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Letter From The UK: Drunk With Distraction

Letter from the UK

Recently, I sustained a fall that has slowed me down a bit. To go from charging around like Road Runner on acid to becoming a couch potato virtually overnight has been extremely frustrating. No driving, you see. I am already suffering from cabin fever. The one piece of good news is that at least I can have an alcoholic drink or two, or three, for the duration of my incarceration.

Being laid up has also given me time to think about, of all things, road safety.

Here in the UK, we talk a lot about it and the authorities make many rules and regulations. Some of these are fair and sensible and some are tantamount to legalized theft or just plain downright stupid, but that’s government for you. You’ll already be aware of this no doubt. What is more worrying is the contempt which even the more sensible laws are treated with by some drivers.

Cops On The Ground

Part of the problem here is that our UK police force is run by pen-pushers, log-stackers, and accountants. Accountants like to save money (it’s in their nature; nothing you can do) and the result is that there are not enough policemen to go around these blighted isles. Get your house burgled here and there is only a one in ten chance of the case being investigated, let alone solved. As a consequence of this shortage, there is not much chance you will see a traffic officer on our highways.

This lack of roadside oversight means that some crazy motorists continue to use mobile technology on the go because there are not enough British Bobbies on the ground to catch them. Recently, the penalties for this have been made much more draconian, but the numbers getting caught remain comparatively few.

People who do not concentrate on their driving deserve what they get; the innocent people they kill or maim do not. The worst offenders for this are people who drink and drive. Yes, despite all the rules and laws and TV campaigns and newspaper reports, the drunks are still at it in the 21st century.

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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, two in three people on average will be involved in a drunk driving accident in their lifetime. Photo: Vigan Hajdari.

In Days Of Yore

In the dark, mysterious days of the prior century here in Great Britain, cars were simpler and although they broke down more often we could usually fix them ourselves. Back in the day, the people of the United Kingdom spent much of their leisure time in the pub too.

The pub, or Public House (like an American bar only with fake Elizabethan oak beams, warm beer, a dartboard, and a dreadful bore with a wet, slobbering dog) is licensed to sell alcoholic beverages and food. Once, pubs were the center of social activity. Men would traditionally “go to the pub” on a Friday night, come home totally “bladdered” from a surfeit of “booze,” encouraged by the thought of some hot lovin’ action from the dutiful wife at home. Usually, when he crept between the covers, he discovered that he was in fact married to Jadis, the Ice Queen of Narnia, cold enough to freeze the most fervent ardor and shrivel rampant manhood.

Worse still, our theoretical drunk probably traveled to the pub and back by car. It was a different world all right.

The attitude to drunk driving was relaxed to say the least. If you managed to get home in one piece that was fine. Drivers would actually have to crash, or at least do something fairly dramatic, to attract the attention of the cops, by and large. I know because a long time ago in my youth I learned the hard way with the precious wheels of my Audi almost vertical up a bank, the headlights searching the skies as if for enemy aircraft. It was a sobering, salutary lesson that had a profound effect on my attitude to road safety.

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According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the average drunk driver has driven intoxicated over 80 times before the first arrest. Photo: Andy Kreyche.

Life Is Different Today

In the here and now, just like in the past, we drink to forget, although we can never remember what it is we are supposed to be forgetting. In short, it is a much more complicated world in 2017 and that goes for our automobiles too. Gone are the days when a car could be fixed with a sheer stocking doubling as a fan belt, some string, sticky tape, and a hammer. Now you have to have an engineering degree just to open the hood.

Yet despite the complexity of modern life, despite our traffic packed, busy, potholed roads, some cretins still believe the drink/drive laws do not apply to them. And people continue to die.

Although some believe that alcohol turns them into a driving god, the truth is even the sharpest reactions are dulled by booze. If you don’t react, you lose. It seems to me that drivers have become complacent at the wheel, distracted by devices and presumably lulled into a false sense of security by the high-tech safety technology on our cars.

Autonomous Drunks

If your car is autonomous; if it drives itself, why not have a drink or several? Is that our future motoring scenario? Uber recently demonstrated that automotive autonomy is not quite ready yet because real life has a habit of throwing curve balls at the most inopportune time. I personally found this out recently on a flight of good, old-fashioned stairs without the benefit of alcohol. Ouch.

If technology cannot yet master all the vagaries of the road then a drunk driver certainly can’t. If there are not enough law enforcers to go around then we should police ourselves. Don’t use your cell phone; don’t encourage the person next to you to do something intimate (unfortunately) and don’t, just don’t, drink and drive.

Geoff Maxted is a motoring writer, photographer, and author of our Letter From The UK series. Follow his work on Twitter: @DriveWrite

Cover Photo: Michal Jarmoluk.