Anton Savage: 'We might disagree with Michael Healy-Rae on drink-driving but his argument is reasoned'
IT looks like TDs Michael and Danny Healy-Rae have swapped jobs. Only last week, I mentioned the theory that the boys cover the widest electorate by splitting up public issues between them.
Michael gets the sensible ones, like the closure of rural garda stations, while Danny gets the tinfoil hat ones, like Noah’s Ark being proof that climate change is wrong.
Well, it seems this week that the lads have decided to do some job-sharing, because Michael has come out and said he’s wary of introducing mandatory bans for drink-driving.
This is a clear shift to annex Danny’s territory – it was he, after all, who suggested drink-drive permits for those boozing in rural areas.
Michael is unsure of himself in this territory – not for him the cuckoo-bananas assertions that his brother deploys with such aplomb.
No, Michael is cautioning only that we should think hard before introducing a mandatory ban, that many factors cause road deaths and that you can’t have a one-size-fits-all solution.
It’s wrong (drink-driving is an absolute – would you get on a plane with a pilot who’d had just a small sherry to take the edge off?), but it’s disappointing in its thoughtfulness.
We might disagree with him, but his argument is reasoned. This is why Danny is meant to deal with this stuff – we need a good fruit bat theory about how drinking improves the reflexes.
Michael’s reasonable argument included a simple question which is quite hard to answer – why are road deaths going up when cars are safer and roads are better?
Road safety is usually broken into the 3 Es – engineering, education and enforcement.
Of those, engineering is as good as it has ever been. From a time when having a seatbelt was the height of safety, we now have, as a matter of course, side impact bars, airbags, crumple zones, seatbelt pre-tensioners, traction and stability control and ABS.
Our main road network has moved from being mocked by Kazakhstan to being up there with some of the best in Europe.
So, what of Michael’s question? Why are deaths going up?
I’d suggest the answer lies in the other two Es. When road safety became a national issue more than a decade ago, the message was pretty simple – don’t drink, don’t speed, wear your seatbelt and be ready to get prosecuted if you break these rules.
In recent years, that has been muddied into “you might get penalty points if you fart in a car on a roundabout on the first Tuesday of the month, but there’s almost no chance a cop will catch you, because they’re fierce busy with other stuff”.
Maybe this muddied message and perceived lack of enforcement has contributed to the increase in accidents, and maybe it hasn’t.
Whatever it is, Michael Healy-Rae’s core question about what’s going wrong needs answering. But please God, not by Danny.