An Irish council passed a motion in January to permit rural drinkers to drive home on certain isolated backroads and at a restricted speed. The County Kerry Council voted 5-3, with seven members abstaining and 12 absent, to issue permits allowing those who have “two or three” drinks at pubs to drive home. This is a proposal, not a law, and the council will have to petition Justice Minister Alan Shatter before issuing the permits.
While many have criticized the motion, one councilor explained that it is designed to curb depression and suicide, particularly among the elderly, resulting from deprivation of the sense of community enjoyed in the local pubs. “A lot of these people are living in isolated rural areas where there’s no public transport of any kind, and they end up at home looking at the four walls, night in and night out, because they don’t want to take the risk of losing their license…The only outlet they have then is to take home a bottle of whiskey, and they’re falling into depression, and suicide for some of them is the sad way out,” the councilor said.
Those who have been quick to judge and those who have resorted to “Irish-as-drunks” stereotyping fail to take this into proper perspective. The legal BAC in Ireland is 0.05, according to drinkdriving.org, as compared to the 0.08 limit in Massachusetts and every other state. Obviously, the number of drinks it takes to exceed the legal limit is variable, depending on many factors including body weight, the type of drink consumed, timing, diet, and more. Still, many here in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the United States readily get behind the wheel, whether in poor judgment or not, after having “two or three drinks,” thinking that they are not legally drunk by our 0.08 standard. This rural Irish county’s move to make driving after “two or three drinks” permissible is essentially just an attempt to codify what many or most in our country assume, mistakenly or not, to be okay.
This story also raises the issue of public transportation as it relates to operating under the influence. Efforts against drunk driving have focused almost entirely on increasing drunk-driving penalties, and this approach has not been effective. Legislators and organizations that lobby against drunk driving have failed to consider that increased access to public transportation and cab services in suburban and rural communities would likely decrease drunk driving, perhaps significantly. These groups have also failed to consider that less restrictive zoning might decrease Massachusetts OUI. It seems that there would probably be less drunk driving if residents of suburban and rural communities could walk to a neighborhood bar. Maybe it’s time to think outside the box and evolve from the tired and unsuccessful focus on harsher penalties.