Our man experiences the dangers of drink driving in hi-tech suit

Paul Keown tries out Ford's suit
Paul Keown tries out Ford's suit

The message is plain and simple: Never ever drink and drive.

Shocking figures released recently clearly prove that Irish motorists are NOT getting the message.

Garda stats show, that between January and March of there have been 19,133 checkpoints, with 99,647 drivers randomly tested for alcohol. Sadly, 1,924 of those stopped have been convicted of driving under the influence.

These figures are astonishingly high, and a recent survey by car giants Ford showed an unbelievable number of young drivers in Europe have either driven while drunk, or are still willing to be a passenger with someone under the influence.

The survey of 5,000 drivers – aged between 18 and 24 – also revealed two thirds don’t even know the legal alcohol limit.

To demonstrate the effect alcohol has on a person’s driving, Ford has developed a ‘Drink Driving Suit’ that impairs visibility, co-ordination and balance. 

So I decided to give the suit a try and see if my driving skills could stand up to the test of Ford’s special equipment.

I put on the beer goggles and ear muffs, and was laden down with a series of weights and restriction straps to mimic the actions of a drunk driver. 

As the pictures show, I look absolutely ridiculous, but in the  interest of research I took one for the team!

Almost immediately, I felt totally disorientated, with the various weights completely throwing me off. A few simple tests before I got behind the wheel proved I was in no position to drive safely.

Trying to catch a ball from five yards, or even walking in a straight line proved impossible.

Then the real test came. I tried to drive a Ford Ka though a section of cones without flattening them. To say I failed would be an understatement; my total lack of co-ordination and blurred vision meant the cones had no chance. 

At the beginning of the exercise I fully believed I could beat the suit and that my driving skills would come to the fore, but seeing the trail of destruction I left behind, and my absolute failure to reverse park, really opened my eyes to the damage that could be caused by an intoxicated driver.

“Drinking and driving is a potentially lethal combination, and the results of this survey underline the importance of making young drivers, in particular, aware of that message,” said Eddie Murphy, Chairman and Managing Director of Ford Ireland.

“A survey on behalf of the Road Safety Authority has shown 87 per cent of the Irish public say drink driving is extremely shameful. However, when you realise that a third of fatal crashes here have alcohol as a factor, there is obviously a significant minority who haven’t got the message.”

Safety on our roads is a major issue, and the recent crackdown on motorists using smartphones while driving has shown a new no-nonsense approach from gardai.

The minister for transport Leo Varadkar signed a new amendment under section 102 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, into law last week, which brought the new measures into effect from May 1.

Now, anyone caught texting or emailing on their mobile phone while driving could face a fine of up to €1,000. If convited, the penalty will be: 
• €1,000 maximum fine for a first offence; 
• €2,000 maximum fine for a second or subsequent offence;
• €2,000 maximum fine and/or up to three months in prison for a third or subsequent offence within a twelve-month period.

It’s already illegal to text while driving, but the changes close off a loophole which allowed people to escape fines and penalties while operating a phone resting in a cradle or via a hands-free kit. 

In a two-day blitz last week, gardai caught 1,191 drivers using a mobile, which would have proved a costly mistake had they been caught after May 1.

I certainly can’t ever see myself taking a glass of red at lunch, or a cold cider in the summer sun – even if I won’t be driving for three or four hours. It’s simple: Never ever drink and drive.