An Australian volunteer who was doing whatever volunteers do in PNG.
I was there for 2 years until Dec 2005 .. I hope I made the most of it.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Drink. Drive. Drunk. Drove.

Time to highlight a niche of life I have neglected about PNG - the old drink driving thing (no reason why I have suddenly decided to post about this .. although did go out the other night).

After two years of careful observation I think I can safely make a few conclusions about life without breathalysers. Some people seem to get on fine without them. Others are a true worry.

One in the former category is the driver of my regular ride into town to the yacht club. I have seen him knock back quite a bit and not have any problems getting home. At first, with my upbringing of a "thou shalt not drink and drive" mantra being hammered home through the media, it was a bit of a worry - getting into the car of someone with quite a few beers under the belt, or as many as myself at least, and knowing they will be driving for the next 10 minutes or so to get you back home. But then you grow in confidence, as you discover they seem to have learnt to either not be affected or not let it show.

Then there is the latter category - too legless to walk, certainly should not be driving type. One night driving into town, about 7, we followed a vehicle that veered all over the place - head on into on-coming cars, before swerving abruptly just before impact, slowing down, speeding up, around double lane round-abouts in the wrong lane. If the guy made it home I would be surprised.

The thing with PNG though is this is expected. The drink driving thing I mean. The completely drunk driving is I dare say not, but alas there is no highway patrol which seems to operate at night anyway.

From what I hear it stems all the way from the grassroots (the ones that have access to a vehicle at least) to the top. There is a good story (although probably now a tad embellished) I heard recounted about how a charitable organisation from Australia decided to donate quite a lot of breathalysers to the Port Moresby police back in the 1990s. This was something new for them, and they even got training in how to correctly use them.

So out onto the streets the cops went one night to put into action the new equipment. They set up a road block on one of the main thoroughfares in town and stopped all cars passing through. Anyone over the limit was taken away and locked up. It seemed like a great success and proved just how many people drink and drive.

The problem was half of the people caught were politicians. After they were released a bill was put forward and then passed banning the use of breathalysers.

It seems though there are attempts to bring them back, according to this old article I have found at any rate. Since I have been here I have not heard anything new about it and I could probably safely say it has been forgotten about.

As to whether they should be back is another question. As the article stats the only way to go out at night is with your own vehicle, due to the law and order issue and no night public transport (although in Moresby there are at least cabs that can be caught, although I am not if they operate at night).

On the other side of the argument there are claims that it is just a need for re-education. The designated driver scenario seems to have taken hold down south or at least getting someone to come and pick you up and there shouldn't be any reason why it can't here.

At the moment though, while it can be got away with, "designated driver" is certainly a phrase you won't hear around here.