18 Jul A (digressed) study of attitudes to drink driving
“Natalie …I want you to write a blog. I want you to make it light-hearted and I want you to write it about the changing culture of drink driving in the UK.”
Well, as you can imagine, at this time my sides were splitting. This was a dream, surely? I wasn’t even sure what a blog was!
I digress. Let’s talk about booze.
Now that’s more like it! I’m on firm ground here. In days gone by, my tipple of choice was Bacardi and coke. Although in my defence, those were the days when Babycham was cool and alcohol pops hadn’t been invented.
My father was a big fan of gin and tonic. And when I say big fan; I really mean it. The tonic was more of an afterthought rather than a chief constituent of the drink. I can clearly remember being driven back from a family do: my mother in the passenger seat, my dad at the wheel of his beloved green Cortina with me and my sister in the back. Not a seat-belt to be seen, gaily driving home with both parents well over the limit.
In those days, they even wrote songs about it
“One for my baby, and one more for the road”
“Have a drink and drive, go out and see what you can find”
The latter was written by Mungo Jerry who I once met when I was twelve. He was fantastically flamboyant with a gorgeous smile and an even more gorgeous wife. I spent the entire evening gawping, offering him stuffed olives and dry roasted peanuts while referring to him as Mungo. It wasn’t until later that my sister revealed he was actually called Ray and I’d made a complete fool of myself!
But I digress (again)
In 1872 it first became an offence to be drunk while in charge of carriages, horses, cattle and steam engines. 1899 saw the first fatal car accident in Britain, but it wasn’t until 1967 that there was a legal drink drive limit. It was also the same year that it became an offence to refuse to give a sample of blood or urine.
In 1968, the first breathalyser machine was introduced. This new way of quickly and accurately testing how much you’d had to drink had an astonishing effect; in that first year, it helped reduce the percentage of road traffic accidents (where alcohol had been a factor) from 25% to 15%. The Alcotest 80 device was a stalwart in the battle against drink driving for almost 15 years, but in 1983 it was superseded by an equally imaginatively named Lion Intoximeter 3000, still in use today.
More than half a million breath tests are carried out each year and an average of 100,000 are found positive. These days, the punishment for drink driving can be 6 months in the slammer, a five grand fine and a minimum of a 12 months driving ban. If you kill someone through drink driving, you face up to 14 years behind bars.
It’s not all doom and gloom
I’ve been researching the figures and there’s a glimmer of hope, but bear with me. In 1979 there were 1,640 deaths from drink driving car accidents. That’s a massive and depressing figure, it represents the entire population of students at my son’s secondary school. Imagine, all of them wiped out in one year and all because some people wanted a bevy and couldn’t be bothered to get a taxi home.
But don’t despair, I said there was a glimmer of hope. And here is: since 1979 the figure has gradually and consistently decreased year on year. In 2008 there were 430 people killed. That’s still 430 people too many, but it’s a start.
Why is this decrease happening?
It’s certainly not because there are less cars on the road. Nor have the boys in blue gone down the positive re-enforcement route. I mean, when was the last time you got pulled over so that the rozzers could congratulate you on your careful and considerate driving? No, it has to be something else. In my opinion, it’s a blend of different approaches.
Firstly: awareness. We’ve all seen the adverts reiterating the appalling consequences of driving while drunk. We’re regularly told that even one drink is too much and at seasonal times of year we’re warned that there will be a police focus on the issue.
Secondly, the reduction in fatalities could be put down to better engineered cars. Certainly cars these days have a huge variety of safety features that you didn’t get some 30 years ago. Side impact bars, air bags, seat belts, anti-lock brakes… the list goes on.
Thirdly and most importantly
It’s gradually become more socially unacceptable to drink and drive. Since 1988, the number of convictions for drink driving (even when no-one was hurt) has decreased from 105,027 to 83,975 in 2006. Popular opinion and public perception now persuades people that to drink and drive makes you the scum of the earth. So if we continue to change those attitudes, values and beliefs surrounding drink driving then I reckon we’ll crack it.