Educate, don’t just legislate

By Raffique Shah
November 22, 2009
Trinidad and Tobago News Blog

The President, Prime Minister Patrick Manning, Hazel Manning and their son toast the official opening of the National Academy for the Performing ArtsON many occasions during my 40 years of driving on the nation’s roads, I’ve witnessed drunk drivers endangering the lives of other motorists. Mostly late nights, although I’m sure it happens during daytime as well, I’ve seen vehicles wobble much the way drunken persons do when they try to walk after consuming litres of alcohol. On occasion, I’ve had to make the risky decision either to overtake the drifting jackasses, or stay far behind them for my safety.

I’ve never witnessed a major accident caused by such boorish behaviour. But I’ve seen too many gory images on television and in newspapers that make me angry with people who drink themselves into stupor, then insist on driving, only to wreak death and destruction, too often on innocent persons. What is worse, most times these sadists walk away from the carnage with minor injuries while their victims die or they are dismembered or disfigured for life.

Such callous disregard for human life makes one’s blood boil. I have long vowed if ever I were to fall victim to a drunken driver and by some miracle walk away from the accident unhurt, I’d beat the innards out of the offender-before the police arrive, of course-and blame his injuries on the accident!

Having outlined all of the above, I cannot say I feel safer from drunken drivers now that Government has proclaimed the ‘driving under the influence’ (or ‘breathalyser’) legislation and equipped the police with the requisite devices for enforcing the law. Our drinking culture is such it would take nothing short of a miracle for the legislation to reduce road accidents and deaths caused by drunks.

This country has more bars than cafes or vendors’ stalls. We are by no means unique in this regard. In Canada, for example, a 2004 survey showed that 80 per cent of persons age 15 and over had consumed alcohol during the previous year. In the US and the UK, binge-drinking, especially among young people, is almost an epidemic.

We have fewer policemen than other countries, on a per capita basis. At nights, when most drinkers tend to go on binges, there are even less lawmen on the nation’s roads. Even if we double the size of the Police Service, we shall never have enough patrols to adequately cover the nation’s roads.

What this means is while the new law may temper drinking, it will hardly curb drunken driving. Only a few unlucky sods will feel its bite. Most drunks will take their chances and escape with their deviant behaviour. In the US, where there are strict laws and stiff penalties for drunken driving, around 70 persons per million die from alcohol-related accidents a year. Here, the numbers may well be 200 per million!

Shifting focus to the tobacco control law that will soon come into effect, I have similar concerns about it. Opposition parliamentarians and independent senators were quite in order when they forced Government to soften some of the more draconian penalties first presented. Everyone knows that smoking is bad for health, although many would argue that they have known chain-smokers who lived full lives-meaning well into their 80s.

While such cases may be the exception, there is an abundance of evidence showing that smoking is the main cause of a wide range of diseases, many of which are death-dealing. And second-hand smoke is no joke. Because tobacco is addictive, it’s tough on those who are trapped on cigarettes to escape its clutches. However, smokers should not subject non-smokers to the adverse effects of their habit.

I support the ban on smoking in public places. But will a law that prohibits this practice be effective? Much like the breathalyser law, only a few unlucky smokers would pay the price for breaching its provisions. Legislation is but one tool to control errant human behaviour. It is not a solution to such problems.

Murder, for example, carries the death penalty if one is found guilty. Yet in this small country the average annual murder rate stands at over 400. Robberies of differing categories also carry heavy penalties: that does not stop the 1,000-or-so robberies that take place every day, some of them very violent. So while legislation is necessary, and laws must, in instances, be punitive, there are other strategies for curbing deviant human behaviour, be it drunken or dangerous driving, or smoking in public places.

Education is a better tool for curbing what can be best categorised as anti-social behaviour. Government should spend money reaching out to children from their formative years, preaching the gospel of good health, educating them on the dangers of smoking and drinking alcohol, and maybe just as important, the benefits of drinking water, not sugary soft drinks.

Yes, there are ‘harden’ children much the way there are hardened criminals who cannot be salvaged, and alcoholics who have gone beyond the boundary. Civilised societies, however, use education and information before they resort to legislation.

Leading by example, Government should serve no alcohol at social functions. Although some guests may have chauffeurs, most drive themselves. What better way to start the reformatory process than by serving coconut water and wholesome fruit juices?

