Driving under the influence: A disaster waiting to happen
As the festival season is upon us, many festivities are fuelled by alcohol-induced jubilation. Social drinking is an accepted norm in many cultures, but at the same time alcohol dependency, addiction, and alcohol-induced societal problems are on the rise. Many communities are struggling to find a solution to alcohol-induced behaviors such as driving and related accidents, deaths, and destructions.
Years ago, I used to hear the expression ‘one for the road' quite frequently. Those were the heydays of hard drinking without considering its consequences. There was a blind eye towards personal responsibilities as the laws were loosely defined and erratically enforced. Society has been on a constant change since then.
Many of the old norms have given way to new ones to include newfound wisdom on the demerits of alcoholism and its dangers. Thanks to the governments, educators, non-profit organizations, businesses, and media to get the word out on the impairments of alcohol.
Thus, a new generation with a new mindset evolved realizing the hazards of drinking and driving. There has been a steady decline in drunken driving incidents for many years.
However, it looks like that mindset is losing its grip. Complacency and apathy are clouding our attitude towards drinking and driving, especially among the millennials. After a lull in drinking and driving road accident rates, suddenly the rate across the globe started scaling up.
Recent reports and surveys show a return to the ‘Old Wild West’ mentality especially among young drivers: aggressive, arrogant, with an “I don’t care” attitude. With their fancy cars, and an invincible mentality they participate in reckless driving, road rage, and drunk driving. Now, authorities are pondering other ways to get the anti-drunk driving message across the young drivers.
Every day, there are news items listing drunken driving accidents, and deaths in the media. Every one of them is sad, disturbing, and fails our rational thinking. A few recent ones linger on with vivid details.
Like any other family, this young couple was on the way to buy their dream home. But, fate took a different turn, their car was hit by an impaired driver killing the young mother, and seriously injuring the child.
In another tragic incident, the 29-year old young man from a very wealthy family was charged with a dozen impaired driving offenses for a car crash that killed three young children, and their grandfather. The young man was driving drunk as his car broadsided the minivan after running a stop sign.
Many lives lost: young, promising, and old. Parents lost the love and affection of young ones; a child lost the tender loving care of the mother. Then there are others on both sides that are left in utter distress.
Many lives changed forever at that moment. It is difficult to comprehend all the complications tragedies like these bring about; tragedies caused by a fleeting moment of stupidity.
As in many other jurisdictions, drinking and driving are a criminal offense in Canada. The set thresholds such as age, the blood alcohol level of the driver, etc. vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction so does the application of the laws and the penalties.
In spite of greater awareness campaigns by police and other organizations on the effects of alcohol and other drugs, and in spite of harsher penalties the carnage on the roadways stays high. Punishments are good deterrents, but they work only to a certain extent. Punishments are good, but that alone will not attack this social evil.
The WHO's Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018 found, “the number of road traffic deaths continues to climb, reaching 1.35 million in 2016’. Again the report reiterates the fact that ‘93% of the world's fatalities on the roads occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately 60% of the world's vehicles’. Traffic accidents affect young and old alike. Among children and young adults, road traffic accidents are the leading cause of injuries and fatalities.
According to Government of India reports, in 2017 there were about 4,64,910 road accidents that killed 1,47,913 and injured 4,70,975. Alcohol and other drugs (legal and illegal) are involved in a fair amount of the crashes.
The statistics are shocking: the net effects are unnecessary loss of lives, and injuries, and property damages. They also contribute to high insurance, healthcare and rehabilitation costs. A 2018 UN report states that the road traffic accidents cost countries across the globe up to 5% of their GDP.
We, as a society, are still struggling with drinking and driving and driving under the influence of other drugs. Despite all the publicity, awareness campaigns, early education, laws, enforcement, and other efforts to combat drinking and driving, people still drive drunk and get into accidents, maim, kill, and destroy innocent lives.
Drunk drivers create insurmountable agony, not only to others but also to their own families. Not only they create pain and suffering they also create a financial burden to individuals, corporations, and governments.
Require new Proactive Approach
According to published reports, without proper action plans, road traffic accidents will be the 7th leading cause of death in the world by 2030. In 2010 United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution "Improving global road safety". It consists of a list of activities to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries.
The main categories incorporated into the call of action are: ‘building road safety management capacity; improving the safety of road infrastructure and broader transport networks; further developing the safety of vehicles; enhancing the behaviour of road users; and improving post-crash response’. Furthermore, UN is asking member states ‘to adopt legislation on key risk factors, including speeding, and drinking and driving’.
New strategies are needed to combat impaired driving, which remains the top criminal cause of death in many nations. An ongoing dialogue in every country on the detrimental effects of driving under the influence is a step in the right direction.
A punishment and reward system: a system restricting drinking and driving while rewarding good driving habits is another good option. With the advent of new technologies, it is possible to have proactive deterrent mechanisms (such as alcohol-sensing ignition interlock system) on all vehicles.
Suffice to say, a new holistic approach is required to bring forth a brand new mindset in people that include continuous education, awareness building, penalties, enforcement, and other legal deterrents.
As alcoholism is an illness, the dialogue needs to address recovery and rehabilitation as well. Thus, a multi-pronged approach is a better option to reduce impaired driving everywhere.