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Britain’s Drink Drive Capital Is a Tiny Town in Wales

I grew up by Llandrindod Wells and it's easy to see why it has a drink driving problem.
November 28, 2014, 12:35pm

The road to  Llandrindod Wells (Photo by ​Andrew Hill)

Yesterday a study was published by MoneySuperMarket announcing the towns with the highest rates of drink driving convictions in the UK. The winner? The sleepy Welsh town of Llandrindod Wells – with a conviction ratio of 1.98 per 1,000 drivers. This might sound low, but compare it to East London, which came in at 0.76 offences per 1,000 drivers.

Llandod (as locals affectionately / lazily name it), is otherwise home to one of the UK's most extensive yearly Victorian Festivals, and was voted the happiest town in Wales back in May this year. So why then, is this pleasant little community so prone to drink driving?

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MoneySuperMarket spokesman Kevin Pratt claims that, "In a rural location such as Llandrindod Wells, it could be the lack of public transport and the misguided belief they [drink drivers] won't get caught. Or maybe motorists are driving the morning after the night before, when they still have excess alcohol in their system."

I grew up not seven miles away from Llandrindod, my Dad taught at the school there, my first proper girlfriend lived there, and really, I'd say that it was all of the above. Most people I knew were getting routinely hammered there from about 14 years old, and many of them were getting served in pubs. Driving home one evening from Llandod, I distinctly remember the only two cops I saw were the ones queuing for a kebab.

As a teenager, Llandod had a sketchy reputation. The flats on the way into the town were affectionately referred to as the "heroin dens". A big event in the local calendar was when people skipped school to see Phil Mitchell re-open ( re-open!) the Kwik-Save.

I spent many evenings listening to local bands thrash out heavy metal and scream underneath hotels – in fact, I opened for many of those gigs. You haven't really understood shame until you've been playing an acoustic cover of The Killers to placate stoned, pallid-faced Goths with a guitar that is insufferably out of tune.

Small towns aren't like the rest of the country – with a lack of anything to entertain you, they can be bleak places to live. They operate in these strange micro-communities, far enough removed from urban culture that they can sort of exist on their own terms. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but growing up there you do sort of feel like you're hiding in plain sight.

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Public transport is rubbish in mid-Wales, and I'd imagine it's the same in other rural communities up and down the country. Today there's a bus between Builth – where I lived – and Llandrindod, which runs roughly ​once every two hours until 6 PM. If you don't drive, that's a bit like having a curfew, and as a teenager that makes you want to rebel.

Rural communities aren't hives of antisocial behaviour for the sake of it. More often than not they're just hives of boredom, kids who get to a certain age and just can't get out, or don't know how. Who start drinking, because it's easy, and who learn to drive, because there's no other way to go to the big cities to see what else is on offer. You can see how that Venn diagram will shape itself after a while.

It's no surprise that the city coming out smelling of roses in this study is London, where night buses are prevalent, congestion charges are enforced and driving is, in short, a fucking nightmare. Looking down the list of shamed cities the bias is towards more rural communities – Kirkcaldy, Shrewsbury, Crewe, Inverness – where policing is less strict and there's little on offer other than going down the pub.

A government ​report on drink driving in Wales shows that, last year, around one in four motor vehicle drivers killed in traffic collisions were over the drink-drive limit. Obviously something needs to be done. Better public transport links and something for young people other than getting hammered would be a good start.

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​drinkaware.co.uk

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