Our drink drive nightmare

PUBLISHED: 15:36 29 December 2001 | UPDATED: 15:22 03 March 2010

NO matter how many times people are told not to drink and drive there are still the irresponsible few who see no problem in getting behind the wheel after having a drink.

NO matter how many times people are told not to drink and drive there are still the irresponsible few who see no problem in getting behind the wheel after having a drink. They think they'll be okay, that a little of bit of alcohol isn't going to impair their driving.

They are wrong. JO MACDONALD and COLIN ADWENT joined Suffolk Police to see what difference a drink can make.

AS the car came to a halt, embedding itself into the mud and grass by the roadside, my heart raced and I stared out of the window with disbelief.

I had just taken a wide bend at 35 miles per hour and, as the back wheels skidded to the left, I had lost control.

The car seemed to take on a mind of its own and no matter which way I turned the steering wheel there was no way I was going to right it.

And so the car swerved across the road before spinning and coming to stop in a completely different direction to the one in which I had started.

Only an hour or so before I had handled a similar simulated skid with little problem. An hour or so before, however, I hadn't had a few drinks.

That was the reality and it hit home hard. I'd never drunk and driven before and after that experience I never would again.

Had my alcohol induced loss of control occurred on a busy road, somewhere where there were other cars and people, where there was more than a patch of grass to end up in, the damage could have been far greater than a bit of churned up mud.

Luckily, I was taking part in a controlled experiment, in a car designed to simulate different road conditions with a Suffolk Police driving instructor by my side.

A breath test before the experiment had not come up positive. It had lit up the warning light, an indication that I should not drive as the alcohol could still be making its way into my system.

Whether I was positive or not at the time I took the bend made no difference. The alcohol I had drunk had impaired my driving, lessened my response and reaction times, effected my control and made me a danger to be on the road.

Even my colleague Colin, who is bigger, had drunk less and passed his breath test at a lower level than me, took longer to control his skid than when he had when completely sober.

When it came to testing stopping distances, however, it became even more apparent why drink can prove the difference between life and death and why the message, Don't Drink and Drive, should never be ignored.

Having previously tested the distances it took myself and Colin to stop when sober it was alarming to see the difference 10mph can make.

Travelling at 40mph each of us slammed on the brakes in turn and skidded way past the cones marking the places we had stopped at 30mph.

This in itself was enough to highlight the dangers of speeding. Add alcohol to the equation and the result was even scarier and the situation even more dangerous.

Colin shot passed his "sober" markers by a car's length. I shot passed my 30mph cone by about the same distance but at 40mph I continued for more than two car lengths further than I had previously.

It didn't take a genius to realise that alcohol had effected our driving ability. The distance it takes a car to come to stop once the brakes have been slammed on is the same no matter how much alcohol has been consumed. The difference is its effect on a driver's reaction time, the seconds it takes to see the need to stop and signal to the brain to hit the brakes.

Everyone's response times are different but, whether you've drunk one unit or much more, these times are increased by alcohol.

As I sped down the road at 40mph I knew I had to stop but with my brain slightly sozzled by gin the command it sent to my feet was delayed. It may only have been by a fraction of a second, but even this was enough to drastically increase the distance I travelled before coming to a complete stop.

And that was not the only effect.

Whereas sober I had performed my emergency stops with the precision that had been taught to me by my driving instructor, clutch and brake pedal to the floor, as I repeated the procedure after drinking my right foot seemed reticent to remain hard on the brake.

Again this was a controlled experiment, driving in a straight line on an empty strip of road with no one else around.

Had I been stopping because of a vehicle or person ahead there would have been little doubt I wouldn't have stopped in time to avoid an impact. My life and the lives of others could have been destroyed.

It may seem like preaching but the fact is I have experienced the effects of drink driving … and it's frightening.

Those stupid enough to do it may proclaim that they've not drunk enough to make a difference, that they feel okay, that they've done it before and never had an accident. They are badly mistaken.

Alcohol does not discriminate and it is a sad fact that it is all too often the case that people do not realise the effect it has on their driving until it is too late.

Nobody can truly control their ability to drive when they've had a drink but they can control the amount they drink.

The message is simple, it's been said time and time again and will continue to be repeated until everyone listens – don't drink and drive.


If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Ipswich Star. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Ipswich Star