The Sunday Times says

Putting an end to drink driving

News that a growing pool of drinkers are opting to be valet-driven home after a bout of nightclubbing must be music to the ears of everyone, not least the police. Admittedly, evidence of this trend is indirect and anecdotal, limited as it is to police drink-driving statistics and checks with operators of valet firms who report a surge in demand for such relatively novel services, especially on weekends. But with smartphone apps to find a valet when the need arises, one can hope that the practice will take hold here.

Police say that drink-driving accidents were reduced by more than a quarter and arrests were down by over a fifth last year compared to the year before. While no reasons for the welcome drop were specified, one can think of a few, like the uncompromising emphasis on law and order, and the patience of those who have been educating motorists about the fatal consequences of drink driving over all these years.

The tough penalties for drink driving - a hefty fine and a lengthy loss of driving time, or in serious cases, imprisonment for the very first lapse - have complemented police efforts to get across the message that drinkers will be punished and cannot hope to compound the offence. But having an unsparing law and enforcing it amount only to the battle being won. Winning the war, which means achieving zero tolerance against drink driving, is harder. It requires the organic growth of a social culture that disenfranchises the drinker from access to the driver's seat. This hasn't happened yet.

Though the annual figures relating to drink-driving offences have improved, the 2,297 people arrested last year still means that an average of half a dozen were caught daily. And while the number of drink-driving accidents dropped to an average of once in almost three days last year compared to every other day in 2014, there were two more deaths last year compared to the year before.

Achieving zero tolerance will require the active participation of the drinking public in drawing a red line voluntarily. That might happen more often when there are easy-to-use options available, like drive-home services offered by valet firms, conveniently accessed via apps on mobile phones. In fact, these valet services should be as widely publicised as the official messages persuading drinkers to book a cab for the ride home in advance or to designate a teetotaller in their group for driving duty for the night. The authorities should co-opt these valet firms in the effort to put an end to drink driving.

Over time, more drinkers might abstain reflexively from driving, in the same way that smokers refrain from lighting up when they commute by public transport. A strong culture of responsible social drinking would give night owls something truly worth clinking glasses over.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 24, 2016, with the headline 'Putting an end to drink driving'. Subscribe