It is, of course, possible to exaggerate the importance of alcohol when discussing road accidents or violent crime. Many road accidents are caused by poor driving, whether caused by ignorance or intent, with everyone involved being perfectly sober. Also relevant are cars, motorbikes and lorries being driven whilst in poor condition with, for example, worn tires or literally-exhausted engines or brakes. Refusal to observe safety precautions, including not wearing a seat belt or a helmet, must also be brought into the equation. Here, in Pattaya, there are far more helmet-less motorbike drivers to be seen in the mornings than in the afternoons. This is because of the perceived reality that the police are not active at breakfast time.
All that said, alcohol is still the culprit in too many cases involving injury and death. When a gang of toughs viciously attacked three British tourists in Hua Hin a couple of months ago, drink was blamed on the fact that extreme violence was used on a very flimsy excuse. The same claim was apparently made by a group of louts who beat to death a man delivering bread and by a tourist who killed a transvestite simply because she had suggested an intimacy which was not to his liking.
Drink is also the excuse in road accidents, although in these cases there may be independent proof such as the results of a breath test or a doctor’s report. But even here, there are pressures to falsify or distort the findings. Recently a 23-year old farang was killed in a motorbike accident when he was driving too fast in the wrong direction on a one way street. The immediate post-mortem examination showed that he had consumed at least 15 bottles of beer before mounting his motorbike, which was far more powerful than any similar machine offered for rent in his European home. Yet the report issued to the insurance company made no mention of alcohol abuse. Why? Presumably because a true finding would have invalidated the policy to cover cremation costs and the cost of a new bike. Hopefully, this kind of malpractice is extremely rare, though it does indicate the sort of pressure a doctor may have to resist.
In other words, booze is still seen by the authorities and many members of the public as an unfortunate and chance contributor to human misery. In the Songkran attack in Hua Hin, four men in their 20s punched and kicked unconscious a British couple in their late 60s as well as their 43-year old son. The police said that the son accidentally bumped into one of the men, leading to an argument. In another incident, a group of six youths allegedly beat up and stabbed to death a handicapped man who had the gall to answer back when taunted by the gang because of his disability. These cases were admittedly extreme examples, but there must be thousands of minor incidents of a similar ilk happening annually throughout the country.
We all know the effects of alcohol which include diminished judgment, a false sense of well-being or even invincibility, a lowering of inhibitions. Amongst a group of drinkers, with peer group pressures playing a large part, including the “one for the road” theme, the influence of drink becomes ever stronger with the result that people are goaded into behavior that they would otherwise shun. Thus, rapists commonly claim that their unwelcome attentions were the consequence of having had one-too-many. Whether judges in court take such defences into consideration is a matter for speculation. One sincerely hopes that they do not.
In Thailand, there has been some restriction on the advertizing of alcohol and, where it is allowed, there are often warnings about the dangers of consuming too much liquor. Brewers prefer this sort of self-censorship rather than being forced to comply with a wide-ranging law. But such warnings are routinely ignored as everybody knows. Add to this the fact that Thailand has just about the highest consumption rate of alcohol in the ASEAN region. On average, Thais drink 7 litres of pure alcohol a year which is the equivalent of 226 bottles of beer or 25 bottles of spirits. Some commentators suggest that these figures from the Centre for Alcohol Studies in Thailand actually understate the real position.
The response of the government has always been, and still is, to pile on all the rules and regulations on the hours and places booze can be sold, on the minimum age limit and on the alcohol content listed on every bottle sold. The current government revived an old martial-law era decision to restrict the sale of booze to a few hours in the afternoon and in the evening. Also, it is technically illegal to purchase a drink between the hours of 2 and 5 pm although it is OK to consume provided the purchase was made before 2 pm. Yet all these rules and regulations can hardly succeed if people continue to believe that being drunk is a fair excuse for all manner of deviant behavior.
When people want to break the law or behave badly, the main hesitation is likely to be whether they will be caught or suffer unwelcome consequences any time soon. Everybody accepts that the police operating roadblocks and using breath tests are a disincentive to drinking and driving. But that is hardly enough. There has to be a sea change in the way people perceive alcohol abuse. When the blood begins to boil, impaired judgment can lead to the most awful consequences.