Thursday 28 November 2013

Drink driving hotspots

According to a recent survey, drivers who live in the countryside are twice as likely to be charged with driving under the influence of drink and drugs than town dwellers. The survey was conducted by price comparison website, MoneySuperMarket, based on an analysis of almost 12 million insurance quotes on the site in a 12-month period. The worst areas are the north of Scotland and mid-Wales which both have a conviction rate double that of Greater London. Breaking down the stats further by postcodes shows that Scotland and Wales still dominate the top 10 with Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee, Kirkcaldy, Cardiff and Swansea all featured, whereas at the bottom end of the table you'll see central London, Bradford, Liverpool and Manchester.

It's not not surprising that rural areas are likely to feature in such lists with pubs generally much further apart, poor or non-existent public transport and a police presence that is much thinner on the ground. All this, however, doesn't fully explain why parts of Scotland and Wales are so prominent, seeing that England too has remote, rural areas, as well as 88% of the UK's population: on the basis of sheer numbers alone, I'd have expected a greater English presence in the top 10.

Can we accept as an explanation that in those areas of Wales or Scotland, you can be even more remote than in England? I don't think so because if you fancy wandering out for a pint, a pub 10 miles away in North Yorkshire is as inaccessible on foot as a pub 30 miles away in the Scottish Highlands, but it could be argued that if you're prepared to drive while over the limit, you may have a longer journey with a greater chance of being breathalysed. Perhaps, but in my view it's more likely that the police being thinner on the ground through trying to cover a larger area might encourage more people to take the chance.

The loss of many village pubs certainly won't have helped. Curmudgeon has blamed such closures, at least in part, on the denormalisation of alcohol by campaigners, which has led to a decline in people being prepared to drive after drinking within the legal limit, thus reducing trade in rural pubs. Fewer rural pubs will mean that many of those prepared to drive after drinking over the limit will have longer journeys.

I'm not making excuses for drink-driving, as my previous posts will make clear (click here if you wish to see them): attempting to understand why something happens doesn't constitute approval. I do wonder, however, whether people who like a drink take the proximity of a decent pub sufficiently into account when choosing where to live, whether in the town or the country, bearing in mind an increasing number of country homes are occupied by incomers. I once visited a college friend who enjoyed his beer and who had moved with his girlfriend to Solihull (admittedly not very rural); he soon made the welcome suggestion that we go for a pint. After 10 or 15 minutes' walk, we reached a pub, but he said that it was no good. After more than half an hour's walk, we reached somewhere reasonable. I asked him why they hadn't chosen a house closer to a pub. He looked at me incredulously and said that you don't take that kind of thing into account when finding somewhere to live. I pointed out that if he'd played golf, he'd have chosen a house near a golf course.

Back to the survey: although it makes interesting reading, bald statistics can't come up with any explanations, and my own attempts are little more than informed guess work. Contacted for a response, the Institute of Advanced Motorists, a self-appointed driving club, began by stating the obvious: "Lack of public transport is no excuse for any (rural) driver to risk a journey under the influence. Offenders may think they stand more chance of getting away with it in quiet rural areas but these roads are actually the most dangerous, with more fatalities than on city streets."

Okay so far, but then the nanny state tendency came out with: "A hard day's work may seem a good justification for a quick pint on the way home but responsibility for your and others [sic] safety comes with every driving licence." In other words, a quick pint on the way home is going to endanger yourself and others, which misses the point that the survey was about people being over the limit. Having a go at legal drink-driving does not address the real problem of those who will get behind the wheel no matter how much they've knocked back.


  1. Good piece, and thanks for the mention. It's a very valid point that a distinction needs to be made between illegal driving over the legal limit, and legal driving within it.

    When I was young, the message was drummed in to me that if I drank over two pints, I might well fall foul of the law. If this was reiterated today it would be a major contribution to road safety.

    Expecting drivers to drink nothing whatsoever is totally unrealistic.

  2. I think you are right that people in the countryside have to drive further to get home from the pub, which makes it more likely to get caught driving and drinking. Also, there are fewer people on the road and less distractions so a drunk driver can be detected more easily. It makes good sense to stop drinking at least an hour before you leave the pub to be safe rather than sorry.

  3. Actually, because of the slow rate of absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, waiting an hour could just as easily result in a higher blood-alcohol level.


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