Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: When "common sense" isn't

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  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Why is having some objective measure of alcohol intake such a terrible thing?

    I think Matthew is saying that it's not helpful because most people won't use it, and people who are drunk are less likely to be able to use it accurately. Both of those are true, but that doesn't mean that it's of no use. I'd go so far as to say most people who do control their drinking do use it, they do count their drinks to some extent.

    Perhaps he also thinks I object to a lower BAC limit. I'm actually undecided, because it's very much a line in the sand kind of thing. Zero is the only hard limit. Anything less and you're accepting some level of drunkeness in drivers. Having driven countless times at some level of drunkeness (but almost never actually over the limit) myself, I'd find such a limit to be quite an imposition. I can't quantify it, though, how much actual utility there is in being able to have one beer in a social setting. Do we really live in a society that thinks that utility, multiplied by the entire driving population, is worthless compared to the one in a thousand people who dies on the road due in part to alcohol?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    The intent of evading capture isn't intent to kill, or intent to wound. If you want to keep murder elegant, you have to avoid lumping other bad things in with it.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1376 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Why is having some objective measure of alcohol intake such a terrible thing?

    Because, for the reasons Bart gave, it's not objective. It's vaguely, passably, kinda close to objective, but only inasmuch as it gives someone a very rough idea of how much they can drink without going over 0.08 if they know precisely how much alcohol (as in the actual alcohol content, not including all the water) they are consuming. But on any given day how they handle that alcohol could fluctuate wildly, for all the reasons Bart gave and also for things like forgetting or not noticing that the medication they took with dinner said "Limit alcohol intake".

    When the limit is so high, people who think they're keeping within it by counting their drinks are still getting beyond the point of being able to make a good judgement about whether they should drive. Consider the tests the Herald did, where they plied a couple of their journalists with alcohol and then sent them out to do a lap of a race track, came back for another drink and a BAC measurement, rinse and repeat until they were blowing over the limit. They were both terrified by how much they could drink (reportedly light-weight female got to six glasses of wine, IIRC, and the male was something like 10 bottles of beer) before they were blowing over, and the driving of both was utterly awful long before they hit the limit. It's not precisely scientific, but it's pretty persuasive in terms of how far above safe our limit is. And somewhere in the cycle they both started thinking that their driving was getting better, that they were more in control. That point, based on what's been said to the government, doesn't come until after 0.05.

    As for Russia, Ben, they're a pretty shit point of comparison. Their social relationship with the law and compliance is vastly different to ours. The countries with which we generally compare ourselves because of similar cultures are the ones we need to look at.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3909 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    When the limit is so high

    This is the bit I'm not convinced about Matthew. In practice we are a long way from getting New Zealand to accept a zero limit and personally I'm sure I'd want that either.

    So the question what should the limit be?

    There are two ways to answer that, the first is the one you seem to be arguing, that you should set the limit at the point where people become significantly impaired. The problem I have with that method is it is highly variable from person to person and day to day. There is not a single number that works for everyone. Nor is there a measure of "significantly impaired" that is really all that useful. In the end what you devolve down to is a zero limit, that might in the end be what society chooses but it certainly won't pass the vote right now.

    But there is a second way to choose the limit. Essentially you set the limit at the point where the accidents where people are below the limit are non-lethal and prefereably cause only minor injury and where those above the limit are "serious". What that does is define empirically a level of alcohol that is unlikely to cause significant harm. It says nothing about how impaired people are at that limit but instead says that those drivers over that limit are likely to do significant harm.

    That later approach is in some ways unfeeling about those harmed by drivers below the limit. But the data says that where alcohol is involved in serious accidents the drivers are usually way over the current limit so logically there is no advantage to having a lower limit if you are concerned primarily with reducing serious accidents.

    IMO the second approach is reasonable for the current society we have in New Zealand. I suspect the public may choose a different level later.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3419 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    Because, for the reasons Bart gave, it's not objective.

    Yes, it is. "Objective" means something that can be observed or measured by more than just one person. So "how much you drank" is an objective measure. There's no quibbling about this. "How drunk you feel" is subjective. No one else can directly observe that, they can only get your report on it.

    I'm still rather confused about what your point is here. Even if the limit were different, how do you propose that people stick to it?

    They were both terrified by how much they could drink (reportedly light-weight female got to six glasses of wine, IIRC, and the male was something like 10 bottles of beer) before they were blowing over, and the driving of both was utterly awful long before they hit the limit. It's not precisely scientific, but it's pretty persuasive in terms of how far above safe our limit is.

    Not really. It's a really crap test, actually, as you say, unscientific. 6 standard glasses of wine would have put the woman on 0.11, well over the limit, just by counting measures, if she was really big, like 110kg. If she was average sized, say 75kg, she'd have been pushing 0.17, as in more than twice the legal limit. 10 bottles of beer would make me, a big guy at 100kg, be on 0.21, pushing three times the limit. In fact, if I drank that much alcohol in under an hour, I would almost certainly lapse into unconsciousness and vomiting, from personal experience. I don't even know if I could cram 3 litres of beer into my stomach without being sick. If I did that with water I think I'd probably be impaired just from the pain.

