Booze buses have a role to play in combating drunkenness


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The Independent Online

Ideally, every drinker would be a sensible drinker, and everybody who left a pub or restaurant late in the evening would be in a fit state to get home without incident or injury. But the world is not ideal. The reality is that towards the end of the evening, particularly at weekends, there will be people out in the streets whose chances of getting home safely have been diminished by too much drink.

The question is – what to do? The Government can run publicity campaigns exhorting people to drink sensibly, and prevent shops from selling strong drink cheaply as loss leaders. It can enforce the law against under-age drinking, and the police can be on hand to round up those who threaten to cause trouble. Beyond that, many people might say that it is not up to the authorities to regulate people’s behaviour, or protect them from the consequences of their own actions.

Laying on “booze buses” to provide on-the-spot first aid to the casualties of an evening’s revelry – and a refuge for vulnerable people waiting for a lift home – might seem like a needless extension of the nanny state. Moralists might argue that it gives revellers an incentive to drink too much, knowing that they are protected from their folly.

But the hard truth is that the taxpayer already picks up a huge tab for people who have come to grief through too much drink, as any late-night visitor to any A&E department can see. Mobile units operating in Maidstone and Reading as part of a government-funded experiment to test solutions to problem drinking are reckoned to have saved the NHS many thousands of pounds. Maidstone’s Urban Blue Bus saved around 1,000 ambulance callouts, and saved the NHS around £250,000.

Praise is due to the Alcohol Fund, which ran this experiment. Now it is for local councils in areas where drunkenness is a common sight in town or city centres to give thought to whether they should introduce something similar.