Prevalence of alcohol and other drugs and the concentrations in blood of drivers killed in road traffic crashes in Sweden (updated)

The high median BAC in fatally-injured drivers speaks strongly towards alcohol-induced impairment as being responsible for the crash. Compared with alcohol, the prevalence of illicit and psychoactive prescription drugs was fairly low despite a dramatic increase in the number of drug-impaired drivers arrested by the police after a zero-tolerance law was introduced in 1999, concludes a new study published in Scandinavian Journal of Public Health.

Drunk or drug-impaired drivers represent a major public health and societal problem worldwide. Because over 95% of drivers killed on the roads in Sweden are autopsied, reliable information is available about the use of alcohol and/or other drug before the crash.


Wayne Jones

“The situation regarding alcohol and drug use by drivers killed in traffic crashes in Sweden and other Nordic countries is considerable better (lower prevalence) than in other EU nations and also in USA, Canada and Australia,” said professor Wayne Jones from University of Linköping, one of the authors of the study, to “Perhaps in the Nordic countries we have reached some minimum values for percent drivers above the legal limit or using illicit drugs when they crash. Evidence for this comes from finding narrow limits of variation (19-22%) of drivers killed with blood-alcohol over the legal limit for driving (0.20 ‰). This has been remarkably consistent over the past 13 years. The same applies to driving under the influence of drugs other than alcohol, such as marijuana/cannabis and amphetamine.”

“With regard to alcohol use, if an ignition interlock device had been fitted to the vehicles, this would probably have prevented the person from driving under the influence and a subsequent crash might not have occurred. Many people apprehended for drunk and drugged driving, as well as those involved in fatal crashes, suffer from a substance abuse problem and treatment would have been more beneficial than conventional punishment (fines, revocation of driving permit) for this traffic offence. Indeed, revocation of the driving permit does not prevent people from starting and driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Many people arrested or killed lack a valid driving permit and have many previous convictions for this traffic crime. I am a strong proponent for mandatory fitting of an ignition interlock device for repeat offenders and high risk groups, e.g. alcoholics,” professor Jones added.

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