15 December 2021

Walking into danger: concerns over pedestrians under the influence of alcohol or drugs

With limited daylight hours at this time of year and the festive season now upon us, the dangers of walking while under the influence of alcohol or drugs are being highlighted by Road Safety North East Scotland.

The issue - referred to as ‘drunk walking’ in some countries - has been the subject of several international studies and awareness campaigns in recent years, however, it remains a challenging road safety issue to address. 

While the dangers of driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs have received considerable publicity and public safety messaging over many years, drunk walking has seen less attention despite the fact it probably occurs regularly in many locations and can result in death or serious injury.

During 2019, statistics show that across Scotland a total of 87 reported road traffic collisions with injury had ‘pedestrian impaired by alcohol’ recorded as a contributory factor (5 fatal; 36 serious; 46 slight).  For those pedestrians who are recorded as being ‘impaired by drugs (illicit/medicinal)’ the 2019 figures show involvement in a total of 15 injury collisions (1 fatal; 8 serious; 6 slight).  

The total number of pedestrians killed in Scotland during 2019 was 44, meaning that around 14% of fatal pedestrian casualties were under the influence of alcohol or drugs when the collision occurred.

The main challenge faced is that previous road safety messaging is likely to have limited, if any, impact on someone who is significantly under the influence of alcohol.  Some preventative approaches have sought the assistance of friends to look out for each other when out socialising, with the hope that they can prevent someone who is drunk from setting off on foot.  Unfortunately, the background circumstances to these types of collisions can vary quite significantly, making it difficult to prevent someone from taking a potentially dangerous course of action.

Ewan Wallace, Head of Environment and Sustainability at Aberdeenshire Council and Chair of Road Safety North East Scotland, commented: “The risks of walking whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be significant. When adding other factors such as wearing dark clothing on unlit roads which have higher speed limits, the dangers only increase.

“Pedestrians who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be unsteady on their feet, have reduced control of their actions and are more likely to stumble, trip or fall.

“Over the years we have seen a number of north east collisions where pedestrians, who have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs, have been seriously injured or lost their lives following involvement in a collision.

“For people going out socially and drinking alcohol, the advice is always to try and plan ahead and make arrangements in advance about how to get home safely. This could involve pre-booking a taxi or arranging to be collected by someone at a pre-determined time and location.

“Other road users can also play an important role by alerting the emergency services if they have a concern for someone walking who is obviously drunk and potentially poses a serious risk to themselves.  In an emergency situation dial 999 and provide the following information: an accurate description and location of the pedestrian, including their direction of travel; details of the road including name and/or route number; along with the name of any nearby landmark or property.
“No-one wants to see a tragic ending to a night out and planning in advance can make a huge difference in ensuring that someone gets home safely and without incident.”

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