Charlotte de Vreeze-Nauta questions why driving under the influence remains such a serious issue in Luxembourg.
When we had just moved to Luxembourg, we had people over for dinner. Both drank wine. Plenty of it.
It wasn't until dessert that I had the courage – remember, new country, making new friends, not passing on judgement to potential friends – to inquire after their 'drinking arrangement'. Surely, they were to take a taxi back home and pick up their car the next day?
They laughed. That was not their plan at all. They called us Luxembourg virgins and informed us of the local way, which apparently meant to drink and drive. I went to bed very uncomfortably, feeling guilty that my husband and I had continued to serve them wine against our better judgement, and desperately hoping that they made it home safe. Thankfully they did.
However, I remember being shocked and disgusted. After all, it's not just one's own life that is being endangered. Drunken drivers also risk the lives of others. Unfortunately, my husband and I know too many examples of deaths of friends or their children, caused by this lethal combination. And I fear that most people do.
It is for that reason that I am really embarrassed to admit that I sometimes, not often, but still, realize that I have become too adapted to the local way. I will never drink more than three glasses if I need to drive, but even three can be too much.
And I was reminded about that this week, as it was a headline of a news item published by this website last Tuesday. The article mentioned that in 70% of all traffic accidents in Luxembourg, alcohol plays a role.
70%! In Netherlands alcohol 'only' plays a role in 1 in 5 (so 20%) accidents, according to Bob's government campaign website. That is a shockingly big difference. According to Bob's website in Belgium, in 2021, alcohol was the culprit in 1 in 9 road accidents. You may jump up and shout that it was a Covid year and, as a result, there was less traffic, but it doesn't matter, as in the few years before that, this number was about the same.
Who is this Bob that I am referring to?
Well, about 25 years ago, the Dutch government started a huge campaign, 'Bob', to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving. The campaign was financed by European money and had started, one or two years prior, in Belgium. Bob was the designated driver who stayed strictly alcohol free.
The campaign showed TV-commercials, large posters, advertisements, etc. There were even key chains in big, yellow, rubbery letters. We were bombarded with Bob, he was everywhere. Intelligently positioned in these campaigns as the hero who made sure that his or her friends, and of course, Bob him/or herself, would get home safely, by not drinking alcohol.
Bob has morphed into the name of every Dutch designated driver. To this day, when Dutch people go out, they ask each other who is going to be the Bob. Or they have dinner with friends, and when the wine is poured, they say: 'No thank you, none for me, I am Bob tonight'.
What Bob is to the Belgians and Dutch, Raoul is to the Luxembourgers. Apparently, Raoul has been around since 2001. Raoul is our local alcohol-free designated driver.
But if we have Raoul, how is it possible that the number of accidents in which alcohol was involved is so much higher than in Belgium and the Netherlands where they have Bob?
Well, the reason that Bob became so successful was not just the omnipresence of Bob. Yes, the campaigns were strong, never before had we been so informed about the dangers of drinking and driving, or had such awareness been created. But a part of the success of the campaign was due to a few repetitions, during the campaign, of large-scale alcohol checks by the police.
After all, rules are nothing if they are not enforced.
It was the combination of the well-timed roll-out of the campaign and extra large-scale alcohol checks by the police that made Bob the most famous advertisement character for our northern neighbours.
However, in the almost 13 years of living in Luxembourg, I have never been stopped for an alcohol check. In fact, in all these years, I've only seen an alcohol check twice. Twice! And weirdly, both were on the wrong side of the road: going into the city centre, instead of the outbound side of the road.
No wonder that the percentage of accidents in which alcohol plays a role is so high! I realize we have more problems in this country, pertaining to the need for more police officers. I am sure that if you have drug dealers on your doorstep or a man with a knife in front of you in the tram, alcohol checks are of a lesser priority. But isn't it about time that this issue is dealt with?
Recently, we had a Dutch couple over that has just moved to Luxembourg. As we started pouring the glasses, they looked at each other and made their 'drinking arrangement': they both joined for a glass of crémant, but that would be it for one of them. It was the wife who offered to be Bob. She stuck with water for the rest of the evening and made sure that they got home safely afterwards.
My husband and I looked at each other, pleasantly surprised as we hadn't heard that sort of agreement being made for a long time. It actually woke us up a bit and made us realize that we had become a tad sloppy in this area.
So, we are back to our own ways when it comes to drinking and driving which means that we are back to some serious Bobbing.