Saturday, 25 July 2015

Pub breathalysers

I've just read an article about pubs breathalysing customers before they enter to ensure they aren't already drunk when they enter. Anyone whose breath registers two and a half times the drink-driving limit is not allowed in. Such tests have been taking place in pubs in Norwich and Torquay, with Truro and Newquay to follow soon. Predictably, the police welcome the idea, with the Cornwall force claiming that a comparison of figures for December 2014 when the scheme was introduced in twenty three venues with a year earlier showed that:
  • Violent crime fell by 22%.
  • Violent crimes against the person (excluding domestic violence) fell by 39%.
  • There were 10 fewer admissions to hospital.
I'm not particularly impressed because, in themselves, these figures prove nothing. Do they describe crimes in the whole community, or just in the venues concerned? Are there other factors that might explain the reduction? How much random variability is to be expected in the annual figures? For the figures to have any scientific validity, all other factors in the town would have to be identical in the two Decembers concerned, which is quite obviously impossible. For example, a big sporting event in one month without an equivalent in the other would by itself be enough to explain the variation.

Such crude and imprecise statistics amount to disinformation, but I can foresee that they may provide an excuse for licensing authorities to impose a requirement to use breathalysers as a condition of granting new licenses or renewing existing ones. They'd thus be imposed upon us by stealth.

As for the level of 2.5 times the drink-drive level: it's impossible to be precise, but wouldn't that be around five pints? That's not exactly binge drinking, and it would definitely inhibit the great British tradition of pub crawls. Breathalysers are associated with breaking the law, and I'd expect them to irritate customers who'd not appreciate being treated like offenders.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to eroding personal freedom. Drinking is a legal activity; even being drunk isn't illegal as long as you're not disorderly. It's worse than the nanny state because the use of the breathalyser is not compulsory, at least not at present: we'd be foolish to sleepwalk into regulating ourselves when there is no legal requirement to do so, and where there are no genuinely quantifiable benefits.

1 comment:

  1. As the nurse told me the last time I went for a health check - about fifteen years ago - the Government defines a binge drinker as anyone who ever drinks twice the recommended daily limit in one day, i.e. four pints, so I went down on the NHS computer as one, as would nearly all the adult population I reckon.


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