Irish Independent – After one too many, a walk home could become lethal

  • Post category:News

The clocks have gone back, the nights are drawing in, so is it time to start breathalysing pedestrians who are “walking under the influence of alcohol”?

It might seem extreme, or unworkable, to many people but the problem of drunken pedestrians is a source of growing concern and debate in many countries.

When we hear the tragic news of a pedestrian being killed we often assume they were the victim of a drunken or speeding driver. However, sometimes the tragedy is due to a combination of factors, including reckless drivers, as well as the pedestrian’s own abuse of alcohol.

The crackdown on drunk driving here means more are leaving the car at home when going out to the pub. But they can still end up a road menace on foot.

Dr Declan Bedford, a public health doctor in Co Meath, looked at a sample of pedestrians who died in road accidents some years ago. He found the pedestrian’s own level of alcohol was considered to be a contributory factor in a quarter of those who were knocked down and killed.

The rate is much higher compared to the UK, where only four per cent of fatally injured pedestrians were affected by their drinking.

Our figure is more in line with Australia, where a third of fatally injured pedestrians were shown to have high levels of alcohol in their system.

Pedestrians with positive blood-alcohol levels were almost 10 times more likely to be fatally injured at the weekend.

Those who appear to be most at risk are older men. An intoxicated pedestrian in a dark coat, walking on a country road with no footpath during a pitch black winter night can be a lethal combination.

In the Netherlands, it has been suggested that pedestrians are breathalysed to cut down on violence. Currently, their policemen can demand that someone they are suspicious of must stand on one leg to show they are not drunk.

Dr Bedford’s study prompted a reply from Dr Tim Hutchinson of the Centre for Automotive Safety Research at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

Writing in the ‘Irish Medical Journal’, he said one measure may be to set a limit on the level of alcohol a pedestrian can have in their system if they are walking in a public place.

The law would be enforced by use of random breath testing. “This would probably be easier than attempting to prevent drink-walking with laws prohibiting drunkenness,” he added.

Even if this limit was still high in order to be acceptable to the public, it would cut down on pedestrian deaths if the Gardai enforced it. Penalties could include loss of driving licence for those with a car.

The Road Safety Authority here has acknowledged that drunken pedestrians are a source of danger to themselves and other road users.

“If you have had one too many, don’t attempt to walk — hail a taxi, use public transport or get a lift from a (non-drinking) friend,” they advise.

The RSA also cautions pubs and clubs that they have a responsibility to prevent customers who have taken a lot of drink to walk onto public roads “where they could be hit by passing vehicles, or cause a crash through their own behaviour”.

It adds: “To prevent this from happening, bar staff or anyone serving alcohol should decide if the person is fit to walk. If not, they should arrange to get them home safely.”


Source: Irish Independent, 08/11/10
Journalist:   Eilish O’Regan