Thursday 17 June 2010
Brian Viner: How about none for the road?
My daughter Eleanor turns 17 the day after tomorrow, which means that she will soon be learning to drive. She can't wait for the L-plates, but most of all she can't wait to shed them. Several of her mates have already passed their driving tests and, during the long afternoons set aside for A/S-level revision, have taken to calling round in their mums' Clios or Fiestas, whisking Elly off to talk about Peter the Great or, more likely, Peter, the great-looking young farmer, over a milkshake at the American-style diner on the A44.
Where we live in rural north Herefordshire – where, if you set off by foot to buy a milkshake, you need some sturdy walking boots and a compass – teenagers treat the post containing a full driving licence like prisoners on Death Row treat news of a presidential pardon.
My wife, Jane, and I are ambivalent about Elly's imminent ability to drive. It will certainly make us feel less like mini-cab drivers; mini-cab drivers for whom every fare ends in a runner. On the other hand, and it is a big, ominous hand, the casualty rates among teenage and twentysomething drivers hereabouts are alarming.
We have four sets of friends whose children have written off cars in the past 18 months, mercifully without any permanent damage to themselves. And it wasn't that they were being reckless, just inexperienced.
One consequence of all this is that most kids acquire their full driving licence in tandem with a stern parental lecture, containing any number of dire warnings as to what might happen, quite aside from loss of life or limb, if they are irresponsible at the wheel. But when did 17-year-olds ever listen earnestly to their parents? I know I didn't. After all, the teen-eye view of the world is startlingly different to that of adults.
Last September, Elly told me about a minor collision involving one of her mates. I suggested that it might be due to his lack of driving experience. "Oh no, he's really experienced," she said. "He passed his test at the, like, beginning of the summer."
Still, it seems that most teenagers take this particular rite of passage seriously. The other day I happened to follow one of Elly's new driving chums along a stretch of the A49 and she indicated practically every time her eyeballs moved from left to right, before proceeding twice around a very large roundabout, while she tried to get her bearings on a journey she'd probably made with her parents 10,000 times. If anyone has a worse sense of direction than teenage girls, it can only be toddlers playing blind man's buff.
In one respect, however, the teenage girls I know, and the boys, are much more scrupulous than their elders. They do not drink and drive. At all. If they are going out for an evening, the designated driver sticks to Diet Coke, setting an example which my generation habitually ignores. "No more, I'm driving," is a common refrain at many of the social occasions I go to. We should learn to make it "no thanks, I'm driving".
All of which brings me to a new review of Britain's drink-drive regime by Sir Peter North, an academic and QC. He recommends that 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, the current limit over which a person is charged with drink-driving, should be reduced to 50mg. He also calculates that, if such a limit was heeded and enforced, 168 lives – about 7 per cent of annual road deaths in the UK – would be saved in the first year.
Apparently, the Tories declared even before the general election that they would be unlikely to implement this, whether because they feared losing the gin-sodden vote I don't know.
But why is there even a debate? Why not, indeed, reduce the limit to 0mg of alcohol? I want us supposed grown-ups to keep the roads as safe as possible while my daughter and her friends get their bearings.
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