Almost one-third of road deaths involve a driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 per cent or higher.
In the United States alone, more than 10,000 people died in 2009 in crashes involving at least one driver with a BAC over 0.08 per cent – illegal in every state. The average BAC among those drivers was 0.18 per cent.
Drunk driving is one of the most common crimes in the United States. More than 1.4 million arrests were made for driving under the influence in 2009. Studies have shown that the levels of enforcement are so low that offenders can drive between 200 and 2,000 times before being apprehended.
A recent report by Canada’s Traffic Injury Research Foundation shows that licence suspension is a limited solution because 25 to 75 per cent of those suspended continue to drive. Similarly, conviction or probation do not have the desired effect as 17 per cent of the 4.2 million American offenders on probation drive. As many as 75 per cent of repeat offenders are diagnosed as alcohol dependent or abusers.
The TIRF report, Effective Strategies to Reduce Drunk Driving, is based on discussions during the most recent annual meeting of the Working on DWI System Improvements working group held in Ottawa back in May. The group includes representatives of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, American Judges Association, American Judges Association, National Association of State Judicial Educators, National Center for State Courts, National Criminal Justice Association, American Probation and Parole Association, National Association for Drug Court Professionals and various others from the correction field as well as prosecutors and district attorneys.
The report, made possible with funding from Anheuser-Busch, includes sections on alcohol monitoring, screening, assessment and treatment, DWI (driving while impaired or intoxicated) courts, community supervision, traffic safety resources and impaired driving data system.
TIRF says continued attention to the problem is necessary, that solutions are available to prevent or reduce drunk driving. It says not all drunk drivers are the same and different approaches are required.
It separates first-time and repeat offenders, suggesting that screening and assessment could be used to determine which drivers will need enhanced supervision or treatment and which can be addressed through lower levels of intervention.
TIRF estimates that 30 per cent of first offenders become repeat offenders with a criminal record who drive drunk frequently with high BACs. TIRF says these offenders are more difficult to deal with, requiring a special strategy “anchored in a combination of punishment, surveillance and treatment.”
The report says youth present a distinct problem because of their inexperience with both drinking and driving and the fact they are more easily impaired. It sees stronger graduated licensing programs as a partial solution.
Females are a third group identified in the study. It says that while men make up the vast majority of drunk drivers, females are gaining ground. The number of women arrested for impaired driving increased 35 per cent between 1999 and 2008, while the number of males arrested dropped by 6.6 per cent. The number of women involved in fatal crashes rose 13.5 per cent in that same period while the number of men declined.
Because of metabolic differences, women have an initial BAC greater than men when the same amount of alcohol has been consumed.
TIRF says there are a number of proven interventions that can be used to address the problem, particularly that of repeat offenders and high BAC. They are:
-Interlocks that prevent a driver from starting a vehicle if their BAC is above a preset limit.
-Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (CAM) devices – ankle bracelets that continuously monitor and measure alcohol consumption.
Screening, assessment and treatment
-Screening and assessment are two different processes that can determine who is in need of treatment. That treatment can be tailored to the individual. TIRF says there are medications available that can be used to treat alcohol dependence.
Established in 1964, Ottawa-based Traffic Injury Research Foundation is an independent, charitable road safety institute. TIRF is recognized internationally for identifying causes and developing effective policies and programs to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries
Halifax-based Richard Russell runs a driving school.