• 4 out of every 10 drivers who died in road traffic accidents had consumed alcohol, drugs or medicine.
  •  The most widely consumed drug in Spain is cannabis, a substance which is perceived as less dangerous when driving.
  • Compulsive consumption of alcohol is worrying. In people aged between 20 and 30, 35% admit to “binge drinking”.
  • Not consuming alcohol or other drugs would contribute to reducing fatal road accident victims by 50%.

 

The presence of psychoactive substances, alcohol and other drugs is common in accidents. This is evident from the fact that 43% of drivers who died in road traffic accidents last year had consumed alcohol, illegal drugs, or medicine, according to a study by the National Toxicology and Forensic Science Institute. Furthermore, recent national and international surveys coincide in the diagnosis of tolerance to consumption and driving is very high, particularly among young people, with two out of three young drivers admitting to having traveled with a drunk driver, and one out of three with one who had been smoking joints. “These figures are deeply concerning if we bear in mind that the more frequent drugs are, the more serious the accident”.

This was pointed out by Juan Carlos González, Assistant Sub-Director in the General Traffic Directorate (DGT), who took part in today’s workshop “Drugs and Driving”. Protecting Our Lives’, organized by Fundación MAPFRE and the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) with the aim of analyzing how to reduce the consumption of drugs and alcohol in Europe, where it is estimated that 8% of drivers who died in road traffic accidents had consumed drugs.

The representative from the DGT, who was accompanied by Gregorio Serrano, Director General of Traffic, also referred to the addictive consumption of alcohol and drugs in Spain, “an alarming problem today, which affects drivers who are unable to disassociate consumption from driving and who account for a significant proportion of repeat offenders and accidents”. For that very reason he pointed out that one of the main lines of action they are going to carry out after holding meetings with the managers of the different regional health services, is to refer those repeat offender drivers to the health services to verify if they have an addiction and to carry out a follow-up process.

COMPULSIVE CONSUMPTION. The most widely used drug in Spain is cannabis, a substance that users perceive as less dangerous when driving. That was stated by Juan Carlos González, who also pointed out that in Spain the type of consumption of alcohol is changing. It is “less social and more compulsive”, as is evident from so-called “binging”, a behavior that has increased considerably since 2005, and which now affects up to 35% of young people aged between 20 and 30, and which “entails an increase in risk behavior and a higher probability of becoming dependent on alcohol”. He also pointed out that eliminating the consumption of alcohol and other drugs would contribute to reducing fatal accidents by up to 50%”.

EFFECTS. “Consuming alcohol can have serious effects on performance when carrying out complex tasks such as driving”. This was emphasized by Dr. Nuria Guisández, researcher and expert in alcohol, drugs and driving at Madrid Complutense University, who also took part in the event. Guisández was referring to the main conclusions of a study that she recently conducted in order to determine the risks inherent to driving within the permitted limits of alcohol according to current law. The research highlights that at concentrations of 0.15 mg/l in breath -equivalent to drinking a can of alcoholic drink of 33 cl-, the braking distance increases by 28%, thus entailing a higher risk of collision.The document also confirms that there is a 4% loss of visual sharpness at concentrations between 0.11 and 0.25 mg/l in breath, thus affecting sight adaptation, i.e. the ability of the eye to adapt to the different visual distances required when driving. In this sense, she underscored the need to change the permitted level of alcohol concentration in breath to below 0.10 mg/l or 0.2 g/l in blood, although in her opinion “the best proposal would be to establish zero risk levels”.

MORE CONTROL. The number of drug consumption tests has increased enormously over the last six years. Proof of this is the extensive work by the Traffic Civil Guard, who will carry out 150,000 drug tests in 2019, accounting for an increase of 50,000 tests over this year. This was stated by Lieutenant Colonel José Luis Díaz Sánchez, second in command of the Civil Guard Traffic Operations, who pointed out that in 2017 89,812 tests were conducted (24,643 more than in 2017), of which 31,165 were positive (5,496 more than in 2016 and 30,782 more than in 2011). José Luis Díaz also stated that the increase in the number of drivers for whom positive drug tests were reported is mainly due to the increasing amount of controls. “Drug detection tests and sanctions always have a deterring effect, which, along with other factors, such as education, awareness and improvements in safety, contribute to improving road safety”, he emphasized.

 CRIMINAL PERSECUTION. The sanctioning policies concerning drug consumption and driving have also been the subject of debate from an administrative and criminal point of view. In this sense, Mario Sanz Fernández-Vega, public prosecutor assigned to the Public Prosecution and Road Safety Coordinator, pointed out that Article 77 of the Highway Safety Act, which sanctions the mere presence of drugs in the body (administrative offense), compared to Article 379.2 of the Criminal Code, which requires proving the influence of drugs on the driver’s abilities, beyond simple presence thereof, and can entail prison sentences of three to six months, to a fineS of six to twelve months or community work, and withdrawing the driving license for between one and four years. In this sense, he pointed out that to “perfect” the current sanctioning policies, “increasing the investment assigned to increase the number of drug tests and controls, and furthering specialized training for police officers, particularly at local level” is necessary.

 PREVENTION AND RESEARCH. Jesús Monclús, Director of Accident Prevention and Highway Safety at Fundación MAPFRE, highlighted that “our society cannot tolerate 43% of fatal victims being positive in alcohol and other drug tests, because this means that nearly 800 people lose their lives in accidents related to these substances every year in Spain”. He also brought to our attention some cases in recent months where parents traveling with their children and school bus drivers were driving under the effects of drugs other than alcohol, which he claimed was “unacceptable behavior that should just not happen”. He also reminded us that “consumption of drugs when driving, along with distractions, are the main problems in terms of road safety” and in his opinion “more emphasis” should be placed on these subjects in the next Spanish Highway Safety Strategy.

Further to this, Antonio Avenoso, Executive Director of the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), also referred to the consumption of drugs when driving killing thousands of people in Europe every year. “It is a complex problem” he said, “but one that must be addressed urgently. Technology can help, but the key is to apply more severe regulations in Europe, for repeat offenders to undergo rehabilitation programs, and for governments to learn from each other’s experiences, to implement the same standards of road safety and to apply better data compilation systems to held reduce accident rates”.

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