Monday 22 January 2018

A timely tribute to Gertie

In the season that is in it, we must not allow those bad old drink-driving habits to creep back in

SUPREME AWARD: Gertie Shields with Gay Byrne
SUPREME AWARD: Gertie Shields with Gay Byrne
Campbell Spray

Campbell Spray

IT WAS fitting that at this time of year, when the temptation to drink and drive is more acute, that Gertie Shields, founder of Mothers Against Drink Driving (MADD), was recognised for decades of road safety campaigning. Gertie was presented with the Supreme Award at this year's Road Safety Authority (RSA) 'Leading Lights in Road Safety' Awards last Wednesday in Farmleigh, Phoenix Park.

Already this month more than 750 people have been found to be over the drink drive limit, making it the worst month of 2013 for the crime.

We are taking drink driving seriously now but there is a little bit of slippage which will be only rectified when people feel there is a really good chance of getting caught. I look back in horror at the way we once thought it almost obligatory to drink and drive and how on some motoring trips, journalists would spend the whole night drinking before taking a car out on a test drive the next morning. Thankfully that seems to have stopped and some companies have even been known to breathalyse writers before letting them loose with their prized motors.

Yet over Christmas, everything gets a bit scrambled. That flute of champagne or tipple of whiskey is ignored for "the season that is in it". And there is "just the one" to steady the nerves or it would be impolite to refuse.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph last week, author Rowan Pelling asked how many of us would risk taking a lift from a friend who's been drinking this Christmas? Especially if this was someone of a sensible disposition who has had one sherry and two smallish glasses of wine.

Rowan writes: "Do you say (a) "How dare you! You are a danger to yourself, pedestrians, hedgehogs and me. I am calling the Old Bill," or (b) "Marvellous, thank you very much." "A survey would have us believe that most would go for a version of (a), and only one in eight would accept the lift. A lifetime's observation suggests to me that the opposite may be closer to the truth.

"People lie about drinking as they lie about sex. They tell the market researcher or doctor what they feel the answer ought to be, and just as they wildly underestimate their own drinking, they believe their friends are sober until pulled out of a hedge."

"This is particularly true for those who live in the deepest recesses of the countryside. When you get stuck in a freezing drawing room, discussing duckweed with the village bore while cradling a thimbleful of warm Liebfraumilch, you'll do almost anything to escape. Cadging a lift off the local doctor, who may have downed four whiskies (don't ask, don't tell), seems the least of your worries."

It is worth stopping to consider what you would do.

Anyway, congratulations to Gertie on her campaign. Gertie lost her daughter in 1983 when the car she was travelling in was hit by a drunk driver. Since then, Gertie has tirelessly campaigned for legislative and social change in relation to drink driving. Hers was a lone voice in road safety at a time when over 400 people were dying on our roads each year.

Gay Byrne said: "Gertie Shields ... has given over so much of her life to making Irish roads a safer place. Her work has contributed to the sea change in attitudes towards drink driving in Ireland, as well as changes in the legislation on blood alcohol levels and dangerous driving."

A total of 29 awards were presented. Among the winners was an innovative reflective 'L' plate project called 'Visu-L' by Mount St Michael school, Claremorris, who wanted to make the roads safer for learner drivers following the death of a fellow student; 'Operation Safe Home' run by the teachers of Scoil Chlochair Mhuire, Carrigtwohill; and a road safety action by Road Safety Officer Seamus Storan, who staged a simulated collision in UCD, raising awareness about the consequences of using a mobile phone while driving.

Irish Independent

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