    I'm sorry, but those tests sound like totally uncontrolled bullshit. They simulate a very dissimilar situation to what I'm suggesting.

    It's vaguely, passably, kinda close to objective, but only inasmuch as it gives someone a very rough idea of how much they can drink without going over 0.08 if they know precisely how much alcohol (as in the actual alcohol content, not including all the water) they are consuming.

    The term "standard drink" is a metric measure of the volume of alcohol. It's 15ml. It's objective.

    The countries with which we generally compare ourselves because of similar cultures are the ones we need to look at.

    Can I ask you again to actually do this comparison, then, using actual accident statistics to back up what you think is so scientifically proven?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Nice summary, Bart. I'd go with the accident stats, simply because that is the stat that we want to improve. I don't care if people are impaired, if they're not causing accidents. It has the advantage, too, that you don't need to take local conditions into account, in some arbitrary, complex way. These are contained in the crash stats themselves. A lower limit might well be justified somewhere that the roads are also really unsafe, which would surely show up in accident statistics.

    The thing that's hardest to calculate, though, is in your point:

    But the data says that where alcohol is involved in serious accidents the drivers are usually way over the current limit so logically there is no advantage to having a lower limit if you are concerned primarily with reducing serious accidents.

    So correlation between being unsafe to drive and being near the limit is harder to make because the data are sparse?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    but only inasmuch as it gives someone a very rough idea of how much they can drink without going over 0.08 if they know precisely how much alcohol (as in the actual alcohol content, not including all the water) they are consuming.

    That's usually printed on the label of what they're drinking, in standard drinks.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18968 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to BenWilson,

    Not really. It’s a really crap test, actually, as you say, unscientific. 6 standard glasses of wine would have put the woman on 0.11, well over the limit, just by counting measures, if she was really big, like 110kg. If she was average sized, say 75kg, she’d have been pushing 0.17, as in more than twice the legal limit.

    Another issue is surely the timing of the tests. If you test very shortly after consumption, the alcohol most recently consumed won't have been absorbed into the bloodstream. Subjects could test negative after 5 mins and positive after 30, without drinking any more.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18968 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Subjects could test negative after 5 mins and positive after 30, without drinking any more.

    Indeed, although at the time they tested negative, presumably they were not actually that drunk, so an impairment test might tell you something, if it's a very quick test, or you have the level taken after as well (and then average the two). But it's not the way you'd want to conduct an experiment in which you proved what impairment was like at particular levels, because the level is changing too rapidly. What that one shows is that a readings are inaccurate when you're consuming very rapidly. Which, ironically, shows the importance of drink counting. Drink 10 beers on the trot and blow 0.8, but simple maths (which you'll still be capable of) will tell you that you will be over the limit for somewhere on the order of the next 8 hours. If you're as big as me. If you're smaller, there's a reasonable chance you'll be spending some of it at the A&E getting your stomach pumped.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Edit 0.8 to 0.08 in the previous comment. Blowing 0.8 would be some kind of local record, I'd imagine. Most people would have had their last breath long before.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to BenWilson,

    Edit 0.8 to 0.08 in the previous comment. Blowing 0.8 would be some kind of local record, I’d imagine

    Bugger! I was about to wade in with comments that *even* in the OFR we never managed that…

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    There are two ways to answer that, the first is the one you seem to be arguing, that you should set the limit at the point where people become significantly impaired. The problem I have with that method is it is highly variable from person to person and day to day.

    But that applies to all our road rules. A well trained driver, in a car with excellent anti-lock brakes, good visibility etc has to drive the same speed as someone in a 30 year old clanger where the car struggles through the warrant every six months, at night, and they struggled past their driving test on the third try.

    There's an element of setting the rules for something that is safe for 99.9% of people on the roads, I'm not sure why it should be different for drink driving.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6205 posts Report Reply

  • JackElder,

    Relevant to the original cycling tip, here's an excellent article from a forensic pathologist - and keen cyclist - in Christchurch:

    No amount of gaudy apparel will remedy the failure of drivers to perceive the presence of cyclists, but increasing numbers of participating cyclists, sufficient to make them an ever-present and expected part of road activity, will very likely do so. The marked increase in the prevalence of cyclists on Christchurch roads in the last five years is very encouraging to me because this will increase car driver perception of us all.

    - See Cyclists, Don't Just Look For Them

    The research that he references in the second paragraph is best demonstrated by the following video (a classic in the study of visual awareness):

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 708 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to JackElder,

    Nice one. They should do it with him in a hi-viz vest. Then as a super hot, semi-clad woman.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to JackElder,

    but increasing numbers of participating cyclists, sufficient to make them an ever-present and expected part of road activity, will very likely do so.

