Before I delve into this post, I want to pop in a little disclaimer. I’m not bashing drinking in any way – Sambuca and I go together like milk and cookies. But I’m also not bashing the sponsors or the social activities that come with alcohol. I am, of course, a student and won’t hide the fact that socially drinking is about 40/50% of what I do in a year. No, really…
The aim of this is to change the perception of how people are reacting to the open letter to Jean Todt from Eurocare’s secretary Mariann Skar. She argues that alcohol and driving should not be mixed, which is a fair point considering that on average, 3,000 people are killed or seriously injured each year because of drink-driving collisions.
To say “it’s just an advertisement” is not only hypocritical (with the ban of cigarette branding) but it’s also naïve. Do I think a logo encourages people to go out and specifically buy that drink? Yes. A sense of nostalgia and thinking I was a Bond girl made me to go and get some Martini. Do I think a logo encourages people to go out and specifically buy that drink and then drive after it? No.
But the fact is, people do. People think that because they’ve only had one or two drinks, they’re fine. There’s a reason several countries have now inflicted the zero tolerance rule. It’s because no matter how little you think you have had and no matter how much of a good driver you assume you are; alcohol changes the blood level in your brain making your reaction times a lot slower, your balance shifts and your judgement is impaired. If drink can give you the confidence to chat up someone in a bar, it can very easily manipulate the way you drive. Just one sip will linger in your body for two hours.
Ask yourself this; would you trust someone driving if they had previously had a drink that night? If the answer is yes, I think you’re mad. If your answer is no, why would you drive yourself if you have had a drink?
This is coming from someone who has had to deal with an alcoholic parent for the last six or seven years. It’s not as clear-cut as just ‘drink driving’. It’s not just the mad-men that you see on Road Wars on a crap Saturday night. It’s failure to stop when someone is walking over a zebra crossing because they were too slow to see them. It’s the not stepping hard enough on the brake pedal because they are substantially weaker. It’s the weaving across the road because their brain can’t focus on the lane that they are in. Lines are jagged, things appear closer or further away, colours merge together and so on.
Have you had to be driven somewhere by someone either severely hungover or still drunk from the night before? Maybe you have. But what about when said person has been drinking all day from the moment they got up? Perhaps not. It’s scary. You are literally a passenger with no control. Which is why I hate flying so much. But with a drunk driver, you can see how slow they are to react to a red light, to speeding up or down, to changing gears. And if they encounter a round-about; well that’s almost as hard as if they were taking an exam.
Alcohol alters your reaction time. It slows everything down. It doesn’t matter if you are a good person, it doesn’t matter if you are a great driver. You could hurt someone. You could hurt yourself. Your friend could be hurt. Your family could be hurt. The next time you’ve had one too many and you start slurring your words and laughing at your total mess, imagine yourself driving a car. Because that’s the sort of lunacy that people do. It doesn’t damage just one person, it damages their friends and family too. Imagine the guilt of the person, who for that split-second, thought they’d be able to drive home without any problems.
By association, F1 is almost endorsing the association of alcohol and driving. Whether you admit it or not. Why would Heineken for example, pay out £150 million for it to not make an impression?
They are not forcing a drink down your throat, nor are they telling you to drink drive. But advertising alcohol whilst ‘Bernie says think before you drive’ is total hypocrisy. And actually, someone who is about to even consider driving after a drink clearly cannot think at all, let alone drive. If you don’t endorse drink driving, why allow the main factor to be showcased so much? If it’s just ‘drink driving’ perhaps you should go and say that to the hundreds of families who have lost loved ones because someone thought it would be a good idea to just ‘drink drive.’
Please stop referring to it as “just a logo” or “only idiots drink drive.” Because whilst both are true statements, it’s so much more than that. It isn’t just a thought for some people. It’s a moment of misjudgement. It’s a spur of the moment idea to get home. At that moment, the last thing they think about is other people or the chaos they might cause. All it can take is to accidentally run a red light. But when alcohol is involved, there are no accidents. There’s just the consequences of what a misjudgement can do.
It may be my bias and because of my experiences. But to me, alcohol branding in F1 is so much worse than that of cigarette. What’s just a logo to you, is an idea to someone else. In hindsight we’d all say it’s stupid, but for the wrong person at that one moment it’s a somewhat unconscious decision. Alcohol controls the way you think, the way you speak, the way you act. It will dictate the way you drive. Don’t assume otherwise. To associate smoking with athletes was wrong, but to associate drinking with the pinnacle of motorsport is stupidity.