Stronger alcohol policies, including those targeting both excessive drinking and driving while impaired by alcohol, reduce the likelihood of alcohol-related motor vehicle crash deaths, according to a new study led by a Boston University School of Public Health researcher. The findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, demonstrate the protective implications of strong alcohol policy in saving lives.
The researchers obtained data on crash deaths from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. State alcohol policies for each year were characterized using the Alcohol Policy Scale, a measure developed at Boston Medical Center that looks into the broader alcohol policy “environment” based on 29 separate alcohol control policies.
The researchers found that, across all states, a 10percent increase in the restrictiveness of policies would translate into approximately 800 fewer deaths annually. The researchers also found that both drinking-oriented and driving-oriented policies contributed to lower rates of alcohol involvement, indicating the need for comprehensive policy approaches to reduce deaths. Importantly, stronger policies were similarly protective against car crash deaths that involved alcohol at BACs below the current legal limit.
“Given the risks involved with alcohol use, strengthening alcohol control policies could help prevent many crash deaths, including the 40 percent of untimely deaths that affect victims who are not themselves driving while intoxicated,” says lead author Dr. Timothy Naimi, professor of community health sciences at BUSPH and associate professor of pediatrics at the Boston University School of Medicine. “Although not reflected in our current laws, the risk of crashes starts to increase at BAC levels well below 0.08 percent, so stronger policies offer a way to reduce those deaths as well.”