Is it just me, or do other people also get irritated by the increasing tendency for the police to lecture the public as if we were a class of backward children?
In the Dominion Post this week, Wellington district road policing manager Peter Baird was quoted as saying that police had noticed an increase in the number of drivers with alcohol in their system in the middle of the afternoon – due, presumably, to end-of-year lunchtime celebrations.
While it was clear from the report that no one had actually been charged for exceeding the legal limit, Inspector Baird was still concerned that people were taking a risk by driving after a few drinks. “As soon as you have a drink you are impaired to some level.”
So people are now being warned for staying within the law. This is an intriguing new direction for policing. Can we also now expect to be pulled over and given a warning for driving at 98 kilometres per hour?
Not content that drivers are responsibly staying within the legal alcohol limit determined by the government, Inspector Baird is wagging a finger in their faces and tut-tutting that it’s not good enough.
Does this man not have enough to do? If the people being pulled up and tested by the police are under the limit, there’s an end to it. If anything, he should be congratulating people for drinking responsibly. Lectures on the perils of moderate alcohol consumption should be left to sanctimonious academics and health bureaucrats, of whom there’s no shortage.
In a recent issue of the Wairarapa News, the same Inspector Baird sounded almost disappointed at the low level of drunk drivers (0.44 percent) detected in a weekend blitz - a figure that inconveniently undermined attempts to portray New Zealand as a nation gripped by addiction to liquor. Rather than celebrate this encouraging result, Inspector Baird could only scold his fellow New Zealanders for “making the choice to drink and drive”.
He was at it again in this week’s edition of the same paper. Commenting on the results of the latest police operation (as a result of which only 0.41 percent of the 12,077 drivers tested will face charges), he huffed and puffed that even drivers within the legal limit were more at risk than if they were not drinking. “Every glass affects your impairment in some way.”
Inspector Baird went on to say that New Zealand’s legal blood alcohol limit – 0.8 mg per 100 ml – was much more generous than in most developed countries. “We are not currently in line with the OECD.”
In fact Britain, Canada and the US all have a legal limit of 0.8, and research is inconclusive about the number of lives that would be saved by reducing it to 0.5. (Bear in mind that most serious accidents involving alcohol are caused by drivers who are well over 0.8, and therefore wouldn’t have been avoided even if a lower limit had been in force.)
But that’s hardly the point. New Zealanders elect governments to make laws and the job of police officers is to enforce them, not publicly bemoan their supposed inadequacy. If Inspector Baird wants the law changed, he can stand for Parliament. If he's on a mission to achieve the perfect society, someone should gently explain to him that it's been tried already.
In the meantime, he should spare us the patronising lectures.