Drink-driving kills. Don’t be a killer

By Kidong Park   May 20, 2019 | 11:03 pm PT
Drink-driving comes at a high price. It is leaving affected families and communities devastated – which outweighs its economic blows. 
Kidong Park, WHO

Kidong Park, WHO

A few weeks ago, one of our colleagues in U.N. lost two of her precious friends in a fatal accident along Kim Lien Underpass in Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi. They were riding a motorcycle around midnight of the first of May when a white car crashed into them. Both victims were only 43. The 39-year-old car driver was reportedly drunk.

In 2018, more than 23,000 Vietnamese people died or were injured due to road traffic accidents. Of these, we estimated that at least 6,500 were caused by drink-driving. All road traffic accidents can be prevented and should be prevented. Ultimately, road traffic accidents by drink-driving can be prevented and must be prevented.

Operating vehicles after consuming alcohol is a dangerous behavior and a serious risk factor for road safety. Alcohol impairs the judgment capabilities of drivers. As the alcohol intoxication increases, the vision, as well as reflexes of drivers decrease. A case-control study calculated that motorcyclists with blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of over 50 mg/dL, equivalent to two glasses of bia hoi consumption, had crash risk up to 40 times compared to not having alcohol at all. BAC of 50 mg/dL for motorcyclists and 0 mg/dL for car drivers are the legal limits set by the law in Vietnam. You will lose your driving license when you violate this provision.

Unfortunately, many Vietnamese people still drive car or motorbike after drinking. Another study conducted in 2009 in Vietnam revealed that almost 30 percent of motorcycle drivers involved in crashes had BAC above the legal limit. A more shocking result was that more than 60 percent of car drivers involved in road crashes had BAC above the legal limit.

The enforcement of road safety law prohibiting drink driving should be further strengthened. WHO recommends governments to set a low or zero BAC level for young, novice drivers, including those of commercial vehicles. At the operational level, the experience of other countries where sobriety check points are set up as an enforcement program has shown effectiveness in deterring drink-driving. The policies will need to be supported by sustained public education campaigns and consistent enforcement programs by relevant authorities. WHO, together with other partners, have been providing technical assistance to Vietnam in enhancing public awareness campaigns, as well as developing appropriate policies for enforcement.

Furthermore, the sharp increasing pattern of alcohol consumption in Vietnam should be stopped. During the last 10 years, the average pure alcohol consumption has doubled – from 3.8 liters in 2005 to 8.3 liters in 2016. Vietnam’s average pure alcohol consumption is 30 percent higher than the global average of 6.4 liters. The amount of 8.3 liters of pure alcohol consumption means a Vietnamese adult drinks 15 glasses of bia hoi every week.

More people are drinking alcohol. A survey reported that the number of adults using alcohol in a span of 30 days had increased from 37 percent in 2010 to 45 percent in 2015 – for males: from 70 percent in 2010 to 80 percent in 2015; for females: from 5.6 percent in 2010 to 11 percent to 2015. Worse, findings revealed that more people are engaged in heavy episodic drinking – more than six glasses of bia hoi at a single occasion. In the same way, the number of male adults engaged in heavy episodic drinking had almost doubled – from 25 percent in 2010 to 44 percent in 2015.

A police officer performs a breath alcohol test on a driver in Hanoi, May 15, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh

A police officer performs a breath alcohol test on a driver in Hanoi, May 15, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh

To systematically address the harmful use of alcohol as well as the drink-driving problem in Vietnam, WHO recommends three cost-effective interventions, as follows: Reduce affordability of beer and alcohol by increasing excise taxes on alcoholic beverage; Reduce young people’s exposure to alcohol products through restrictions on alcohol advertising across multiple types of media; Reduce physical availability of alcohol by introducing limitation of alcohol sale permission time, location and age.

A draft law on the prevention and control of alcohol-related harms has been developed by the Ministry of Health, with support from WHO. It covers various effective measures for the prevention of harmful use of alcohol, including WHO’s three recommended best buys. It is scheduled to be presented to the National Assembly for approval during May and June sessions of this year. WHO is expecting the National Assembly to approve this draft law.

Drink driving kills. We have witnessed how it orphans children, devastates parents and leave friends in grief. The daily news of lives lost and injuries caused by road traffic crashes reminds us that it is high time that we put emphasis to addressing this issue. For the government, implement the relevant laws, while continuing to update them where appropriate. For the public, cooperate by following the laws, and urge everyone to do the same. Don’t drink and drive. Act and speak up for your right to safer roads. Save lives.

*Dr. Kidong Park is the WHO Representative in Vietnam.

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