    Absolutely! I've never felt in danger cycling in China, even on rural roads, precisely for that reason. Bicycles and tricycles are simply part of the every day traffic mix.

    Remember the opening scene of Heavenly Creatures, that old publicity film of Christchurch in the '50s? It's interesting to see Christchurch portrayed as a city of cyclists thanks to its location on the plain.

    Beijing • Since Jan 2007 • 2152 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to JackElder,

    The research that he references in the second paragraph is best demonstrated by the following video (a classic in the study of visual awareness):

    I saw the original of this at a lecture by Maryanne Garry at a Skeptics conference. Wouldn't want to give it away, but I was really quite interested in what I (correctly) perceived.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18968 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey, in reply to BenWilson,

    Nice one. They should do it with him in a hi-viz vest. Then as a super hot, semi-clad woman.

    And a super hot semi-clad man. I'd totally miss seeing the woman ('what super hot woman??'), but the man would get my attention every time. Every. Time.

    Which is probably why this video works.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 642 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey, in reply to Christopher Dempsey,

    To add; the video works for females in prompting them to think about breast cancer checks.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 642 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I guess some people will welcome Google Glass. Allow continuous review of driving activity and automated revocation of driving privileges. Also, will enable anyone who spends too much time in parties and clubs to be banned from driving. Or who abuses their privileges by attending anti-social events like protest meetings.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4463 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Also, the opportunities to look like Cyclops from the X-Men are endless. The dorkiest X-Man of all, whose fighting gesture is the finger pointed to his goggles.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason, in reply to JackElder,

    The research that he references in the second paragraph is best demonstrated by the following video (a classic in the study of visual awareness):

    It is referred to as Inattention Blindness. There are a whole swag of neat experiments
    demonstrating it. The Bear and the Gorilla are but two of them.

    Martin Sage refers to the "B Column Effect". That is, drivers seeming to just ignore anything they pass once it is past the door pillar by their shoulder.

    The other is the "A Column Effect". The door pillar to the front. I have alluded to that one in earlier posts where it can do a good job of masking cyclists that are on a collision course.

    I have a hypothesis that it is a major contributor to Railway Level Crossing accidents where a regular comment of drivers - those who survive at least - swear they did not see the 500m long train!! The front of the train that invariably they end up hitting is hidden by the A pillar the complete time they are approaching the crossong.

    I suspect - looking at the layout of the crossing - the Wairarapa collision where a 15 year old girl was killed may be a combination of A pillar and low sun right over the train approaching the crossing. The low sun may be obliterating the drivers vision of the train AND being in the blind spot as well. Double whammy.

    The appearance that the driver may not have been intending to stop at the stop sign may enter into the equation as well of course!

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1497 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey, in reply to Ross Mason,

    Guess driving makes one blind.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 642 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    The other blindspot that it's well worth cyclists knowing about is that actual blindspot, which is any area that the driver can't see without turning their head backward. This is actually a very large area behind and diagonally away from the vehicle, but the further forward you are the closer it gets to the car. This can, depending on the angle of their mirrors, be when you are riding right next to their car.

    It is very much worth knowing that car drivers can't magically see everything behind them with their mirrors. That's why driving instruction involves ingraining the head-check on all lane changes and pulling out from curbs. But drivers get lazy on it, so it's important to know the simple way of working it out:

    If you can't see the driver's eyes in their mirrors, they can't see you.

    Whilst a failure to head-check makes the driver culpable, it doesn't make you alive after being hit. Which is why it is suggested in defensive driving courses that you don't plonk your car in this spot and sit on it. Drivers will forget you are there, and change lanes right into you.

    Cyclists unfortunately don't have anywhere near the power of a motor vehicle to alter their location forward, but you can always drop back if you're beside a car. Any time I'm going the same speed as a car (often happens downhill) I'm quite careful not to be next to cars for long periods (ie greater than 5 seconds). Either they pass me, or I drop back a bit.

    Also worth remembering for cyclists: Your own blindspot is HUGE. You don't have any mirrors. This is particularly dangerous, because head-checking causes the bike to turn in that direction. There isn't really any solution to this that I'm aware of, short of mounting mirrors.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Had to laugh at this article. It's a "legal loophole" that you can actually drink and drive? No, it's actually just someone confusing a slogan with the law. The law is not that you can't drink whilst driving, it's that you can't drive whilst over the limit.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

  • ChrisW,

    Attachment

    SH35, Gladstone Rd the main street of Gisborne’s CBD is straight ahead across the elderly bridge, while SH35 itself for heavy traffic turns left. Works End – ah, so that means all is safe hereonafter?

    Gisborne • Since Apr 2009 • 836 posts Report Reply

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