Across Europe, about 50 people each year per million population are killed in road traffic and about five times as many are seriously injured, consumption of alcohol is high by global standards, and a widely quoted estimate is that about a quarter of the road deaths are related to drink driving. The more than half a century since evidence from the USA made it irrefutable that drink driving increases the number of road deaths has been a time of growing cohesion among many European countries. So it is interesting to look back on how efforts to manage drink driving have evolved across Europe, take stock of what has been achieved and consider what more might be done. The aim of this commentary is to do just that in respect of legislation, regulation, public information, enforcement, and dealing with convicted drink driving offenders. Drink driving is as much an issue for public health as for traffic law, and so work by health professionals in addressing social, behavioural and medical challenges related to drink driving warrants a counterpart commentary.
In contributing to worldwide efforts to reduce the burden upon individuals and society of premature death and life-changing injury on the roads, our concerns about driver behaviour are often focused upon just how drivers are dealing with the risks that they are encountering minute by minute as they drive. However, when we address the issues of drink driving and other kinds of drug driving our concern about driver behaviour extends backwards in time for some hours, and in the case of heavy drinking many hours, before the driver has taken to the road. In this extended concern we face the challenge of a conflict in terms of road safety between two deep-seated sources of satisfaction and risk in modern life: driving motor vehicles and consuming alcohol or other recreational drugs.
This commentary by Professor Richard Allsop is based substantially on the author’s involvement in addressing this challenge, beginning with his role in interpreting the game-changing data from the USA in 1964–1965 and continuing until his sharing in pan-European work on drink driving in this century through the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC). It builds upon the European Transport Safety Lecture he gave in October 2016, which is accessible online as part of a videorecording of an event but has not previously appeared in print or as a Powerpoint presentation. The commentary provides only selected references, but readers who seek more comprehensive coverage of the literature can find it in the reports cited from the ETSC over the last decade drawing upon widespread European expertise including that of the author.