Drink-drive deaths remain unchanged, but KSIs look set to increase

12.00 | 2 February 2017 | | 6 comments

While the number of drink drive related fatalities in 2015 looks set to remain unchanged from the previous four years, there appears to be a ‘statistically significant’ increase in the number of killed and seriously injured casualties.

Provisional estimates for 2015 show that between 180 and 250 people were killed in collisions in Great Britain where at least one driver was over the drink drive-limit, with a central estimate of 220 deaths.

Published by the DfT today (2 Feb), the figure is slightly down on the final figures for 2014, when the upper estimate was 260, central estimate 240 and lower estimate 220.

However, the DfT says due to the uncertainty in the estimates, fatalities should be regarded as having remained unchanged since 2010.

Around 13% of all road deaths in 2015 were drink drive related, again unchanged from a year earlier.

However, the provisional stats do show a statistically significant rise in the number of people killed or seriously injured (KSI). In 2015, there were 1,380 KSIs, up from 1,310 in 2014.

The DfT says there is still ‘considerable uncertainty’ about this figure, but if it proves to be correct when the final estimates are released in August, it will be the first rise in drink-drive KSIs since 2010.

There was also a rise in the total number of collisions where at least one driver was over the alcohol limit – up 2% to 5,740 in 2015.

Road Safety GB suggested that the ‘evidence-led’ approach to policing drink driving may be one factor leading to a more complacent attitude among drivers.

Matt Pickard, vice-chair of Road Safety GB, said: “While it can often be misleading to take one set of figures in isolation, there can be little doubt that when it comes to drink driving casualty levels have been at best flat lining for a number of years.

“The 2% increase in drink drive collisions, and 5% increase in KSI casualties in the most recent stats give cause for concern.

“One factor here could be the change in police tactics with regard to breath testing, with more focus on an ‘evidence-led’ approach. This leads to higher detection rates, but fewer breath tests being administered routinely.

“This, combined with fewer dedicated roads policing officers leading to a visibly lower police presence on the roads, may mean there is much less fear among drivers of being caught drink driving, and as a consequence more may be taking a chance.

"Road Safety GB also supports lowering the drink drive limit in line with Scotland and the majority of European countries – we believe this may help to persuade some drivers not to drink any alcohol before getting behind the wheel."

Both the RAC and IAM RoadSmart were quick to express concern and disappointment at the figures.

Pete Williams, RAC road safety spokesman, said: “These estimates are a real cause for concern as they show a statistically significant rise in the number of people killed or seriously injured in accidents where at least one driver was over the limit. There has also been a rise in the overall drink-drive casualties of all severities.

“With Scotland having lowered its drink-drive limit you would hope to see figures at least staying the same, not rising. The only logical conclusion is that more drivers are prepared to risk breaking the law, sadly with tragic consequences.

“It would be extremely worrying if this was happening because of the fact there are fewer traffic police on the road.”

Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research, added: “The increase in serious injury crashes and the overall increase in drink related crashes is worrying and suggests the problem is not reducing among a hard core of drivers willing to take the risk.

“The Government should introduce a lower limit in England and Wales. It won’t eradicate the problem completely but it will deliver a small but significant decrease in drink drive casualties and underline the clear message that driving and drinking don’t mix.”

Want to know more about drink driving and road safety? 
Online library of research and reports etc – visit the Road Safety Knowledge Centre
Key facts and summaries of research reports – visit the Road Safety Observatory


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    Hugh, yes that’s what I assumed, but I’m trying to understand what the factor of “disproportionality” is. Surely, especially given the emphasis put on tackling drink-driving, there must have been the research carried out, and statistics available for the background level of “drunkenness”. Without that it is impossible to know how big the problem caused by drink-driving actually is, and what can be gained by tackling it. Presumably the road safety fraternity aren’t acting blind on this, so someone must have the data.

    Charles, England
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    I presume David is making the point that whilst the number of drivers under the limit on the roads is very low – their numbers, when involved in crashes are disproportionately high, which illustrates how much more accident prone it makes them.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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    David, thanks for your opinion – what would you say the percentage was – 1, 2, 5, 10%? And did you do significant numbers of completely random stops, or did you generally only stop drivers who gave you cause to doubt their credentials?

    Charles, England
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    Having spent a large portion of my working life stopping drivers, I can assure Charles that far fewer than 13% of drivers on our roads are over the drink drive limit.

    David, Suffolk
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    So 13% of road fatalities in 2015 involved an over-the-alcohol-limit driver. That must mean that 87% of road fatalities in 2015 involved only under-the-alcohol-limit drivers. I wonder what percentage of all drivers on the road (whether involved in a crash or not) are under the legal alcohol limit. Is anyone reading this aware of any research or data that attempts to answer that question?

    Charles, England
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    It seems to me the best measure of drink driving (and other undesirable driver beahviour), are the number of collision so caused – not the consequences thereof, which can be influenced by other factors. The figure mentioned in the article shows an increase of 2%, but if you factor in chance, near misses, luck and under-reporting it could actually be no change in reality.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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