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10 thoughts on “Educate, don’t just legislate”

  1. I agree Raf, that education is important, but do you think there is a soul in TnT over the age of ten, who does not already know that drunk driving is a major cause of accidents? How many single car accidents were there last year based on a blown out tire? How many were there based solely on sudden catastropic brake or other mechanical failure? So, I presume the people already know that, but in the foolhardy ways of people who value life cheaply, the “I ent fraid to dead” mentality, the ” something goin to take you out” sayers,
    who believe they have charmed lives, the insistence that “I could manage mi car man” is always there. I have a friend whos husband pulled a gun on her, for insisting that she drive home after the party. She packed up and left his butt.They can never admit that they have had too many drinks. Two drinks on an empty stomach,equalling four ounces of 80 proof alcohol can impair brain function. Yet some of our males are proud of tacking 151 proof, after work on a Friday, and then heading off to their deaths, taking others who may have been sober, with them. Then too we have the myth of mixing drinks gets you drunk, false, it the the total amount of alcohol consumed, as a ratio of body weight and diet, that gets you drunk.
    The people would scoff at education.”I know dat ahready man” So enforcement, strict fines, suspension of license and confiscation of vehicles as deadly weapons have to be the answer.

    In 1977, when, on a visit home,my 12 year old son picked up a drink offered publickly at a government function opening the new Crown Point Airport, and it turned out to be heavily mixed Rum Punch, I began saying that the state should not serve alcohol at public functions. This does not mean total sobriety for members of Parliament. They may need to be somewhat inebriated to take on the nonsense that goes on on both sides of the house, but alcohol should not be bought from the public purse, except as an entertainment allowance for our embassies abroad. People could bring their own bottles to office parties but alcohol should only be served when the work day is done, and I do not mean stopping work at 1.30PM on the Friday before Christmas.The parties should be off state property.

    We have a drastic social problem. Drastic measures are needed.

  2. I wish to first commend the government on passing new legislation. However, such praise would be more deserving if they were anywhere close to enforcing the laws which have been in existence from since before independence(murder,robbery,rape…….).

    Now Philbert will not have the manpower and resources to locate and eliminate peaceful protests. He will be too preoccupied catching smokers who want to kill themselves and those wicked anti-PNM groups will walk free.

  3. Sometimes the bastardized comments of those who see only negatives in everyting the state does can be a real turnoff.We have to start somewhere to deal with the nonsense that passes for public behavious in TnT.If those literate enough to own and use a computer have attitudes like “they ent doing nothing about rape so why do this or that” the society would descend into utter chaos. It is NOT already so. Rapes have been around since there were three people on the planet, and the woman was with one of the men. It’s a basic part of animal behavious that our men still practice in all societies. The law prevents them from getting away with it. One cannot seriously think that one problem needs to be solved before another is tackled. An intelligent government capable of staying in power all these years must be able to multi-task. If we say fix the roads before we deal wth environmental pollution, we could never get to some problems, since the roads in the La Brea area will always be bad. So, the nation’s problems must be dealth with in more than one area, simultaneously.
    Progressiv legislation is worth of the support of intelligent people. Those who will “fire one”, or two,or three, regardless, and hit the road, will probably end up hitting a bridge somewhere and being scraped off the highway.
    Their folly is to be pitied. The breathalyser law is a good one. Public problems with tobacco smoke increases the cost of government health care.The evidence is there in print for all to read. Tobacco and alcohol kill and maim the innocent.We inherited some bad habits from our colonial masters, it’s time we changed them.

  4. While we are it let’s not forget to tighten up on our seatbelt enforcement , and curbing the use of cell phones for all forms of communication while the vehicle is in motion, as any form of unnecessary distraction can contribute to RTA’s.
    I do not have all the facts on the death of our local female boxing hero that died in that tragic accident en route to her home from a party. However since there was such great outpouring of sentiments to this celebrity’s death, her name attached to any proposed bill can be a useful symbol to focus attention on suicide by driving.
    Introduction of traffic wardens, night courts to ease backlogs, and a tough point system that can lead to insurance increases, license suspensions , and more punitive repercussions can surely do the trick in waking up folks to the problem.
    Crown point had a new airport in 77 Ms L? Talk about ungrateful. Can someone therefore explain to me why these folks from the island ward have been lamenting about governmental and neglect from big sister Trinidad all these years?

  5. I only now realize that I only see negatives in everything the state does. I am not aware of any law that prevents hundreds of offenders from getting away. Maybe the blissfully ignorant are not aware of the number of convictions there are per year, compared with the number of crimes. If the few convicted murderers committed hundreds of murders or if I had abandoned the homeland only to be concerned with annoying those who live in the reality of T&T, it would be so much easier to be satisfied with this self-righteous violation of the freedom of choice.

    I am in agreement with multitasking on the part of the government, so long as it involves police presence, police vehicles, speed guns, an internal affairs unit, traffic cameras, modern forensic equipment and giving the full requested funding to the judiciary.

    As for the cost to the state for healthcare, allow me to turn you off, it seems that Patrick still wants his executive jet or perhaps new drapes for Christmas.

