News

Cut Australia's road toll, stop under 21s drinking

03 October 2006

Increasing the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 will reduce the number of deaths on Australian roads, according to a Queensland University of Technology visiting academic.

Kathy Stewart will speak on the impact of alcohol regulation on traffic safety at QUT's Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety - Queensland (CARRS-Q) breakfast seminar tomorrow (October 4).

Ms Stewart said laws that stopped under 21s drinking were saving lives in the United States and should be adopted in Australia.

"Alcohol policy can have a role in traffic safety," she said.

"The best example of alcohol regulation in the US was the adoption of 21 as the minimum drinking age.

"This has been a very successful strategy and saves about 1000 lives each year in traffic crashes alone."

Ms Stewart said she would advocate a higher drinking age in Australia.

"New Zealand's recent negative experience with lowering its drinking age from 20 to 18 reminds us that the combination of alcohol, immaturity, and lack of driving experience can be deadly," she said.

Ms Stewart also supports increased beer taxes as a way of preventing heavy drinking through regulation.

She said higher taxes had the potential to reduce the number of drunks who might get into their cars.

"In general, when alcohol is cheap and easy to obtain, more people will drink more and inevitably get into trouble."

She said while economists hadn't really concluded what level of price increase would be effective in preventing impaired driving and other alcohol related problems, studies showed it would work.

"One study estimated that increasing the excise tax on beer in the US from about two-and-a-half cents per can to five cents per can would decrease traffic fatalities among young drivers by 17 to 27 per cent," she said.

"Estimated impacts on adults were more modest, but still substantial at about 10 per cent.

"Even this very small increase in price could have a major effect on safety."

Also speaking at the CARRS-Q breakfast seminar will be Barry Sweedler.

Both Ms Stewart and Mr Sweedler are founding partners of the US-based Safety and Policy Analysis International, a consulting firm that deals with transportation safety and drug and alcohol issues in public policy.

CARRS-Q is part of QUT's new Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation.

What: CARRS-Q breakfast seminar
When: October 4, 2006 7.30am to 9am
Where: Conrad Treasury Hotel, George Street, Brisbane

Media contact
- Sandra Hutchinson, QUT media officer, 07 3864 2130 or s3.hutchinson@qut.edu.au