Drink Driving At Christmas - A Paramedic's View

14/12/2016 10:49 GMT | Updated 10/12/2017 10:12 GMT

As a Christmas Day treat for 2015, James Dutschak decided to take his mother Elizabeth to visit family in Newcastle. They never made it.

John Hemming, already banned from the road for a previous drink-driving conviction, lost control of his car at high speed and smashed into their hatchback, causing life-changing injuries to both. The Chronicle reported that James, who suffered a broken back, thigh bone and foot, told Newcastle Crown Court that: "At the age of 19, life-changing circumstances have been brought upon me through a selfish and reckless decision of this individual. I spent two months of my life in hospital after and a further two-and-a-half months recuperating. I have been unable to attend work or education." Elizabeth suffered a broken breastbone and damage to her bowel.

Hemming, who was jailed and banned following the carnage, was just one transgressor at one of the most dangerous times for drink driving of the year.

The warm pubs, the parties, the bottle of wine before going to bed... they all translate to more alcohol, and more peril on our roads at Christmas. According to figures released under the Freedom of Information act in a piece of research commissioned by Jennings Motor Group there is generally a rise in drink-driving of around the festive period.

For example, in South Yorkshire there were a total of 1,099 arrested for drink driving offences between July 2015 and February 2016, an average of 137 per month. In December there were 174 incidents alone. In Wiltshire, where the average number of people arrested in the same time period was 55, in December it was 65.

The damage caused by such incidents might be minimal. It might be death. And the ones who clean up the aftermath are the emergency services, such as paramedic and photographer Chris Porsz.

"I've seen so many incidents over 30 years, both as a hospital porter and paramedic, that I couldn't even count them," said Chris, who lives in Peterborough.

"I was a porter from 1974-86 - there were no breathalysers then, and no seatbelts, so there were more drink drivers and sometimes they, and others, would be badly injured - many of them were innocent victims who paid the price.

"Sometimes six or so people would be lined up and my job would be to sponge down their faces so their wounds could be sutured. We would be taking glass out of their faces and it would leave horrible scarring, It's difficult to imagine how bad it was."

According to research gleaned from a Co-op Insurance survey last year as many as one in five drivers admitted they would likely drink drive over the Christmas period. In research by THINK!, a survey of 800 drivers found that 58% would have four or more drinks on a night out and then drive the following morning.

Chris believes that in some regards drink driving has actually become a more dangerous occurrence throughout the whole day.

He said: "The drinking economy has changed and drink driving has spread out a lot more throughout the night. Where once it would finish at 2am or 3am, now we're regularly called out at 7am.

"I see it all the time, although there is a spike of incidents at Christmas. I went out as a paramedic a couple of years ago to a road in the Fens, on a Christmas Day morning, where there was a car stuck in the ditch. A drunk man climbed out - it was unbelievable, really.

"Another occasion that springs to mind was when we were called to a pub, to a woman who was apparently having an epileptic fit. She was sliding all over the floor and clearly not having a fit at all, but her husband was getting very abusive and demanded that we took her to hospital.

"So we did, and when we arrived her husband approached us - he'd followed us, in his Jaguar, clearly drunk. So I reported him - hopefully he lost his licence."

In North Wales, at least one fatal accident occurred per month between July 2015 and February 2016 where excess alcohol was a factor. In Devon and Cornwall there were 22 serious accidents in that time where a positive breath test was given - four alone in December and another five in August. In Kent, 183 people were arrested in December for drink driving offences - there were only a total of 854 road accidents that month.

Chris also said: "There are so many incidents over the years that I've seen, some of which were truly horrible. Paramedics don't talk about these things very often - but we are the ones who pick up the pieces."