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Priorities for Reducing Alcohol-Impaired Driving in the General Population

Research Priorities Related to Technologies for the Reduction of Impaired Driving

Study the development and implementation of technologies to reduce impaired driving and related crashes.

Problem: New technologies have the potential to reduce the possibility of driving while impaired, as well as to improve the safety of vehicles even when the driver is impaired. Current efforts are ongoing to develop in-vehicle passive alcohol sensors that could prevent driving while impaired. Other vehicle technologies can monitor and limit aggravating and distracting factors such as speeding or utilizing entertainment or communication features in vehicles.

Objective: Overcoming the technological challenges in order to perfect these devices for widespread use is crucial. In addition, public acceptance of the use of the technologies will be necessary, including the implications of emerging technologies on civil liberties.

Study ways of increasing the implementation of proven strategies to reduce impaired driving.

Problem: Some strategies that have considerable evidence of effectiveness are not widely implemented. For example, sobriety checkpoints can significantly reduce impaired driving and crashes but in many jurisdictions are used infrequently if at all.

Objective: Identify effective ways of disseminating information to the general public and to policy-makers about proven strategies. Identifying the barriers to implementing effective strategies and ways of overcoming these barriers in a range of jurisdictions could greatly enhance safety.

Research Priorities related to the Epidemiology of Alcohol-Impaired Driving

Study global trends in alcohol-related crashes and fatalities.

Problem: Drinking and driving is a worldwide concern. Over the past 30 years, alcohol-related crashes decreased in many countries or jurisdictions. In many countries, this decrease has been followed by a lack of further progress. Different countries have different cultural, economic, and demographic conditions and have emphasized different strategies to prevent impaired driving. Better understanding of the trends in countries around the world can enhance our ability to make further progress. These cross-country comparisons would be aided by a harmonization of data collection and reporting

Objective: This research should use multivariate statistical methods to estimate the effects of different countermeasures (including legislation), as well as broader social and economic influences, and begin to understand why similar countermeasures have different effects in different jurisdictions. Ample data are available for this research; however, the comparability of data across jurisdictions sometimes poses problems.

A possible strategy to overcome this limitation is to develop and establish universal harmonizing guidelines that cover different types of measures. Inexpensive (but not very accurate) as well as more expensive (but accurate) measuring protocols could be established for countries to adopt according to their financial constraints. For instance, universal guidance and protocols could be established for police officers to detect and record impairment even without the help of a breathalyzer. At the same time, efforts should be pursued to encourage all countries with enough financial resources to collect and record objective measures of impairment on all sort of drivers (e.g., BAC test results on all fatally injured drivers). This strategy should on one hand, help to harmonize the non-measured estimation of impairment in all countries, providing comparable data across countries; while on the other hand encouraging the harmonization of more sophisticated data among those countries that can afford their collection.

Study the interactions of legal levels of alcohol use with fatigue and with other legal and illegal drugs.

Problem: The research base informing established BAC limits is very powerful. However, very little is known about the crash risks associated with lower BAC levels in combination with (1) the increasing use of legal drugs such as psychotropic medications; (2) fatigue, both of which are known to impair driving/riding; and (3) illicit drugs. With drug testing becoming standard practice, it should be possible to explore these issues more systematically than in the past.

Objective: To establish an evidence base to inform public education and policy and to begin to move towards community understanding and personal monitoring of fitness to drive.

Research Questions related to Policies and Programs to Reduce Alcohol-Impaired Driving

Study the effectiveness of alcohol control strategies, including taxes.

Problem: Research has clearly shown that alcohol control strategies can be effective in reducing impaired driving as well as other alcohol related problems, such as violence and non-traffic accidental injuries. Alcohol sales and access are controlled in many different ways. Each state in the U.S. has an alcohol control agency whose powers and practices vary widely. Taxes or other price controls imposed at the federal or state level have potential to reduce alcohol consumption and related problems. Community alcohol control activities include zoning restrictions on alcohol outlets, alcohol sales licenses, dram shop and keg registration laws, and compliance operations to prevent sales to minors. There is substantial opposition to any alcohol control activities, so good research is essential to determine the most effective strategies and to persuade policy makers to adopt them.

Objective: This research should build on existing results to investigate the effects of different alcohol control strategies and determine how each strategy is best administered and enforced. Studies of the barriers to implementation and how these barriers can be overcome should also be carried out.

Study the feasibility and potential effects of lowering the illegal BAC limit to .05.

Problem: The evidence is strong that reducing the illegal BAC limit from .10 to .08, and from .08 to .05 reduced impaired-driving fatalities in countries around the world. There is every reason to expect a further reduction in alcohol-related fatalities should the US lower the BAC limit to the level established in Australia, New Zealand, and many countries in Europe.

Objective: Research on the effects of lowering the BAC limit to .05 in other countries, as well as on the barriers that such a change would confront, could help to bring the US more in line with most of the rest of the world with respect to alcohol limits.