The number of drink-drive fatalities in the UK may have reached its highest level since 2009, according to a new report published today. However, the overall impact of drink-drive accidents continues to decline.
The Department for Transport has published its provisional estimates for 2017, based on 28% of coroners’ and procurators’ reports on road accidents where at least one driver (not necessary the driver at fault) was over the blood alcohol limit.
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The provisional figures give an estimated range of between 240 and 330 people being killed in drink-drive accidents on Britain’s roads in 2017. The final figure for 2017 is expected to be published in August, which will be based on about 60-70% of all accidents (toxicology data is never available for all drivers/riders) and will narrow this down to an exact number.
The DfT is careful to point out that this increase is “not statistically significant” because it still falls within the expected range for annual fatalities, so the increase in numbers doesn’t necessarily mean that there are more people in the UK choosing to drink and drive.
Inevitably, there are other factors (weather conditions, etc) that can affect the numbers, and there is always the element of chance that can push numbers up or down each year. In addition, the number of cars on the roads is increasing each year.
If the final figure ends up at the mid-point of the estimated range, which would be 290 fatalities, it will be the highest figure since 2009.
Results show no great behavioural shifts in the last 30 years
If we look at the percentage of all road fatalities that involve drink-driving (again, not necessarily the driver at fault), then it makes up about 16% of all road deaths. Again, this is up over the previous two years but still within the expected range.
The prevalence of drink-driving in road deaths has averaged around 15% since the late 1980s, with up to 4% variation either way.
An estimated 8,660 people were killed or injured in drink-drive crashes, down 4% on the previous year. This still represents about 5% of all road accident casualties, which is pretty much the average figure for the last 30 years.
Lack of improvement is disappointing
Inevitably, any increase in the number of fatalities in drink-drive accidents will trigger strident responses from road safety groups, even though the data falls within expected ranges.
We would all like to see the number of people killed or injured as a result of drink-driving reduce, but the data shows that things have been fairly consistent for a long time.
Interestingly, research published by the University of Glasgow before Christmas found that the reduced drink-drive limits in Scotland do not appear to have resulted in any reduction in drink-driving accidents or the numbers killed or injured in drink-drive accidents. However, it does appear to have led to a small reduction in overall alcohol consumption from trade venues.
Scotland reduced its blood alcohol limit for all drivers from 80mg of alcohol per 100mL of blood to 50mg per 100mL back in 2014. England and Wales remain at 80mg/100mL, which is one of the highest limits in the world and quite out of step with most other civilised societies.
Quote from road safety groups
RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “This is a serious cause for alarm and reflects a worrying change in attitude by a number of drivers who are prepared to risk their own life and that of others by drinking and driving.
“Anyone who has lost a loved one in a drink-driving accident will testify to how devastating and needless this is. With the reduced number of roads policing officers, it appears more drivers are thinking they can get away with drinking and driving.”
Josh Harris, director of campaigns at road safety charity Brake, said: “Our current drink-drive limit gives a false impression that it is acceptable to mix alcohol and driving, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Even very small amounts of alcohol dramatically affect your ability to drive safely. Decisive action is needed to end this blight on our roads and prevent the needless loss of life. Brake is calling for the Government to implement an effective zero-tolerance drink-drive limit, making clear to drivers that not a drop of alcohol is safe.”
Hunter Abbott, managing director of UK breathalyser company AlcoSense, said: “With fewer numbers and stretched resources, the police can only do so much. Combined with the highest drink drive limit in the developed world, it’s proved to be a lethal mixture.
A DfT spokesman said: “Drink-driving is absolutely deplorable, and those who do it not only put their own lives at risk but other people’s too.
“The Government is working with industry to develop new roadside breath tests, meaning drink-drivers do not have the chance to sober up before being tested, while the THINK! Mates Matter campaign had the biggest impact in young drivers’ attitudes to drink-driving in a decade.
“We are also looking at how to make our roads safer as part of our upcoming road safety action plan.”