  6. They did, it was. It was an expansion to the old ones, and the commissioning of new type of aircraft to do the route. We complain about the new Piarco one also, don’t we. It has its faults, but the builders understand where the rest room needs to be after a long internationl flight.An airport can be outgrown in 32 years. People are by nature, complainers. The grass is always greener on the other island.
    Now, I support the idea of anti-drunk driving messures being made stricter, but as you said, since no blood alcohol level was released for Jiselle, it could have simply been exhaustion. That two o’clock hour demands sleep.

    If the bill was to be named for someone, I would support the name of the late Dr. Michael Beaubrun who did a lot of work on the effects of alcohol on the brain. From him, I derived my theory of drunk sperm. Inpregnation during a time when alcohol is in the blood of the male, results in mental retardation. The drunk sperm never sobers up. Check any family that suddenly produces a mentally challenged child, there is a 90% chance that alcohol was involved at time of conception.

    It is one of the reasons I support abortion also. Usually unplanned pregnancies occur during drinking bouts, and alcohol is often a factor in rapes.

  7. “This country has more bars than cafes or vendors’ stalls. We are by no means unique in this regard. In Canada, for example.”
    Maybe someone can tell him how the thing work……
    Establishments do have some responsibilities in the process out here.
    See how many Bars/Bartenders have lost their license/fined as a result of overserving or refusing to ‘get the keys’.

  8. Years ago, when I was the Associate Principal of a high school on the east coast, some kids held an after school keg party. You buy a whole keg of beer, go to a park and secretly drink yourselves stupid. Now, kids cannot legally buy liquor here in the USA. One boy got so drunk he walked off a cliff. He did not die but broke both arms and a leg in the fall.His mother sued two people- the bar that sold them the liquor, and the parent who allowed her child to buy it, pretending that the keg was for use at a home party.
    The resulting uproar from the lawsuit created Mothers Against Drunk Drivers- founded by the mother who did not enjoy wiping the bottom of an eighteen year old whose both arms were in casts. Drinking laws have been tightened up so much since, that Intoxicated Manslaughter is what you are charged with if someone dies as a result of your drunk driving.In addition, the victim can sue the bar or liquor store that served the drunk driver his last few drinks. Police officers sometimes park near the bars, and follow drunks and arrest them. In every accident, the driver is tested for alcohol,nd in some states, like Texas, they are considering alowing police officer to take blood at the scene for testing.

    To some, that seems like a police state, but important politicians have lost their licenses for being dwi- driving while intoxicated.

    One can get serious, or one can play serious, but you can bet next New Years Eve, the streets here would be crawling with cops looking for drunk drivers.Some agencies like AAA-American Automobile Association will drive drunks home up to twenty miles, if they would call for a ride.

    It would be a long time bfore we get people in TnT even admitting that they may be too drunk to drive. A pity.

  9. I can see merit in your point on people being perennial complainers especially the crazy folks from Tobago.
    They have modern airport that the then history making ex- PM did not siphon off money from like the Piarco terminal construction , thus leaving passengers at future risk due to substandard Air traffic control machineries . They also have deep water harbor courtesy ‘Ah we boy’ Robbie.Life cannot be that bad even though criminals are scaring off the few interested foreign and local tourist less interested in Caribbean sun and salt, but real estate land speculations. Job a few and non existent , but that’s a global trend according to our economic experts ,so they could also relax on that score and return to planting peas like Shadow.
    During that same period in 77 a lady close to my heart died from what I later heard was cancer of the cervix at the age of 53.
    I cannot recall but , perhaps pap smears were non existent back then , or the single hospital was inadequate. I wonder how much progress those complaining ingrates of the sister isle have made since the same old hospital is servicing the island , little relief is in sight, while Indo Trini and African doctors are fighting for the economic spoils in much more important big sister Trinidad.
    Ah but I digress so please forgive me, as I am starting to sound like one of the selfish me, me crowd . Where were we again a forceful name for our new draconian traffic laws that are soon to be introduced . I disagree with your Dr. Michael Beaubrun name suggestion Ms. L ,only because I treasure shock treatment , as it tend to be a good symbol . In addition alcoholism is given too much emphasis in this situation. Re education on proper norms in terms of safe driving is a more appropriate life saver.
    How about ‘The Baby Nevia Law’ in reference to that Newsday’s August 31st 09 front page shock photo that global media were chastised , when in similar fashion , they dared to show graphic pictures of dead US marines killed in the never ending senseless two prong Crusade wars?
    Many of us like to talk the talk on crimes , and irresponsible social behaviors, but when push come to shove , are the same ones that would bawl like Bengal tigers about police state and politically motivated prosecutions, when our dear hard working policy wonks and political power brokers attempt to do something.
    Be careful on what you ask for , I’ll advise.
    Now for my early morning coffee!

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