Drink-driving: the morality and science

Drink-driving: the morality and science

I’m a great admirer of temperance movements and the positive message they have to impart: you can have the greatest fun without getting plastered. Not only can you enjoy life to the fullest – you can even remember what you enjoyed!

And yet I also learned from a tolerant point made by Alcoholics Anonymous: most normal people can partake of the cup that cheers without going to extremes.

Recovering alcoholics and alcohol abstainers (sometimes the same thing) don’t have to disapprove of those who can enjoy alcohol as it should be enjoyed – knowing when your body and judgement tells you when to stop. Temperance shouldn’t mean fanaticism.

Consider food. Normal eaters don’t continue gorging on three more crème caramel puddings after they’ve had one – only someone with an eating problem does that. Similarly, a normal drinker knows when they’ve had enough.


There are two reasons, I thought, to oppose the proposal that there should be an absolute and total ban on drinking and driving. One is that it veers towards the fanatical – it is supposing that the person who has a tipple of sherry will be in the same state as one who has downed 12 pints. It takes away trust, judgement – and conscience – from the individual.

The second is that it is against the common good to contribute to loneliness, isolation and community deprivation in country places and small towns. A total alcohol ban means devastation for the country pub which is the solace and the support of many rural residents.

Rural life needs community, and communities have always involved a tavern in the town.

But now there is a third reason to question Minister Shane Ross’s plan to impose a wholesale alcohol ban. Two scientists from the School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at UCC, James J.A. Heffron MRIA and William Reville (who also contributes to this newspaper) have questioned the Road Safety Authority’s claim that “any alcohol impairs driving and increases the risk of collision” – on scientific grounds.

Heffron and Reville cite studies which indicate that a small amount of alcohol (51 to 80mg per 100ml of blood) should not warrant a draconian penalty, as Minister Ross proposes.

The 80mg per 100ml is the legal limit in the United States, England and Wales, and it is the more sensible option than the zero limit proposed.

Driving while drunk is morally wrong, and the summer-time road deaths that occur for this reason are heart-scorching. Of course it should be penalised and deterred. But a moderate law should take all factors into consideration – and promote the principle of moderation.

I was flagged down by the police recently because they spotted that my driving was erratic, and suspected I’d been drinking. The constabulary soon realised that I was completely sober – but it was nearly 1am, I had driven hundreds of miles, I was exhausted and fighting off fatigue at the wheel. There should surely be another road safety message: don’t drowse and drive.


Media overusing the word ‘stroke’

More issues about language: I wish the Irish media would cease using the word ‘stroke’ in headlines, alluding to politicians pulling off a cronyish political stunt. It’s one of those words which is acceptable in vernacular language, but doesn’t translate well to the written word, much less a headline.

A ‘stroke’, in standard English, means “a disabling attack caused by thrombosis or apoplexy” and, more exactly, “sudden death of brain cells due to lack of oxygen, caused by blockage of blood flow or rupture to an artery to the brain”.

It’s an unenviable medical condition, which even the most malign politician would, surely, be unwilling to inflict.

It also can mean caress: my cat demands she be stroked, but this, too, is not quite in alignment with the notion of political wiles.


Church bells for London

London feels throttled by adversity in recent times – between terrorist attacks and that most tragic Grenfell Tower inferno. Churches and mosques have come together with admirable solidarity, and public response has also been prayer and respectful silence to the tolling of church bells. People of faith and of no faith have pulled together harmoniously too: but when mourning needs to be expressed, it’s the mediaeval church bell which best does the expressing.