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Getting a measure of sense

A home breathalyser kit can take the risk out of driving after drinking, writes Campbell Spray

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Emissions-free travel for up to nine passengers: The Opel Zafira-e Life, environmentally friendly motoring with a plush leather interior

Emissions-free travel for up to nine passengers: The Opel Zafira-e Life, environmentally friendly motoring with a plush leather interior

Emissions-free travel for up to nine passengers: The Opel Zafira-e Life, environmentally friendly motoring with a plush leather interior

The condemnation of Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen's actions of four years ago has rightly been pretty hearty and ongoing. What he did was stupid, incredibly dangerous and showed a recklessness that doesn't reflect well on a person who is now at the very centre of government decision-making.

We must believe him, when he says this was the only time he drank and drove; however, that isn't normally the case with offenders. The time they are caught is usually just a lucky strike for the gardai amid a repeating behaviour pattern. That's why random checkpoints began to really work.

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Emissions-free travel for up to nine passengers: The Opel Zafira-e Life, environmentally friendly motoring with a plush leather interior

Emissions-free travel for up to nine passengers: The Opel Zafira-e Life, environmentally friendly motoring with a plush leather interior

Emissions-free travel for up to nine passengers: The Opel Zafira-e Life, environmentally friendly motoring with a plush leather interior

However, just like Barry Cowen talked of the culture of driving around on provisional licences, the prevalence of people not wanting to change their behaviour over drinking and driving is still very large, especially down the country. Sometimes this is dressed up in concerns over loneliness, a lack of public transport and the poor auld fellas who just want to come out for a couple of pints at the local.

The massive opposition to Shane Ross's reforms in this area spoke volumes. However, many of us must reflect to our shame that during the very lax years of the 1970s and 1980s, it was absolutely normal for people to get into their cars and drive home with many a pint and more in them.

Even if you were stopped, an obliging garda would let you continue if you claimed to be living "just up the road". There's even a tale of a long-dead editor of that time who was waved down by a garda, who remarked that the well-oiled hack had been drinking.

"Well done Sherlock," slurred the guardian of the press before being warned to be careful in future.

The motoring press were no better than anyone else and at one time lunches and launches were all liberally laced with alcohol and an expectation that people would be driving home.

But back to Minister Cowen, how anyone these days - and even more so a very experienced politician - could have thought it was right to drive from Dublin to the Midlands after drinking pints is beyond me. Perhaps he did not realise how long the effects of alcohol stay in the system.

One of the best things I ever got was an Alcosense breathalyser kit and I recently paid nearly €40 to get it recalibrated and checked over. While I will never go to an event, or even down to the local pub and drink and drive, I do know that alcohol stays in the system and only time and not a big fry will get it out.

So a quick blow into the meter in the morning will tell if it is safe to drive.

I don't know if government departments are allowed a budget for Christmas gifts, but if so, maybe the agriculture minister might give some out.

Anyway, that's the sermon over.

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Strangely, one of the vehicles I am often asked about are ones for big families. I'm not talking four children here but seven or so, which were more the norm a couple of generations ago.

Usually, I point people in the direction of something like the Mercedes-Benz Vito, Volkswagen Transporter or Ford Transit. All of these nine-seaters might be more in demand in the next year, for transporting self-contained pods of children. My son and a group of friends hired a Vito on my recommendation for a road trip camping around the very north of Scotland a couple of years ago and thought it was one of the best things they ever did.

There's also a new Opel Zafira nine-seater coming soon which looks very nice and will be far better priced than the Vito. What I have seen of Opel, since the marque has largely been relaunched by the PSA group, is pretty positive, and the company has always been strong in the van and commercial sector.

What sets the Zafira apart is that it is coming in a fully electric version, the Zafira-e Life. Claiming to be "stylish and fun to drive", the vehicle, which will arrive towards the end of the year, has up to nine seats, and, available in three lengths, it offers emissions-free, silent travel with a choice of two battery ranges.

A 75kWh lithium ion battery boasts a range of up to 330km (WLTP), while a 50kWh battery returns up to 230km (WLTP). Prices and specifications will be announced closer to launch.

There will be an awful lot of safety equipment on board, plus touches of luxury like electrically adjusted heated leather seats with a massage function which can also face each other.

The batteries, covered by an eight-year/160,000km warranty, are packaged under the load compartment to ensure there are no compromises on luggage volume, while also lowering the centre of gravity, to return improved cornering and wind stability.

Using a 100kW DC charger, 80pc charge is achieved in just 30 minutes for the 50kWh battery and in 45 minutes for the 75kWh battery.

Featuring a narrow turning circle from only 11.3m, a roof height of just 1.9m to allow multi-storey car park access and two sensor-controlled side sliding doors that open electrically with a movement of the foot, the Zafira-e Life is practical in urban settings. A large tailgate, easy access for loading/unloading and removable rear seats, is married to a huge luggage capacity of up to 4,500 litres.

This electric vehicle sounds good and now that the ESB is introducing charges for the use of all its on-road EV stations, it will make even more sense to have a home charger and make massive savings.

Using night rate and only using the on-street charger for 15pc top-up, the savings against the equivalent diesel car are still nearly 70pc.

Increasingly people are coming to me with good stories about having electric cars. Dee and Adrian, who fostered Dooey for Dogs' Angels before we got her, took delivery of a Kia e-Niro earlier this year and are delighted. A day trip from Dublin to Dingle to deliver Lucy, another fostered dog, to its new home was no bother.

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Talking of Dooey - this time next week she and Ziggy will be with us in Donegal for a short break. The cats will have the full attention of my daughter at home. I can't wait to go, although we will all miss the brilliant breakfast bap from the cafe at the Visitor Centre in Phoenix Park.

However, I'm sure we will find something in Rathmullan to equal it.

Sunday Independent