• Jan 25th 2013 at 11:08AM
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I might get in trouble for sharing this family photo, w... I might get in trouble for sharing this family photo, which shows me as a baby at my first Christmas in Ireland, drinking some sherry. (Family photo)
It's easy to laugh at the news that came out this week: A local lawmaker in County Kerry, Ireland, is pushing for a new permit that would let some drivers get behind the wheel (of their car or their tractor) even if they're a little tipsy.

Of course, we get it: The Irish like their pints o'Guinness room temperature with a little froth. I mean, they even call the act of driving after having a few pints "Drink Driving" -- just another piece of evidence to support the stereotype painting the whole country as in a constant state of word-slurring sloppiness.

As the child of two off-the-boat (actually, they probably came over on a 747 that landed at JFK) Irish immigrants, I know the culture of drinking and socializing well. My cousin claims he took his first steps in a pub. We have a photo of me spending my first Christmas in Ireland, around 9 months old, sipping sherry out of my grandma's fine crystal. I've heard stories about people I know and his or her drunken escapades behind the wheel, as if the speaker were retelling a skit from Benny Hill and not describing a terrifyingly dangerous behavior.

Drinking has never been taboo, and has always been a part of how we socialize with our family and friends, meet new people and generally just have the craic (pronounced crack – means good conversation.) And in parts of rural Ireland, driving has gone along with the drinking. I mean, how else are people supposed to get home? But drinking and driving is a problem Ireland has spent nearly 20 years addressing, and in many ways has become a model for how public service campaigns can actually push cultural change.

I was in Ireland in the early 1990s when the first big "drink driving" laws were being enforced. Drunk driving has been illegal in Ireland since the 1960s, but in 1994 the government told everyone they'd get in trouble if they had blood alcohol levels of .08 percent, similar to the laws in the U.S.

The outrage on call-in radio shows and around the pubs was incredibly entertaining to this American, who was accustomed to strict drunk driving laws. At a pub one evening, someone said they'd done the math and that, after a hearty evening out, it was still possible to be over the .08 BAC limit hours after you'd stopped drinking. "What if I have to get up and go to work the next morning?" this friend asked a group of us. "Are they saying I might still be drunk? How will I get to work?"

"Maybe you should drink less, then," I suggested, trying to be helpful. "Or have some glasses of water in between pints. Or drink only on nights when you don't have work the next morning."

If I remember correctly, the music on the jukebox came to a scratchy halt and a pub full of drinkers turned to silently stare at me, the crazy American.

Danny Healy-Rae, the County Kerry councilmen who proposed the permit, said he was looking out for lonely elderly folks who are stuck at home, unable to socialize at the pub because they're scared of getting in trouble driving home. He offered up the suggestion that they could drive home on their tractors, slow enough so they won't kill anyone. That argument first came up back in 1994 , when a caller to a radio station first took up the cause of the lonely Irish farmers. There were no taxis that could drive this farmer home from the pub, and nowhere else to socialize. The drunk driving laws were going to change his life in a radical, unforgivable way, he argued.

Besides, he said, the roads from the pub to his house were always empty. If he ran into a rock wall, or a tree, or an errant cow, who'd be hurt by that? "That's just between me and the cow," he argued.

In 2010, the Irish government has joined much of the European Union in making its DUI laws even more stringent. They lowered the blood alcohol levels to .05 percent for people with full driving licenses, and .02 percent for novice drivers. That means for a 180-pound male, drinking two pints of beer in an hour will earn you a DUI in Ireland. Novice drivers go over the limit with just one drink.

That's way stricter than what we deal with here in the U.S. The Irish government says drinking in any amount impairs driving. Still, the U.S. and Ireland have similarities: About 30 percent of all fatal car accidents in both countries are caused by drunk drivers, the Irish government says.

But Ireland, ironically, seems more committed to a zero-tolerance policy. The country has run a public service campaign telling drivers that just one drink can cause a problem -- and that campaign and other efforts have made a difference.

About 70 percent of all Irish drivers say the penalties for drink driving should be more severe, according to the Irish Road Safety Authority. The Associated Press says fatal accidents caused by DUIs has gone down from 400 or so a year in the 1990s to just 162 last year, in a country of 4.6 million.

But even more telling is the change in my own family. This summer, at the law school graduation of my cousin, the one who took his first steps in a pub, my aunt from Dublin was very concerned about who was drinking and who was driving. Before we left for the restaurant, we all had to carpool according to who was going to be staying sober and who was going to have wine or beer. After deciding my cousin had had too much alcohol (he seemed perfectly fine to me) she made him leave his car behind in the parking lot, and told him to take a taxi home.

It was the first time I'd ever seen someone, American or Irish, act so carefully about preventing drunk driving.

The drink driving permit suggestion won't get anywhere. The councilmen in County Kerry have already been shot down in parliament. Justice Minister Alan Shatter called it "grossly irresponsible."

