Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - June 2011
The growing reluctance to drink a drop before driving is a major cause of pub closures
LAST YEAR yet another official report was produced, this time by Sir Peter North, proposing the reduction of the UK drink-driving limit from 80mg to 50mg. This offered no new evidence, and earlier this year it was rejected by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, arguing that the vast majority of drink-related road deaths involve drivers well over the current limit, and cutting the limit by itself would do nothing to change their behaviour. For the first time, an official response on the issue actually acknowledged the potential effect on the hospitality trade. Licensees and customers of rural, suburban and small town pubs will no doubt have felt considerably relieved by this decision.
However, it could be argued that many of the supposed benefits of a lower limit have already been achieved, with a change in public attitudes over the past twenty or so years leading to a growing reluctance to drive after drinking even within the legal limit. In the early years of the breathalyser law, this was widely regarded as normal and responsible behaviour, and many pubs prospered on this ďcar tradeĒ. Indeed, the ultimate high water mark of beer sales in British pubs was not reached until twelve years later in 1979. However, from the mid-80s onwards, there was a distinct shift towards the view that drivers shouldnít touch so much as a half of lager, which has become commonplace amongst new entrants to the driving population.
There are still plenty of people from their mid-forties upwards who continue to do what they have always done, although their ranks are steadily being thinned by advancing years. But, amongst their younger counterparts, the kinds of people who in the 1970s would have routinely gone to the pub in the car and drink a couple of legal pints havenít, by and large, found an alternative means to get there, they have simply stopped going in that kind of regular, moderate way, although they may still have a weekend blow-out. Now it could be said that this is beneficial to road safety, although whether much additional risk is caused by someone driving after a couple of pints of ordinary bitter is questionable. But, over the past two decades, this change in attitudes has undoubtedly been a prime cause of the long-term decline of the pub trade outside of major urban centres.
If you donít like alcohol, at least be honest about the reason why
FROM TIME TO TIME you hear people who donít drink claim that they simply donít like the taste of alcohol. If people choose not to drink because they are concerned about the potential effects, then fair enough, although they are missing out on one of the great pleasures of life. They are entitled to their view and I would not criticise them for it, although I would expect the same tolerance to be extended to those who do drink provided they donít make fools of themselves.
But ďI donít like the tasteĒ always strikes me as being a particularly feeble rationalisation. Alcoholic drinks cover a huge spectrum of different tastes, and many donít really taste ďof alcoholĒ at all. For example, I recently tried some alcoholic root beer which was impossible to distinguish from the soft drink version. Have they really tried everything from Liebfraumilch to cask-strength Laphroaig and decided that nothing appeals? People may be vegetarian on principle, but you never hear them claiming that they donít like the taste of meat, especially when it spans such a wide range of flavours from venison to oysters. Non-drinkers would be respected more if they were honest about their motivations.