Growing up in Canada, I witnessed a change in approach to drinking and driving.
As a teenager, I was aware it did happen but for the most part we got around using the bus – as passengers not drivers! I remember being aghast when my country cousins spoke of filing their car with as much gas and booze as they could afford, then drive until they ran out of one or the other. Seemed a really dumb activity to this ‘city’ kid, however we had distractions aplenty which were not so readily available in rural Manitoba.
While the laws against drinking and driving became increasingly stringent in Canada, what was more important is the shift in social attitudes. Bars promoted ‘designated drivers’ by providing free non-alcoholic drinks all evening. Services took you and your car home if you drank. Organisations like MADD – Mother’s Against Drunk Driving – pushed to tighten legislation and declared ‘war’ on drinking and driving.
And the law? While technically in the criminal code since 1925, it took the introduction of the breathalyzer in 1954 to have a tool to catch impaired drivers. By 2008, the consequences were quite clear:
- 1st offence meant goodbye driving for a year plus a fine.
- Stupid enough to do it again? Say hello to 2 months jail time and ‘bye bye’ to your license for 2 years.
- Even stupider to do it yet again? That’s 4 months jail and no driving for 3 years buddy.
- If you harmed someone while under the influence? Think up to 10 years jail time.
- And the worst of all, killed someone? You could face a lifetime in prison.
The time between offence and sentencing was quick and scope to wiggle out nearly zilch.
It is now socially unacceptable to get behind the wheel under the influence. As for me? I’ve never been much of a driver and it is inconceivable to consider driving drunk!
So imagine my surprise in India where I found quite different attitudes which were rather… um.. relaxed towards drinking and driving. If I’m completely honest, there were times I did not want to get in the car with friends while living in Delhi in 1995-96.
However over the years, I’ve witnessed attitudes shift in India too.
Folks who did get behind the wheel after a few drinks in 2005, would not today. The laws in India also started tightening in 2012. Aside from fines, you can potentially face imprisonment for 6 months to 4 years however there are loads of caveats, loopholes and the legal machinery moves slowly.
More importantly there has been a significant increase in check-points – if you are out late at night in Mumbai? Expect to be stopped. Which is why there now are oodles of services which provide reliable temporary drivers for the evening so you don’t need to worry while being chauffeur driven conveniently in your own car. Positive developments…
However if you are a movie star, run over five people sleeping on the footpath – killing one and injuring the others – then leave the scene in 2002, the situation is a little different.
It took until this week (let me count… that’s one, two, three… sheesh 13 years!) to finally convict Salman Khan to five years imprisonment, during which time he made millions making many popular movies.
And today? Fans celebrate that his sentence has been suspended while his appeal is being heard. It is possible he many not face any jail time.
All I can say is that I hope something good comes from all of this. Maybe rather than blame the most vulnerable for living on the streets, something will be done. Perhaps… just perhaps… a few more attitudes will change and there just might be safer streets. One can always hope and dream.