THE high number of road fatalities and injuries, during the festive season and all-year round, remains a major concern for Government.
Young people between the ages of 20 and 34 constitute the majority of people who die on Zambia’s roads.
This scenario is due to the fact that most road users tend to disregard road safety rules and regulations because they usually use the road under the influence of alcoholic substances and drugs.
In a bid to keep a positive outlook of the road safety record considering a 20.4 percent reduction of road accident fatalities between January to September 2017, compared to the same period last year, director of the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) Zindaba Soko, officially launched the 2017 festive season road safety campaign on Tuesday.
Under this campaign, RTSA wants to see motorists and other road users obeying all the rules of the road, including refraining from alcohol abuse and drunken driving.
Road safety education and traffic enforcement operations will be conducted at strategic points. Drivers will actually undergo random alcohol level tests.
So why are we concerned with people who drive under the influence of alcohol?
The consumption of alcohol, even in relatively large amounts by motorists or pedestrians increases the risk of being involved in a crash.
Not only does alcohol impair processes critical to safe road use, such as vision and reaction time, it is also associated with impaired judgement.
This is why it is often linked to other high-risk road use behaviours such as speeding or failure to use seatbelts.
Impairment by alcohol tends to influence both the risk of a road traffic crash as well as the severity and outcome of injuries that result from it. Research has shown that drink drivers have a significantly higher risk of being involved in a road crash than drivers who have not consumed alcohol.
Alcohol consumption is common at many functions in society and bears important cultural, religious and symbolic meanings in Zambia.
However, alcohol is a drug with many toxic effects and other dangers such as intoxication and addiction.
What is alcohol?
Physiologically, alcohol could lower blood pressure and depress consciousness and respiration. Alcohol also has analgesic and general anaesthetic properties.
It can impair judgement and increase crash risk even at relatively low Blood Alcohol Concentrations (BAC) levels. However, the effects become progressively worse as the BAC increases. Not only do judgement and reaction time suffer, but vision also deteriorates when one is under the influence of alcohol.
Apart from its direct impact on crash outcomes, alcohol is believed to affect other aspects of driver safety such as seat-belt wearing, helmet use, and speed choice.
The effects of alcohol in the post-crash phase
Alcohol intoxication also has significant effects in the post-crash phase which should be borne in mind.
For example, it complicates the assessment and management of patients, therefore predisposing victims to more severe injuries. Intoxicated patients may not report pain or tenderness.
The other thing is that alcohol may interact with medications, particularly those used for pain relief and sedation. This means that alcohol intoxication can complicate surgery and influence the anaesthetist’s choice of anaesthetic drug.
Alcohol exacerbates underlying chronic diseases. Patients with alcohol problems may have underlying medical and/or psychiatric conditions which can complicate their management.
Patients who are alcohol positive at the time of their injury are greatly at risk for subsequent re-injury. Among drink-driving offenders, many repeatedly re-offend.
Who is most at risk of a crash involving drinking and driving?
Road users, who are either repeat “offenders” or first time “offenders” with a very high BAC, constitute the highest risk groups for drinking and driving. Research on high risk road user groups has typically classified them in terms of their demographic characteristics or attitudinal variables. These drivers are characterised as being:
2. Single or divorced
3. In a blue collar occupation
4. Low education and limited literacy
5. Of low self-esteem.
Reducing drink-driving and road accidents
The introduction of strategies aimed at reducing speed, the enforcement on drinking and driving, proper use of seatbelts and non-use of cell phone while driving, are all interventions that could effectively reduce the number of road crashes in Zambia. Enforcement of road safety regulations and rules as well as road safety education, could reduce road traffic accidents by over 55 percent.
We need the help of national leaders, civil society organisations, the Church, media, traditional leaders and families to encourage everyone to embrace road safe behaviour.
The author is Head – Public Relations
Road Transport and Safety Agency