With a responsibility-driven covid unlocking in the news it is worth reminding ourselves that we are truly terrible at driving well after drinking alcohol. We can learn a lot from this.
Our ability to abide by legal limits and social norms on the road falls apart after alcohol resulting in countless injuries and deaths. This is because driving well needs more than a heartfelt wish to act “responsibly”. It needs drivers who have the skills and brain functions available to do it.
To drive well we need the mechanical skills to operate the wheel and pedals in a timely fashion; we need real-time perception and processing of what we see, hear and feel; navigational memory; the ability to read the road and think ahead; and a sense of what other drivers are thinking and doing too.
All this lot, and more, needs to be woven together to create a flow of clear, well-timed decisions and coordinated movements to propel us safely on our way. Alcohol renders us incapable of it, hampering the brain in delivering it. Driving well and drinking are simply incompatible.
One simple model of alcohol inebriation likens its effect to that of shortsightedness, limiting our mental horizons in all directions. It makes us unable to see beyond a relatively small set of factors in our immediate surroundings and, to make it worse, we also find it hard to see this profound limitation.
Our performance in other areas is similarly undermined by more than a little alcohol. Do we make any great business or personal decisions after a few drinks? Seen any timeless drunk performances? Any examples are mostly luck. Since we do not face prosecution or death, we tend not to register the effect.
Driving is a limited metaphor, as is every metaphor. But it can be useful if we see the whole. metaphorical picture For a society of tolerably good drivers we need a system of laws, good enforcement, etiquette, safe cars and, most importantly, trained, fully-functioning drivers at the wheel, which means they are sober.
Ignoring any link in the chain of factors allowing us to be good citizens on the road is itself irresponsible. Minimising mistakes from alcohol inebriation has to be part of any covid unlocking. And it we can also use it ourselves to eliminate many other avoidable errors. Searching for a parallel? Take a look at the roads. ■