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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 December 2007, 09:59 GMT
The shame of drink-driving
Breath test

By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News

The Christmas anti-drink drive campaign is in full swing, but there will always be those who think they can get away with it. Beyond the points, the driving ban and the criminal record, how do those caught handle the shame?

Another Christmas, another warning about getting behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol.

The theme of the 2007 campaign is that a conviction can ruin a driver's life. "That pint could come between you and Christmas" is the slogan.

The criminal record and driving ban are automatic and for those who rely on their cars that can be punishment enough. But what about the stigma and the shame?

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Claire, a 27-year-old care co-ordinator from Torquay in Devon, found that being convicted even affected her relationship with her mother.

"She made me feel really, really bad. She didn't want to see me and shut the door in my face and told me to go away. That was the worst feeling ever."

Claire, which is not her real name, says the incident that changed her life came at the end of a "rubbish" day at work last year, close to the anniversary of her grandmother's death.

She began drinking a bottle of wine at home and then went into town to continue drinking, but on the way she hit a parked car, failed a breath test and spent a night in a police cell.

"That was lonely and horrendous. You feel very bad about yourself," she says.


"It gives you time to think things over and how you could have killed someone. You feel embarrassed because you don't think you could ever end up in a cell."

She was given a 300 fine and a 16-month driving ban. The ban was reduced to a year because she signed up for a course with the Devon Driving Course run by Devon County Council, which aims to educate drink-drivers about their crime.

The court case meant she had to tell her parents the truth and endure her mother's cold shoulder, having previously told her the accident had not been her fault.

A drink drive course makes you realise how serious the situation is, and it makes you aware of the dangers of driving the morning after, when you can still be over the limit
Roger Fenton

"I don't want people to make the same mistakes as I did. People's silence and the looks on their faces says it all. It makes you never want to do anything so stupid again."

She learnt many things from the 145 course but among them was the fact her shame, criminal record and costs could have been avoided had she paid 20 for a taxi.

While younger people like Claire have grown up bombarded by campaigns warning of the dangers, the middle-aged experienced no such media crusade in their 20s.

Falklands War veteran Roger Fenton, 55, from Cornwall, was attending a reunion around the time of the conflict's 25th anniversary in May when he gave a friend a lift home.

Career 'over'

He was stopped by the police for not having his lights on and - being a salesman - he feared his career could be over when he was banned for a year.

"I had been with the company for 23 years so luckily they showed me similar loyalty and hired someone as a chauffeur," he says.

"But my boss said he wasn't surprised this had happened because he'd noticed how heavily I'd been drinking, and my wife said the same."

The conviction, and the driving course that followed, provided a wake-up about the quantities he was drinking.

"I was pretty disappointed with myself. There's a stigma attached to drink driving. I'm the oldest person at my work place, and I'm the idiot."

Below is a selection of comments.

My husband has just got his license back after an 18 month ban. I'm only relieved he stopped before he killed someone - as I had warned him he would on many occasions. He always thought he was 'OK' just having two or three. He learnt a very harsh and expensive lesson over the last 18 months and he said the drink driving awareness course should be compulsory for ALL drivers - it was a real eye opener apparently. The lady in this piece is also correct - there is so much shame attached to the crime. We kept it hidden from our parents and families for 6 months we were so embarrassed and ashamed.
Anon, Lancashire

I was convicted of drink driving four and a half years ago and I am still embarrassed about it now. I received a 250 fine and a 15 month ban which was also reduced by 25% for attending the drink awareness course that cost a further 250. The course itself was worthwhile but I felt the majority of people there were only attending for the ban reduction and not the feeling of shame/stupidity for drink driving. I was extremely lucky where I was working that I could get public transport or lifts from colleagues so my job wasn't affected. I have since moved jobs but have been completely honest about the conviction as I see no point in trying to hide it - I did what I did and must face the consequences.
Ross, Sandy, Bedfordshire

My ex wife was caught drink driving after having a few drinks, thinking she would be fine and then getting behind the wheel to drive home. She was stopped as one of her lights was out and breathalysed. She failed. That meant for nine months (three months off for attending one of the drink awareness courses), I was driving everywhere and ferrying my son around (although I live 90 miles away). So this wasn't just affecting her, it directly involved me and my partner and caused animosity between everyone involved. Just don't do it!
Adam , Bedford, England

Why should there be a stigma attached to driving while over an artificial limit? The question the police should be asking is whether drivers are driving in a dangerous manner (whether due to drink, drugs, having been awake all night or whatever). Some drivers can drive safely when more than double the 'legal limit', others (like me) find that even a pub single impairs their driving and have to steer clear of any booze at all.
E Watts, Barnsley UK

Drink limits should be higher, we are all pariahs. I am a big fellow and can quite safely drive home after four or five pints, it's the idiots that get really drunk that need locking up and not people like myself being harassed
John Zimnoch, Toronto Canada

This article is shocking. The thought of being banned from driving is quite scary. I have to admit on occasion I have been stupid enough to get in the car and drive home after a heavy night of drinking, I am only fortunate not to have caused serious damage. Although, after reading this article I don't think I will be doing that again
John Cooper, London

Everyone knows it's stupid to drink and drive, the story says no campaigns warn older people, why do you need warning you should know it's wrong? People who drink and drive cannot blame anyone else. My friend lost her dad to a drink-driver who was fully aware he was going to need to drive home, but he still chose to drink on the way. I am not a non-drinker by the way, I just NEVER drink and drive, if I go out and have to drive, I have soft drinks I may have a lager shandy sometimes, but that's as much as I drink if I have to drive.
AV, Oxford

British people are puritanical and are fond of finding something like a substance that they can ban and blame instead of accepting natural human error. It is not a question of morals, as your report suggests, but individual judgement; you can have a dangerous sober driver and a safer and careful one who has drunk a little. Many Kenyans can drink up to 10 beers and still drive home safely. But then in the UK the government behaves like a mother.
Njuguna, Nairobi Kenya

A member of my family had the equivalent of a full frontal lobotomy when his forehead was smashed in when he was hit by a drunk driver as he cycled home from work. Twenty years on, his personality is still fundamentally altered and the lives of his wife and children have been ruined. The drunk abandoned him in the road and drove home. He got little more than a slap on the wrists. I strongly believe that no punishment is too harsh for people who take the lives of others into their own hands in their search for a good time.
M Lendrick, Oxford

At Christmas it's easy to slip into a casual drinking routine, so I've taken to sometimes volunteering to drive. When I do drive, I don't touch a drop of alcohol (although after five pints of grapefruit and soda I do start to dream of a Stella), so it ends up as a night off the drink, and it's still possible to have a decent time. Alternatively, you get to watch how everyone else completely loses it after a few.
Richard Want, Kirkby Stephen

I feel that those convicted of drink driving (and those that get away with it) should feel as much shame as humanly possible. There is absolutely no excuse for committing this stupid and reckless act. I have a friend whose car was written off by a drunk driver in her sleep, but sadly, the man's parents did not have the same attitude as Claire's. They defended him to prevent his being breathalysed and the man was never convicted for his behaviour. All I hope is that people will learn from these stories and stop drink driving.
Heather, Willenhall

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