JUSTICE

Science? Or NADO as a hatter?

A new drunk-driving campaign draws fire

NANCY MACDONALD December 5 2005
JUSTICE

Science? Or NADO as a hatter?

A new drunk-driving campaign draws fire

NANCY MACDONALD December 5 2005

Science? Or NADO as a hatter?

JUSTICE

A new drunk-driving campaign draws fire

NANCY MACDONALD

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has unleashed a new public awareness campaign aimed at Justice Minister Irwin Cotier. “Enough is Enough” advocates dropping the Criminal Code’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit from 0.08 to 0.05 per cent, to “protect innocent drivers on our roads.” Effectively, that could push a small woman over the legal barrier with a single drink. MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie thinks that lowering the BAC limit “could result” in a sixto 18-per-cent reduction in crash fatalities. But questions have been raised about the science behind that campaign.

MADD selectively cites a study published in 2002 by Robert Mann of the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Mann, in turn, had extracted those numbers from two separate studies whose data was culled from Sweden and Australia. The conclusions in Mann’s study seem to ignore the Swedish authors’ numerous caveats and cautions, as well as the limitations inherent to the Australian study. For starters, the Aussie study examined the effectiveness of random breath testing (spot checks), not lowered BAC levels, on fatal traffic collisions. Also, that research was initiated in 1976, at a time when liquid lunches were far more common. What’s more, the Australian statistics contained wide variations: whereas the state of Queensland fjjl4 saw the 18 per cent decline in fatal accidents

cited by MADD’s Murie, in neighbouring New South Wales, fatal accidents decreased just eight per cent. “In the final analysis,” says Herb Simpson, whose Traffic Research Injury Foundation has twice examined the question of a lower BAC limit in Canada, “the existing literature only provides an inferential perspective.”

The Ontario Community Council on Impaired Driving reports that the majority of drivers involved in alcohol-related fatal crashes are repeat offenders with BACs over 0.15 per cent—meaning that the problem is drivers who repeatedly get behind the wheel with BAC levels twice the legal limit, not social drinkers who consume a glass of wine, or two. This makes MADD’s concern seem wasteful, or at least anachronistic, given the downward trend in alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

The Canada Safety Council, the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators and the Traffic Injury Research Foundation take issue with MADD’s campaign. Even the Ontario Community Council on Impaired Driving has determined that lowering the Criminal Code BAC level is “not a priority,” noting that lowering the BAC would mean more work for police and the courts. But to MADD’s Murie, the equation is simple: “If you lower BAC limits, regardless to what level, you’ll save Canadian lives.” Unfortunately, the math doesn’t quite add up. M

UNHAPPY WITH A MALE-ORDER BRIDE

Jeffrey Bedford of Haileyville, Okla., was all game for participating in ABC Television’s Wife Swap reality show—until the producers exchanged his real wife with a gay man. Now Bedford is suing the network’s parent, Walt Disney, for US$10 million, claiming that in addition to causing him embarrassment, humiliation and even illness, the producers terrified him into believing his actual wife had abandoned him and wasn’t coming home.