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Tuesday, 17 October, 2000, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
A drink for the road?

A British man has expressed surprise at being cautioned by police for being drunk while riding a Micro Scooter. What do we think we can get away with after hitting the bottle?

Although the government remains in a quandary about how to curb the widespread British penchant for getting drunk in public, there have been some small victories.

Micro Scooter
Scoot sober
Drink-driving now carries a heavy social stigma, which since 1979 has seen UK road deaths involving intoxicated motorists fall faster than other traffic fatalities.

While drink-drivers still claimed as many as 500 lives last year, getting behind the wheel under the influence is deemed far less acceptable than speeding - an activity in which two-thirds of motorists indulge, according to a recent Department of Transport survey.

If Britons look down on drink-driving, why was Derbyshire resident Carl Gill so shocked to be in trouble for riding his foot-propelled scooter after consuming six pints of beer?

"You try to do right by the law and not drink and drive, and this happens," the 27-year-old told the Daily Express.

Andrew McNeil, from the Institute of Alcohol Studies, says while there has been a "sea change" in attitudes to drink driving, public drunkenness is still acceptable to many.

Drunkenness offences
Being drunk on any highway or other public place, or on any licensed premises
Drunkenness with aggravation, being drunk and disorderly or refusing to leave licensed premises when requested
Being drunk in charge of a child under seven
"As long as their behaviour affects no one else, many people, particularly young people, see nothing wrong in it."

Along with many other Britons, Mr Gill be may surprised to hear that it is not only is it an offence to push a scooter along the pavement when drunk, but merely setting foot on the street the worse for wear is against the law.

While drinkers may be familiar with the charge of being "drunk and disorderly", "simple" drunkenness in public is also proscribed by the licensing laws.

"The police would never actually do anything unless a person was being a pest or if they were a risk to themselves," says Mr McNeil.

For drinkers there is safety in numbers, any attempt to round up rowdy revellers in Britain's town and cities - even on a quiet weeknight - would soon fill police cells to bursting point.

"It's not feasible to arrest everyone, and making selective arrests would be seen as provocative and cause more problems than it would solve."

Alcohol offences at work
Being under the influence of drink thereby endangering the health and safety of yourself or others
Being impaired by alcohol while involved in air or rail transport
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose teenage son was taken to a London police station after being found "drunk and incapable" in Leicester Square during the summer, proposed an on-the-spot fine for "anti-social" drinkers.

Mr Blair suggested a 100 penalty might stop "a thug ... hurling abuse into the night sky if he thought he might get picked up by the police".

The proposal was dismissed by police and opponents as unworkable. Michael Mansfield QC called the idea "Orwellian".

While some people may find Mr Gill's scooter-bound antics a source of mirth, the police powers which brought him to book have been applied in more sobering circumstances.

A cyclist, who had drank a litre of fortified wine, knocked down and seriously injured a pedestrian in Manchester. Last summer, he was given a nine-month prison sentence.

Deputy PM John Prescott
The government are taking on public drunkenness
Travellers will be heartened to know the law strictly governs alcohol consumption for those involved in air, sea and rail transportation.

However, pressure group Alcohol Concern says would-be passengers need to give their drinking habits a thought too.

"If you're driving you shouldn't be drinking at all, but if you're taking public transport, or even walking, we'd say you should be careful not to drink so much that you are a danger to yourself and others," says the organisation's Lee Lixenberg.

Half of all pedestrians killed on our roads have been drinking. Alcohol Concern figures say in accidents between 10pm and 4am, three-quarters of pedestrians fatalities were above the drink-drive limit.

There is, of course, nothing to legally stop adults getting as drunk as they like within their own houses, provided they are not in charge of a child under seven-years-old.

Accidents around the house, including falls and fires, are shown to increase with alcohol consumption, says Mr McNeil.

"No one is going to make getting drunk at home illegal. If you fall off a ladder while drunk, that's your problem."

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See also:

30 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Blair: Fine louts on the spot
05 Oct 00 | UK
Pilot 'drank 10 pints'
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