How the state drives us crazy

Yesterday I mentioned a Russian columnist’s mistake in stating that there are no drink-driving laws in the West, only dangerous-driving ones.

On her part it’s an error; on mine it’s wishful thinking. But it’s not my thinking that matters here but the government’s, and we proceed from entirely different premises.

I assume that traffic laws should make driving safer, more sensible and less troublesome. HMG assumes that drivers must be punished for the temerity of using such an un-PC mode of transportation.

If in the process of administering punishment the state can extort more money from the populace, then so much the better. After all, as my friend at the local garage put it, explaining why he had to charge me a £100 VAT on a set of tyres, “We have all those immigrants to pay for.” He used a modifier before ‘immigrants’, but decorum prohibits reproducing it here.

What’s the purpose of a drink-driving law, automatically banning motorists for at least a year if they exceed the allowable blood-alcohol limit by even a minuscule amount?

Presumably, it’s to save lives, and a worthy goal it is too. Then the assumption is that even a bloke like me, who has driven about 750,000 miles in his life (quite a few of them over the limit), becomes dangerous after drinking a couple of glasses of wine.

That, even though I’ve never been convicted of dangerous driving, never caused an accident and was last done for speeding 25 years ago. (The traffic cop didn’t accept the excuse that I was distracted by Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations.)

Now what’s this assumption based on? That alcohol slows one’s reactions and therefore response time. True, it does. But what if my reaction time when tipsy is still shorter than that of a stone-sober 75-year-old granny?

Moreover, what if I’m demonstrably aware of my temporary impairment and therefore drive much more carefully than I do normally, meaning that my reaction time is less likely to be tested after dinner than before?

The government will say that statistically driving over the limit is more likely to cause an accident. Again, true. But that means that a banned motorist has been punished not because he has committed an offence but because he’s statistically more likely to do so.

Let me ask the lawyers among you: does this not constitute preventive arrest? If so, then why limit the concept to drinking? I hope you won’t think me a racist if I mention that statistically a black unemployed person is more likely to commit a crime than an employed white one. Does this mean that the former should be subjected to preventive arrest? Of course not.

You might say that driving over the alcohol limit is a crime in itself. Which gets me back to the original question: why should it be?

If the purpose of this law is to save lives, rather than for the state to put its foot down, fleecing people in the process, then this can be achieved much better by other means.

For example, by treating alcohol as an aggravating circumstance in any traffic violation, especially those resulting in injury and death: a driver killing someone while over the limit could be charged with homicide and put away for 15 years. Don’t you think this would be a stronger deterrent than a year’s ban?

Ditto, dangerous driving. Treat it as a felony if there’s booze involved, and you’d be amazed how many people would be separating the bottle and the throttle. Many more than now, I’d suggest.

Incidentally, in France and elsewhere on the continent the alcohol limit is half ours but, and this is critical, they don’t ban you on first offence. Moreover, as I can testify on personal experience, in the countryside, where the car is the only mode of transportation, there are hardly ever any spot checks.

If the cops got bolshie about it, social life in rural France would effectively die. So they are sensible about a solid citizen drinking a glass or two of bubbly before dinner, half a bottle of Burgundy with it, and perhaps a cognac afterwards. Provided of course he doesn’t do anything stupid. C’est la vie, n’est ce pas?

Now what about the proposed law, punishing driving in the middle lane of a motorway with a £100 fine? I’d call it idiotic if it weren’t dictated by a perfectly rational desire to squeeze more money out of taxpayers.

First, the traffic in the left lane usually moves under the speed limit. And a good job too, considering that many of those slow coaches are indeed coaches, juggernauts and other lorries. So what are we supposed to do? Inhale diesel fumes belched out of an HGV for 50 miles or an hour, whichever comes first?

No, if we want to drive at the legal speed limit, what the government wants us to do is cut in and out of traffic, changing lanes all the time. Any driver will tell you that this is a factor of danger – there’s a risk involved every time you change lanes on a motorway. So it’s not our safety that the state is concerned about – it’s its own arbitrary power and depleting finances.

And speaking of the legal speed limit on motorways, why is ours so low? Why are people allowed to drive at 81 mph in France, 74.5 mph in Italy but only 70 mph in Britain?

Take it from someone who does at least 12,000 miles on continental motorways every year, we’re much better and safer drivers than either the French or the Italians. Or if you don’t want to take it from me, take it from accident statistics – they’ll tell you the same thing.

Hand on heart now, do you always observe the 70 mph limit? Ever? Most people don’t, which means most people are law-breakers.

I’d suggest that a state that criminalises most people with its silly laws is in itself criminal, or at least tyrannical. But I won’t: it pains me too much to think that HMG may be more tyrannical than the government of a revolutionary republic.







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