"There is no question of this government, or indeed I don't believe any future government, facilitating individuals drinking in excess of blood alcohol limits," he said in a speech Thursday.

Still, we all got a good laugh out of the Irish farmers who want permission to get drunk and drive. When someone walks right into a cultural stereotype, it's hard to pass up the joke. But thankfully for the people on Ireland's roads, the government has the good sense to say no.


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  • 20 Comments
      mccarthyeod
      • 2 Years Ago
      Now let me get this right.......30% of driving fatalities are caused by drunk drivers? So...70% of driving deaths are caused by sober drivers? Now stay with me...If we remove those sober drivers who cause 70% of the accidents from the roads, the 30% driving drunk will have less people to hit and we can reduce deaths related to driving by more than 70%, Maybe we should change our motto to "Drink, Drive and Live!" Hell, it makes as much sense as making law abiding people follow more gun regulations, when the problem is really crazies and criminals misusing guns.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @mccarthyeod
        Woah, your brain stroke out on you? 30% are from Drunk Drivers. If we remove or lessen the laws and repercussions that goes WAY up. This will probably be too complicated for your brain to handle BUT, look up some percentages k? What percent of sober drivers have accidents? What percentage of Drunk Drivers have accidents? Then of that 70% of sober drivers, what percentage of those were caused by texting or being on the phone? Something that is just now starting to be cracked down on. Hey look at it this way, when you get drunk, drive, lose all your stuff and have a criminal record, we'll take your gun. You won't be able to shoot yourself to escape the misery you brought upon yourself for being a selfish self absorbed micro brained dimwit. :) Oh and when your brain boots back up from all that complicated stuff you looked up ^^ up there, why don't you look at the amount of people who are dead or severely damaged by those worthless drunks. Sane, sober law abiding folks who were good citizens abiding by the law who are now dead, parentless, childless or mangled (among other things). You lose your gun to gun control, thats a problem. ONLY CRIMINALS WILL HAVE GUNS!!1!1!!!! It's perfectly fine however to allow sober drivers to die at the hands of drunken criminal scum. A gun is a tool to protect yourself from criminals. The DUI/DWI laws are a tool to keep innocents safe from sorry drunks like yourself.
        jdhegnes
        • 2 Years Ago
        @mccarthyeod
        You're being so facitious that many people aren't going to get it. They will think there is really a correlation, which hurts gun advocacy. Most peole on aol aren't nearly as smart as you give them credit for.
        LL
        • 2 Years Ago
        @mccarthyeod
        THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT - It's called "THINKING" !!! Can we have more of this please ?....
      LL
      • 2 Years Ago
      LOOK ! Either outlaw alcohol in public places or legislate that the esablishments test their patrons before giving each visotor his or her keys back, (that were checked in unpon entrance) when leaving - but DON'T push people to the brink of suicide by allowing the unlimited service of alcoholic drinks, and then PUNISHING them for having a half a beer more than they should have had, with these INSANE "Cruel & Unusual Punishment" Laws - that take people's cars, jobs, and families away (eventually) - so it's time for society to make up it's mind,......
        • 2 Years Ago
        @LL
        Wow. It's rare that an American patriot argue for the removal of freedom. Amazing. Your personal failures are just that. There is a reason we have an age limit on alcohol. You have to be old enough to make proper choices. If you make a crap choice and then endanger others with that choice, you deserve every bit of misery you get. It's not cruel nor is it unusual to severely punish someone who has so little regard for the lives of others. You are not forced to the establishment. You are not forced to imbibe alcohol in that establishment. You are not required to drink until drunk if you DO have a drink, and it is no one's responsibility but your own to find a sober way home. Cabs, friends whatever. Society has made up its mind. We decided to allow people freedom. We leave that freedom intact until they cross a line. Seek out your nearest AA chapter if you have a problem with staying sober. Anything you have lost from drunk driving convictions is 100% the result of your own piss poor choices.
          itsmegp46
          • 2 Years Ago
          Thank you for that post. You wrote what I wanted to but in a much better way than I ever could!
        jdhegnes
        • 2 Years Ago
        @LL
        How unreasonable, to expect some modicum of personal responsibility out of adult human beings. But then, these people aren't adults, they are large children. Any fool, pushed to the brink of suicide, who isn't responsible enough to drive home without killing some innocents, deserves to lose everything. Who cares any more about him than he does about those he might kill. If he kills himself, it's just thinning out the breed. Society has made up its mind - all out war on these weak, self-centered criminals.
      Don Collins
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'm Irish and proud of it but come on, I wouldn't want that in no way to happen here.
      darandlev
      • 2 Years Ago
      When I was a child I was taught by my Irish relatives that the three greatest Irishmen who ever lived were St. Patrick, Authur Guiness, and John Jameson and not necessarily in that order! I would be an adult before I learned about Irish Father Theobald Matthew, the world's first Temperance leader. Temperance in Ireland? Oh my Guiness!
