Newly passed by the Assembly, the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill also provides increased police powers and restrictions on new drivers.
The new law will introduce two new lower levels of drink drive limits – 50mg for most drivers and 20mg for learner and novice drivers and professional drivers – to replace the current level of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.
The bill also introduces a graduated penalty scheme that reflects the amount of alcohol involved, whilst the police also gain power to establish roadside checkpoints to provide for more routine breath checking.
It also brings in a Graduated Driver Licence scheme, with a minimum learning period and restrictions on passenger numbers for new drivers.
Environment minister Mark Durkan said: “Last year 74 people lost their lives on our roads. We cannot, if at all possible, let this carnage continue.
“What I have done in this bill is to get to the root causes of the problem. That means tougher drink drive laws. That means ensuring our new drivers are better drivers. That means putting less young people at risk in the hands of novice drivers.
Road safety charity Brake welcomed the changes, saying: “Young drivers are a shocking three times more likely to be killed on the roads in Northern Ireland and four times more likely to be responsible for fatal crashes than drivers over 25. We strongly support the Assembly’s aim to reduce the number of young fatalities on its roads by 55% and are urging the rest of the UK to reintroduce casualty reduction targets.”
Brake’s director of campaigns and communications, Gary Rae said: “This is a Bill designed to save lives and we welcome it. The reduction of the drink drive alcohol limit to 50mg/100ml for all drivers and 20mg/100ml for those newly qualified will help save more lives. We would prefer the lower limit to be enforced for all drivers, but this is a step in the right direction.”