Tackle drinking and driving at global level

There has been much progress in reducing drinking and driving in industrialised countries over the past 30 years. However, while drinking and driving continues to be a source of concern in developed countries, it is an even greater concern in developing countries.

This is not only because alcohol-related crashes have significant social and economic costs, but because they often result in the death or serious injury of breadwinners such that families are no longer able to pay for essentials and are forced into poverty.

It has been a challenge to measure the magnitude and characteristics of the problem in developing countries due to lack of data. Among those countries that do collect data, data is often incomplete, and it can be difficult to make comparisons due to varying definitions and terminologies used to describe alcohol involvement in road crashes. In addition, there are often inconsistent or non-existent data linkages between different systems (eg: police, health and transportation), resulting in an incomplete picture of the problem.

There are some common barriers in developing countries that make it challenging to address the drinking and driving issue. As noted, in many countries the magnitude and characteristics of the problem are not well understood. Without this critical data, it can be difficult to generate political support for legislative and policy changes that are much needed. For example, in some developing countries drunk driving laws are rarely comprehensive or backed up by much needed enforcement that can create general deterrent effects.

Public awareness

Without data it can also be difficult to demonstrate the need for increased enforcement or public awareness campaigns. Countries that have managed to put in place drunk driving legislation may still suffer from lack of training initiatives for safety professionals, resources for equipment or the implementation of road safety strategies. A key challenge noted with regard to the implementation of solutions is that institutional frameworks may be poorly developed or lack sufficient resources in many countries to be effective.

However, there appears to be growing awareness of, and concern about, impaired driving in developing countries, particularly in response to global efforts. Important priorities include the improvement of data collection strategies, the setting of legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits, and public education initiatives.

According to a comprehensive road safety manual on drinking and driving from the Global Road Safety Partnership (2007), countries are taking action. Surveillance systems to monitor alcohol involvement in all crashes are present to varying extents in Thailand; Bangalore, India; Colombia; and in Sunsai and Dharari, Nepal.

In the United States, brewers have supported independent, landmark research initiatives that provide important insight into priority problems in the justice system and have supported the development of practical solutions. In Europe, Australia, and other parts of the world, brewers have promoted public awareness campaigns and responsible drinking initiatives, and have supported enhanced legislation, enforcement measures, and evidence-based programmes.

There are also a number of ways in which governments in industrialised countries and other stakeholders can assist their counterparts in the developing world. Knowledge transfer initiatives are paramount to success and there is much that can be learned from the more than 40 years of alcohol research that has been conducted in industrialised countries. In particular, knowledge with regard to the effects of impairment — even at low levels of alcohol — and the relative risk of crashes can help form the basis to guide legislative and policy change as well as public education efforts.

Governments and other stakeholders are also well positioned to inform the development of data surveillance systems to measure and monitor impaired driving, to assist in the development and implementation of tailored interventions, and to support the development of evaluation methods for these interventions.

Of greatest importance, immense efforts are needed to support the development of transportation professionals and road safety researchers in developing countries to ensure that they can build local capacity to sustain strategies aimed at reducing impaired driving. It should also be underscored that developing countries must be supported in the development and application of interventions that are evidence-based, culturally appropriate and have been piloted in a local environment to ensure success.

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