People learning not to drive

20:58, Dec 18 2012

Liz McElhinney is in for a big Christmas Eve behind the bar at Paddy Barry's in Scott Street.

Liz and her husband Paul are the publicans and as well as keeping up with the orders they'll be keeping an eye on their guests, especially when it comes to drink-driving.

"You can really tell when someone has had too much and shouldn't be driving - they'll have slurred speech and be talking too much or talking rudely. You'll see them wobble a bit when they're waiting at the bar," says Liz.

"In those circumstances we say to them, ‘how about we give you some water and you take a break for a while?' Quite often that's all people need, just to slow down a bit. Water is the best - it's free, there's plenty of it and it stops the dehydration.

"And I suggest to people who've been drinking for a while to have something to eat - we serve large platters that soak up the alcohol.

"If we refuse someone service at the bar chances are they might get angry, we try and be discreet as we don't want to ruin their night.


"It's better if friends look out for each other and can say to a mate ‘you've had too much'."

Liz says attitudes to drink driving have changed over the years. "People don't like the shame or the real possibility of jeopardising their job.

"There is a greater awareness, especially around Christmas when there is a lot more policing for drink driving.

"The police are pretty good at monitoring for drink drivers, they do a circuit through the car park and around town so if anyone thinks they can get away with it they're kidding themselves. They're playing Russian roulette."

Most adults can have two small drinks over the course of a few hours and be within the limit but there are a lot of variables in how it affects you.

It depends on your body size, how fast you drink, what you've eaten throughout the day, your mood and how much sleep you've had.

Instead of risking getting caught, more people are leaving their car at home and making alternative arrangements, says Liz.

"If people have driven to town, I'll often see a few cars left in our carpark from the night before. So that shows people are learning," says Liz.

"It really pays to make a plan at the start of the night about how you're going to get home. Have a sober driver in your group, or get a taxi. Blenheim is only a small place, a taxi fare is minimal compared to the damage you could do to yourself and to other people."

But Liz warns that taxis are busy at this time of year and people need to be a bit patient.

It's Liz's job to be a responsible host but her experience could also apply to those throwing their own Christmas Eve parties. Serve plenty of food and have jugs of water placed around the room. Music is good - it gets people up dancing rather than drinking all the time. Organise a fun activity like mini golf to help break up the evening for the same reason.

Liz also suggests having a time limit. "It's imposed on us by our licence but if you're throwing your own party it's fine to say, ‘OK, that's it'. "


More than 40 per cent of drink-driving crashes involve drivers under the age of 24 years.

There is a zero alcohol limit for drivers under-20 – you must not drive if you have had any alcohol.

The alcohol/breath limit for drivers over 20 is 400mcg.

Penalties for first offenders is up to three months in prison, a fine of up to $4500 and disqualification from driving for six months or more. 

The Marlborough Express