Young people's drinking at crisis levels as problem spills on to roads
We might not like to admit it, but drinking levels by some younger people has reached crisis levels, and the risks are spilling on to our roads.
The Health Research Board (HRB) recently published a report on alcohol consumption. It examined the national patterns and effects, and how drink is impacting on society.
The results are frightening but, if I'm honest, not surprising considering our own recent Pre-Crash Report, which highlighted alcohol as a contributory factor in 38pc of fatal collisions. Of these, 29pc were due to drink driving and the remaining 9pc to drunken pedestrians.
Both reports covered a similar period, from 2008 to 2012 (the HRB to 2013).
The HRB said 69pc of alcohol-related deaths were due to medical causes, 16pc to poisonings and 15pc traumatic causes (such as RTCs). This 15pc may well be an underestimation, because drink driving causes collateral damage, which doesn't get recorded in the report.
It really is a wake-up call. It shows how the new pattern of drinking, particularly among 16- to 34-year-olds, is having a devastating spill-over onto our roads. Not only are they putting themselves at risk, they are increasing the risk to others by driving.
Why am I highlighting this age group? Our analysis of Garda forensic reports tells us that 75pc of the drivers and motorcyclists who had drink taken and caused a fatal collision were aged 16-34.
Parallel to this, the HRB found the highest increase in alcoholic liver disease was among 15- to 34-year-olds. This disease is normally found in older people. We too had thought drink driving was a hangover from the older population.
The greatest shock in our Pre-Crash report was the profile of the predominant age group. It found 15pc were on a learner permit at the time of the crash. What's shocking too was the amount of alcohol in drivers or pedestrians at the time of the crash.
Half of all drivers and motorcyclists were four times over the current legal limit and a fifth were five times over. The main cause of collisions was loss of control. Many were swerving into the grass margins and oversteering to regain control, with disastrous consequences. All these crashes could be classified in three ways:
* Those who had so much alcohol in their system they fell asleep at the wheel;
* The second type drove more aggressively and with more speed, overestimating their ability and underestimating the danger;
* The final group simply drove while drunk for sport at excessive speed, performing road tricks and in some cases continuing to drink with their passengers while they drove.
More than half of the pedestrians killed in our report were on the road with an alcohol level that was four times the legal limit, making them at the least unsteady, but in many cases aggressively interacting with the traffic. Some were lying across the road asleep before being run over.
Almost half of the drivers between 16 and 24, and 57pc of the drivers between 25 and 34, had an alcohol level four times in excess of the limit. Witness statements in forensic reports include admissions by drivers that show alarming patterns of drinking, beginning in the house and continuing into the nightclub or after a party.
The HRB report says it's not just what Irish people drink, but the way they drink that causes harm. Half (50pc) of Irish drinkers consume alcohol in a harmful manner - too much alcohol in one sitting.
Our drivers and pedestrians were clearly binge drinking prior to being killed or killing someone else.
It really is time we all woke up to the fact that alcohol abuse by some of our younger generation has reached crisis levels and is now spilling on to our roads.