Reducing drunken-driving tragedies

Sobering statistics tell the story of how alcohol and driving combine in a tragic mix.

Alcohol-impaired drivers in the United States cause more than 10,000 road deaths each year – about a third of all traffic deaths. Nearly 40 percent of the victims are people other than the drunken drivers themselves.

A comprehensive federal study just released Wednesday contains sensible steps that could be taken now to reduce these tragedies. And today two prominent Americans – former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers – announced that alcohol abuse would be among the “big three” health threats that their new task force would battle.

Both efforts focus new attention on the persistent scurge of alcohol abuse.

The new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) urges states to cut the legal definition for impaired driving from 0.08 to 0.05 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC). 

The US would join more than 100 countries that already enforce this tougher standard. An earlier study showed that within 10 years of adopting a BAC of 0.05 percent as the legal limit in Europe, for example, drunken-driving deaths were cut by more than half.

Strong evidence also suggests that higher alcohol taxes reduce binge drinking, the NASEM study reports.

The new Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health headed by Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Summers aims to reduce the growing number of health problems worldwide attributed to the use of alcohol and tobacco, and obesity. 

In 2012, about 3.3 million deaths, or 5.9 percent of all deaths worldwide, were attributed to alcohol consumption. 

But higher tobacco taxes have contributed to a decrease of about one-third in tobacco sales in Brazil, Summers writes in an essay in The Washington Post. Higher taxes on alcohol could have a similar positive effect.

The effort will make use of research into human behavior, including an understanding of the tendency in thought to go along…

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