Sunday 16 June 2019

Obvious answer to drink-driving

ALONG with Britain, Ireland has the highest drink-driving limit in Europe -- 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. Debate on the question of the appropriate limit has raged for decades. It is time to resolve it.

But the way to resolve it is not by way of the Government's present plans. These are earnest and carefully thought out, but they do not go to the heart of the matter.

And they cannot but arouse suspicions of yet another tactical withdrawal in the face of the opposition that any move on drink-drinking still encounters.

Some other European countries have a policy of zero tolerance, or a limit of 20mg. The latter level could be reached after consuming as little as a pint of beer. The Government shied away from such a strict limit. It decided on 50mg, but dropped the proposal from its own road safety strategy.

Finally it passed the question on to an advisory group, which has recommended reinstating the 50mg proposal and accompanied it with a new device -- a 20mg limit for professional drivers, such as truckers, and L-drivers. The restriction on the latter would remain in force for two years after they passed a test.

Not very long ago, road safety campaigners might have welcomed these proposals warmly. Along with most thoughtful citizens, they would have acknowledged that radical moves on drink-driving took courage. Their authors would be up against the publicans' lobby, and age-old arguments: "The ruin of rural social life"; "Ah sure, what's five or six pints?"

There is force in some, not all, of these arguments. The pub trade is not flourishing in rural areas. Fear of being caught over the existing limit has led to people staying at home and feeling isolated.

But times, and attitudes, have changed. The divide of opinion on the question is not so much a matter of location as of generation.

Younger people, by and large, do not join in criticism of "the Nanny State". They look at the appalling figures for alcohol-related road deaths and agree with measures to reduce the carnage. They share driving. They hire taxis.

And they will not be impressed by fussy arrangements -- 50mg here, 20mg there -- leading to headaches for the police and court challenges. All this can be avoided by the obvious move, zero tolerance. Let the Government take its courage in its hands and bring in the simple solution.

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