June 4, 2013 by Nash Riggins
Pub Empire JD Wetherspoon has received permission to make history by opening Britain’s first motorway pub. The £2m establishment – which will be built on the M40 – is licensed to serve alcohol between 8am-1am, and will create 50 jobs. Okay, that’s great news for locals amidst the UK’s sluggish economic recovery; yet one can’t help but worry that building a roadside pub may not be a particularly clever idea…
Road safety activists are up in arms about the development, and it’s not hard to see why. Every month in Britain, 23 people are killed and 108 seriously injured by drivers who’ve been drinking. Bearing that in mind, in what world will building a pub on a major motorway help to reduce this unnecessarily large number of fatalities?
Wetherspoons has since responded to criticism by stating that “the majority of people that use the pub to drink will be people that aren’t driving – coach parties or people travelling with others.” Well played – there are indeed a lot of coaches going up and down the M40 filled with tourists and football fans who are in desperate need of a pint. Yet it’s hard to believe coach passengers will be the only ones tempted by the refreshing taste of [insert whatever draft beer is on offer here]. After all, we can argue that the opening of a pub on the M40 is no different than selling alcohol at a roadside corner shop; however, stopping for a nice big pint usually sounds a hell of a lot more enticing in the middle of a long road trip than awkwardly sipping from a can of cheap lager, doesn’t it?
Mere speculation until the pub actually opens. Yet the Wetherspoons spokesperson who announced the development made the potential threat far more viable by conscientiously adding: “We won’t be asking them whether they are driving. It’s up to them.” If that doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of every responsible driver, it’s hard to say what will.
None of us want to live in a nanny state; after all, we’re all grown-ups here. If John Everyman wants to buy a smutty magazine, eat 40,000 calories’ worth of saturated fat and smoke 8 packs of cigarettes at a rest stop – more power to him! It doesn’t hurt me in the slightest; however, alcohol is different.
Half the drivers I’ve encountered on the M40 are horrible at the best of times. Add the temptation of a couple pints (just because it’s there), and what do you think will happen? That their cognitive functions will somehow magically improve? The fact that there are any deaths because of drunk drivers is testament enough that we shouldn’t be increasing the access people have to alcohol right in the middle of a long road journey. If the UK government truly wants to reduce the number of drink-related accidents allowed to occur on its roads, opening a late night bar at a busy service station is not the way to go about doing it.
Last month, the Indian government announced it was forcing 4,500 roadside pubs to move in a bid to curb the country’s huge problem with drunk-driving. In 2011 alone, over 10,000 people died whilst on India’s bar-filled motorways. Good on Mumbai for trying to be proactive in solving this issue – yet funny enough, they’ve decided the best way to keep people from getting killed in drink-fuelled motorway accidents is to remove the temptation of alcohol from the road, full stop. We in the UK (for reasons unknown) have apparently decided to take the complete opposite approach.
Wetherspoons has already hinted that their new pub on the M40 may “be the first of many Wetherspoons on the motorway.” If India’s pub-lined highways and shocking drunk-driving statistics can provide any testimony here, it’s that this could be the first step on a slippery slope. It’s a free country, and people can do what they want to – but if even one innocent driver is killed because Westminster has decided roadside drinking is now okay, that will be on them.