Passing a Garda breathalyser test after two pints

TV Review: The Road Safety Authority is making serious points using silly methods

"Good man," Simon Delaney commends an earnest young driver as he downs the end of his pint. "Get yourself in the car."

So begins our first experiment in putting volunteer drivers behind the wheel while under the influence, ostensibly to see how it will affect competency, but with no serious doubt about the result.

It gives How's Your Driving? (RTÉ One, Monday, 8.30pm), a programme produced in association with the Road Safety Authority, a very curious quality, one that radiates stern disapproval for recklessness on our roads, while emulating it through sublimely silly manoeuvres.

Even Top Gear, which, during the Jeremy Clarkson years, once sparked fury for having drivers drinking at the wheel, might puzzle over the logic behind the first episode's experiment. On an enclosed test course, with a critical driving instructor at his side, Kevin himself has misgivings after a second pint. "I definitely wouldn't get into a car now," he says.


Your confidence in a Garda breathalyser test, already buckled, is not enormously restored by the fact that Kevin passes it.

Asked to reverse around a corner, while Delaney and others provide a grimacing commentary like a chorus of disappointed dads, Kevin promptly runs over the cardboard cut-out of a child at play, sneaked directly into his blind spot. “He took the pop-out card clean out of it,” says the instructor, grimly. Yet they press on. What difference will a third pint make?

To be fair to the RSA – an organisation long reliant on shocking road safety ad campaigns – it may be experimenting itself with campaigns of a different substance. But how effective it is to extend the test to drug-driving is anyone’s guess.

I have to admit to secretly hoping that, in a safe and controlled environment, their next test subject might pause proceedings to give his instructor a back rub, or realise, with life-changing insight, that the car was lemon-flavoured and taking them to the moon.

Instead, a boyish driver named Jack is strapped into a “drug-driving suit”, a brace of weighted and jolting apparatus, and given a vision-impairing visor that flickers with tiny disco lights. This, Delaney explains, will “recreate the effects of cannabis, LSD, ecstasy, etc”. It sounds like a heavy night.

Jack, you suspect, is how the programme imagines its viewer: scared straight by both the ordeal and cautionary words from various authority figures.

“I don’t think there’s any fear of Jack taking drugs when he’s in a vehicle in the future,” confides the instructor. “Let’s get a cup of tea, buddy,” says Delaney, placing a consoling arm on his shoulder.

By use of statistics, the show identifies its most likely dangerous driver: 38 per cent of fatal collision between 2008 and 2012 were from drink-driving, of which 89 per cent of the drivers were male and almost half were under 24. How do you make that notoriously heedless group relate to the consequences? (And why, for that matter, does the programme’s insurance company sponsor, illustrate road accidents with a woman driver applying lipstick?)

Here, the show makes an abrupt switch from the triviality of the experiments to the real tragedies of people bereaved by drink-driving accidents. Margaret Kavanagh’s daughter, Janice, died in a hit-and-run accident by a recidivist drink-driver. Next to this tragedy, it may seem profoundly unbalanced to hear Kevin, our voluntary drink-driver, helplessly offer, “I actually hit a cardboard thing of a child”. It’s as though he doesn’t know what else to say.

It is, at least, a connection, and it comes at a time when road fatalities have dropped to their lowest level on record. However awareness and responsibility is achieved, there is hope that more drivers are beginning to see things clearly.