Friday, 1 August 2008

What's wrong with drinking and driving?

In my younger days I occasionally drove whilst drunk. The most extreme example was on a cold winter's night following a thoroughly enjoyable curry in the company of old friends. A few pints were taken before dinner, a few bottles of wine with dinner and a lot of port thereafter. I stood dutifully in central London waiting for a taxi but more than an hour passed with no joy. My bladder was telling me I had to go home, my freezing hands and feet were telling me I had to go home and my brain was telling me the taxi option was not likely to bear fruit. So I walked to the carpark at my work place and drove home. Getting out of the car I fell over and was able to make it to the front door only in carefully planned and determined steps. Had I been caught my licence would have been revoked for at least a year, a thought which passed through my head when a police car pulled alongside me at a set of traffic lights during the three mile journey. Not only was I not caught, but I got home and did no one any harm. Since then I have not driven when I thought I might be over the limit.

Ah yes, you will say, I did no harm on that occasion but I could have done. And a valid point you would be making. But just how weighty is your point?

The argument for a strict anti drink-drive law is that it has two effects, it takes dangerous drivers off the road and it sends a warning of serious consequences for anyone tempted to drive after consuming alcohol. Leaving aside the curious phenomenon that many of those who argue strongest for the deterrent effect of this law decry suggestions that prison sentences have a deterrent effect, I want to look at the alleged danger.

Because I do common sense rather than statistics, it seems to me that a dangerous driver is one who drives dangerously. If someone is driving perfectly safely I can see no compelling reason for him losing his licence simply because he might drive even more safely when sober. "But it dulls your reactions" say the supporters of the law. No doubt it does, but so does tiredness. "But it distracts your attention". Maybe it does, but so do arguing with a passenger, singing along to the radio, eating a pork pie, adjusting the air conditioning and a thousand other things we might do lawfully while driving.

What troubles me in particular is that there is no single standard of driver. Some people pay good attention to the road, anticipate potential hazards ahead, keep to a speed suitable for the circumstances, always know how close the vehicles behind them are and do all the other things which form a very good and safe driver. Others press the pedals, hope for the best and have absolutely no clue what is going on around them. Someone in the first category might well be a safer driver after five pints of cider than everyone in the second category, yet he runs the risk of a serious penalty despite doing no one any harm. It is a very curious state of affairs.

At heart this law is designed to be preventative. Criminal laws do not always require harm to have been done before a penalty is justified, if they did, all attempts to commit crimes would go unrecognised and I doubt that many would think an attempt to kill should only be prosecuted if the attempt were successful. This law is not, however, in the same category as attempting to kill, burgle or assault because those crimes require acts to be done which are intended to achieve a harmful result. The only justification for a mandatory disqualification for drinking and driving is that the potential risk from driving after consuming alcohol is so great that it justifies the penalty in all cases (I know there are exceptional circumstances in which disqualification is not imposed, but driving safely is not one).

Making drinking and driving an offense can be likened to health and safety laws, the sensible ones of which (such as that which allows a restaurant to be prosecuted if its kitchen has rats) impose a penalty because the potential harm is great and the cost of compliance is not. There will always be anomalous instances, such as the driver who is tanked to the gills but still perfectly safe, but extreme examples are no basis for any law. Laws like this must look at the average driver and form a view of the effect drink will have on him. But that does not provide an explanation for removing for at least one year the driving licence of a driver who is over the limit but has done no harm. By all means fine him and put points on his licence, but removing that licence for a year makes no sense if he has done no harm.


John East said...

Good god man, how can you even attempt to put forward a pro-drink driving argument. You will be seen as a nutter at best by almost everyone who reads this blog. Your relatives and friends will cross the road to avoid you, and the authorities will probably put you under surveillance.

Like you I came to the conclusion many years ago that if drink driving is something which I have done in the past, which it was in my younger days when the practice was more socially acceptable, and if I could drive better whilst pissed than many sober idiots I see on the roads every day, then I would also ignore the propoganda and hysteria surrounding this issue and become a closet pro-drink driver.

But to come out, and declare such a heretical belief, and attempt to construct a convincing argument to support it?

I take my hat off to you.

Anonymous said...

nothing wrong with drinking and driving. The problem is the people who are idiots and cant drive sober

Anonymous said...

Not only are the penalties way out of proportion with the offence committed in many cases. The continued persecution when you actually get your licence back is an absolute sick joke. Surely you've been punished enough by being off the road for a minimum 12 months without the insurance companies wanting their pound of flesh. And then there's the joke that is the driver awareness course. Absolute nonsense cooked up by the left wing and unscrupulous outside agencies to extract a few more quid from your pocket. I pleaded guilty for Christs sake. Looking at pictures of car wrecks and listening to someone preaching about how I could've killed someone is a load of shite. Could've, would've, but I didn't, because if I had then I'd be languishing in jail for such a thing. Yet another 'crime' where mass hysteria overtook commonsense. Convicted, banned, but I'll still do it because I refuse to be oppressed by a nanny state.

Steven Dall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

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