Drink Driving – Let’s have a debate

Let’s ask a simple question: how many people are killed in Ireland due to drink driving? The answer is: nobody knows.

How many times have you heard politicians or safety campaigners call for learner drivers to be put off the roads? And yet there are no statistics to show that people on provisional drivers cause any more accidents than those with driving licences.

How many accidents are caused by people whose level of blood alcohol is between 50mg/100ml and 80mg/100ml? Yep, you guessed it – no one has a clue. Of course, that doesn’t seem to prevent ritual calls for the limit to be dropped to 50mg.

It has suddenly been discovered that gardai can stop people at random and demand breath samples. We didn’t know this for the last seventy odd years since the constitution was enacted but the revelation has been unearthed like a stone pot from under the Tara motorway.

I’ll tell you where the discovery came from. The safety nazis, emboldened by the supine reaction of the Irish people to the smoking ban, now reckon that we are passive enough to accept any form of state dictat.

The reason why gardai had to have a suspicion before they could stop you going on your way has to do with good old fashioned human rights. Why should an innocent person be detained and held against their will based on a statistical trawl?

What we have now is a combination of ignorance and state power, akin to a fool with a gun.

I want to see an end to the damage caused by drink driving too but there are two sides to this debate. 

For example, if you believe the statistics we do have, then drink driving is a remarkably safe activity. The hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of journeys undertaken each year by drivers over the limit result in some 150 fatalities.

Most people will say that such a toll is an unacceptable result of something as unnecessary as drink driving. Is that true?

What of all the people who are killed going to the cinema, going to school, going to church, going to a football match? Do any of these activities justify people getting killed?

If drink driving was abolished in its entirety, would there be no loss to society? Would there be a loss in communal contact? Would older people just stay at home? 

I never hear this point of view put in debate, because people have been cowed by the safety campaigners. 

But actually this is the law of the land. You are allowed to drink and drive. This is a recognition of the place of alcohol and pubs in Irish society.

In Ireland the health and safety fanatics always campaign for more and more power for the state; for more and more restrictions over individual freedom. 

I have read two detailed reports in researching this column, searched through various websites (Garda, NRA, etc) as well as an interview with a spokesman for the National Safety Council.

Not once, anywhere, did anyone mention the impact of greater powers on personal liberty. No one said that a balance must be struck. It never occurred to them.

We haven’t had a debate about drink driving. It’s about time we did.