You are here
Countering our drinking culture
What is the legal blood alcohol concentration limit in T&T? How many glasses does one have to drink before one reaches that limit? What’s the penalty for driving drunk? How would a policeman know if we’re over the limit or not? Why does the sky look blue?
There’s a significant alcohol and drunken driving problem in T&T, an epidemic in fact. We all know this. Yet, answers to basic questions like these are far less important to most and known by even fewer.
Ours is a drinking culture. A “Health Report Card for T&T” prepared by the Ministry of Health in 2011 revealed that the average Trini consumed alcohol for the first time at age 11. Three-quarters of Trinis used alcohol by the age of 13. And 20 per cent of high school students felt that alcohol was only “moderately harmful.” The World Health Organization records our adult per capita consumption of alcohol as having “increased” in the past five years.
Data for the Caribbean shows that 55 of victims of traffic injuries had blood alcohol concentrations over the legal limit of 80 mg, according to Prof Ramesh Deosaran. In 2006, accidents and injuries in T&T were the fourth leading cause of death overall, the number one cause of death for the 15-44 age group and the number one cause of public hospital discharges, according to the Ministry of Health. Men are more likely to drink heavily and, despite the fact that women more easily get drunk, men are five times more likely than women to be killed on T&T’s roads. Last year, traffic deaths jumped 18 per cent giving rise to a total figure of more than 1,000 deaths on the road in the past four years.
So what have we done about our national drinking problem and the cost, injury and carnage it causes? Apart from passing the Breathalyser Act after many, many years of promising to do so, very little.
Around 615 convictions in 2010 and 2011 in a country with nearly half a million vehicles and more than 200 deaths per year on the road is a bit pathetic. In 2012, “669 motorists were hauled before the nation’s courts charged with driving under the influence of alcohol” (Express, January 9, 2013). In the South-Western Police Division alone, 6,595 traffic tickets were issued last year. But there were only 669 drivers charged with drunken driving nationally?
A responsible culture can arise only if the environment promotes such a culture. What is there in T&T to promote more responsible consumption of alcohol?
There does not seem to be any concerted plan by the Government other than “Slow Now!” signs on the highway. A proposal on Road Safety: Accident Prevention, Public Education and Law Enforcement, developed by Prof Deosaran calls for public education campaigns and better data collection to track the effectiveness of the Breathalyser Act and other measures. This proposal, however, has languished in the Government’s hands for years.
Given that everything today is “all-inclusive,” so too should legislation and efforts to curb drunken driving.
Public education is imperative for more responsible action. If you knew just how many drinks you needed to have before you reached the legal blood alcohol concentration limit, wouldn’t you be more mindful of how much you drink? A much higher police involvement is also necessary. If you knew the likelihood of being pulled over after a fete was high, wouldn’t you think twice about drinking too much?
In our traditionally unsophisticated way of doing things, there is no regulation. Alcohol producers can advertise, promote and sponsor much as they please. Rum shops can open virtually anywhere. People are rarely “carded” to verify their ages. Fetes can go for as long as the whims of the organisers can last.
Clearly, with so many deficiencies, decisive action is needed, maybe even action that runs counter to our “culture.” Enforcing the legal drinking age at the point of sale, including in neighbourhood rum shops, should be the norm. A curfew on bar and fetes is not unheard of and a measure as strong as that may be what’s needed. Raising the legal drinking age to 21 is also not unreasonable given the fact that more young people are prone to drunk driving. Perhaps to make a firm change in our drinking culture we need to create a whole new environment.
As one newspaper reported, “Several police officers who conduct road exercises and conduct breathalyser tests said they did not believe motorists feared for the law or took it seriously.” And in another: “Nearly all of the persons interviewed at the traffic stop had no knowledge of what the legal (blood alcohol concentration) limit was and furthermore they were sure that they were ‘good to drive’ because they did not ‘feel drunk.’”
We’ve never been really serious about drunken driving in T&T. And despite the steps taken by the Government, the police and groups like Arrive Alive, this is a problem that necessitates far more action, and much sooner.
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.