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Young Impaired Drivers / Young Drunk Drivers and Road Safety

Young Impaired Drivers / Young Drunk Drivers and Road SafetyIntroduction

Impaired driving is one of the biggest, yet preventable risks to road safety! Many countries have for several years launched campaigns to reduce the toll of impaired driving. Focusing on specific high-risk populations is one way to gain a better understanding of impaired driving and design possible strategies for reducing risk.

The recently released Circular, entitled “Young Impaired Drivers: The Nature of the Problem and Possible Solutions” details a comprehensive summary and analysis of the traffic safety risks posed by young, inexperienced drivers impaired by alcohol and other drugs. It also discusses the impaired young driver problem in Canada, Europe, and Australia, which have lower drinking ages as well as other differences in their legal, cultural, and geographic characteristics.

It is interesting to note that recent enforcement campaigns to reduce impaired driving deaths have broadened beyond the enforcement of impaired driving laws alone. For example, vigorous enforcement of speed limits in France appears to have reduced crashes among both impaired and sober drivers. When driving speeds are lower, even impaired drivers are more able to avoid crashes and when crashes do occur they are less likely to involve severe injuries. Enforcement of seat belt use laws also has the potential to reduce impaired driving and alcohol-related deaths and injuries.

We will investigate you this Circular provides important information on the problem of young impaired/drunk drivers and how this could benefit the efforts to make our roads safer in South Africa!

Young Drivers and Safety on the Road

A population group that poses a particularly high risk, as well as unique problems, is our young drivers. High crash risk for young drivers starts at the youngest age when drivers are just learning and extends into the mid-twenties.

Why do they pose a significant risk in traffic?

  • Their inexperience and lack of mature judgment.

  • Impairment results from alcohol and drug use, fatigue and distraction.

  • Distraction as a cause of driving error is typical for novice drivers.

  • Alcohol influences the young driver's performance to a larger extent.

  • Predictable characteristics associated with young driver crashes, including excessive speed, carrying passengers, and not wearing seatbelts.

  • Illicit drug use is on the increase in this age group

  • Members of this age group are also more often affected by the loss of sleep, the task duration and the biological clock (driving during sleeping hours), with all these factors contributing to increased fatigue and increased risk.

  • Most deaths involving unbelted vehicle occupants occur between midnight and 3 AM—also prime time for impaired driving.

  • Teen passengers greatly increase the crash risk of teen drivers – an increase with each additional passenger

  • Young drivers tend to have lower belt use rates.

  • Drinking and associated problems have also trickled down to 15- to 17-year-olds. Several countries in Europe are experiencing serious problems with binge drinking among young people.

The characteristics of crashes involving young drivers differ from those involving older drivers in some important ways. For example, crashes involving alcohol, speeding, and carrying of passengers are about 20 times more likely for teens than for middle-aged adults. Crashes occurring at night and involving both alcohol and passengers are about 9 times more likely.
College students are at particular risk of heavy drinking and serious consequences, including impaired driving. Heavy alcohol use is much more common among college students than among young people of similar age who are not attending college. The military is another population that poses particular problems. Young recruits tend to be risk takers and primarily male.

Also view:

Road Safety and our Students / Young Road Users

Impaired Driving Risks and International Data

  • After the drinking age was changed to21 in the U.S. alcohol-related crashes declined dramatically among drivers under 21.

  • When adjusted for exposure, 21-29-year-old drivers in the U.S. are at highest risk for drinking driver fatalities

  • When drivers drink the risk of crashing is much higher for the younger drivers. For example, at a BAC of .07, the relative risk of crashing is nearly 11 for drivers under 21, that is, 11 times greater than for unimpaired drivers. For drivers over 21 at .07, the relative risk is 2 (that is double the risk of unimpaired drivers). That is, at a BAC of .07 (which is lower than the legal limit of .08 for drivers over 21 in the U.S.), drivers under 21 are more than 5 times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers over 21.

  • In Australia, drivers aged 16–25 years old comprise 16% of all licensed drivers in New South Wales, but these drivers are involved in 31% of fatal road crashes.

  • Moreover, a drunk driver aged 17–25 years is involved in 38% of all fatal crashes where alcohol is involved.

  • In Europe, the drinking age is much lower than in the U.S., with most countries allowing drinking at 18 or even younger for some beverages and in some circumstances. In addition, little emphasis is placed on enforcing the drinking age. 

  • The legal age of driver licensure in Europe tends to be higher than in the U.S.—typically 18. Most European young people have much less access to vehicles even after they are old enough to hold a drivers license.

Uniform statistics from country to country are difficult to find, but it appears that young people are at almost twice the average risk of being killed in a road accident compared to the average member of the respective population across the European Union countries. With the majority of the young people killed being drivers, countries in the EU are beginning to recognize that binge drinking among young people is an increasing problem.

Measures to decrease the threat of drunk driving by young drivers

Reducing substance use is not the only means of targeting substance-involved driving. Interventions could have enhanced effectiveness if they also targeted individual psychosocial and behavioural characteristics, either to alter these behaviours or by tailoring the intervention or program for these characteristics.

