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
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
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
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.