Friday 2 December 2016

Revealed: how we have cut back on deterring drink drivers

Scandal of spending curbs highlighted in new report, as our RSA expert outlines this week

Published 13/07/2016 | 02:30

The number of police officers enforcing traffic laws has dropped in many countries. Photo: Getty Images.
The number of police officers enforcing traffic laws has dropped in many countries. Photo: Getty Images.

A recent report from the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) expresses grave concerns that enforcement levels for all the main road traffic offences have fallen since 2010.

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The report examines how traffic-law enforcement contributes to safer roads across Europe. It reinforces the fact that enforcement is probably the most important element in preventing death and injury. It links the drop-off in policing and a failure to invest in maintaining and upgrading infrastructure as the main reasons for the fall. The authors cite declining numbers in policing manpower as a possible factor in a general reduction in the number speeding tickets being issued and drink driving interventions.

Enforcement and ensuring drivers believe they are likely to be detected and face penalties if they break traffic rules are critical. Simply put, the frequency and likelihood of encountering police checks determines road use behaviour.

But worryingly, the ETSC say in many countries the number of police officers enforcing traffic laws has dropped. This is due to pressure to reduce budgets. Road Safety has dropped right down the list of priorities in the EU.

The ETSC says countries with the poorest results in reducing road deaths are those that have recorded a falloff in enforcement.

Their report shows the annual number of speeding tickets handed out in Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland, have dropped too. These countries would be regarded as the safest in Europe, but have witnessed the biggest slowdowns in reducing deaths.

A similar pattern emerges in the UK and Germany. In the UK, the number of tickets for speeding fell after 2010 following government cuts.

The report looks at the levels of drink driving enforcement across the EU. It found that up to 2pc of kilometres were travelled by drivers with an illegal blood alcohol concentration. But alcohol is probably a factor in 25pc of all road deaths.

Data supplied by European countries to the ETSC shows those who have increased drink driving enforcement have achieved the biggest road safety improvements.

A good example is Poland. It has thrown the kitchen sink at drink driving policing in recent years following a highly publicised drink driving incident in which several died. The crackdown is working. Polish authorities' breath tested 466 people in every 1,000 in 2015. That's almost half the population tested in a single year.

They have prioritised the issue so much that they have managed to reduce the role alcohol plays in fatalities there to 10pc. They have the lowest level of drink driving and highest enforcement.

For comparison the RSA produced a report recently that showed Ireland's level had regressed to almost 40pc. The ETSC report shows the numbers being breath tested here since 2010 has been dropping steadily. Out of the 14 countries providing drink driving stats, we had the second lowest rate of testing.

In 2010 the numbers tested at Mandatory Alcohol Testing (MAT) checkpoints stood at 125 per 1,000 population. Last year that figure dropped to 71 - a 43pc drop between 2010 and 2015.

While it's important to acknowledge that MAT tests are not the only form of testing conducted by the gardai, they do account for the vast majority and it is our main anti-drink driving deterrent.

Extensive research and hard evidence tell us that increased and visible drink-driving enforcement leads to a decrease in alcohol-related trauma.

We also know from the recently published pre-crash report on alcohol, that not wearing a seatbelt is also closely linked to consumption of alcohol by drivers and passengers.

The answer to our drink driving problem is staring us in the face.

Indo Motoring

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