Drunk driving accidents: low alcohol limits do not work

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Study in The Lancet shows lowering alcohol limits for driving don’t reduce road traffic accidents

Reducing the blood alcohol concentration limit for driving is not associated with a reduction in road traffic accidents.

These are the findings of an observational study published in The Lancet comparing road traffic accident rates in Scotland and in England and Wales before and after the new limit was introduced.

The reduced limit was introduced in Scotland on 5 December 2014. The researchers found that whilst there was substantial initial Scottish Government investment in materials and campaigns to build public awareness of the limit change, this was not maintained in 2015 and 2016.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is a major risk factor for road traffic accidents, and a dose-response relation is observed between blood alcohol concentration and accidents.

The study measured rates of all road traffic accidents, not just alcohol-related accidents.

“Our negative findings for road traffic accidents are unexpected given that previous evidence generally demonstrates a reduction in accidents after reducing blood alcohol limits for drivers. The most plausible explanation of our finding is that the new blood alcohol limit was insufficiently enforced, publicised, or both,” says Professor Jim Lewsey, University of Glasgow, UK.

He adds: “Previous research supports an association between increased enforcement and decreased road traffic accidents. To properly enforce drink-drive legislation, frequent and systematic random breath testing, public education, publicity, and awareness campaigns are needed.”

Road traffic accidents are a major public health problem, with 1.25 million road traffic deaths globally in 2013.

In the UK, there have been large reductions in road traffic accidents over recent decades. However, there were still 170,993 casualties from road traffic accidents reported in 2017. In 2016 in the UK, there were at least 6,070 road traffic accidents involving a driver who had been drinking.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is a major risk factor for road traffic accidents, and a dose-response relation is observed between blood alcohol concentration and accidents.