Alcohol-crash link clear - AA

Association says better enforcement and education is needed to deal with the problem

Alcohol and traffic crashes are clearly linked. The Automobile Association (AA) said that there could be no doubt over the increase in risk as a result of alcohol, and drivers should ensure they are sober before taking to the roads.

"It is still common to hear drivers claim they are safe to drive after drinking," the AA commented.

 "One often hears comments like 'I've only had a few', or 'I'm a cautious driver'. However, research shows that although alcohol tolerance may vary from person to person, even small amounts can affect a driver's ability to deal with traffic."

 The AA was involved in ground-breaking research conducted in 1992 by traffic criminologist, Dr Lawrence Barit. Barit investigated the driving ability of dozens of participants against control groups by means of numerous wet and dry driving tests designed by the AA's driver training arm. 

Each participant's blood alcohol concentration was measured regularly as the day progressed and they became more intoxicated. One group of participants deliberately stayed awake for 24 hours before the tests, so that the dual impacts of fatigue and alcohol consumption could be investigated.

 The results were clear: the performance of the non-drinkers gradually improved as they repeated the driving tests. The drinkers got progressively worse until some had to be physically restrained from driving the test vehicles due to the danger they posed.

 "Reduction in driving ability as intoxication increases is not the only danger on the roads, the AA commented.

 "At very high blood alcohol concentrations, loss of consciousness can occur, making crashes almost inevitable among very heavily intoxicated drivers," the Association said.

 An accident victim who is under the influence also presents a challenge to medical staff at the crash scene, complicating treatment. The effects of alcohol may mask symptoms or interfere with the individual's ability to communicate or cooperate with medical staff. Alcohol may also interact unfavourably with medications needed to treat an accident victim.

 "It is a concern to the AA that research continues to reveal very high levels of alcohol and road use despite increased public awareness of the dangers. By comparison, the United Kingdom has low levels of drinking and driving even though most parts of the UK have a higher legal blood alcohol limit than South Africa," the Association commented. 

"This suggests that the solution does not lie with further regulation, but with enforcement and education. We call on the government to redouble its efforts in these areas to protect innocent road users from becoming the victims of drunk drivers."

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