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Impaired Driving and Alcohol Control Policy Essay

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According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), traffic accidents in the U.S. claimed the lives of 37,261 individuals in 2008. A full 37 percent of these deaths were alcohol related. Traffic fatalities are a leading cause of death in the U.S. and around the world, and a regular target of government policies enacted to reduce incidence and save lives. The clear link between alcohol consumption and automobile fatalities means that policies aiming to curtail the latter often target the former. Initiatives typically aim to reduce driving under the influence or to reduce alcohol consumption or availability more generally (Kenkel 1993). Yet, as automobile travel has expanded rapidly across the globe over the last fifty years, this has precipitated a hurried and often imprecise government policy response. Today, there exists a definitive call for government regulation of alcohol beyond a level typical of other commodities, yet the specifics of alcohol control policy remain fiercely debated in the U.S. and abroad.
Alcohol control policies vary immensely across nations and within. Yet, historically, age restrictions on alcohol purchase or consumption have been one of the most common prescriptions among countries for the prevention of alcoholism and the reduction of traffic fatalities on the road. These laws typically criminalize the purchase or consumption of alcoholic beverages by those under an explicit minimum age. Different age limits might apply to the location of sale or to the published alcohol content of a given beverage. Today nearly all countries have adopted some form of age restriction on the availability of alcohol within their borders—with most adopting age limits in the range of 16 to...


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... should question what purpose they do serve. Moreover, it is important that we are able to expand analysis of alcohol age control policies beyond the U.S., with its unique culture, so as to be able to predict whether minimum age limits will have the same or different impacts elsewhere. Ahlström and Österberg (2004/2005) highlight the importance of paying heed to cultural factors when considering alcohol policy: “If drinking habits are similar in two countries but people in one of those countries are significantly less likely to own a car, then the frequency of drunk driving and the proportion of alcohol related deaths among all traffic fatalities will differ greatly between the two countries” (p. 259). The focus of previous literature on North America may be yielding results and policy recommendations that are not particularly applicable to the rest of the globe.


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