Allow us this day our drink and show us how to get home safely
Posted Thursday, March 14 2013 at 02:00
The biggest alcohol epidemic we have is not in the towns but in the villages where a generation of young men has been laid to waste by the presence of cheap booze and the absence of any incentives or opportunities to work.
The Police have launched an aggressive campaign targeting people who combine alcohol and mobility. First was the perfectly reasonable, but dubiously handled, crackdown on those who drink and drive. Now the police say they will arrest people who drink and walk!
A confession is perhaps appropriate here. Your columnist is not allergic to a glass of wine or three, and there have been times when he has driven with a glass or more carousing through his veins.
Drink-driving is, of course, a danger to the motorist, their passengers, and other road users. Your columnist has no problem with the idea of getting drunk drivers off the roads to save them from themselves and other road users.
The problem is the arbitrary way in which the police are going about the matter.
The police have failed, or refused, to give guidelines to the public about what the limit is and how to stay within the law. The limits adopted across many countries are informed by scientific assumptions over how much alcohol one can have in one’s blood and still be able to make rational decisions involved in operating machinery, such as a car. They are not meant to be a Fatwa against anyone who has a drink and makes the fatal error of trying to go home!
To that end, computations are made, in conjunction with the alcohol industry, to give some guidance as to what the limits mean. Even the smartest person would struggle to understand what 0.35millgrammes of alcohol in 1,000 millilitres of blood – or whatever the limit is – means; better to tell them no more than two beers for an average-sized male, or samesuch.
Instead the police have chosen to misinterpret the law and say they will arrest anyone with a drop of alcohol in their blood, even if they are sober enough to fly a plane, let alone drive a car.
Which brings us to the small matter of motive. According to figures provided by the police, drink-driving is responsible for only about one in every 100 road traffic accidents registered. Could it be, as some have whispered, that the police officers have been given a license to spend what they collect in drink-driving fines on their welfare, and that they are therefore running a thinly-disguised extortion scheme?
Why, also, do the police invite photographers and film crews to witness the humiliating arrests of people, some probably innocent? Here are my two-cents of what we need to do about drink-driving and its associated dangers.
First, the Health ministry must get the alcohol industry to pay, directly or indirectly, for a public awareness campaign about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption, or its consumption by minors and pregnant women. There have been some industry-grown initiatives that can be supported to make them national. Beyond those who drink and drive, how much alcohol is too much, even for those drinking in their homes?
The biggest alcohol epidemic we have is not in the towns but in the villages where a generation of young men has been laid to waste by the presence of cheap booze and the absence of any incentives or opportunities to work. How long before they add to our public health costs and soaring crime rate?
Second, the police and the Health ministry need to correctly interpret the limits and the law so that it is fair and transparent. The current arbitrary interpretation of the rules is a lawsuit waiting to happen and a blanket under which extortion is likely to brew.
Thirdly, we need to provide reasonable alternatives to people who want to go out and have a drink and get home safe. Imagine someone who lives in Namugongo and comes to the city centre for dinner and drinks; how can they safely get home at 2am when the cabs and boda bodas are not regulated and are populated, most nights, by robbers?
How about we register – and control – the cabs and boda boda riders in the city and its suburbs as a first step? (Sadly, hard to envisage, seeing as we can’t even get them to wear their helmets!)
We need to develop a functional public transport system that allows people without cars to get from one place to another safely at any time of night or day, whether they have been drinking or not. That would give us the moral – and perfectly legal – justification to punish those who disregard those alternatives and insist on driving while over the limit. Cheers!