In Britain, the law says that I can have 0.8 mg/ml of alcohol in my blood and it is still legal to drive a vehicle. Other countries have similar rules. Most (including France, Germany, Spain, Greece, Denmark) opt for 0.5mg/ml. Others have a lower rate – in Poland and Sweden it is 0.2mg/ml
So, it’s okay to drink and drive. No. Not really. It is a rather confusing message. It basically says that I can have a drink and then drive so long as that drink does not take the levels of alcohol in my blood over a certain limit. In practice, what does that mean?
How many beers can I have before I am over the limit? Can I drink more alcohol if I’m eating at the same time as this is supposed to reduce the alcoholic affect? Different beers with different abv’s mean that one pint isn’t a quantifiable amount in terms of its alcohol content. So how do I know my one pint is still below the legal drink-drive limit? If I am of a bigger build body can I drink more than somebody who is much thinner? If I am a regular drinker does that improve my alcohol tolerance levels and, if so, is that reflected in the alcohol content measure of my blood? How long does any alcohol stay in my bloodstream? How do I know when I am below the legal limit?
Although drink-driving can never be excused these questions do make you think how unclear the law is in its practicality. In terms of compliance, it would be far better to have a zero-tolerance approach to having alcohol in the blood when driving. Some countries do operate such a policy – Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic.
The argument against such a firm outlawing of alcohol is that some medicines contain alcohol, and this would therefore make the law unworkable.
So, there is a vagueness in the law. We don’t really know precisely what we can and can’t do. One drink is okay, but the chances are we can get away with two – so long as it’s not the powerful stuff. Maybe!
That is the first problem with the law on drink-driving. The second one concerns the misplaced confusion around the dangers and repercussions of drink-driving.
Unfortunately, some people will, for whatever reason, continue to drink more than they should and then get in a vehicle and drive off. We all know that this is wrong, that drink-driving is both illegal and unacceptable. And yet people still do it. Why is that?
It seems that the main reason is probably because they think that they can get away with it. And, in truth, most of them do most of the time.
The problem they have though is their misplaced understanding as to why they shouldn’t drink and drive. Generally, people have two main concerns with drink-driving:
Firstly, a fear of being stopped by the police and being breathalysed. If over the limit this may lead to them losing their driving license.
Secondly, a fear of causing an accident and possibly even killing someone.
Too often, it is the fear of being caught by the police rather than the fear of causing an accident that is the real deterrent to stop people drink-driving. You will hear phrases like:
“The police are having a clamp down, so I’d better not have another.”
“I’ve had a few drinks tonight, but I should be okay to drive to work in the morning.”
“You can have a few pints in a village pub because you don’t get any police out here.”
These are a case of mistaken priorities. In truth, we should recognise that having alcohol inside us when in control of a vehicle is dangerous and irresponsible. Alcohol leads to accidents because alcohol changes our perceptions, our coordination and our reaction times. Any alcohol, however minimal, will have an effect.
Logically, this should lead us to conclude that we should not drink any alcohol if we are then going to drive. Even though the law says that we are safe to drive, even when we are below the drink-drive limit, our driving will be compromised.
If a situation arose which relied on our driving skills and we were not at one hundred percent because we had had a glass of wine or a beer, then how would we feel?
What if that situation involved knocking a pedestrian over? What if the situation involved us killing a child?
Technically, we are not at fault because we are below the drink-drive limit, but would our conscience be so readily eased?
The right thing to do is to only drive when we can be sure that there is no alcohol in our blood stream. Even if the law says that we can.
It’s not a legal position, it’s a moral position. We do something because it is the right thing to do rather than because we are compelled to do it.
Given that the law exists to uphold certain values and behaviours, it is rather strange that in most countries the legislation does not apply a zero-tolerance rating to having alcohol in the blood when driving. That would be the only way to bring clarity rather than confusion and uncertainty.