Friday, May 3, 2013

A Pint for the Road?

Location of Kilgarvan in Ireland
Ireland is considered a relatively small island in terms of its size and population compared to other European countries. In some areas, the rural Irish countryside can lead one to believe that there isn’t anyone around for miles. In these rural settings the pub often stands in as the de facto community center, where locals can come to socialize, interact, and of course, share a pint or two. The combination of vehicle dependence, rural roads, and a strong pub-based culture makes driving intoxicated in these small villages commonplace and somewhat acceptable in the Irish countryside.

But drinking and driving hasn’t been legal for decades, until now. 

Nestled in the southeast corner of the island, council members representing 164 residents of the quaint rural village of Kilgarvan recently voted to legalize drunk driving.

Pub owner and Kerry County Council member Danny Healy-Rae introduced a bill “to issue permits to people living in rural isolated areas to allow them to drive home from their nearest pub after having two or three drinks on little-used roads driving at very low speeds.”[1] Arguing staunchly for this measure, Mr. Healy-Rae proclaimed that citizens driving while intoxicated in rural areas have “never killed anyone” and by giving residents the ability to legally drive while under the influence of alcohol would “bring back a social outlet for lonely people in rural areas that had been lost after stricter drink-drive laws were introduced.”[2] Mr. Healy-Rae also argues that rural isolation brings a certain socially reduced lifestyle. It can cause mental anguish such as severe depression that can lead to other problems, like suicide. The pubs provide the link to social interaction in a place where mobility is limited to the automobile.

Socializing in any Pub in Ireland
The reasoning was favored by the other councilors whom voted, five to three, on the measure with twelve being absent and another seven abstaining from the vote. Since then, the media frenzy surrounding the small town has been astonishing and Mr. Healy-Rae continues to support the measure despite the outpouring of sharp criticism.

Upon the passing of the measure, many are up in arms. Toireasa Ferris, another Kerry County council member, who missed the vote due to being home with a sick child says the city, county and country is being looked upon as a “laughingstock” stating that “rural isolation is a serious issue, but she says it has been obscured by promoting drunken driving as part of the solution.”[1]

“Rural areas are among the most dangerous roads in Ireland.”[3] Rural roads typically have higher fatality rates due to the ability to attain higher speeds for longer periods of time, low traffic volumes and a lower chance of law enforcement to catch law breakers.[4] This measure only reinforces the lack of seriousness associated with drinking and driving.

Typical Country Road in Rural Ireland
Many officials call foul and state that the council has no power or authority to change or implement laws. The Irish government still must approve the motion for it to pass. Still others beg the Council to reverse its decision asking about other solutions such as taxi’s or why alcohol must be a necessity for social interaction at all? "Depression causes suicide. It's not caused by not being able to go to the pub. There's more things to do in Kilgarvan than go into your pub."[2]

A pint goes to Mr. Max Scheideman for his assistance in editing this blog post.

[1] Permit Allowing a Few Pints Tests a Tolerance for Drunken Driving
[2] Irish council approves motion to allow rural drink-driving
[3] Irish County Votes to Let Some Drive Drunker
[4] Implementing the High Risk Rural Roads Program - FHWA Safety Program


  1. It seems to me that since drinking and driving is already a cultural norm to some extent, there is no reason to not legalize drunk driving. people are already doing it, and from the research you did it doesn't seem to be having an abverse affect on the community. local law enforcement can now focus on pulling over reckless or speeding drivers, regardless of the reason, be it alcohol or some other factor. I think we in the US, and elsewhere in the world, have been taught that drunk driving is absolutely wrong, and the idea that in some cases it might be ok is difficult to wrap our head around.

    1. I can see this being a legitimate argument if this community was thinking about abolishing drinking or something. I feel like this is a different situation though because drinking is different from drunk driving. People don't try to sneak in acts of drunk driving for the sake of being able to drive drunk. Drunk driving is a by-product of the preferred act (drinking/socializing) so while they don't have many other transportation options home from the bar, they aren't typically going to the bar to get drunk just so that they can drive home drunk. So if there are other options available, there's a good chance that people will take advantage of them since there aren't many people that are dead-set on purposefully drunk driving.

