Have you ever heard yourself say: “I just need one drink, to calm my nerves”? Maybe before you go on a first date? To stand up to make a speech at a wedding? Or to get you over a dose of stage fright? A pint of liquid courage, as it were.
It’s a long-accepted belief in Irish society that the consumption of one drink will improve your concentration, blocking out performance-inhibiting anxiety that might otherwise ‘send the ball off target’. And many would swear that a pint improves hard-eye coordination in such games as darts and snooker.
But do you think that the same holds true for driving down a narrow country lane late on a dark winter’s night?
Me, I was initially bemused and even slightly amused to hear the comments of Fianna Fail TD for Tipperary Mattie Mc Grath earlier this week, justifying his opposition to Government plans to cut the legal blood alcohol content limit for motorists to 50 mg per 100 ml from 80 mg. Deputy McGrath, in case you haven’t heard, reckons that “jumpy” drivers might benefit from having a relaxing alcoholic drink to steady their nerves. He went on to claim that road death figures involving alcohol were misleading. I swear to God, I thought it was some kind of comedic skit I was hearing. You know yourself, the kind of comment that would have us guffawing during an episode of Father Ted, the kind of stuff that would make the likes of Des Bishop scratch his head and rant about what you’d expect from the mad Irish.
As usual, though, the truth is stranger than anything you could make up. Because despite Transport Minister Noel Dempsey’s plans to curb drink driving in his new Road Traffic Bill, the enlightened Deputy McGrath believes that drink can make people who are jumpy on the road, or nervous, be more relaxed!
I’d have serious reservations about the safety of anyone who needs a drink to calm their nerves before they get behind the wheel in the first place. I mean, would you be happy letting your child out to play if you knew there was a particularly edgy or agitated motorist heading their way. No, I hope.
And would that concern ease somewhat if you were told said driver had had a pint before he got in his car. Come off it. Have we lost our sense of reason altogether?
As news of Deputy McGrath’s ‘words of wisdom’ filtered through this week, I heard several people make the point that the increasingly stringent drink driving laws have altered the very fabric of Irish society. For example, if someone comes to visit you in your home you can’t offer them a drink any more. Or how people living alone in rural areas have been cut off from one of their few social outlets because of reductions in the permitted blood alcohol content. And though I have some sympathy for people in the latter circumstance, especially, I don’t think this is a strong enough argument to continue to tolerate a laissez faire attitude when it comes to alcohol and motoring.
Alcohol is absorbed directly from the stomach into the bloodstream, appearing within five minutes after consumption, so even people dropping into the pub for a quick one on their way home from work are going to feel its effects. It’s currently being written about ad nauseum in the media that the result of just one drink increases the risk of a crash, since the smallest amount of alcohol can impair nearly every aspect of the brain’s ability to process information, as well as the eye’s ability to focus and react to light. And if you thought a loved one of yours was going to be involved in that accident, would you be happy to stand by and accept Mattie McGrath’s comments?