WASHINGTON – Malaysia would like to reduce the number of young people killed in drunk driving accidents. The solution may be to increase the number of children wearing helmets.
That's because 58 percent of those who die in accidents involving alcohol are riding on motorcycles,one of the country's most common forms of transportation.
At a transportation conference Wednesday,participants discussed ways to reduce the number of drunk driving accidents in low- and middle-income countries.
Deaths in alcohol-related accidents in Malaysia took second and third places after heart disease from 2000 to 2003,said Nhan T. Tran,a post doctoral fellow at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. Seventy percent of victims of drunk driving accidents in Malaysia are ages 12 to 44.
Drunk driving accidents often push families into poverty when the breadwinner is killed,said Brian A. Jonah,Canada's director of road safety programs. He called it “a needless waste of life and resources.”
Maristela G. Monteiro,regional adviser on alcohol and substance abuse at the Pan American Health Organization,said experts know drunk driving is a problem in many low- and middle-income countries,but many of the countries don't gather statistics,or can't.
In the U.S.,16,885 people died in alcohol-related deaths in 2005,40 percent of all traffic-related deaths,according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the same year,1.4 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
In United States and Canada,people whose blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 are considered drunk,while some developing countries have higher limits.
The result of research in Malaysia is that motorcycle helmets prevent death in about 30 percent of accidents and prevent traumatic brain injury in more than 60 percent.
Malaysia is trying to enforce the helmet law,Tran said,even though wearing helmets is uncomfortable because they are hot and heavy.
A video of a public service announcement played at the conference showed a Malaysian family on motorcycle. The parents wore helmets,but the child did not. At the end of the video,the child was given a gift of a helmet.
Tran said two other things can help decrease traffic injuries. One is lanes for motorcycles with barriers separating them from lanes for cars and trucks. Building such roads is quite expensive,but the benefit of saving lives outweighs the costs,Tran said. A second is reflective vests for riders or yellow signs on the back of motorcycles.
Some developing countries have problems combating drunk driving because of corruption. Drivers give bribes to police officers to avoid arrest or avoid having their drivers' license taken away.
Monteiro said corruption should not be a barrier to stop people from promoting what works because not everyone is corrupt.
Monteiro said research found the problem of drunk driving fatalities varied in the Americas. She said there are three sub regions – some countries,including Nicaragua and Peru,have high mortality levels; others,including,Argentina and Mexico,have low mortality levels; and just three,Canada,Cuba and the U.S.,have very low mortality.
“People who work on traffic safety only think about things on the road or related to the road and not what other brother policies can help them,” she said. “So if governments or different sectors of the governments would work together you can have a better outcome.”
Other steps to reduce drunk driving would be to regulate the price of alcohol,assuming that the more people have to pay,the less they drink,and the lower their risk of having an accident. Restricting the hours of alcohol sales and enforcing laws that say who can buy and sell alcohol drinks would also help.
Defining what is an alcoholic beverage is another idea,Montiero said. In the U.S.,anything containing 5 percent alcohol is considered an alcoholic beverage and subject to restrictions on sales. But in some other countries,such restrictions don't kick in until the drink contains 12 percent alcohol. The definition also affects how taxes are collected.
Jonah said that there is a real need for road safety professionals in countries such as Canada and the U.S. to help out in low- and middle-income countries.
The session was part of the 87th annual meeting of the National Academies' Transportation Research Board and was sponsored by the Alcohol,Other Drugs and Transportation Committee and Transportation in the Developing Countries Committee.