Friday, November 06, 2009

Drunk On Power

The 'debate' in Queensland over lowering drink driving limits is a cynically transparent exercise by the government.

With the dopey complicity of the Courier-Mail and other media outlets, they've been priming the pump for a couple of weeks:

One third of drink drivers caught more than once
Robyn Ironside
October 25, 2009 11:00pm

QUEENSLAND's drink drivers are failing to learn their lesson as the number of repeat offenders grows steadily each year, in the absence of promised deterrents. Of the 29,913 drink drivers caught in Queensland last year, 10,393 or 35 per cent had been booked at least once before
Then yesterday Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson pretended he was simply responding to public debate when he suggested the driving blood alcohol limit in Queensland should be reduced to zero.

But Atkinson opened his mouth and put his foot squarely in it:

Mr Atkinson said Australia could look to Scandinavia, which had far lower road tolls per head of population than Australia. The alcohol limit in Sweden is .02 and in Denmark .05. Their road toll deaths per 100,000 were four, Mr Atkinson said, compared to eight in Queensland.
The Danish BAC is the same as Queensland's. Their experience plainly indicates factors other than the BAC affect the road toll.

It's also intellectually dishonest to cite figures per 100,000 head of population when you're trying to make one point in your favour (even when you accidentally give the game away) and raw figures when trying to make a different point in your favour:

Last night, Queensland's road toll was sitting at 294 deaths – about a quarter of which have been alcohol- related – and was expected to climb to 340 for the year.
What does this mean per 100,000? The raw figures are meaningless. In fact they may be completely decieving since Queensland has a high population growth rate meaning more drivers on the road every year.

Meanwhile, the government grant monkeys are gibbering with delight:

The director of the Queensland University of Technology Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety, Barry Watson, said yesterday he thought it was inevitable that Queensland would eventually enforce a zero limit.
So regardless of any evidence to the contrary on the worth of lowering the limit, he's already backing his paymasters...

Dr Watson said it was difficult to estimate how effective a move to zero would be. He backed Mr Atkinson's concerns about needing more research, saying his centre did not have accurate figures on how many drivers in fatalities had blood alcohol levels of 0.05 per cent but the number was not large.
... but he'll have some of that cash anyway, thanks...

"But (lowering the limit) could have a broader effect," Dr Watson said. "So it may have a greater impact for people between 0.05 and 0.10 who have tried to limit their alcohol but miscalculated."
... and we'll ignore the fact that the state has repeatedly denied and discouraged people from using available breathalysers to adequately measure their BAC before driving.

A tow truck service operator then weighs in:

Spokesman for peak motoring body the RACQ Gary Fites agreed it was time to debate the proposal to lower the drink-drive limit. "Let's talk about it, let's look at it – everything should be on the table for discussion."

He acknowledged a large number of drink-drivers in court would have readings just over 0.05. "This could change if we lowered the limit – but we might not be convinced this is the most cost-effective way to reduce the road toll."
What Mr Fites is convinced of or not is irrelevant. The RACQ has sold its membership's right up the river to government without a fight too many times before. They'll be a doormat again and like it.

As will the population of Queensland when, after a wide ranging and vigorous debate /sarc, the Bligh Labor government reduces the limit to .02 instead of zero.

This is purpose of Atkinson raising this:

"It would effectively mean you couldn't have a drink," (Atkinson) said. "You couldn't even have a stubby of light beer."
It's part of the softening up so the populace will accept a smaller excrement sandwich that they'll be grateful for it not being bigger.

The State Opposition fired back late in the day with suggestions that current laws might be more stringently enforced and punished. They - and the currently 60% of ordinary Queenslanders who are against lowering the limit in a poll - will undoubtedly be falsely accused of 'supporting drink driving' in the days to come as the media dutifully trots out tragic parents and families of drink driving victims who, let's face it, would sell every last bit of freedom they have to get their loved ones back.

But the opposition is right - if 35% of drink drivers are repeat offenders, one could slash drink driving by that amount simply by taking them more permanently off the road.

However, being genuinely tough on offenders is harder than clamping further down on the law-abiding, and infinitely easier than making driver training as tough as it is in Denmark where, let's not forget, they have half the Queensland road toll with the same BAC as Queensland has right now.

So, come the New Year and the new .02 level, enjoy your one cold light beer on a summer day road trip or at a Sunday afternoon barbeque. You'll be able to look back on it with nostalgia in another few years time when there's suddenly a 'debate' on going all the way to zero.

The only remaining question to ask is: when the limit is zero and the road toll hasn't fallen by the 25% of fatal crashes that 'involve' alcohol, what will government do then?

-- Nick

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