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We noticed a comment made by a judge in America, sentencing a drunk driver who killed another driver to six and a half years in prison, that in America substance abuse was involved in 65 percent of criminal cases in which the accused pleaded guilty. We suspect the statistic is very similar elsewhere in the world.

Certainly visiting Old Melbourne Goal for the Whitelion charity “lock in” a couple of years ago means that Wellthisiswhatithink was made privy to some of the more alarming facts about the Victoria, Australia prison population. Specifically that over 80% of criminals in goal in Victoria on any given day are there for drugs offences. Most of them not drug kingpins, of course, but people a long way down the feed chain. People picked up for minor offences that would be better off in diversion or rehab programs than sitting in chokey, where access to their drugs of addiction, of course, are nearly always available.

The judge concerned commented that “I firmly believe that alcohol and drugs are almost an epidemic in this society. This is a very serious matter – a very serious matter – because it concerns all of society,” he said.

Every day in the United States, almost 30 people die in motor vehicle crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver, amounting to one death every 48 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control, a US government agency.

It put the annual cost of alcohol-related crashes at more than $51 billion and the total number of drunk-driving fatalities in 2010 at 10,228 – about a third of all traffic deaths.

Victoria leads the world in reducing road trauma, through an extremely aggressive program of driver education, (including extremely graphic TV ads), road speed cameras, and reducing speed limits. And at one level at least, the message on alcohol appears to have got through.

The proportion of drivers and motorcycle riders killed with a BAC greater than 0.05g/100ml has declined from 38% in 1987 to 16% in 2011.

Since 1991, Victoria Police have breath tested more than 20 million drivers and riders from Booze Bus operations, catching close to 70,000 drivers and riders  with an illegal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over this period.

The vast majority (99.6%) of drivers tested do not exceed prescribed blood alcohol levels. This must surely be considered one of the most successful public health campaigns anywhere in the world. Personal behaviour has changed. The stats tell the story, but so does our anecdotal experience. “Drink driving” has become socially unacceptable. To drive home drunk from a dinner party or pub would now be considered unthinkable by most of our friends and colleagues. People arrange “designated drivers” who stay sober, or use taxis, trams and trains.

But not yet, tragically, everyone. Close to one in four drivers and riders killed in the last five years had a BAC greater than 0.05. It may just be that there is a level below which society cannot put the demon of drink driving back in the bottle.

Nevertheless, jurisdictions all over the world have taken note of Victoria’s success. In an era when random breath testing, for example, is still considered an infringement of civil liberties by some Americans, we would urge them to consider giving up some of their ‘rights’ to achieve a greater right.

Survival.

An example of the “Bloody idiot” campaign that has changed society’s views over 20 years runs below. What is sad is that one can imagine wowsers complaining that the ad has a mild swear word in it, when they would be silent on the death toll on our roads. Sometimes, we feel a little bluntness is very much the lesser of two evils.

The Transport Accident Commission ads pull no punches. Nor, in our very considered opinion should they. The stats are their own justification.

So would you welcome seeing ads like this on your TV screen at night? The general opinion of most Victorians is to grit their teeth and bear it. Even as they induce a wince, it is a wince of recognition. There is communal gratitude that families are being protected by both the advertising and the law enforcement. But there is little doubt: it is very challenging.

I guess yer pays yer money, and yer takes your choice. What do you think?

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