Drink driving is bad. There can be no question about that at all. The deaths that have resulted from accidents caused by drunk drivers are tragedies that could have been prevented, and it really does shine a spotlight on the issue of drink driving, and what needs to be done to curb the problem.
Among the “measures” mooted, however, include the banning or restriction of the sale of alcohol. But is that really the answer to solving that issue? No, it is not.
First and foremost, banning the sale of alcohol would mean the loss of billions in tax revenue for the country. According to a media release by the Confederation of Malaysian Brewers Bhd (CMBB), in 2019 the beer industry alone contributed an estimated RM2.27bil in tax revenue. And that’s not even counting revenue from the sale of spirits, wine, and from the bar and hospitality industry.
Secondly, it’s been proven historically that banning alcohol doesn’t work. For example, the United States once banned the sale of alcohol from 1920 to 1933 as a way to combat social ills. The Prohibition Era, as it is known as, turned out to be a boon for illegal alcohol smugglers and moonshine producers. With alcohol outlawed, the black market for booze flourished, and people started making illegal moonshine at home.
Fun fact: The term “speakeasy” may mean a fancy hidden bar these days, but the term was actually coined during the Prohibition Era in the United States, an illegal bar hidden away from the public where you had to “speak easy” to avoid the police from hearing.
The point here is, banning alcohol won’t work, because as people say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Like it or not, people will still seek out alcoholic products, and if there are no legal ways to get them, they will turn to illegal ones instead. That in turn creates a bigger problem for the government and enforcement agencies, one arguably bigger than drink driving.
Alcohol in itself is not the underlying root of the drink driving issue. It is caused by the irresponsible actions of individuals. Besides, banning alcohol just because of some irresponsible drink drivers also punishes those who drink responsibly and take a taxi home. The issue cannot be solved by knee-jerk reactions and drastic measures. It needs an objective, well-planned strategy that involves the government, enforcement agencies and stakeholders from the beverage and hospitality industry working together.
So, if banning alcohol doesn’t work, then what will? For that, I reached out to some of my friends in the beverage industry for some of their views, and the general consensus is that there are other ways to prevent, or rather, reduce incidents of drink driving that does not involve a blanket ban on alcohol. Here are some suggestions.
In terms of stricter laws to deter drink drivers, Malaysia already has these in place, and the government is currently in the process of drawing up even stricter ones.
Penalties for drink driving include financial penalties and jail time for more severe offences.
However, just coming up with stricter laws would be pointless if proper enforcement is lacking. There needs to be a high chance of getting caught and having the penalty applied, in order for drinkers to really take it seriously.
If the authorities are either not out enforcing the rules or are turning a blind eye when they catch someone, even the strongest penalties in the world would be meaningless.
Many other countries have strict laws and enforcement when it comes to drink driving, where it’s been driven into the minds of the citizens that drink driving is unacceptable.
Take Germany, for example, which has one of the highest alcohol consumption per capita in Europe. Enforcement is high in the country, and if you are caught over the limit you will be fined and have your driver’s licence suspended, according to an interviewee who used to work in the country.
This, combined with the fact that it’s extremely hard to get your licence back once you’ve lost it to a DUI (driving under the influence) charge, is enough to deter many Germans from drinking and driving. Hence, it is common practise to not drive when they are drinking, or to appoint a designated driver if they are going out in a group.
There’s one crucial factor in Malaysia’s drink driving issue – the lack of proper education and awareness among Malaysian drivers about the dangers of drink driving. And this has to start from the very beginning, from the time they are learning to drive.
Some countries have driving classes and tests that touch on the dangers of drink driving, while others even make the students watch a video showing real life victims of drink driving mishaps.
The drinks industry itself also needs to take the initiative to educate its drinkers about the dangers of drink driving.
In the past, some of the bigger players in Malaysia, including the beer breweries and spirits conglomerates, have run anti-drink driving campaigns.
Many major alcohol-related events also have tie-ins with ride-sharing companies to provide codes for their patrons to ride to and from the event.
In the United States and many other countries, bar owners and even individual bartenders can be held liable or even criminally charged if they continue serving an already drunk patron, or allow him or her to drive home knowing they were drunk.
In Malaysia, that doesn’t happen. While it is easy for us to point fingers at bars and bartenders and blame them for letting someone drive home drunk, the fact remains that they have no legal obligation to do so.
If there was, say, a law that says bars can be charged if they are guilty of continuing to serve someone who is clearly drunk, then maybe more outlets would be more open to self-enforcing within their own premises.
According to one of my interviewees, the availability of affordable and effective public transport is a surprisingly effective way of reducing drink driving. People who want to go out and drink, but know they will not be able to get home may change their plans.
Sure, they may also decide to take the risk and drive, but if they know they can get a train, taxi or ride share, they’re more likely to leave the car at home.
Again, this also needs to work in parallel with public awareness campaigns, strong penalties and rigorous enforcement.
In countries like Singapore and China, there are also services where drinkers can call a driver to drive them and their car back home when the night is over, so that’s another option to consider here.
So, as you can see, there are various ways to tackle the issue of drink driving that doesn’t involve banning alcohol. Punishing all Malaysian drinkers and the entire beverage industry just because of a few bad eggs won’t solve the issue.
Better enforcement of stricter laws, better transport options, better dialogue between the government and stakeholders, and better education for drinkers and drivers will.
Michael Cheang hopes to see the government take a more objective and constructive approach to the drink driving issue. Follow him on the Tipsy-Turvy Facebook page (fb.com/MyTipsyTurvy), Instagram (@MyTipsyTurvy) or Twitter (@MichaelCheang).