2 Dec 2016

Laws needed to protect drunk pedestrians on roads: study

The Pedestrian Council of Australia run an active
education campaign for drunk pedestrian safety.
by Anne Crawford

Trauma researchers at The Alfred Hospital and Monash University have recommended improving public education campaigns and introducing new legislation after a study showed that almost one in four pedestrians seriously injured on the roads was intoxicated.

The study collected data on all patients presenting to an adult major trauma centre in Victoria from July 2009 to June 2014 who were involved in a road traffic crash as a non-motorised road user. This included pedestrians, cyclists, scooter users, skateboarders and horse riders. Intoxication was defined as a blood alcohol concentration of ≥0.05 grams per 100 millilitres.

It found that of the 1323 patients included for analysis, 211 were intoxicated. Among the   pedestrians, 161 or 24.7% were intoxicated while 47 (7.3%) cyclists were drunk. Intoxicated patients were significantly younger, more likely to be male and to present to the trauma centre after hours and on public holidays. However, the study noted that these figures were likely to be an underestimate because of the lack of routine testing. Recreational drug users were not taken into account.

The persistently high proportion of intoxicated patients noted over the five years of the study suggested that the effectiveness of preventive strategies targeted at non-motorised road users was poor, it said.

In 2006, the Victorian Road Safety Committee recommended; mandating alcohol testing of injured pedestrians to help regulate unsafe behaviour, evaluating and expanding alcohol awareness programs, and enforcing laws acting on illegal pedestrian behaviours. Of the recommendations, only measures to increase public awareness and safety were introduced.

The study concludes that preventive measures to target non-motorised road users and regulate unsafe behaviour of drunk individuals should include legislation directed at blood-alcohol testing and that the introduction of penalties should be considered to improve safety of all road users.

Professor Peter Cameron, Academic Director of the Alfred’s Emergency and Trauma Centre, one of the study’s authors, said that while campaigns such as those labelling drunk drivers ‘bloody  idiots’ had helped reduce the road toll that mortality and morbidity from crashes involving non-motorised road users has remained persistently high and was on the rise as a percentage of injuries.

“We’ve made a big impact in terms of motor vehicle collisions and need to reduce harm to pedestrians too,” Professor Cameron said.

There were several possibilities for legislation, he said.

“You could make it an offence to be intoxicated on a public roadway or make being intoxicated have an impact on your medical insurance,” he said. “Even just by measuring blood alcohol levels, people know they are going to be monitored and that could make a difference to their behaviour,” he said. Barriers separating pedestrians and roadways outside hotels and venues where people drink could be mandated.

“I guess the more important thing is a public education campaign saying that if you’re intoxicated you should stay away from roads,” he said.

Information gained in the study will be sent to the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) and other relevant groups.

The researchers were from the Emergency and Trauma Centre and the National Trauma Research Institute at The Alfred Hospital, and Monash University Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine.

Mitra B, Charters KE, Spencer JC, Fitzgerald MC, Cameron PA. Alcohol intoxication in non-motorised road trauma. Emerg Med Australas. 2016 Oct 4. doi: 10.1111/1742-6723.12682. [Epub ahead of print]

See also 2 Dec 2016 The Age story

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