Political Promise

Why I hate road safety campaigners

In Uncategorized on September 28, 2010 at 9:00 am

 4 months ago, the Tory Party pledged in its manifesto not to lower the drink drive limit. Last week the Transport Secretary proposed we do exactly that. By Jonathan Ford 


If the Tories go ahead with changing the law and breaking their promise, the new limit will likely be 50mg of booze per 100ml of blood. That means that your average bloke won’t even be allowed a full pint. He’ll have to leave the last 2 gulps at the bottom of the jar. Or face 12 months off the road and his day in the dock. Once more, for emphasis: a criminal conviction and a year’s driving ban all for 2 gulps of lager.

But don’t worry. Turns out that this really isn’t utterly preposterous. Or another draconian castration by the scissors-at-the-ready snip-happy State of its ever-increasingly emasculated citizenry.

Because it’s actually all good news. Why? Because it’s going to save lives. And what’s preposterous about that? It’s something we ought to celebrate! So let’s all raise our glasses . . . Shit, some of us are driving . . . Okay, let’s all raise our glasses of rancid non-alcoholic sparkling wine: to lives saved! Cheers!

Waiter, pass me a bottle of Macallan and a magnum revolver.

The problem isn’t the aspiration of road safety campaigners to cut the number of deaths on the roads. That aspiration is honourable. My gripe’s more with how they go about fighting their cause.

And this is how their argument goes:
If we lower the limit, it’s going to save lives. Did you hear me?! Do you not care about saving lives?! Are you that insensitive?! That devoid of humanity?! You cold-hearted bastard! Get away from me, you sick monster! I can’t talk to you! And I certainly won’t debate with you!

In other words, their aspiration is their argument. Their one and only argument. And don’t dare disagree with that argument, or brace yourself not for a robust and thoughtful response, but ad hominem, ad nauseum, i.e. the road safety lobby is fundamentally intellectually lazy. Not unlike religious believers who justify decisions on what God’s told them and then feel no reason to explain those decisions to anyone else. ‘It’s what God wants. There’s no need to talk about it’/’It’s going to save lives. Let’s not waste time debating it.’

It’s not that I’m insensitive about death. Nothing makes me feel worse. And on the face of it, it’s not easy to disagree with lowering the drink drive limit. If it’s going to save lives, then why not just change the law? I even start to wonder myself: have they actually got it right? Am I a cold-hearted bastard, after all?

But then I remember that just because something saves lives doesn’t make it the right thing to do.

Yes, reducing the drink drive limit would probably mean fewer deaths on the roads (303 fewer deaths by 2016 says one recent report – quite how the fuck they worked that one out, I’ve no idea; are the words ‘figure plucked from thin air by objective experts who really want to see the drink drive limit lowered’ crossing your mind too?)

But do you know what else would mean fewer deaths? How about lowering the speed limit to 20 miles an hour? Or why not make it 10? Or 5? In fact, let’s just ban cars altogether, eh? And while we’re at it, why not get rid of alcohol too? Because in such a happy world where there’s no danger, or anything remotely unsafe, we’re all going to be so cheerful that they’ll be no need for aqua vitae to get us through the day. So let’s lift our glasses of rancid non-alcoholic sparking wine all over again: to the paradise of placidity! Cheers!

Waiter, this revolver isn’t loaded.

Don’t be thinking that I’m a nihilist – I had to give that up when I discovered how horrible people are. It’s not that I don’t care about life and death. It’s just that I care more about the role of the State in our society.

And what gives the State the right to criminalise the guy who feels like a pint after knocking his pan out all day long for the slavery of wage labour, just because he’s got the impertinence to drive the familiar route home to save wasting half his day’s pay on an overpriced cab?

This guy is a good citizen. He’s responsible. He’s not asking for a lot: to relax over 1 drink after work, then drive home. But under the proposals now being considered by the government, this guy could well find himself over the limit (despite not feeling even remotely drunk), and derided a ‘potential killer’ – the characteristically measured parlance of the more fanatical among the road safety rabble, revelling as they do in demonising good citizens who happen to be unlucky enough to be pulled over and banged to rights, all for having had 2 gulps too many. And you’ve got to love the police’s role in all of this: spending time and money trying to catch out good citizens when they really ought to be doing something about the bad ones.

But all that matters is that lives are saved, right? Of course, the truth is that this whole ‘saving lives’ business is total nonsense. These people go on and on and on about it like they’re angels of Christ or something. But they’re not saving anyone. No matter how low the drink drive limit is, we’re all going to die and tragedy is always going to be with us. It’s not lacking in humanity to say that; it’s the essence of humanity to accept it.
These people aren’t saving lives, they’re delaying death. And in a world without risk, and a snip-snipping State, and only rancid non-alcoholic sparkling wine to get us through, death can’t come soon enough.
About 3000 people die on Britain’s roads every year. Among those 3000, more deaths are caused by drunk pedestrians than drunk motorists. So there you have it: statistically speaking, you’re safer driving home from the pub than you are walking it.

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  1. […] other news, Jonathan Ford posted on the Government’s proposal to lower the drink-drive limit. In the rather ominously […]

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