The sign above, which features script that translates as “Attention: Drunks,” was briefly part of a safety initiative in the Romanian town of Pecica. The mayor was concerned that too many of inebriated pedestrians were getting mowed down by cars, and so sought to duplicate a series of warning signs that he had once encountered in Germany. All was going well until the international media caught wind of the story, and made the program out to be ridiculous. The poor mayor was forced to relent.
That’s a pity, because despite the humor of the signs’ graphic, the issue is a serious one—particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, where alcohol consumption is high and traffic safety a low priority. According to this 2009 study, for example, 36 percent of pedestrian deaths in Slovenia involve people with blood-alcohol levels in excess of 0.20. (The figure in the U.S. is closer to 25 percent.)
Banning drunken walking is obviously not feasible, so what is to be done? This fact sheet notes that most deaths occur not when drinkers are returning home from bars, but rather when folks partying at home decide to make a midnight trek to the store for beer or cigarettes. We must therefore decide what is more important to our society: the 24-hour availability of intoxicants, or several hundred (or even thousand) human lives per year.
We don’t mean to be flippant about that choice. We are obviously not in favor of anyone getting hurt—every death is a tragedy. But it is inevitable that some of our societal choices will lead to harm for those who choose to act irresponsibly. Coming to terms with that fact would greatly help our body politic make wiser decisions; in the absence of that revelation, emotion too often sways us toward the greater of two evils.
(h/t Erik Ness)