Derby’s decision on Wednesday to terminate the contract of Richard Keogh has caused much debate and consternation amongst football fans. Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett, who are in their 20s and now convicted drunk drivers, are back playing for Derby, and Keogh who is in his 30s and out injured until about December 2020, is now unemployed for being their drunk passenger.
It would be interesting if Derby County exercised a zero tolerance to drink driving and terminated the contract of all three players. But all the discussion around the double standards over Lawrence and Bennett being in Derby squad while Keogh is out of contract glosses over an important point: unfortunately Keogh brought all of this upon himself when he stepped into that car. His decision to step into that car means he is unable to fulfil the terms of his contract for at least 15 months. It must be an absolutely despairing time for him and his family but he has responsibility in the situation as well.
Balls.ie spoke to two road safety campaigners about the role of passengers in drink-driving incidents.
Noel Gibbons, road safety officer with Mayo County Council, said the following:
"I suppose it happens too often that people step into cars where someone is drunk driving. The only fortunate part [here ]is that there was no fatalities. My own view is that if Richard Keogh could turn back time, he’d make a different decision. It’s a huge price he’s paying in relation to his career, his reputation and his name as well. His career is, I suppose, tarnished, and his reputation is as well.
"It’s not any easier for him that there were no fatalities. It’s a huge price he’s paying, there are many young footballers in Ireland that look up to him, and that’s why this has to be more crystal clear. When you have the following of young people, that decision [to travel with a drink driver] is going to be looked at by young people, and young people will now see what can happen.
"When you’re a passenger, you’re putting your life in their hands and they’re not capable of handling their own lives in a safe way. We’ve all made wrong decisions and this is the price he has to pay for his wrong decision."
Rodney Kumar, spokesman for IAM RoadSmart, said: “Drivers and passengers carry as much responsibility as each other when it comes to drink-driving. A driver should never consider driving over the limit – let alone taking passengers with them. Equally passengers should not set foot in a vehicle with someone they know or suspect to be over the limit, and should persuade that person to give up their car keys.
“What makes this case worse is that professional sportsmen are role models to young people, and drink-driving cannot be seen as behaviour that should be copied. This could easily have led to a tragedy, either to anybody with the misfortune to be on the road at the same time, or to the occupants of the car. As such, it is inevitable and appropriate that this has had a knock-on effect to their careers.”