Driving Without Tears
By Maxwell Pereira
Jt. Commissioner of Police/Traffic, Delhi

maxpk@vsnl.com

"Drinks and driving don't mix" - is a matter of fact statement. Also an advice given to drivers. With due reason. It is unfortunate that this advice is not viewed seriously in our country.

The spectacular increase in the number of motor vehicles has created a major social problem - of loss of valuable lives through road accidents. And drunkenness is among the major causes for road accidents in India. A large number of persons are killed in road accidents due to excessive intake of alcohol - mostly by drivers before and while driving, and at times even by pedestrians or cyclists who venture on the road in an inebriated state.

Research studies throughout the world have examined effects of alcohol on driving capabilities, findings invariably confirming its dangerous consequences on persons who cross limits. The judgement and skill of a driver can only be exercised so long as his sensory organs remain functioning unimpaired; which do get affected with drinks.

Alcohol gives a feeling of well-being and outward calm - but actually it is, in medical parlance, a depressant. It slows down the processes in the central nervous system, especially the brain. The effects can be seen in the lessening of muscular control and coordination, and thereby increase in reaction time. Alcohol intake results in blurring of vision and decrease in awareness, especially in the dark. It also impairs ability to judge speed and distance, essentially needed to deal with unexpected situations…. and judgement with regard to how fit and fine one is to drive, so that under its influence one generally believes oneself to be driving better than one really does. All these factors greatly affect driving performance. Obvious consequences are, a higher risk of road accidents.

Effects of various amounts of alcohol on driver behaviour have been examined in a study conducted by Goldberg L. and J.D.S. Haward, D.E.C.D., Paris. Alcohol in the blood is measured in milligrams (mg) of alcohol per 100 millilitre (ml) of blood. The Study states that when alcohol concentration in blood is 0-20 mg/100 ml, in some subjects there is deterioration in special skills that resemble driving skills; in which case, the accident risk while being there, is marginal. When blood alcohol concentration is 20-40mg/ 100 ml, there is further progressive deterioration in special skills and hence greater risk of accidents. In 40-50mg/100 ml, significant increase in accident involvement is noticed. As the blood alcohol level approaches and passes 50mg/100 ml, the overall accident risk increases rapidly; and at a concentration of 80mg/100 ml, alcohol emerges as a dominant factor in accidents. When blood alcohol concentration is greater than 80mg/100 ml, the accident probability of drivers is very high - it being 6 to 7 times (when the concentration is 100mg/100 ml) that of drivers with less than 10mg/100 ml.

Authorities around the world have laid down their own standards for permissible maximum blood alcohol content. In the USA many states consider it a legal offence for a person to drive a motor vehicle, if the blood alcohol content is 100 mg/100 ml or more; in Norway and Sweden the limit is 50 mg/100 ml. In the UK the Road Safety Act, 1972 makes it a legal offence for a person to drive if the blood alcohol content is 80 mg/ 100 ml or more. The legal limit in India is 30mg/100 ml, as per provisions of Section 185 of the Motor Vehicle Act 1988.

The legal penalty under section 185 of the Motor Vehicle Act prescribes imprisonment of '6' months with or without fine upto Rs. 2000/- for the First offence. For the second and subsequent offence - if committed within 3 years of the commission of a previous similar offence, the imprisonment is upto 2 years or fine up to Rs. 3000/- or more. There can be arrest without warrant u/s 202 of the M.V. Act, which also prescribes a breath test (u/s 203) and a laboratory test (u/s 204).

To conclude, a balanced individual will remember always to stick to the advise of elders on drinks - "one is just fine; two is one too many; three is just not enough…." And beware of that friend who pressurises a departing guest with a - 'one for the road'. Just be that wise guy then, not to let that one be, the '…one for the ditch'. Surely then, you'll be the one that saves not only yours, but others' lives too.

(The author can be reached at http://planetindia.net/maxwell or his email: maxpk@vsnl.com ) 750words. 04.02.2003: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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