I see another of life’s well-worn topics trudged its weary way back into our newspapers and television current affairs programmes this week.
The vexed question of what is or what is not the safe alcohol limit for driving a motor vehicle has taxed the reasoning of our legislators ever since day one of this set of laws back in 1967 when Barbara Castle’s Road Safety Act came into force.
Since those days law courts have been persistently bogged down with complex trials and appeals as drink-drive offenders sought to worm their way out of punishment using minor errors in procedures and circumstances to claim innocence; the only conclusion to be gained from that is the more expensive your legal defender the more likely you are to get off with it.
Regardless of legal sanctions, the main contributor to the social curse of drink-driving is a perpetrator’s assumption that the chances of getting nabbed are fairly low, which in the addled mind of such people justifies the risk.
Probably the greatest reason why drink driving figures remain far too high can be seen in the period leading up to actually committing the offence when the more you drink the more confident you become of your ability to drive safely – a dangerous trap indeed.
This is why there is only one safe alcohol limit for driving, and that is zero.
If you are driving you do not take alcohol at all.
If you cannot get through your day without alcohol you have a big problem and it is up to individuals to take measures to deal with it.
If you have been drinking it is your responsibility to ensure you do not drive until you are certain you have no alcohol in your system.
End of story.
For this reason there is a growing sense of need among road safety bodies for a simple device to check out driver alcohol levels before getting behind the wheel. There is an increasing argument for compelling drivers to carry a simple alcohol testing kit in their vehicles, instantly confounding the excuse of not realising they were over the limit.
It stands to reason in the vast majority of cases drivers will be sober, but being able to check when there is any doubt might well save lives, while an increasing number of drivers caught on “morning after” checks is another signal of this need.
Recent delegation of powers to adjust drink-driving limits to the Scottish Parliament is a two-edged weapon.
On one hand it neatly tosses this question into the brewpot of party politics, giving MSPS something over which they will squabble along party lines; it also makes for a powerful election pledge, giving the angry victims of drink-driving a sound reason to vote for change.
I understand there is to be a period of what is laughingly called public consultation before any firm policy can be reached by the parliament – can we hope that consultation will include and take note of the views offered by victims of drink-driving?
There are a great many of these unfortunate people as victims of drink-driving come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from bereaved relatives to fearful communities, to those who suffer catastrophic injuries as a result of drink-driving, even domestic misery where the main breadwinner has lost his or her driving licence and thus their job through disqualification.
Fiddling with alcohol levels for drivers is be a small part of a bigger picture; we can easily see the only realistic alcohol level is zero.
All human beings can get by without the stuff if they care to try, and it is not difficult to see another benefit in the amount of social responsibility this will restore to daily life.
Getting nabbed for drink driving is a one-person offence, there is absolutely nobody else to blame or otherwise hold responsible for the situation other than the driver concerned, and don`t bother with the old worn-out spiked drink tale – even legal aid lawyers won’t touch that one these days.
In previous times convicted drink drivers were considered unlucky, now they are sensibly viewed as dangerous pests. But what of punishment? Are the current sanctions too lenient? Should government now take a firmer line with offenders?
The answer has got to be a very big yes; most drivers can afford to pay an eye-watering fine to the courts if there is a real threat of a jail sentence for not coming up with the cash; even a one-year driving ban has lost a lot of the shock it carried 35 years ago.
In some cases, community service can be effective as time spent picking up litter on the roadsides is time not spent in licensed premises.
Why not start off with a five-year driving ban for first offenders with a fine reflecting the over-the-limit reading?
For second or subsequent offenders? A life ban is the only answer for people who will not conform, and that means a ban that sticks, backed up by a refusal of the motor insurers to underwrite any such driver.
Some say it is unkind to stigmatise offending drivers – not me, I would be quite happy to put up posters all round the town announcing the latest driving disqualifications.
Repeatedly breaking the drink-driving laws shows a disrespect for society and indifference to other people’s safety; hardly appropriate grounds for judicial mercy.
In an age when so many aspects of everyday life revolves around silly people babbling about their human rights, is it time for us to re-examine our priorities and transfer the holding of a licence to drive motor vehicles from a routine part of our lifestyle to a privilege?
By making the retention of a driver’s licence important, maybe even precarious enough to make us all a little more careful when we are behind the wheel, the universal standard of our driving might well improve beyond all recognition.