For decades, the message to Americans has been “Don’t drink and drive!” which translates to “don’t drink,” if you have to drive.
Reducing drinking as a public policy goal hasn’t really ever been successful. While campaigns mounted against drunk driving have been somewhat successful, it’s hard to imagine coming close to ending drunk driving deaths when, in most communities in America, the standard form of transportation is the single-occupancy vehicle. In these places, bars and taverns have a mandated minimum number of parking spaces they can provide. If we’re trying to discourage drinking and driving, why do public policies ensure that motorists can reach places where they can drink?
The most effective way of reducing drunk driving in the long run is to create walkable cities. Researchers at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health showed that urban density and availability of public transportation reduces automobile fatality rates:
The NHTSA data do permit comparison of automobile fatality rates by city. In general, denser cities with more extensive public transportation systems have lower automobile fatality rates (including drivers and passengers but excluding pedestrians): 2.65 per 100,000 population in New York, 6.98 in Philadelphia, 5.57 in Chicago, 2.54 in San Francisco, and 4.17 in Portland, compared to 9.97 in Houston, 12.55 in Phoenix, 11.53 in Dallas, 10.65 in Tampa, and 11.21 in Atlanta.
The statistics on drunk and drugged driving paint a stark picture. There are approximately 300,000 incidents of drunk driving each day. For there to be progress on this issue, we must invest in other forms of transportation. (Services like Uber are a good start.)
Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives via Flickr