In the United States, policy experiments over a 20-year period have demonstrated that road crash deaths among young adults can be substantially reduced by raising the minimum legal drinking age to 21 years.
A recent evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of policies for reducing alcohol-related harm in Australia found that, if the US experience were to be replicated in Australia, raising the minimum legal drinking age would be more cost-effective than random breath testing and drink-driving campaigns.
Given the major political obstacles to increasing the minimum legal drinking age, we propose another policy that could achieve a similar reduction in road crash deaths — requiring licensed drivers to maintain a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of zero until at least the age of 21 years (close to the current policy of zero BAC until age 22 years in Victoria), and preferably until 25 years. This would allow young Australians to drink or drive but not to combine these activities for at least the first several years of driving.
If all Australian jurisdictions had adopted this policy in 2003, 17 deaths could have been be averted among young Australians as they aged from 18 to 21 years and many more serious injuries could have been prevented each year. If we had enforced a zero BAC until age 25, the number of deaths averted until age 25 years could have been as high as 50.
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