Sunday 20 October 2019

John Masterson: 'Breath test? I haven't had one in the last 250k miles'

Mind matters...

A garda carrying out a breath test (Stock photo)
A garda carrying out a breath test (Stock photo)

John Masterson

I have always been fascinated with how behaviour can be changed. This goes back to my interest in psychology from the dim distant past as a student at Trinity College, to later as a lecturer in that same fine institution, to today. I spent more than a decade of my life in TCD and enjoyed every day. I still enjoy walking across the cobblestones when I have time on my hands in Dublin.

Formative years come at different stages in life and for me important formative years were spent on that campus making friends that I still see. I did not fully appreciate it at the time but I was learning how to think.

I still think about how to change behaviour, including my own and anybody's in the near vicinity, most days. Consequences are important. I have been fascinated recently by some of the arguments opposing the tightening of our drink-driving laws that have been advanced in and out of the Dail. If there is one example of a major Irish behaviour change in the last few decades it has to be the reduction in driving while drunk.

With the population increase there would be about 1,000 deaths per year now if nothing had been done. The figure for 2018 will be less than 200. It can be brought down further. We know what works - random testing and consistent enforcement. We need more checks. I have not been breathalysed in my last quarter million miles. (For the record I would always have scored zero.)

I know all of the arguments about rural transport. Where I live if you ever saw a bus it would be lost or hijacked. Three pints has a massive effect on your driving no matter where you live even if you think you are immune to alcohol.

We have Gaybo to thank for this. He was an inspired choice to head the Road Safety Authority and get the message taken seriously. Speed was the other target. Here again there have been massive behavioural changes. There was a time when I drove to Dublin with cruise control set at 125 and cars constantly passed. Now it is a rarity. But, unlike the infrequent drink checks, I lose count the number of speed checks I have gone through. It is never less than one a week. I probably get my insurance and tax checked a dozen times a year.

I know we all complain about the 'shooting fish in a barrel' penalty points. I have three that I earned by going at 95 in an 80 zone, that on any planet in the universe would have been 100. It is time our speed limits were changed countrywide while they modify the law. Under the new proposal I would get 4 points and a €150 fine.

Now we all know that countless penalty points went walkabout. And countless breathalyser checks just did not happen. So far as I know there has been no disciplinary action taken about this. It is just being quietly forgotten.

This is not the responsibility of the regular gardai who you meet on the streets. It seems to me that the blame rests with more senior management who seem to have got away with making it up as they went along. The drivers are being held to account for their behaviour.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards?

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