Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Drinking and driving: how to check the problem

Drinking and driving is a universal problem, with different countries having different ways of checking / controlling this habit. A sizable percentage of accidents are known to happen after drinking and driving, and countries have different levels of enforcement about this habit. So, for example, if you take the case of countries such as Singapore or the US, drinking and driving is not cool. You can get into severe problems if detected. It is not unknown to have to spend a night in the slammer and have points deducted from the driving license if caught drinking and driving.
The same rules apply in India, and in the recent past, the Mumbai Police has been enforcing some of these rules to a stronger degree; they have actually got magistrates to jail some of the offenders and got licenses suspended for a period of time. However, this is just Mumbai. Other parts of the country have very little policing of drunk driving (or other road related laws), and there does not seem to be much effort ongoing in that direction either. In a lot of cases, people go outside to bars or restaurants to drink, and then drive home from there even if they have had too much to drink. There is very little custom of arranging for a non-drinking person to drive one home, or to take a taxi to go home.
Now, a High Court has jumped into the gap and made suggestions regarding setting up of safe drinking and driving options (link to article):

The Delhi High Court wants strict checking of drunk customers heading home, just outside the bar/pubs in the capital, in order to prevent instances of drunken driving, leading to mishaps. After going through a report by excise department and traffic police that said almost 90% of customers frequenting bars drive home themselves, Justice J R Midha on Monday asked the Delhi Police to get cracking on drunk drivers.
"When your own report gives such a figure, it is the duty of police to enforce checks and it is in larger public interest to introduce a condition in pubs/bars serving alcohol shall have replacement drivers and shall serve liquor to a customer (self driven) only after the guest pays to book a replacement driver,'' it observed, asking the police to get cracking. On its part the police protested, arguing that both the concepts replacement drivers and checking at pubs could not be implemented instantly as these are policy decisions. Appearing for the police, counsel Mukta Gupta said, "Unless backed by a judicial order, cops can't be posted at each and every pub or bar. We are prosecuting drunk drivers and the accident rate has therefore come down."

Drunk driving cannot be cured only through enforcement (although enforcement would play a big part); the way to move ahead is to accept that people will go out and drink. A campaign that encourages the safety measures along with providing alternatives such as taxis and safe drivers would go a long way in ensuring that the deaths and injuries due to drunk driving reduce.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:51 AM