Even legal alcohol levels can impair driving, new series reveals

A new driving series on RTÉ reveals how even legal limits of alcohol can have potentially fatal consequences when motorists get behind the wheel.

There are more than 2m cars on Irish roads, with many motorists spending two hours a day behind the wheel, clocking up on average of 15,000km a year.

In the series How’s Your Driving?, test drivers are put through their paces while “under the influence” in Garda-supervised and Road Safety Authority-controlled tests to gauge how alcohol and drugs affect driving abilities.

Kevin Geoghegan Moore, 22, a air steward, makes a potentially fatal driving decision in the test after drinking two pints and passing a Garda breathalyser test.

Presenter Simon Delaney said the test will demonstrate the lethal consequences of even legal amounts of alcohol.

“One of the biggest jaw-dropping moments for us all was during our drink-driving test when Kevin passed the Garda breathalyser on two pints, then went on to the track and went straight through a red light then reversed into a cardboard cut-out of a child,” said Mr Delaney.

“Just two pints was a complete game-changer for our track drivers and the scary thing is, there are still people out there that say driving on one or two drinks is OK.”

In the programme, the RSA reveals that, between 2008 and 2012, 38% of all fatal collisions on our roads involved a driver, motorcyclist, cyclist, or pedestrian who had consumed alcohol.

Some 89% of these drivers and motorcyclists were male, 42% were aged between 16 and 24, and half of all these drivers were four times over the current drink-driving limit.

Denis Cusack, director of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, said alcohol slows reaction time while driving.

“Alcohol acts as a depressant. Most people think it is a stimulant drug, but it actually dampens down the part of our brain that inhibits us particularly in coordination and reacting that we need for driving,” he said.

“Even a small amount of alcohol can start to affect your ability to navigate, negotiate, react, and so on.”

Prof Cusack said some drugs have a similar effect on the system, but others cause drivers to engage in risk-taking behaviour.

“Cannabis, benzos, which are the Valium-like drugs, they, like alcohol, will dampen down all of the things you have to do for driving,” he said. 

“Whereas others like cocaine, speed, ecstasy, what people call stimulants or uppers, they will actually speed you up, and that’s part of the danger. 

"You end up misjudging by overestimating your own skills, by going faster and by taking more risks.”

He said the road death statistics every year are only one part of the tragic consequences of taking alcohol before going behind the wheel.

“The fatalities are not the full story; killing or injuring them seriously to such an extent that we ruin their lives and their families’ lives for decades to come,” he said.

Mr Delaney said he was shocked by the results of the show’s test on drivers at the Munster Driving Campus in Mallow.

He said: “This show puts our nation’s driving abilities under the microscope. 

"We tested how drink, drugs (simulated of course), braking, or controlling a car at different speeds, using a mobile or even ‘dodgy tyres’, actually affected each of their driving abilities and my God, the results were shocking.”

How’s Your Driving? is on RTÉ One on Monday, 8.30pm.

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