Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Drunken Driving - why it is so dangerous

The ability to drive is a complex skill, but it is so familiar to most people that its complexity is often overlooked. Driving, and more specifically safe driving, involves subtle interaction of obvious things like coordination skills, reaction time, and perceptual ability and less obvious, but equally important factors like risk-taking behavior, emotional state, and personality type. Other variables like fatigue, physical and mental health, physiological factors related to hunger, and driver distraction levels are believed by many to be of great influence, but are difficult to define in functional terms. While many studies have been done on driving, it is not understood all that well, especially in terms of what particular skills or characteristics should be considered critical to driving ability. (BLOOD ALCOHOL CONTENT AND DRIVING ABILITY, James J. Fazzalaro)


THREE women who had just watched Miss St Saviour being crowned were seriously injured when a car mounted a pavement and knocked them down outside the Mayfair Hotel on Friday night. The injured women had just left the event in the hotel and were standing outside the Brooklyn Street exit when they were hit by a green Ford Fiesta driven by a young woman. The car had already allegedly demolished a section of wall in Ann Street and, it has been claimed, did not stop after hitting the three women before being involved in another collision in Don Road. The worst injuries were sustained by a woman aged 37 who fractured both her arms and her upper leg. A 43-year-old woman sustained serious abdominal injuries and a cut to the head. She was the one thrown back ten feet. The third victim was aged 47 and suffered multiple grazing, bruises and minor cuts. Paramedics at the scene said that all three women were lucky to be alive.

Back in the 1980s, I remember a friend of mine telling me about some people "that they could take their drink"; I seem to remember a certain popular Deputy Bailiff being cited as an example. This argument is certainly true in some respects - experimental data notes that the result of the same amount of alcohol significantly impairs light and infrequent drinkers, which actually is a caution that they should probably not drink at all. But if someone consumes more drink "because they can take it", they are likely to suffer just the same kind of impairment.

A report on the effects of alcohol notes that with regard to alcohol in the bloodstream:

...studies of alcohol's effect on simulated driving behavior have found "changes" in performance variables such as steering errors, gear changing, braking response time, tracking, vehicle position, lane tracking, speed maintenance, reaction time, distance judgments, and acceleration.

I remember the BBC in the 1980s had a popular science programme called Q.E.D. For one edition, they put people through a driving course having drunk an alcoholic beverage, and found that the most important factors were (1) judgment of distances, especially when avoiding objects and going through narrow spaces  (2) reaction times to breaking and loss of control (e.g. in a skid). What was most significant was that those people who said "they could take their drink" showed a deterioration in driving skills that they were completely unaware of, and a false sense of their abilities - they tried to go through places that were actually too narrow.

Basically the lesson is a simple one: don't drink and drive. The tragic outcome outside the Mayfair Hotel shows just how dangerous the combination can be. The next time there are police checks and delays while they check drivers for drunken driving, just think how this relatively short delay and inconvenience could save lives.


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