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Sunday, 30 September 2012





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Dangers of drunken driving highlighted

Newspaper reports recently indicated that the Police intend to get tough with drunken drivers. The Police Media Unit said the Police have arrested and fined 1,056 persons for driving under the influence of liquor, within a week. Police records also indicated that 12 grave road accidents have occurred during the past two weeks due to drunken driving. These statistics indicate the gravity of the problem we face.

A result of drunken driving

Every single injury and death caused by drunk driving is totally preventable. Unfortunately, in spite of great work done by the police, alcohol-impaired driving still remains a serious national problem in Sri Lanka, tragically affecting many victims annually.

To safely drive a vehicle, an individual must be alert and have quick reaction times. The more alcohol a person consumes, the harder it becomes for him/her to drive in a proper and safe manner. Many studies have determined that human performance skills, including driving, begin to decline at Blood Alcohol Concentrations (BAC) above zero. The greater the level of impairment, the more likely an individual would be involved in a collision. This is called relative risk - essentially, as a driverís BAC increases, the risk of collision also increases.

A US study conducted in Long Beach, California and Fort Lauderdale, Florida revealed that a notable relationship between risk and BAC begins at .04-.05 and increases exponentially once the BAC reaches .10. This means that driving with even a legal amount of alcohol in oneís system greatly increases the risk of collision.

Every drink that a person consumes slows his reaction time which can also be hindered by the other effects of consumption such as blurred vision and drowsiness. Essentially, a person who is impaired has a greater likelihood of being involved in a crash than someone who is sober.


Alcohol is known to enhance drowsiness. More importantly, the use of alcohol can aggravate the performance deficits associated with drowsiness, creating a level of risk greater than either factor alone. Low doses of alcohol relax the drinker by slowing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.

With larger doses, alcohol can further slow reactions and diminish oneís ability to perform tasks such as driving. When paired with inadequate sleep, alcohol can become a very potent sedative and increase an individualís risk of crashing. Therefore, drivers under the influence of alcohol are prone to accidents due to fatigued driving because alcohol has sedating effects that, when combined with fatigue or drowsiness, can exacerbate performance deficits.

It is more dangerous for youth to drink and drive for several reasons. First, young drivers have less driving experience and therefore, a lower skill level. Young drivers have been a significant road safety concern in Sri Lanka for decades. Research has consistently shown that these drivers have crash rates that are higher than those of older and more experienced drivers. Second, youth also have less experience in consuming alcohol and are frequently unfamiliar with the impact it can have on motor coordination and divided attention tasks such as those relevant to driving. It is not uncommon for youth to engage in unsafe drinking practices such as binge drinking.

Driving after consuming alcohol, a strict no-no

Those with a tendency to binge drink and/or drink heavily also tend to be risk takers. This behaviour is often considered an age-related factor in crashes as youthful exuberance, risk-taking, and thrill-seeking are all attributes that make this population more susceptible to the impairing effects of alcohol.

The earlier youth start drinking, the more likely they are to drink heavily on a frequent basis and they are also more likely to report alcohol-related harm.The use of substances, such as alcohol, at a young age is also identified as a precursor to involvement in illegal activity such as impaired driving. There is no single solution to the impaired driving problem that will address the many types of offenders in need of intervention. Impaired drivers are a heterogeneous group with different levels of risk and need. Some offenders are low risk and may only require a fine and/or driverís licence suspension. Other offenders may pose a much higher risk and will need probation supervision and means that a variety of programs and policies are needed to effectively address the many different types of offenders.


Drunken driving, like most other social problems, resists simple solutions. However, there are a number of actions, each of which can contribute toward a reduction of the problem:

*Getting drunk drivers off the road and keeping them off the road makes communities safer. A key goal of the justice system is to prevent the repeated criminal behaviour, including drunken driving. This can subsequently save lives. To achieve this, there must be recognition that both short-term and long-term goals are important. It is first and foremost critical to get impaired drivers off the road using consistent, effective enforcement strategies.

This can be accomplished by training law enforcement officials to recognise the signs that drivers are impaired and providing them with appropriate tools and training to remove these drivers from the roads.

To prevent repeat offences, a comprehensive strategy that includes education efforts, licence suspension, screening/assessment for problems with alcohol, adequate monitoring and supervision, and possibly treatment should be used. A balance between assessment, rehabilitation and supervision can ensure the strategic use of resources and encourage behaviour change to prevent offenders from returning to the road as impaired drivers in the future.

*Meaningful and appropriate supervision is needed to ensure offenders do not slip through the cracks. Once impaired drivers have been convicted, it is important to have proper monitoring mechanisms in place that provide adequate levels of supervision according to the risk posed by the offender.

A lack of follow-up to ensure penalties are served and conditions are followed is essential to reduce impaired driving. Money invested in enforcement, prosecution, conviction, and sanctioning by the justice system is wasted if offenders are not supervised and evade sanctions designed to protect the public and change behaviour.

A police officer conducts a breathing test

For example, offenders may not comply with licence restrictions, treatment requirements, or participate in alcohol educational programs as required due to gaps in information-sharing and a lack of coordination. Improved communication among all involved parties - the courts, law enforcement and treatment institutes - is necessary to streamline the process of monitoring impaired driving offenders.


For offenders identified as presenting a high risk for re-offence, referrals can be made for appropriate treatment interventions. Detoxification is the first step towards overcoming physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. After detoxification, other levels and intensity of care can be assigned.

Treatment can be delivered on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Those offenders who have severe dependency issues are more likely to be referred to inpatient programs either in hospitals or in non- hospital residential care. The majority of offenders, however, are likely to benefit from outpatient services.

Progress in reducing impaired driving may not be immediately evident. However, this does not mean that gains are not being achieved. The impact takes time to show as the effects of policies and programs developed four to five years ago are only beginning to be felt.

Frustration should not occur if measurable change does not happen within a short time-frame. The focus should always remain on preventing and reducing impaired driving and keeping this long-term focus is necessary when seeking to implement new programs and policies. Revenue generation is not the purpose of impaired driving enforcement. Funding to support the consistent enforcement of impaired driving and other traffic laws may incorrectly be perceived as a strategy to generate revenue for jurisdiction or communities. However, the main goal of these enforcement strategies is to protect the public.



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