As the Year Comes to an End and Calls to Celebrate, Don't Forget to Drive Responsibly

Your brain hasn’t experienced the impact or the consequences of what happens when you crash while you drive drunk. It. Is. Not. About. Your. Capabilities. It is not a macho thing to do either.

By Srinivas Krishnan | on December 23, 2023 Follow us on Autox Google News

December. It’s time to celebrate – the year is coming to an end and there are festivals and social functions to attend. More than usual opportunities to have a drink or two. Great, enjoy. But don’t drive afterwards. But you perhaps have done it before to no exceptional consequence. Which emboldens you to believe that you are a capable driver who’s unaffected by consuming some alcohol and then getting behind the wheel. Wrong.

I spoke to Biju Dominic, Chief Evangelist at Fractal and Chairman of FinalMile Consulting – a familiar name in my columns. I often ask him questions because he deeply studies human behaviour and believes that road safety is as much about human behaviour as it is about machines, law implementation and infrastructure. He says, “People who drink and drive replay their success and gloat over it. But it’s misplaced overconfidence. What they don’t realise is their inability to deal with sudden situations, where even a delay of a millisecond can make a difference.” More importantly, it’s this: “The brain is poor in predicting the future, especially negative things. It’s an anticipating machine, which works on past experiences but not something it has never seen.” In other words, your brain hasn’t experienced the impact or the consequences of what happens when you crash while you drive drunk. It. Is. Not. About. Your. Capabilities. It is not a macho thing to do either.

You should not push your luck too. Just because you haven’t had a crash or haven’t been caught by the cops doesn’t mean it is okay to drink and drive. In a country like ours, where law implementation is pathetically lax, getting pulled over by the police with breathalysers is fairly remote. But even in a country like the US, an average drunk driver has committed this violation about 80 TIMES before getting arrested. So that’s no metric for your luck or your driving capabilities.

Plus, there are solid physiological reasons why drinking and driving don’t mix. You cannot control speeds, your brain does not process information properly, it cannot reason cohesively, you have difficulties in coordination, you cannot track moving objects and there are many more impairments – making you much more likely to crash than when driving sober. Biju likens this to when you are learning to drive – you are narrowly focused on the mechanisms of driving and not taking in the surroundings wholly. “Sober drivers look around, their eyes dart between long and short and they use their peripheral vision. But when one drives drunk, the peripheral vision gets affected, the focus narrows and, of course, reaction times slow down considerably.”

According to the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways statistics for 2022, there were 4,201 deaths due to drunken driving – an increase of over 26 per cent over 2021. At about 2.5 per cent of the overall 168,000-plus fatalities, that’s not much, but it is still 4,200 completely preventable, avoidable deaths not to mention the 8,800-plus injuries. What is the solution? “The police should come down heavily,” says Biju, “Like the crackdown on smoking – which was successful because what is essentially private behaviour manifested in the public space – drinking is a private act, but it has a public face. Attacking this public face in a concerted manner and increasing the probability of getting caught can help prevent drunk driving. Also, public service campaigns of real-life stories highlighting the same defences and excuses that people have used to drink and drive, and have subsequently faced the consequences, will be also effective.”

Also Read: There’s an Invisible Killer on Our Roads, Surely You've Heard it?

We can take inspiration from the USA. Unlike India, in the US, drunk driving accounts for the majority of road fatalities. Therefore, the action against driving under the influence is much more targeted. The finest example of this is the non-profit called Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which extensively uses this technique of real-life stories to help create ‘the nation of No More Victims’. While it provides terrific resources to campaign against drunk driving, they have moved on to another level by lobbying the US Government to implement technologies in automobiles that prevent you from driving when you are inebriated. And, in a synergy of interests, also count Uber, Waymo and Cruise as some of their supporting partners. MADD was set up in 1980 by a mother whose 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver, and today it’s grown into an effective countrywide organisation combating drunk driving.

Okay, perhaps that’s too much to expect in India. So, what can you do as an individual? Plan ahead, so that you don’t have to drink and drive. Have a designated driver. Take a cab. Check out for driver services in your city. All these are excellent, no-compromise options. Be safe, and be considerate of other road users. And cheers!

Tags: Road Safety

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