Saturday 11 June 2016

Lethal implement

On the wireless last night, in the quirky regional news QRN section, mention was made of the recent conviction for drunk-driving of John O'Shea a farmer of Derrinadin, Mastergeeha, Co Kerry. Over the years, I've had a quite a lot to say about being drunk and driving. We live remote: you can't get further from a bus-stop and still be in the province of Leinster, so we know how convenient it is to own a car. But we also know how expensive it is to service that convenience. Grocers (Mr Tesco etc.) are now happy to deliver food to your door for a lot less than the minimum €60 pw it costs to run a car. We just had two 2.4m I-beams and a bunch of timber delivered 'for free' by the local steelyard, I'm sure we could cut a good deal with Red Mills to have 20 bags of sheep-feed and a bucket of mineral lick delivered to the gate; rather than stress-testing the springs of the poor ould Yaris. So the argument that farmers like us [note: there are no farmers on the planet quite like us] need a car to prosecute their business is a bit wobbly.

We know all about Mr O'Shea and his case because the conviction entailed him being put off the road for three years to stop him from being a danger to himself and others.  But his lawyer pointed out that this would cause his client great hardship if implemented immediately: how would he dispose of the cows, how would he have any social life without his wheels?  The judge beamed down in an avuncular way and made a quip about Mr O'Shea going to the local match-making festival to find "a good woman" who would drive him about the country while he was banned. This caused a predictable twituproar from, inter alia, an organisation called the Irish Road Victim's Association IRVA: "what planet is this judge living on?" . . . "sends the wrong signals".  I suspect that the banter between judge and lawyer was possible because in this case "nobody died", Mr O'Shea piled himself up on the ditch with 4x the legal limit of alcohol on-board and dinged his motor but not himself and, fortunately, not some neighbour out jogging or pushing a pram.

There is, of course, another level at which the blokey legal banter was utterly repellent. Mr O'Shea was effectively being encouraged to trade in his herd of cows, which he would no longer be able to effectively manage, for a fine heifer that could drive. And if we're on political correct tracks, we might ask if Mr O'Shea, by all accounts a 'confirmed batchelor', might not prefer a young chap who could drive , . . and talk knowledgeably about Kerry hurling.

But let's keep some perspective on this.  The average motorist in Ireland drives 10-12,000km every year, there are 2.5 million cars on the road so that's something like 25 billion person-kilometers / year. And this results in 150 road deaths [and a lot more disabling injuries]. So you can drive a helluva lot of miles before you kill yourself or somebody else.  Driving while drunk will decrease the odds that you'll have a fatal encounter but even making a 10x or 100x change in the likelihood still makes that unfortunate event unlikely on this trip home from the wedding.  Something in excess of 500 people kills themselves each year in ways that don't involve a car.  That's a minimum, suicide has negative connotations and doctors will seize straws and bend the truth to avoid calling an unexpected death a suicide. Suicide can spring from depression, depression from loneliness and social exclusion. No car, no pub, no social life, no point, no ose?

And now a road safety message from Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert about getting drunk.  Don't do this at home, they advise: do it in a bar.  I find it quite like the Ignobel Awards in the sense that first they make you laugh, then they make you think. As one who has been designated driver plenty of times while my pals get playful, most drunken people are only endearing to themselves. And while we're on driving too fast under the influence, let's hear Frank Zappa taking a stand a stand a stand against speed.

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