Traffic therapy support from psychologists

01 Sept 2017 The Human Factor
To ensure that any changes in people’s behaviors toward healthy, responsible alcohol consumption or even teetotalism are as long-lasting as possible and remain effective even after the alcohol interlock has been removed, therapeutic support from psychologists is essential, as a 2016 study from Florida clearly shows. The researchers headed by Robert Voas compared alcohol interlock users who were simultaneously receiving a therapeutic intervention with interlock users who were not. They demonstrated that, among the group receiving a therapeutic intervention, the recidivism rate – i.e. drunk-driving re-ooffenders – was 32% lower than in the group not receiving a therapeutic intervention. the authors estimate that they have prevented 41 rearrests, 13 accidents and 9 accident injuries following removal of the alcohol interlock among the 13,458 alcohol interlock users receiving support.
Another important criterion for a successful alcohol interlock program is that the data stored in the device is also evaluated so that, for example, repeated unsuccessful attempts to start the engine can be discussed with the user. This requires a trained person who acts as an interface between the device manufacturer, the controller – e.g. the driver’s license authorities – and the user. Repeated unsuccessful attempts to start the engine on a Monday morning, for example, would indicate that the person in question is not aware of the problem of residual alcohol. Awareness-raising and behavior-changing measures with the support of a traffic psychologist would certainly prove useful here.
The result of a DEKRA-supported study into the introduction of an alcohol interlock program in Germany included proposals for accompanying therapeutic measures. After an initial diagnosis and a preliminary consultation with the traffic psychologist before the alcohol interlock is installed, six twohour consultation sessions should take place over a six-month period, supported by a range of exercises taking place between the consultation sessions (intersession work). In addition to the educational content, the sessions should also involve an analysis of the alcohol interlock results, including discussion of any areas of concern in relation to the alcohol interlock data, the self-monitoring/drink logs and the lab-based parameters.

Legislative measures and monitoring

To monitor compliance with the rules as part of road safety measures, different approaches – or “enforcement” measures – are used worldwide. One way of ensuring that drivers do not exceed alcohol limits and are drug-free while behind the wheel is “roadside testing”, whereby all drivers – whether or not their driving was otherwise erratic or suspicious – are tested in a police check for alcohol or drugs. To increase the monitoring intensity, these controls are carried out on a regular basis.
The effectiveness of toxicological testing of all drivers in roadside checks is especially evident in Australia, where roadside testing has been carried out since the 1980s. To combat drunk-driving, the Australian authorities can perform breath alcohol analyses on every driver. Such analyses are called “random breath tests” and can be performed using mobile or stationary equipment. In mobile tests, a police officer in a car stops drivers and makes them blow into an analysis device. It does not matter whether or not the driver was driving erratically, smells of alcohol or has caused an accident. To perform random testing, the police do not require any initial suspicion. In temporary stationary tests, “checkpoints” are set up on the roadside. Every driver who passes this checkpoint has to take an alcohol test.
The widespread use of alcohol tests in Australia has prompted drivers to change their drinking habits. In a study conducted in 2011, 80% of Australians surveyed said that, over the past six months, they had observed these alcohol tests taking place. For comparison, a European survey conducted in 17 countries in 2015 revealed that only 19% of respondents had undergone alcohol testing over the last 12 months and that just 4% had been tested for drugs over the last 12 months.
Testament to the success of random breath tests is the Australian state of New South Wales, where alcohol checks were introduced back in December 1982. In the program’s first year, almost one million breath alcohol tests – that’s one for every three drivers – were conducted. In 1987, more than 50% of all drivers in Sydney had been tested for alcohol once. The result was a drop in alcohol-related accidents – whether fatal accidents or single-car nighttime accidents. The number of fatal accidents initially fell by 48%, serious accidents by 19% and single-car nighttime accidents by 26%. This measure also had an impact on drivers’ attitudes. Five years after random breath tests were introduced, drivers said that they made arrangements not to drive on occasions when they knew they would be drinking. In addition, drunk-driving was seen as criminal and irresponsible. By 2012, an estimated 85 million breath tests had been performed and 545,000 drivers had been reported for drunk-driving. This allows the conclusion that around 7,000 lives have been saved since alcohol tests were introduced in 1982.
Some years ago, Brazil adopted a much more hardline approach to combating the many fatalities on its roads. In June 2008, the “Lei Seca” (dry law) was enforced, which imposes a strict alcohol ban for motorists – with no tolerance range. The minimum penalty for anyone caught violating the law is a fine of almost €400 and the revoking of their driver’s license for one year. Anyone drunk-driving is already committing a crime, which could be punished with up to three years in jail. And if a drunk-driver causes a fatal accident, they are punished in the same way as murderers and rapists – in the worst case, they could face up to 20 years in jail.
However, the effectiveness of the law is hotly debated among experts. Standardized and reliable figures on alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Brazil are almost impossible to come by. The fact that the overall number of traffic fatalities increased from almost 37,600 in 2009 to almost 45,000 in 2012, however, suggests that the percentage o of alcohol-related traffic victims has also increased. Even as recently as 2014, more than 43,000 people were killed on Brazil’s roads. According to the Associação Brasileira de Estudos de Álcool e Outras Drogas, alcohol plays a role in 61% of accidents and as much as 75% of fatal accidents. The fgures suggest that the Brazilian police needs to further increase the intensity of checking and surveillance measures in order to improve the effectiveness of the “Lei Seca.”
EU member states have also responded. On July 1, 2015, France reduced the permissible blood alcohol concentration for drivers under the age of 25 from 0.5% to 0.2%. This measure was not without reason: In 2015, young drivers in France aged between 18 and 24 accounted for one quarter of all drunk-drivers involved in fatal accidents.

Targeted education of risk groups

Another method of preventing alcohol-related accidents is to provide targeted education measures for risk groups. In Portugal, for example, campaigns have been conducted since 2013 at areas where students are known to gather in an effort to stop them from drunk- or drug-driving. A team of volunteers travels around at night and educates young people about the dangers of drunk-driving. The students are encouraged to take a breath test, and drivers with no alcohol in their system earn a reward. In response to the high number of accidents involving tractors, another Portuguese awareness-raising campaign targeted farmers, warning them of the dangers of drunk-driving. Again, alcohol analyses were used, which met with a positive response from participants.
In another example of targeted risk awareness-raising, 67 driving schools in the Smolensk region of Russia introduced the “Avtorevost” (which translates roughly as sobriety at the wheel) training module as a pilot project. Here, learner drivers can volunteer to attend a 90-minute interactive training unit on the subject of drunk-driving. This module looks at statistics, the risks associated with driving under the influence of alcohol, the legal consequences and the various police initiatives that have been launched to combat drunk-driving. This project aims above all to change people’s attitudes toward driving under the influence of alcohol by making participants even more aware of the risks. The project also aims to decrease society’s tolerance toward drunk-driving among the population. In 2015, 34% of people surveyed in Smolensk said that drunk-driving was a regular feature of everyday life; nonetheless, this figure is 12% down on the previous year.