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Letís stop playing with the problem of the serial drunk driver

By Brian Holden - posted Monday, 5 November 2012


He was a tall, thin man of dark complexion and aged about 28 years. He struggled to get out of the barber’s chair and over to his wheeled walking frame. In addition to his near-useless right leg, his left arm seemed to be in a fixed position. I assumed from his weedy appearance that some of his insides would not be working that well. The barber informed me that as the young man was walking home from soccer practice a few years earlier, a car jumped the gutter and struck him. A drunk with a record of multiple convictions drove it. The victim was unconscious for a year before facing a life of severe disadvantage.

I already knew that when a drunk driver is convicted, there is rarely room for him in prison. The court settles for a fine and loss of license for a definite period. Of the convicted, there are some who live entirely to satisfy their own needs and who view the punishment as it is handed down to them as a joke. They do not pay the fine and will drive un-licensed until there is another accident.

When I got home from the barber’s, I Googled for an update on the current drink-drive situation. What I discovered was astonishing. For example: A Perth man in 2009 was convicted of fatal drink-driving which killed. In 1996 he was convicted of drink-driving which killed. In 1983 he was convicted of drink-driving which killed. In addition he had several convictions for drink-driving which, by chance, did not injure others. 

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Over 9,300 Australians a month lose their licence due to driving under the influence. Many more than that number arrive at their destination without being apprehended, and their drink-driving goes unrecorded. Out of the millions who drove today in this country, about 3500 were breath-tested. 

A driver under the influence might pass one car coming from the opposite direction every five seconds. In a 10-minute period that’s 120 cars. Let’s assume that the 9,300 charged are all driving intoxicated during the same 10-minute period that month. They would have passed 1,116,000 cars coming from the opposite direction. A drunk driver may never have damaged you, but you have come close to being damaged - even in just the last week.

Interlocking devices which link a breathalyser with the car’s ignition have been available to our legal system for over 10 years - and yet the drunks are still on the road in their thousands. Confiscating the drunk’s car cannot guarantee anything as many drink-related accidents involve cars not owned by the driver. This is playing with the problem. To put the drunk off the road, then we need to decide that we really want to put the drunk off the road. 

If incarceration is generally not possible (nor even desirable), then some other insurmountable barrier has to be placed between the serial drunk driver and alcohol.

By whatever means it takes

The evangelist Billy Graham’s father forced he and his sister Katherine to drink beer until they got sick. After this experience both children had a life-long aversion to beer. 

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When I was a child I had a similar experience with repetitive vomiting following the raiding of an apricot tree. The scent of an apricot still brings up a slightly unpleasant sensation in me. After all these years I still have a file in my brain holding the memory of the stress of my reaction to the gorging. The memory sits there waiting to be triggered by the scent of an apricot.

In this article I wish to emphasise two undisputed facts: There may be rare exceptions, but we were not born with the neural network to crave alcohol. As with all drug addictions, the pattern of cells in the brain tissue of the drinker has to be put together gradually by the ingested alcohol molecule itself driving the process; and a network of cells can be built up in the same brain to associate alcohol with a very disturbing memory.

The most likely objection to Grahams’ father’s method of forced feeding will be that our society is bound by international as well as our own law to refrain from ‘cruel and unusual punishments’.

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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