      Situations like this are ripe with opportunity for better solutions. Perhaps teenagers in the area (although there's probably not many) could possibly earn driver's education credits for signing up as a designated driver for the evening. There could be tax incentives for rural communities that set up local carpool/vanpools for evening socializations as a way of combating drunk driving. Also, rural, low-maintenance roads are great for bicycling, so perhaps some of the roads get closed to vehicle traffic from 10 pm - 6 am. I know that biking and walking under the influence is still not a good idea, but I'd rather take my chances on a road with a bunch of wobbly cyclists and pedestrians than car drivers.

  2. An article I found says the new law raises the allowable BAC to .07, higher than the Irish standard of .05 but still lower than our own permissible level of .08. According to the article, NHTSA researchers found that, "The risk of being in a crash gradually increases at each BAC level, but rises very rapidly after a driver reaches or exceeds .08 BAC compared to drivers with no alcohol in their blood systems." So while the headline, "Irish Town Legalizes Drunk Driving?" may sound ludicrous, I think some context is needed here.

    A link to the article:

  3. 32 percent fatal crashes in 2009 were involved with alcohol-impaired drivers. And among them, 30 percents of male had a BAC of .01+ and 25 percent had a BAC of .08+; 16 percent of women had a BAC of .01+ and 14 percent had a BAC of .08+. Although it is crash statistics in U.S, a drunken driver is more likely to have a fatal crash. Furthermore, drivers need to drive back along rural roads!!! As the article pointed out, driving on rural roads also increases the chance to get a crash. If it is legalized, the frequency and severity of crashes will jump. The context of cultural allowance on drunken driving sounds understandable, however, crash statistics would show different stories.

  4. This is interesting reading especially on the heals of the midterm presentations - particularly those regarding safety.
    Ireland's rural roads, some of which I've driven, have some of the 'safe' design elements already incorporated, intuitively, into them: they are narrow, tree/hedge lined, stone wall lined, and curving - all they need are some people thrown in to act as traffic calming and you have what was largely promoted as acceptable traffic calming by a few of the groups. The wild card here is, of course, the inebriate behind the wheel that ruin things.
    Honestly, I'm a little torn - on one hand I think some tiny town in the middle of nowhere Ireland should be allowed to do what they want without a lot of static - not because I give a toss but because I would like to see the data that comes out of this, "it's ok to drink and drive" policy. Maybe if people know 'drunks' are on the roads everyone will drive more cautiously, crashes will go down, it will be a safer community.
    On the other hand I think of the two friends killed by 'drunk' drivers and approach the topic with distaste and a dark prejudice. I would submit that part of being a responsible society, town, community, person is playing out a worst case scenario regarding its impact(s) on another person, neighbor, etc. It's on this point that I find their experiment so galling - if one of the 'drunks' drives into a wall no one will care it is a contained event within the confines of the community that made the decision. But this experiment does not seem to be confined and the tragedy will be if one of the 'drunks' drives into a person in a neighboring community that was adamantly in opposition to the policy and now has to deal with the effect.

  5. Thanks for the reply, Adder.
    I too have driven on both rural and urban roads in Ireland and I would say that I found them quite unsafe. The main reasons for this was because of the terrifying speeds people would drive. The roads were so narrow, it gave only precious inches between the two oncoming vehicles, typically with only a ditch on both sides of the road. Or trees. Or stone walls, as you mention. Hitting these at any speed is a recipe for disaster. They don’t calm any part of the road because the speeds are set high, encouraging constant pressure. If you did not maintain that speed, you would quickly get lights flashed in your rear view mirror then sped passed. Top those conditions off with sharp, blind curves, extremely poor lighting (if there even was illumination) and pavement that went from hole-ridden asphalt to dirt road, then back again. I have also driven at night on these roads. People still continue to go fast. Very fast. Much faster than posted.
    But, playing devils advocate, perhaps this was just an outsider looking in. I’m not from Ireland so I didn’t grow up with that type of road network. Perhaps to them, being season veterans, it’s actually quite safe. To me, however, it felt quite the opposite.
    But, I digress. I also clearly see, and agree, with your points about crashes and how it affects their ‘experiment’ and the communities in and surrounding them. This is a case study that I am certainly keeping my eye on even after our course ends.


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