Lots of us drink responsibly. BAC off, stop penalising us
When I was very young and very unemployed I was lucky to get a job at the Coroners Court one summer, photocopying the files of people who had died in car accidents.
It was a grim task but it gave a fascinating insight into the many ways people can use motor cars to kill themselves.
Having grown up watching years of television advertisements that painted horrific pictures of the consequences of drink-driving, I was expecting that most of the deaths would have been caused by drunks.
I was wrong. As became clear to me over that summer, the vast majority of people who die in traffic accidents are stone cold sober.
Even more surprising, however, were the blood alcohol readings of those who had gone west driving after imbibing.
Since the legal BAC level is .05 you might have expected fatal car accidents to start kicking in at around .06, might you not?
But it wasn’t so. In the 12-month period I examined, I didn’t find a single deceased drink-driver who clocked in at lower than 0.1 - twice the amount of grog we are allowed to have in our blood stream when we get behind the wheel.
Recent TAC statistics back my casual observation of 20 years ago. According to TAC figures, in 2009 a quarter of the drivers and motorcyclists killed on the roads in Victoria were over .05.
Of those dead, more than two-thirds were more than twice the legal limit, while half were three-times over .05.
Fewer than 20 people were killed that year while driving or riding a motorbike with a blood alcohol content between .05 and .1. And of the deaths that occurred in that range, we can’t say for certain if the drink-affected drivers were at fault or if the accident could have been avoided if the drivers were sober.
In other words, cutting the amount of booze in our system down to .02 can have almost no effect on the number of people killed driving between .02 and .05, because at that level there are almost no deaths to prevent. And not many more up to .1.
The real reason road traffic campaigners want to cut the BAC level to .02 is because there is some evidence that lowering it from .05 might reduce the number of really drunk people who die on the roads.
This was what happened in the early 1990s when the ACT moved from .08 to .05 - deaths between .05 and .08 fell a bit but the number of people who died driving over .08 plummeted by 40 per cent.
In other words, for the purpose of deterring seriously pissed people from driving, the law-abiding majority had to endure a curtailment of their hitherto legal - and reasonably safe - right to have a few at the pub before driving home. (The UK allows people to drive at .08 and their rate of fatal car accidents is by some measures lower than ours.)
And now, after 20-odd years of putting up with the ridiculously low level of .05 to deter these drunks, the rest of us are now being told we should move to .02.
If three standard drinks an hour is enough to get most men to .05, will we now only be allowed one? What about women? Will they be reduced to one shandy?
And then there are the thousands of us who drive to work each day - perfectly safely - at .02, having enjoyed ourselves the night before. Who now will dare risk the third bottle with dinner?
And Blind Freddy can see the next step will be 0.00, which in a car-dependent country like ours would mean restaurant meals without wine and trips to the pub without beer.
Now, of course it is a dreadful thing when anyone is killed or injured on our roads, but for the majority to have to endure a booze-free existence to deter people who are already breaking the law is a gross over-reaction.
Instead of penalising us it would be a better use of police resources to start aggressively targeting the serious drink-drivers responsible for nearly a quarter of the deaths on our roads.
James Campbell is opinion editor for the Herald Sun and Sunday Herald Sun
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