How To Drive Safely While Drunk

With a title like this, I expect the police would soon be knocking on my door. There should be community outrage. Parents should be appalled at such an idea. Health officials should demand an immediate retraction and apology.

Fortunately I am not suggesting that we do this. Quite the opposite. It is a stupid idea and no one should be proposing it. Yet incredibly that is just what the Victorian government is in effect doing, and with our tax dollars to boot. No, they are not arguing that we should drive while drunk, but they are arguing an identical sort of case: that if our young people must take illegal drugs, let’s show them how to do it safely.

A state government website offers advice to school leavers on how to use illicit drugs in its “safe partying” link. It includes such tips as: “take a small amount first to see how it effects you,” and kids should sip water to avoid dehydration and wear light clothing to avoid over-heating and dehydration.

About the only thing it doesn’t tell our kids is where to score the cheapest dope, and how to avoid police detection.

The website is of course totally irresponsible and foolish. Why teach kids how to take drugs that are illegal? That is tantamount to telling kids to break the law.

And why teach kids how to take drugs that are dangerous? We surely do not do that with other dangerous behaviours. For example, we do not tell kids, “Well, if you are going to drive while drunk, here are some safety tips. Tip one: drive only a little bit at first to see how your drunkenness affects your ability to drive. Tip two: while driving, drink lots of coffee to help you sober up. Tip three: try to drive slow so you are less likely to get in an accident.

Of course such advice is outrageous, idiotic, and dangerous in the extreme. But can any government official explain to me why this is irresponsible, while telling kids how to take illicit and mind-altering drugs is not?

Vic Health chief Rob Moodie tried to justify the web site by asking this question: “Do you just bury your head in the sand and assume that no information is good information? Or do you say, ‘This is dangerous but if you are going to do it this is the safest way to do it?’”

Let me help Mr Moodie. He is obviously having some difficulty here. Does the Victorian government offer the same rationale about another social concern, tobacco use? Let me just slightly paraphrase Mr Moodie: “Cigarette smoking is dangerous but if you are going to do it this is the safest way.”

Do the folk at Vic Health offer advice to our young people about the best filters for cigarettes, the lowest tar content, how to smoke and not be too endangered? The answer is no. And why not?

Because they know that cigarette smoking is harmful and it should never be countenanced. It is simply sending kids a contradictory message to say “do not smoke” on the one hand, while teaching them how to do it safely on the other.

So if our officials can get it right on smoking and drink driving, why do they get it so wrong on illicit drug use? Why the double standards here? Why the hypocrisy? Why not take a consistent line on all of these issues?

Why take a “just say no” approach to two of these activities, but put up the white flag of surrender on the third? Why argue that the get-tough approach works well with smoking and drink driving, but refuse to acknowledge it is the right approach to drug use as well?

I eagerly await our government officials explaining the logic of their schizophrenic approach. To me and most parents, it makes no sense whatsoever.

But making sense is not always a feature of government policy. Yet in an area like this where the lives of our children are at risk, it is time the government gets some sense, and gets it quickly.

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4 Replies to “How To Drive Safely While Drunk”

  1. Totally right Bill.

    What a silly argument this government representative is giving! Mr Bracks & Co are again scared to make a firm stand on this issue and they do not have the back bone to say NO.

    I wonder whether as the Victorian Health chief, Mr Moodie has gone out on a Saturday night with a paramedic team to see what really happens to some of our young people who come close to death or die on the street because of drug use? ( Read USE, not abuse or misuse!)

    The truth is you can’t condone it and you can’t give people the false impression that if you want to take a chance of dying, to please do it carefully. All drug use regardless of quantity is harmful, full stop.

    Some years ago I went to the funeral of a very young man who had died of an overdose. He did not know he was overdosing, only because the drugs were stronger than he thought they were.

    To say, well try a little at first to see how you may react to it, is insane. By the time the user has done that they are hooked on it.

