Drink, drug driving remain deadly problem
by Minh Thi
WELLINGTON (VNS)— Twenty-one-year-old American Hunter Walker had no idea that his life was about to change when he left his house on the morning of August 5, 2005.
He was a passenger in the back seat of a car driven by his friend Thibault.
Together with three others, they were on their way to a music festival in Paris when a car driving in the opposite lane crashed directly into them.
Thibault died instantly while Walker had his leg broken and the other friends suffered minor injuries.
The driver of the car that caused the accident tested positive for drug and alcohol intoxication.
Walker had weeks of treatment before overcoming great difficulty to return to college a month after the crash. He experienced pain in his leg for more than a year and suffered from fatigue, depression and difficulty sleeping as he could not take his mind off the scene of his friend dying right in front of him.
"The greatest impact on Hunter Walker and our family is the emotional trauma and the fact that the other boy died; this will be with us forever," said Martha Walker, Hunter Walker's mother, adding that her entire family had to go through counselling after the accident.
The story of Hunter and Thibault is one of numerous other examples of alcohol-related road accidents found in a World Health Organisation (WHO) publication named Faces Behind the Figures. The document was introduced at the Safety 2012 world conference in Wellington yesterday.
According to WHO, about 20 per cent of fatally injured drivers in high-income countries have an excess of alcohol in their bloodstream, while the figures in low-and middle-income countries may be up to 69 per cent.
A Malaysian study entitled Illicit and Benzodiazepine Drugs among Fatally Injured Drivers in Urban Areas of Kuala Lumpur showed that in 400 serious crashes analysed, 10 per cent of driver fatalities were tested positive for illicit drug use.
The researchers behind this study stressed the importance of focusing on prevention activities related to driving under the influence of illicit drugs, as part of the overall strategy for improving road safety. In Guadalajara in Mexico, a country ranked seventh in the world for road traffic deaths, it is estimated that about 30 per cent of fatalities are related to drink driving, according to 2012 research by Dr Rocio Rojas from the Pan American Health Organisation.
Dr Gordon Smith from the University of Maryland's School of Medicine spoke during the conference yesterday, and said that alcohol abuse also impacts pedestrians. He said that if people got drunk, left their car and resorted to walking instead, that did not mean risks were no longer present.
Experts at Safety 2012 added that more work is required immediately to combat drink driving as measures may take dozens of years to have an effect.
In the United States alcohol-related vehicle crashes have declined in recent years, but driving under the influence of illicit and prescription drugs has become a major safety concern, according to Professor Guohua Li from Columbia University. Li said drug driving was common in the US and attributable to over one-fifth of fatal crashes, an intervention is urgently needed.
According to Li's study on nearly 740 fatal crashes in the continental USA in 2007, participants in nearly 32 per cent of the cases were tested positive for at least one drug.
The 2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use (USA) also revealed that nearly 14 per cent of 6,900 participants randomly selected for drug testing while driving during the same period were tested positive for at least one drug.
Li said risks of accident occurrence could be incurred from not only illicit drugs like narcotics or marijuana, but also from prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
"Sleeping pills and common pain killers and can have some effect on safety as well," she said. Li claimed drug driving was overlooked in many countries and had not received proper attention. — VNS