Ending drunk driving is in OUR hands

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IOL  drunk driving Independent Newspapers File photo: A suspect blows into a breathalyser, while Western Cape Transport MEC Robin Carlisle and traffic officer Deon Sampson look on.

By driving over the limit, and being seen to do so, we tacitly encourage others to do the same, says Murray Williams.

Cape Town - I met an old man on Wednesday. I don’t think he’ll mind being described as old. After all, he’s 86. After chatting for a while, he broke the news that he and his wife were grieving.

One of their two sons had been killed recently, on the road.

When I bade him goodbye, a while later, his handshake was rock-solid, despite his age. And yet I could see the profound sadness in his eyes.

A few calls on Thursday revealed the full story: his son had been in his small car when he was killed by an allegedly drunk woman behind the wheel of a Land Rover Defender.

I was reminded, immediately, of another Defender driver, whose view on drunk driving is the polar opposite – Robin Carlisle, outgoing MEC for Transport and Public Works.

On October 1, 2010, this newspaper launched our award-winning “Name & Shame” campaign. It was Carlisle’s brainchild, and his spokesman, Hector Elliot, and I made it happen.

On Thursday, on the eve of his retirement, Carlisle sounded an ominous warning in the Cape Times: not only had the Name & Shame campaign been stopped by the national government, but our criminal justice system had collapsed.

He wrote: “The number of drunks we apprehend in our roadblocks is rising massively.”

But these drunken drivers “know they face very limited, if any consequences when they kill others”, Carlisle warned.

And so where does that leave us?

Perhaps here: in 2008, I attended a mega-concert in Hyde Park, London.

I watched the drunk, doomed Amy Winehouse fall off the stage during rehearsals. But she wasn’t the star attraction.

That honour was Nelson Mandela’s. It was his 90th birthday, and his message was: “It’s in YOUR hands.”

After a lifetime in the struggle, in all its forms, he was “handing over” the responsibility to us.

And perhaps that’s precisely where we are with the carnage on our roads.

Perhaps, despite Carlisle’s considerable best efforts, this scourge will never be “legislated” or “policed” into extinction.

Perhaps it is only we who can achieve that.

I interviewed Carlisle on October 1, 2010 and asked: “When last did you drive drunk?”

He answered: “I’ve never been tested, but I once drove home from the Rosebank Hotel in Johannesburg and have little memory of the trip.”

Indeed. And many South Africans have similar stories. Twentysomething years ago, a friend and I drove home from a party in Cape Town, along the N2, in two cars.

We had one last beer between us, and we shared it, at 120km/h. Can you imagine? Mercifully, most of us have stopped such outrageous recklessness.

Some still argue that the chances of killing or maiming someone while they’re driving home after a braai at a mate’s house, just around the corner, are negligible. And maybe that is so. But one comes to realise that’s not the issue.

By driving over the limit, and being seen to do so, we tacitly encourage others to do the same. Or, at least, we condone their behaviour. Or, at the very least, we’re guilty of doing nothing to stop them.

Every time a drunk driver kills or maims, we have a renewed responsibility to stop the next drunk driver setting out on the roads.

Because next time it could be our son, like the old man’s, who is in the car when a drunk behind the wheel ploughs into them and snuffs out their life.

It’s in OUR hands.

* Murray Williams’s column Shooting from the Lip appears in the Cape Argus every Friday. Follow him on Twitter: @mwdeadline

Cape Argus

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