There are various strategies that can be used to prevent young impaired driving and the resultant crashes. These strategies include:

  • Long established legal and enforcement approaches 

  • New technologies with the potential to improve traffic safety among young drivers.

  • The dominant strategy for improving the safety of young drivers in many countries around the world has been graduated licensing laws. 

  • These laws provide a staged licensing system by which young and novice drivers are restricted in early stages with regard to how and when and under what circumstances they drive. 

  • In Australia, much success is due to the licensing system for novice drivers. 

  • Australian jurisdictions require the licensing of young drivers at a relatively late age (typically at a minimum age of 17 years old) and impose a number of specific restrictions not commonly seen in graduated driver licensing approaches in other countries.

  • These provisions include relatively long maximum tenure of learner and provisional licenses with the aim of reducing any pressure for novice drivers to progress to later license stages through license expiry; requirements for display of a unique identifying plate on the vehicle driven to indicate license status to other drivers, road users and to police; speed restrictions according to license category; and a zero alcohol requirement. The minimum purchase age for alcohol in Australia is 18.

  • The most prominent strategy for combating impaired driving among all age groups in Australia in recent years has been vigorous enforcement, in particular, random breath testing.

  • Interventions to address drug driving are less common but include the recent introduction of random roadside drug testing.

  • Measures may also include more supervised driving time, start nighttime restrictions earlier in the evening, and reducing the number of passengers allowed.

  • Strategies include stepped up enforcement of laws against sales of alcohol to minors as well as intensive impaired driving enforcement.

  • Enforcement plays a key role in reducing impaired driving among all populations—including young drivers. For example, highly publicized sobriety checkpoints have been found to be very effective in reducing impaired driving crashes. 

  • The primary effects of enforcement come from its ability to deter illegal behaviour rather than to apprehend and punish people who violate the law.

  • Enforcement efforts should be amplified by high visibility and publicity.

European Council’s Perspective

What can we learn from European strategies to address impaired young driving? We will have a brief look at the recommendations by the European Council:

The purpose of a Council recommendation (EC 2001) was to sensitize all levels of society to the dangers of alcohol abuse among young people, including manufacturers and retailers of alcoholic beverages, as well as parents.

The strategies proposed are to:

  • Promote research into all the different aspects of problems associated with alcohol consumption by young people with a view to identifying and evaluating measures to deal with them;

  • Ensure that general health promotion policies targeted at all the groups concerned (children, adolescents, parents, teachers, etc.) should include the alcohol issue;

  • Foster a multi-sectoral approach to educating young people about alcohol involving, as appropriate, the education, health and youth services, law enforcement agencies, nongovernmental organizations, the media, etc.;

  • Encourage the production of advisory materials for children, adolescents and parents;

  • Increase young people's involvement in youth health-related policies and actions;

  • Develop specific initiatives addressed to young people on the dangers of drinking and driving;

  • Take action as a matter of priority against the illegal sale of alcohol to underage consumers.

These strategies could benefit other counties as well and the implementation could save many young lives!

Technology and preventing impaired driving

Much progress has been made in traffic safety through vehicle design and road design as well as through enforcement and education to change driver behaviour. It is possible to use recently developed technologies to make further progress. Some of these technologies are particularly relevant to novice drivers, who may lack skills, and to young drivers, who may lack judgment.

Technology can improve driving performance through three main channels:

  • Forcing, that is, designing systems so that dangerous behaviour is not permitted. For example, including speed governors on cars of young drivers.

  • Feedback, that is, alerting the driver to dangerous behaviour, for example when following too close. Fleet management technology can provide this information.

  • Reporting, that is, alerting parents or other authorities when dangerous driving has occurred.

The most sophisticated fleet management systems recognize who is driving the car (e.g., the teen or his or her parents), have a database that indicates driving context (e.g., the current speed limit), and reports dangerous behaviour to an authority (usually the parents).

A feature that could be valuable would be the ability to prevent the use of cell phones or entertainment systems while the young driver is driving. Other technologies are being applied, usually to young drivers who have already committed offences. These include continuous alcohol monitoring systems to prevent alcohol use and alcohol ignition interlock devices that prevent the driver from starting the car if he/she has used alcohol.

We will also consider a few of the “Responsible Drinking Campaigns” and how this could change driver behaviour and enhance the safety of our young drivers!

[We would like to recognize the authors and contributors of the Circular -  “Young Impaired Drivers: The Nature of the Problem and Possible Solutions”]

Also view:

Precision Safety Appliances 

Alcohol and Accidents 

Alcohol and Legal Implications 

Alcohol Classification 

Breath Measurement 

Brutal Facts 

Clinical Examination 

Confiscation of Vehicles 

Court Procedure 

Drink and Drive Offences 

Drinking after an Accident 

Drinking and Driving Statistics 

How Much is too Much? 

Medical-Legal Facts 

The Blood Test 

The Test/ The Arrest

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