    To the Victorian Health chief who gives this type of advice I say: “You really have lost the plot!” I’m happy he’s not my doctor; it’s sad he’s in charge of this state’s health.

    Erik Werps, Melbourne

  2. Very good point Bill, I found it quite thought provoking, as I have often thought I have seen the sense of reducing the harm of drug use, which ‘is going to happen anyway’ – or is it?

    I’ll be honest, I’m still trying to get a grip on whether there is any method to our approach to harmful behaviours. Here I compiled what I thought might be relevent characteristics of various harmful behaviors (I added drinking alcohol, since it is a very interesting comparison) but unfortunately no real pattern emerges…

    Tobacco smoking:
    Cause of many deaths in Australia
    Kills people other than the user (passive smoke)
    Legal
    Message: ‘just say no’
    Regulation of the product itself and on packaging (health warnings, tar and nicotine ratings)
    Regulation for protection of others (no smoking in many public areas etc.).

    Drinking Alcohol:
    Cause of many deaths in Australia
    Kills people other than the user (as a result of violence)
    Legal
    Message: harm minimisation
    Regulation of the product itself and on packaging (alcohol percentage and number of standard drinks)
    Regulation for protection of others (laws on drunkeness, laws against assault etc.).

    Drink Driving:
    Cause of many deaths in Australia
    Kills people other than the user
    Illegal
    Message: ‘just say no’
    No regulation.

    Taking Illegal Drugs:
    Cause of many deaths in Australia
    Harms people other than the user (as a result of violence)
    Illegal
    Message: harm minimisation, although when I was in school in the 1990s it was still ‘just say no’
    No regulation.

    Our approach seems a little random, unfortunately. I’d be interested to hear some comments on this comparison – have I missed some important features of one or more of the behaviours?

    It raises another question not disimilar to yours, Bill: Why the discrepancy between adopting a ‘just say no’ stance on smoking, and keeping it legal? Do people have a ‘right’ to smoke – a behavior which is clearly deadly to themselves and to others? Shouldn’t smoking be illegal?

    Once again, thanks for a thought-provoking article (among many others) – keep it up!

    Brett Austin, Melbourne

  3. When I saw the heading I thought it was going to lead into abstinence Vs STD’s and such. Again a good analogy.

    Unfortunately, we must face the fact that, in the view of today’s authorities, the motor car is an evil. We totally disregard the fact that getting around quickly from one place to another is a good thing. Perhaps that’s because the TAC has a conflict in that it is not concerned with how long it takes us to get anywhere, but is only worried about how much it will have to pay for crashes.

    Similarly, I would think that the Government wouldn’t care how ‘high’ it’s citizens felt. What, then, is their interest in drug use? Wouldn’t there also be a desire to keep down the medical costs of these ‘overdoses’ or ‘burn-ups’?

    I don’t get it.

    Is there money in it somewhere?

    (Yes. I’m a cynic).

    Jeremy Peet

  4. Very good article Bill. I do not disagree… I would like to bring out a few points that I would consider when looking at this issue. Please understand that I do not think we should legalise drugs in any way shape or form and that a “just say no” approach is a good thing.

    I believe that when young people are educated they have a better basis for making decisions some good and others bad. So educating young people on drugs is not an all bad thing. In whatever we would do with this issue there does need to be a way to keep the lines of communication open with young people. Young poeple need to know about the effects of drug taking and how it not only effects them but how it effects their families and society. They need to know the problems and also know what is being done to fight it. They need to be taught and supported in these issues and making choices about them and not automatically condemned and charged, (though there are situations where this is important).
    There will be those who will use drugs but why would you not want them to do it in a safer way? Why would one just throw out the whole deal and say who cares?
    When I started doing drugs I did not know they were bad for me… why? because nobody told me. There was no one I could talk to about no one who would listen, should there have been?

    So maybe there is another approach to be taken in the situation…or maybe I am just way off.

    Rachel Molitor, Perth

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