“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be having a good time.”
- H.L. Mencken
Well, we knew this was coming, didn’t we—there have been enough trial balloons around for long enough to let you know the fix was already in: from bogus studies on the alleged “social costs” of alcohol, to manufactured outrage about what goes on after dark in cities’ hotspots, to reality-TV clips on both prime-time infotainment shows of celebrities knocking back a few drinks and being even stupider than normal.
You know what I’m talking about: the new Brownlee Law, the government’s move to lower the drink-driving limit from 0.08 to 0.05 mg/ml of blood—the latest move in the war against pleasure, hailed instantly as such by New Puritans country-wide as “a great move to change our alcohol culture.” (“There ought to be a law against it!”)
Frankly, I wonder, what’s wrong with a culture that enjoys alcohol?
What’s wrong with a few drinks with your mates?
But nail up this latest Law next to the ban on beer tents (“how dare they promote an alcohol culture around children!”), the finger-wagging about South Auckland liquor stores (“it’s okay for us, to drink darling, but not those people”), the crackdown on Courtenay Place (“there are people out on the streets after my bedtime!”), and the hysteria about what youngsters might get up to after a few drinks (“they wouldn’t have done that in my day!”). The fear that someone, somewhere, night be having a good time !
Oh, but it’s all about safety.
Really? The overwhelming majority of drivers causing injury have blood-alcohol readings of well over .08, so these are recidivists already not listening to the law. The folk the Brownlee Law will discourage is not them, it is good folk having a few drinks. It is folk who share a jug with colleagues after work, or a few bottles at dinner with friends, or enjoy a few coldies watching the footy with mates, or in front of a great band, or after a drive out to a country pub for lunch. Look to their being many fewer such social lubricants in future, as responsible folk who do enjoy a few are too discouraged to risk themselves.
Just another way Nanny makes our lives that little bit less enjoyable, about which the New Puritans will and do applaud regardless of any argument about safety. (To paraphrase our quote from last week: “Pub culture is over. Five blokes talking rubbish over a pint died with the War Against Pleasure”).
And let’s look at the safety. Eric Crampton, responsible for exposing so much of the manufactured hysteria about the so-called “social costs of alcohol” (“it’s easy to get into the billions when you make you your costs, and ignore the benefits”), has taken a preliminary look at the figures bandied about over the Brownlee Law.
We're talking about something on the order of 13,000 car trips per day involving drivers in the affected range, or about 4.7 million car trips per year undertaken by those in the .05 to .08 range.
How many crashed, compared to those who weren’t in the .05 to .08 range?
If drivers in the .05 to .08 range had accident rates proportionate to those below .05, we'd have expected them to have had 1.3% of the total number of crashes net of those crashes involving those above the .08 limit. And so that would be 3.3 fatal crashes and 21 serious injury crashes, or about 24 fatal and serious injury crashes… [What we have, if we believe Brownlee’s own numbers*] works out to 29 per year. If this is ballpark correct, then we had about five crashes more than expected in 2011 among those in the .05 to .08 range.
Across the whole country.
In a single year.
Whose cause may not even have been their few drinks.
But this is all about “public safety.” Yeah right.
* And this is part of a political campaign, where numbers are routinely inflated.
UPDATE: Comments and info from around the traps:
- “I'm guessing that what the research really shows is that there's quite a lot of missed revenue to be gathered from people blowing between .5 and .8 when randomly stopped.” – James Stephenson
- “The wowsers have won and another kick in the guts is delivered to rural New Zealand who cannot access crown cars, taxis, buses or shanks pony after a couple of beers on the way home from a hard days work, paying the country's bills…
”Already the campaign to reduce the limit to zero is underway.” – GraveDodger
- “If you note the coroners’ reports, most drunk people crashing are up around 209-300, not just a fraction over 50 or 80.” – Bruce Hoult
- “Staying awake for 16 hours leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of .05%” - SleepPro Australia
- “Another nail in the coffin of rural hospitality, because a meal without wine is called a takeaway…” – Mark Hubbard
- “I see in 2011 259 fatal accidents and 8 of these 'alcohol offenders.' That means 251 fatals were not alcohol 0.8 or above. Almost as though there were other factors involved in fatal accidents.” - Evan
“Mr Brownlee is quoted as justifying the change by quoting total costs of drink driving. The social cost number in the fourth paragraph is 22 times larger than the [quoted] estimated benefit. You’d think that sort of discrepancy would draw some journalistic comment.”
Given journalists’ inability to aske the right questions, “hope” would be a better word than “think.” Further …
“later in the story we are told about a victim of a drunk driver. A driver whose blood alcohol concentration was 190mg/100ml, more than twice the existing legal limit, and who was duly convicted and sent to prison under the old laws. Not the sort of person whose behaviour is likely to be affected by this change.”
Not the sort of thing journalists bother themselves about. Radio NZ’s Moaning Report this morning was happy to do the same.
UPDATE 3: You want “safety”? Right, let’s ban all drivers over 64, and under 30. And put everyone in between in aspic.
Graph from FiveThirtyEight.Com