A few suggestions on driving emerged from the Safer Journeys first actions paper. While some are controversial – such as raising the minimum age to 16 from 15 – others, like better training for motorcyclists and longer supervised driving periods are good. If we think of being an expert driver is completing the 10,000 hours of doing the task – a theory that Malcolm Gladwell popularised in the book Outliers – then the more time on the road the better.
I take issue with one of the proposals though, and that’s drink-driving.
This chart below, via Offsetting Behaviour, and the Law Commission report, shows the effect of blood alcohol leel on the relative risk of fatal crash. The proposal is to both lower the limit to 0.05 (though it’s a soft proposal) and to have zero tolerance for those under 20.
The point of the chart is twofold – that older drivers are less likely to have a fatal crash, and that alcohol increases the odds of all drivers having a fatal accident. This is probably not the point the Law Commission were seeking to make – they are trying to say that older people can have a higher tolerance of alcohol than the young and still drive. That may be true – but not for tolerance reasons.
The more interesting chart for me is this one, which shows that the absolute number of people dying from alcohol infused crashes in each age range is about the same. There is a little drop off through the years, but we can put that down to other factors – such as experience, how often people are driving, when and why people are driving.
Experience: Older people will reach and exceed the 10,000 hours limit – especially professional drivers. This gives them lot more road sense and instinctive ability to survive than someone that is just starting out.
How people are driving: Being young comes with its hormones and angst – and driving is a new experience that creates a real rush. So of course younger males, in particular, are going to want to test the limits – of themselves, of their screaming friends and of their vehicle. Meanwhile those 30-50 year olds are slowed down by the kids in the back, by a history of near misses and by a sensibility that comes with being older.
When and why people are driving: Older people are more likely to be racking up their miles by commuting – a pretty safe endeavor with low average speeds and a higher likelihood of any accident being non-fatal. Younger folk are more likely to be exploring, driving at night and driving on rural roads that they are not familiar with.
Between those three, and adding our incredibly dangerous (yet fun and beautiful) roads, it’s shocking that the chart isn’t skewed even more to the young. Perhaps it is sending a different message – perhaps we have a different problem?
Regardless – my question is why we tolerate any alcohol at all – for any age. People are dying as a result of drink driving and if the first chart is true and increasing alcohol from 0.00 increases risk, then why not stop it altogether?
It would be a lot easier to implement in practice: If you are driving then don’t drink.
It’s a lot easier for yourself, friends and establishments to police – if you drink then you are over the limit.
It’s harder to determine your BAC in the morning after, but if you are drinking that much the night before then the combination of alcohol and tiredness means that I really don’t want to share the road with you.
This is a system that already works – and works well – in heavy industry across the world. If some of the best minds on safety are mandating zero tolerance for any alcohol at, say, Rio Tinto or BHP Billiton, then why do we accept less on our roads?
One thing that many plants do is allow staff and contractors to test themselves before going on site. We can do the same with driving – either by having interlocks, or by making sure we have a cheap but reliable enough breath tester in the home.
But ultimately if we need to test ourselves before we drive, then there are greater problems to be dealt with – and a zero tolerance driving regieme will help peoole face up to those issues.
It’s not a popular cause. People like to think they can have a beer and safely drive home. But why not?