      • 2 Years Ago
      This measure passed. Certain drunk driver's are going to be issued permits allowing them to drive while intoxicated. Before you laugh, make sure you are in the right.
      brennemanbelkin
      • 2 Years Ago
      The difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake is one less drunk. (Despite the rumors, we're a practical people)
      BUZO JOE
      • 2 Years Ago
      This topic strikes a chord with me. Our BAC limits are overkill and the Mad Mothers are self important, busy-body wannabe cops. Now-a-days I avoid driving tipsy like the plague, but ONLY due to my employer's crack down on all Sailors and promise to end the career of folks in my pay grade over just one incident. After 38 (yes 38 years) of driving tipsy without one accident or incident, no one can convince me I'm putting others at risk by driving tipsy. The only folks who are putting us at greater risk than texting drivers are those who sit at the bar doing shots until they're stupefied and left swerving down the road (after they manage to get the keys in the door). For those of you who'll no doubt ask if I've ever suffered due to a drunk drivers recklessness, save your breath. I've been nearly killed by one, and rear ended by two others. They deserve to be punished, not a person who has three or four beers and runs into a random DUI road block.
        ladkraemer
        • 2 Years Ago
        @BUZO JOE
        I was 11 and spent 3 month in the hospital because of a drunk driver. I think that the limit should be raised to point .10 so that a person can have more than one social drink and not have to worry. Also get rid of the driving under the influence laws... those that even if you are under the limit they get you for something a lesser charge of driving under the influence. either you are drunk or your not. Get rid of the brother keeper laws... if someone buys liquor underage that person should be arrested and the parents be find. If someone gets into an accident its not the bars fault it's the person drinking. get rid of these ridiculous laws and teach your children how to drink if they are going to drink. We won't send a young person in a car with out teaching them how to drive, but a 21 we tell them it's OK to drink and go at it. At least in Europe the children learn how to drink socially and to controle it. This way they don't have to drink behind parents backs, parents can have supervised parties and if they drink to much their is someone to help. You don't end up with girls being raped, young people driving drunk, having other drugs introduced to them while they are drunk. Teach them how to have fun without anyone getting hurt or going behind peoples backs.
          ladkraemer
          • 2 Years Ago
          @ladkraemer
          Actually I shouldn't say drunk before they were drunk I would stop them. Tipsy is OK as long as they are properly supervised.
      Eddie Lopez
      • 2 Years Ago
      What author Carty doesn't tell readers above is that the measure passed at the county level. The County Kerry Council voted it a 'go' by a vote of--get this--, 5 to 3, with 12 councillors absent and 7 abstaining. True story.
      • 1 Year Ago
      It's even a bigger laugh at the journalists who cannot get the story right. I assume your referring to the proposal made by the Kerry councillor Danny Healy-Rae. There are two seperate minimum drink drive limits in Ireland. One for those whoop don't hold a full licence for more than two years, plus commertial drivers. And those who drive private vehicles. How can a driver be charged for having a blood/alcohol of .021 yet not be charger for a reading of .049. You have two identical vehicles let's say Ford Fiestas, one commercial and the other private, how can you have 2 different DD limits. I think Healy Rae got the last laugh
      moonmur1
      • 2 Years Ago
      .08 is not drunk! A 35 MPH speed limit on I 95 might be safe also.
      • 2 Years Ago
      this is such condescending nonsense - the author's childhood recollections of boozy afternoons in the pub will I'm afraid ring absolutely false for any actual Irish person. We are sick in this country of having to up with misty eyed Irish americans and their frankly racist opinions on the relationship between Irish people and alcohol. there are many countries in Europe with far, far heavier drinking cultures – incidentally the culture of drunk driving is much worse in the United States than Ireland. The stereotype of the boozed up Paddy was, lest we forget, perpetuated in late 19th century Britain as a way of undermining Irish demands for self government.... Irish people lacked the self control to govern themselves - look at their ruinous addiction to the bottle and so forth. Similar stereotypes were applied to Native Americans, African-Americans and indigenous Australians for similar reasons. You are far more likely today to see people falling down drunk in the middle of the day in the UK than in Ireland while for real binge-drinking you need to go the Nordic countries – so please spare us your insulting dribble about Irish people and 'the pub' – the only time I have ever seen people topping over drunk in Dublin was when I had the misfortune to be dragged to a bar in Temple Bar, the tourist center. They were, of course, all American and Australian. And nobody here uses the word 'craic' with a straight face.
        • 2 Years Ago
        Yeah don't let the facts and numbers interfere with your blind nationalism. You'd make a fabulous American. We aren't big on truth, facts or letting other folks air our dirty laundry either.
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