We have not come as far as we think on drink driving

The drink driver is still with us. I wonder if we have been deluding ourselves a little bit about how much progress we really have made in road safety and to what extent Irish social values have moved.

The Garda issued figures last week that show that they are genuinely out and about catching people who drive while drunk. They are setting up checkpoints and they are breathalysing drivers. They tell us that they are catching fewer people and we hope that is because there is less of it going on.

A worrying part of the information issued was that it was the young driver, not the middle aged, who was most likely to have consumed alcohol. To quote the Garda release that contained the data:

‘a significant number of drink driving cases involved a male driver, between 23-32 driving late at night/ early morning particularly at weekends, with a BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration ) higher than 100mg/ 100ml.’

Just in case you don’t get the units let me tell you that 100mg is thoroughly drunk, not just on the edge. At that level your speech will be slurred, your hand-eye co-ordination sloppy and your judgement unreliable. There is no way that you could think that you were OK to drive.

It is disappointing to see the young highlighted because we thought we were getting somewhere with that group. The theory was that the older driver grew up in a time when there was broad social tolerance for having a drink or two. That group still couldn’t shake the habit of a lifetime but the young, we hoped, were getting the message.

It appears not. The AA was also releasing data last week. We had the results of a survey of 15,000 Irish drivers whom we had asked about drinking and driving.

13 per cent of all respondents had accepted a lift from someone that they knew or suspected was drunk within the last year. This is a worry in itself; the social stigma that we hoped now attaches to drink driving may not be there at all.

Worse again, the group in our survey most likely to have taken that risk were young men. 30 per cent said that they had accepted a lift from a drunk driver within the last year.

To be fair a lot of people gave us more detail in the comments that they made. In many cases they were very worried about the driver and thoroughly disapproved but at that stage they had no other way to get home.

For this exact reason the pattern was worse in rural Ireland. We can hardly be surprised. If you have virtually no public transport serving a community at night this will happen. Young people especially want to socialise and may start the night with a lift arranged but by the time the club closes their driver is not as sober as he promised. Hard to get all moral at that stage and then walk ten miles home.

Understandable as that is, there are many Irish road safety tragedies that follow this narrative precisely. I do not want to hear another story like that over the coming Christmas period but it is all too likely.

‘Tis the season for alcohol it seems. And in that regard it would also be timely to remind people to be very careful the morning after. The mere fact that you took a taxi at 3am and got a few hour’s sleep will not work any magic on your biochemistry. If you feel hungover driving to work the next morning it is because you are still drunk.

The deaths tend not to happen in morning rush hour, and hence the Garda quite rightly concentrate resources elsewhere, but the law is 24/7. The AA always advises people not to risk it.

There really is no safe way to combine alcohol with driving. It should be perfectly possible for us all to arrange our Christmas festivities around that essential fact without ruining our social lives.

If we are honest, we appear to have a deeper social problem going on here and we probably have to concede that we have not made as much progress as we hoped.

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