What is the best policy for reducing the impact of alcohol on the road accident rate?

A study by the research group Applied Economics & Management, which is based at the University of Seville, has analysed, from a sample of the 28 countries of the European Union, the existing relationship between alcohol and road safety. Specifically, it looked at the impact both of social habits and legal regulation of alcohol consumption, such as the legislation that controls drink-driving, that is to say, the laws that dictate the maximum blood alcohol level. This publication was financed, both in competitive tenders, by the Directorate-General of Traffic (Dirección General de Tráfico) and the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness of Spain (Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad de España).

Among the article's conclusions, the most important to highlight is, according to the professor José Ignacio Castillo, that there is a direct relationship between the level of alcohol consumption in a country and the mortality rate on its roads. This relationship is especially clear in the case of young men. For this reason, is can be said that that there is a solid empirical base for justifying the development of targeted campaigns to prevent alcohol consumption in this demographic group.

According to the teacher Lourdes López-Valpuesta the different prices of alcoholic drinks is a factor that is statistically significant in the relationship between drink-driving and the road accident rate. Thus, the more expensive alcohol is in a country, the lower the fatality rate on its roads. In a context like today's, with public deficit problems in different European countries, as is the case in Spain, an increase in the tax on alcohol sales would, according to the report's authors, be doubly justified. It would serve both to help maintain the Welfare State, as well as control possible rises in the road accident rates.

On the other hands, it draws attention to the fact that there appears to be no clear correlation between the legal stipulation of a blood-alcohol level of zero and a lower mortality rate. For Castillo, this is logical, "the current debate as to whether the blood-alcohol level should be zero in Spain doesn't make much sense. The experience of other European countries, especially in the east of Europe, shows that, on its own, this measure does not have a significant effect". For him, any additional effort that is made to ensure that drivers abide by the current blood-alcohol regulations will always have greater social benefits.

The results show that the strategies that attempt to limit consumption of alcohol are effective in reducing the road accident rate, even more so than other general road safety measures, like speed limits or penalty points on driving licences. For the authors, Spanish road safety policy has to adapt, with priority given to a micromanagement model, of small experiments and continuous evaluation, with the aim of achieving maximum efficiency in a context in which there are probably no longer "miracle" measures that can be adopted.

This research project, led by the University of Seville Economics Professor José Ignacio Castillo-Manzano, has been developed by the teachers, Mercedes Castro-Nuño and Lourdes López-Valpuesta, of said university, and by the teacher Xavier Fageda of the University of Barcelona. Mercedes Castro-Niño says, "Although all the member states are aware of the need to address the problem, there are considerable differences in aspects of their approaches, like blood-alcohol limits, alcohol pricing and the application of alcohol control laws".

Published in the October edition of the internationally recognised review Transportation Research F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, this project has seen the most profound and extensive evaluation of this matter carried out to this date. For that reason, different econometric models were implemented on a panel of the 28 member states, during the period 1999-2012, including multiple economic, demographic and geographical control variables.

University of Seville