The subject of combining alcohol and driving is a complex one.
We are very quick to scream that all drivers over the limit should be hung by the gonads from the top of the Dublin Spike [that conjures up an interesting mental picture?], and that will solve all the problems. It’s not that simple.
For generations, Ireland has had a drinking culture. If you are meeting friends, where do you meet them? The pub. You call around to a friends house – what is the first thing that is offered? A drink. The very word “celebration” means drink here. Alcohol is part of the culture.
I’m not against alcohol. I used to be a heavy drinker myself. I used to get hammered and drive home after. Now don’t start ranting at me now. I was foolish. I shouldn’t have done it. I was lucky and never hurt anyone. This was long before most of you were born and it’s in the past. I still have the odd jar, but not very often. And I don’t ever drive after even one drink. I’m too old for that game now.
I have seen some pretty horrific things in the past. I have seen people so drunk that their “friends” had to go through their pockets to find their car keys. I have seen people so drunk that their “friends” had to walk them out to their cars because they couldn’t make it on their own. Nowadays, people are more sensible but I’m sure the above still goes on.
I know a bloke who is an alcoholic. He is a very nice bloke. He has a wife and children. He held down a responsible job, and to look at him you would think he was an accountant or something. Always impeccably groomed and dressed. His only problem is that he always has drink on him. You wouldn’t know it [apart from the smell], but he hasn’t been sober in years. He lost his job in the end, because of the drink. Now he drives a taxi………
But what is the problem? The problem is that alcohol lowers inhibitions, and gives a sense of confidence and well being. That is why we drink it. And this is where the trouble starts.
A bloke goes out to meet his mates. He is sensible. He knows the dangers of drink driving. He has seen the ads, and has read the statistics. He is only going to have one. After all, the blood-alcohol limit allows for that.
But then he has his one. And and his inhibitions are lowered and the feeling of confidence kicks in. The mates are in good form and the craic is mighty. Sure one more won’t do any damage, so he has another. And so on. At that stage, it is not really his fault. Blame the alcohol, not him. Where he went wrong was in having that first one.
And the mates don’t help. Try walking into a pub with a gang, and ordering a soft drink. you get a torrent of “Ah Jayzus, are you a man or wha?” and the like. They buy him drink whether he wants it or not because “he has to enjoy himself”.
The bar staff don’t help either. Many’s the time I have seen people sitting at the bar, with their car keys [and of course the mobile phone] on the counter in front of them. And the bar staff continue to ply them with their tipple. The staff know damn well that the customer is driving and incapable, but that won’t stop them. I know times have changed and this is not so common but it still goes on.
The problem is that we are sending out mixed messages. It is OK to drive to the pub and have a drink. For a while we had catchy slogans like “Just two will do” and the like. If it weren’t OK, then there wouldn’t be a drink limit. There would be zero tolerance. But they ignore the effect of alcohol.
I would advocate zero tolerance, but we all tend to think of this as an urban problem. Just get a taxi or a bus….. etc. But there is another aspect that most people don’t think of. What about old bachelor Padjo who lives in the wilds of Kerry and spends his days in the fields, or out in his lobster boat? His only means of social contact is dropping down for a quiet pint in the local of an evening. Are we to deny him his only social outlet and confine him to his lonely life? There are hundreds, even thousands of Padjos still around. They don’t have buses or taxis and invariably live some distance from the pub.
It is tricky. and I don’t know what the answer is.
A couple of things do occur to me though.
The first thing that amazes me is the attitude to drunk drivers who kill someone. To me that is unintentional [they don’t deliberately go out to kill someone] but it is still manslaughter by negligence. If I fire a gun at random in O’Connell Street and accidentally kill someone, I expect to receive a lengthy prison sentence. Yet the drunk driver receives maybe a year or two. Mixed messages again.
Another thing is the random breath testing. That is a good thing. But why don’t they do their random testing outside pubs at closing time? Drive past any pub in Ireland at eleven at night, and you will see car parks filled to capacity. Are they all driven by designated drivers? Hah!
The only answer to the problem is to change the culture of the people of Ireland. And that is just not going to happen.