When 200 people, on average, die on the roads every year — many of them losing their lives through drunk and reckless driving — the entire country must not merely acknowledge the carnage. Everyone needs to be conscious of the responsibility to do something to reduce it.
One of the worst, most painful things about road deaths is that in a large number of instances they could have been avoided by a change of attitude and with it a change in driving habits. In this respect, the efforts of the Ministry of Transport in conjunction with the T&T Beverage Alcohol Alliance are laudable.
The two are getting together to publish a chart that explains when the mix of alcohol and driving becomes potentially fatal. The two agencies announced at a stakeholders’ breakfast meeting that the chart will answer the oft-asked question: When does “one for the road” become dangerous?
Also encouraging was the fact that the breakfast was a gathering of several civic groups, trade unions, taxi associations, business organisations such as the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the police traffic division.
The timing of the effort is well-judged, it comes in time for the Christmas and Carnival seasons when alcohol is consumed in large quantities even by people who plan to drive home from the celebrations. But even before that campaign starts, many viewers will have been struck by the print and television ad campaign produced by the Beverage Alcohol Alliance.
Clearly aimed at young adults, it conveys an unmistakable message, that is, you don’t have to drink to be cool or to have a good time, and that in fact abstaining from alcohol and being the designated driver are in fact a mark of maturity.
The campaign is witty and effective, and it seems wise to have aimed it at young people in the hope that they will absorb its message and get into the excellent habit of choosing a designated driver rather than lapsing into the dangerously tolerant mindset of their elders.
This was not the sole focus of the stakeholders, who came up with other ideas, among them legislation to make buckling up in the back seat a legal requirement and the establishment of safe zones where drivers can pull aside and sleep it off or wait it out.
So too the suggestion for penalties for bar operators who choose to sell more alcohol to people who are already drunk. That may strike many of the citizens of T&T as an extreme measure. Nevertheless, it may be exactly what is called for.
The fundamental change that is needed to cut down on drunk driving and resulting, completely unnecessary deaths is the idea that how much an individual drinks is his or her private business and no one else can or should intervene.
Once that person gets behind the wheel, it is very much other people’s business since anyone else on the road then becomes a potential victim. It is up to those around them — parents, friends, bartenders, among others — to make sure that anyone who is drunk is not allowed to get behind the wheel of a car.
In the meantime, of course, law-enforcement agencies must continue to play their part with more consistent patrols and use of the breathalyser. With the traffic division of the police service on board in the campaign, senior officers must surely be planning to be extra vigilant on the roads at what is the happiest and also, in some respects, the deadliest season of the year.