Christmas Drink Driving - how times have changed!

Christmas Drink Driving campaigns by central government, local and police authorities and road safety pressure groups have become as much a part of the festivities as Santa Claus and Christmas Trees. Over the past three decades, the success of turning drink driving into something that's socially unacceptable has led to thousands of lives being saved. And thousands of Christmasses remaining happy.

Death, injuries and the law in the UK

For 2008, the latest year for which statistics are available, deaths resulting from drink drive accidents rose by 5% to 430 when compared to 2007. Numbers of the seriously injured decreased by 7% to 1,630, while the slightly injured fell by 7% to 10,970. Yet overall drink driving accidents fell by 7% to 8,640. While the increase in deaths last year may be disappointing, the bigger picture is much more encouraging.

Putting lives at risk through drink driving puts the driver in line for some serious legal measures; a driving ban of at least 12 months, a fine of up to £5,000 and perhaps up to six months in prison. Imagine the social stigma and the effect on job prospects.

How times have changed

UK government statistics are recorded back for nearly 30 years - to 1979. In that year, 1640 were killed as a result of drink driving, compared to 430 last year. That's a decrease of 74%. For serious injuries, the figures have declined from 8300 in 1979 to 1630 in 2008, a decrease of 80%. And there's a 59% decrease (from 31,430 to 13,020) in slight injuries over the same time period.

How attitudes are changing

In a survey carried out by my own organisation, GEM Motoring Assist, this year respondents anticipated that at a quarter of family gatherings, people will drive after drinking too much. So what would people do about the drink drivers in their circle? Some 42% of respondents said they would report a friend or family member to the police - that's up from a mere 3% last year!

As well as being more likely to call the police this Christmas, some 90% of respondents felt they would take action if necessary to prevent their friends and relatives from drinking too much and/or getting behind the wheel.

Caring about drink driving is not just for Christmas

While most drink driving takes place around the Christmas party season, the data we've used in this article comes from the whole year - as does the carnage caused by drunken drivers. We need to keep alert to those around us who drink to excess before taking the wheel, all year, and then we'll continue along our successful path of reducing drink driving related deaths by three-quarters over the long-term.

That's a lot of lives saved and a greater number of people who don't have the personal and emotional pain of losing someone dear to them. This Christmas, please think about the messages in the Drink drive campaigns.

David Williams MBE is the Chief Executive of GEM Motoring Assist, a leading road safety organisation in the UK. GEM Motoring Assist is a multi award-winning breakdown provider renowned for the quality and value of its services.

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