Charity calls for urgent government action to stem huge rise in drink drive deaths

26 September 2013

Brake, the road safety charity
news@brake.org.uk 

Brake, the road safety charity, is calling for urgent government action to tackle devastating drink drive casualties, as government statistics out today reveal a 17% increase in drink drive deaths in Britain.

In 2012, 280 people were killed (one in six road deaths) and 1,210 were seriously injured in crashes involving someone over the limit, compared to 240 killed and 1,270 seriously injured in 2011. Preventing these deaths and serious injuries would save many families from horrendous, needless suffering, and save the economy £709 million each year. See the report.

While governments in Northern Ireland and Scotland are making moves to tackle drink driving through committing to reduce their drink drive limits, decision-makers in Westminster rejected recommendations for a lower limit in the North Report into drink and drug driving and Transport Select Committee inquiry into the issue. England and Wales now have the highest drink drive limit in Europe, alongside Malta. Evidence is clear that lowering drink drive limits results in fewer casualties [1], even reducing the severity of drink driving among high-end offenders [2].

The charity is calling for:

  • a zero tolerance drink drive limit, of 20mg alcohol per 100ml blood, in line with evidence that even one drink dramatically increases crash risk [3] and to send a clear message it should be none for the road. A blood alcohol level of 20-50mg increases your likelihood of crashing three-fold [4].
  • greater priority and funding for traffic policing, to enable increased numbers of specialist roads police, and increased breath-testing. International evidence shows greater enforcement helps to reduce devastating crashes [5].

Read about Brake's Not a drop, not a drag campaign.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, the road safety charity, said: "We have the highest drink-drive limit in Europe, and it sends out the dreadful message that a drink or two before driving is acceptable. Every other country in Europe bar one has decided a lower limit is safer, yet our government rejected strong recommendations for a tougher approach. We are appealing to Westminster to review that decision in light of today's figures showing a horrifying increase in people being violently killed at the hands of drink drivers. These deaths are cruel and needless, ending lives too soon and leaving behind traumatised and broken families to pick up the pieces. The evidence shows that tougher laws and greater enforcement would help prevent these casualties: we need the government to act urgently upon this."

Facts
One in six deaths on UK roads are caused by drink drivers over the current legal limit [6], but drivers with even 20-50mg alcohol per 100ml of blood are at least three times more likely to die in a crash than those with no alcohol in their blood [7]. This is because even small amounts of alcohol affect drivers' reaction times, judgment and co-ordination. Alcohol also makes it impossible for drivers to assess their own impairment because it creates a false sense of confidence and means drivers are more inclined to take risks and believe they are in control when they are not [8].

Advice
Brake calls on drivers to never drive after drinking any amount of alcohol – not a drop – and appeals to everyone to look out for friends and family by speaking out against drink driving.

There are plenty of alternatives to driving if you want to have a drink. Plan ahead for how you will get home by walking (if there's a safe route), taking public transport or booking a taxi. If you need to drive then decide on a designated driver who doesn't drink any alcohol at all, and make sure they stick to this.

Driving after drinking alcohol significantly increases your risk of crashing, potentially killing or injuring yourself, you passengers or someone else. Even if you feel sober after one drink, your reaction times will have slowed and your crash risk increased [9].

Don't drink if you are driving early the next morning. There's no way of knowing exactly how long it takes to sober up completely after drinking, but it's longer than many people think. As a rough guide you should allow at least one hour to absorb alcohol, plus at least one hour for each unit consumed – but it could take longer, so you should always leave extra time to be safe. If you've had a lot to drink you may be impaired for all of the following day.

Brake is calling on members of the public to play their part in making roads safer by signing Brake's Pledge at www.brake.org.uk/pledge, to make a personal commitment to use roads safely and sustainably, and help reduce the lives lost needlessly on our roads.

Brake
Brake is an independent road safety charity. Brake exists to stop the five deaths and 63 serious injuries that happen on UK roads every day and to care for families bereaved and seriously injured in road crashes. Brake runs awareness-raising campaigns, community education programmes, events such as Road Safety Week (18-24 November 2013), and a Fleet Safety Forum, providing advice to companies. Brake's support division cares for road crash victims through a helpline and other services.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

End notes:
[1] Research by Sheffield University, which examined casualty trends in England and Wales against the success of lowering the limit in other European Countries and Australia, estimated that lowering the limit to 50mg would save in the region of 77-168 deaths each year in England and Wales alone. (R Rafia, A Brennan, Modelling methods to estimate the potential impact of lowering the blood alcohol concentration limit from 80 mg/100 ml to 50 mg/100 ml in England and Wales, Report to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), University of Sheffield, 2010). Brake believes lowering the limit to 20mg is likely prevent even more deaths, given evidence showing the detrimental effects on driving of 20-50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. When Sweden lowered its drink-drive limit from 50mg to 20mg per 100ml of blood, drink-drive deaths fell by 10%. (The Globe 2003 issue 2, Institute of Alcohol Studies, 2003).
[2] Brooks C, Zaal D, Effects of a reduced alcohol limit for driving, Australia: Federal Office of Road Safety , 1993
[3] The relationship between serious injury and blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in fatal motor vehicle accidents: BAC = 0.01% is associated with significantly more dangerous accidents than BAC = 0.00%, University of California at San Diego, 2011
[4] National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, 2010. Review of effectiveness of laws limiting blood alcohol concentration levels to reduce alcohol-related road injuries and deaths, London: National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence
[5] Traffic Law Enforcement across the EU: Tackling the Three Main Killers on Europe's Roads, European Transport Safety Council, 2011
[6] Reported road casualties Great Britain annual report 2012, Department for Transport, 2013
[7] National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, 2010. Review of effectiveness of laws limiting blood alcohol concentration levels to reduce alcohol-related road injuries and deaths, London: National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence
[8] ibid
[9] The relationship between serious injury and blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in fatal motor vehicle accidents: BAC = 0.01% is associated with significantly more dangerous accidents than BAC = 0.00%, University of California at San Diego, 2011