Douwe Osinga's Blog: Driving under influence

Saturday, July 24, 2004

God may be dead and there is not truth out there, but everybody agrees that driving under influence is Very Bad, right? But is it, or is it just one of those things we tell each other and we never question, because it involves sin (drinking) and death? Let's think about this for a bit if for nothing else then to question our believes.

The statistics seem bad enough. In the Netherlands about a thousand people get killed in traffic every year, with estimates as high as half of those accidents being alcohol related. Stop people from drinking and cut the amount of people dying in traffic in half. How could anybody think driving under influence is not bad?

Ah, but statistics are a tricky thing. According to NHTSA, the american government organisation researching these things, you have a 300 times higher chance of dying in a car crash if you have an alcohol level of 0.15 BAC. Again, a scary number, but if you don't really know how good your chances are while driving sober, it is not saying much. For comparision, 0.15 is what you get after you take nine alcoholic consumptions in two hours, assuming your a guy of about my size and is three times the amount legal in the Netherlands.

Normally you have a chance of dying in car accident of about 7 in a billion per kilometer, so now it will be 210 in a billion. Does this sound scary, or not meaning any thing? Let's put it into perspective, most trips back from the bar are not that long, so your total chance getting killed is 2 in a million, which is similar to the chance of an airplane crashing (1 in a million, but usually a airplane trip is two legged) and will decrease your life expectancy by about half an hour, which is similar to the decrease in life expectancy you get by smoking three cigarettes, which is about the same amount of smoke you inhale when you don't smoke but stay in a bar for the night where people smoke. 

Before you stop me and tell me my assumptions are wrong, realize that that is not the point. The point is, we tend not to think about these things at all, we just assume they drinking and driving is bad, because it kills people. But risk is part of life and taking risk is unavoidable.