It’s that time of the year – party time. Whatever your take on Christmas and celebrating it (or not), I would say for most of us the number of social occasions rises in December. Whether it’s work parties, social occasions with friends or an evening of shopping accompanied by a glass of wine – there is no denying that this is the month of indulgence.
However, whilst it’s all good fun and festive there is a darker side to this way of life and that is drinking and driving.
As an expat I don’t think I have ever lived somewhere where this hasn’t been an issue. Just the drinking side of things alone is a problem and really that needs a whole post to itself. But whilst we mostly damage ourselves when we simply drink too much, the real dangers of drinking and driving is what might happen to others.
Of course, drink-driving is not just an expat problem. On average, apparently, 3,000 people are killed or seriously injured as a result of drink driving in the UK each year. That’s pretty serious. But we have had some pretty good campaigns in our country over the last few years and I would say that not many people I know these days would risk driving under the influence. The law comes down pretty heavily on those that do – even if you don’t end up having an accident, if you are caught you are likely to lose your licence. Which is pretty tough on most people – many also lose their jobs because of it.
But around the world, for expats, it is often a different story. Laws might be the same but enforcement often isn’t. It may be easier to pay off the police. Or equipment such as breathilisers may not work properly or simply not exist. In the worst case scenario, you may drive with diplomatic plates as many people I know do. This does not mean you are untouchable – but police will often not bother to stop you as it is probably a lot more hassle than stopping someone on ordinary plates (I am sure this is not the case in many countries, but it certainly is in some of the ones I have lived in).
There is another side to this, which is that walking and/or public transport may not be as straightfoward for you as it might be in your home country. Even taking a cab might not feel that safe – especially after a long night out on the booze. So in the end, a lot of people do get into their car and drive home when they are quite obviously over the limit. Sometimes a long way over the limit – I remember one colleague literally passing out with his head on the steering wheel as he left a bar in one of the countries where I have been posted.
The trouble is, so many people do it that it is “normalised”. There is a bit of a feel of “what happens in Vegas…” or wherever you happen to be living – it’s accepted when you live there but not necessarily something you would do or talk about when you return to your non-expat life. It is also one of those things that creeps up on you – first of all, it’s just one drink, then two. Before you know it, you are weaving your way home after three bottles of champagne and six tequila shot chasers.
And of course the problem is that although the consequences to yourself for drinking and driving might not be the same as it would be in your home country, the worst consequences of all – eg hitting, even killing another road user – are the same whichever country you are in. Many talk themselves into it by telling themselves that they drive slower here, there are fewer road users, it’s only a short drive…But do they consider there may be fewer street lights, people are more likely to be walking in the roads, the traffic is more erratic? Probably not.
I can’t tell you what to do. I realise what the reality is – many people I know will be drinking more than the legal limit and getting into their cars over the next couple of weeks. A far higher percentage than people I know back home. And this will be replicated amongst expats all over the world. All I will say is think about it. How would you really feel if you hit someone? Probably just as bad as you would if you hit someone in your non-expat life. And if you can just hold that thought, perhaps it will be all you need to get you to call that taxi, duck out of the third round of drinks or organise a lift with a non-driver.