, 'other than presence'.

"It shows a lack of understanding of the effects of alcohol on the body, or an unwillingness to accept the facts in the first instance, but also a lack of understanding of the cognitive skills required to safely complete the driving task.

"The RSA has refuted claims that there is no justification for the introduction of an automatic disqualification of drivers at BAC levels of 51-80mg, and that the RSA's Pre-Crash Report provides no evidence that alcohol was a contributory factor in these collisions.

"The RSA's Pre-Crash Report on Alcohol shows that eight drivers and motorcyclists involved in fatal collisions, for whom a blood alcohol reading was available, had a BAC between 51mg and 80mg. A further 17 drivers and motorcyclists had a BAC below 50mg/100ml.

"There was therefore a total of 25 drivers and motorcyclists with a confirmed BAC between 21mg and 80mg who were responsible for killing themselves and/or others because they consumed alcohol.

"An additional piece of analysis conducted by the RSA showed that 35 people lost their lives and eight people were seriously injured as a result of these 25 drivers and motorcyclists choosing to drive while impaired at levels between 21mg and 80mg.

"The VFI have attempted to downplay the value of the lives of these people, as well as the lives of their families, by reducing them to an insignificant statistic.

"Presenting the figure of 1.3% is a selective use of the data in an attempt to undermine the real impact of drinking and driving.

"It is important to state that, of those killed in alcohol related collisions where the driver/motorcyclist had a record of alcohol consumption, 12% were killed where the BAC of the driver/motorcyclist was between 21mg and 80mg."

"The committee may ask 'Is this trend continuing?' We have proved that in the Pre-Crash report on Alcohol that Drink Driving at the level of 20mg to 80mgs is killing people on an average of seven to eight per year. If that isn't evidence enough for some of the opponents to the proposed legislative change, the most current data to hand is further concrete evidence that there is a real problem with this type of drink-driving in Ireland."