Tackling Incidences of one for the Road

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ROAd SAFETY BY JONAS AGWU

Sometime last years ago, my staff shared a sad story of a young man who cut his life short just before the 2020 Christmas celebration. The young man according to a tweet she read, took a bottle too many and dared to drive under the influence of alcohol. He was involved in avoidable road traffic crash and died. He was the only casualty. The sad crash and death reminded me of some effort to address the incidence of drinking and driving globally. One of such efforts is an international conference on drink driving. I was privileged to be one of the over 300 participants and discussants at the conference to reduce harmful drinking. It was an initiative of the International Centre for Alcohol policies, held in Washington DC, in the United States of America.

The Global Action On Harmful Drinking is a collaboration of initiatives dedicated to help reduce the harmful use of alcohol. This initiative reflects the collective commitment made by major international alcohol producers to make a significant effort to address harmful drinking through a combination of global and local actions with an emphasis on low and middle income countries such as Nigeria where they are working in collaboration with the Federal Road Safety Corps and other road safety NGOs. These leading producers of beer, wine and spirits took on a new commitment that built on their long standing effort to reduce harmful drinking. The were 10 targeted actions in five key areas such as checking under-age drinking, strengthening and expanding marketing codes of practice, providing consumer information and responsible product innovation as well as reducing drink-driving in addition to enlisting the support of retailers to reduce harmful drinking.

Globally, there are about 1.35 million road traffic deaths yearly and millions of injuries. Although an estimate of crashes caused by drink-driving vary from country to country, one point is clear, it is a leading contributor. I have chosen to discuss these initiatives in view of rising cases of drink driving even in the face of the need to comply with COVID-19 protocols and the FRSC renewed deployment of breathalyzers to check drink-driving. My focus however will be on efforts in reducing under-aged-drinking and drink driving which is pronounced during festivities such as the coming Sallah celebration and weekends in major cities across the country.

With respect to reducing under-age drinking, there are concern over the extent and harmful consequences of underage drinking as expressed by governments from all over the world, including the concern by World Health Organization. In most countries, there is minimum age for purchase and or consumption of alcohol, yet drinking by those under the minimum age of 18 is a concern in many parts of the world and can lead to serious public health consequences. Under-age drinking is a societal challenge that is only possible to prevent through expanded cooperation among governments, enforcement agencies, cleric, retailers, parents, educators and others in the community. The focus is therefore to encourage national governments to set ambitious but realistic and measurable targets to significantly reduce under-aged purchase and consumption of alcohol. In doing so, there should be commitments to actively seek enforcement of government regulations for under-age purchase and consumption in all countries especially where a minimum purchase and /or consumption age has been set.

In countries where no such limits exist, there is the need to encourage government to introduce a minimum purchase age and to enforce it. In addition, there is the need to strengthen the work of other interested stakeholders, including NGOs and IGOs. Developing, promoting and disseminating educational materials and programmes designed to prevent and reduce under-age purchase and consumption among young people or those known to have strong influence over their behavior is critical. This, strategy will include consulting experts on the development of best practice educational materials for use by parents, schools and community groups and in social media.

Recall that Pillar 4 of the UN Decade of Actions on Road Safety (2011-2020) emphasizes, the need to improve road safety and behavior of road users and reducing drink-driving. In the area of reducing drink-driving, there is the need for government, international agencies, civil society organizations and the private sector to use the plan as a guiding document for their activities. We must acknowledge the preventable contribution that drink-driving makes to road traffic crashes and fatalities which has more impact among the youth as illustrated in the WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety 2009. The key point to note is that governments should enforce existing drink-driving laws and regulations while advocating the introduction of effective drink-driving laws, including a BAC limit for novice drivers backed by appropriate enforcement.

I am excited by these developments but saddened by the slow pace of our legislations. As I write I am not aware of a national legislation restricting the purchase and consumption of alcohol by the under-aged in keeping with best practices. Even where they exist, there is hardly any concrete attempt at enforcement. The exception is the Lagos State Traffic Regulations which takes special exception to driving under the influence but I doubt if it recognizes the need to restrict purchase and consumption of alcohol. I am however elated by the 2012 National Road Traffic Regulations which aptly prescribed the alcohol limit permitted to be 0.5grammes in 100millilitres of alcohol or 80milligrams in 100millilitres of urine or best test. The same regulations prescribe a fine of N5,000 or six months’ imprisonment or both against offenders. For me, the efforts of the Corps in 2014 may not yield significant results if other states don’t emulate Lagos State by baring sale of alcohol and intoxicants at motor parks.