As liquor vends, hotels and pub-owners complain of losses as a result of the Supreme Court order banning the serving and sale of alcohol near state and national highways, the question arises: do India’s dry states see fewer road accidents than states in which the sale of alcohol is allowed?
Also, the court has said that “drunken driving is a potent source of fatalities and injuries in road accidents”. So, do fewer people die in alcohol-related accidents in states where liquor is banned?
According to latest data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), drunk driving was responsible for only 7,061 — a mere 1.5% — of the 4,64,674 road accidents in India in 2015. Significantly, however, the share of drunk driving accidents was significantly lower than this national average in states that are fully or partially dry.
And while drunk driving accidents had only a tiny share of accidents as a whole, they were the deadliest — there were more fatalities in accidents due to drunk driving than in accidents due to other causes.
On December 15, 2016, the Supreme Court ordered that all establishments selling and serving alcohol within 500 metres of national and state highways should be shut down latest by April 1, 2017. On March 31, the court iterated its order — it, however, reduced the distance at which an establishment could sell or serve liquor to 220 m from national and state highways in cities, towns and municipal areas with a population of 20,000 or fewer. The court also kept Meghalaya and Sikkim outside the ambit of the ban.
As per the data, in Kerala, where alcohol consumption is being phased out by the government over a period of 10 years, and strict controls have been put on the sale and consumption of liquor, the share of drunk driving accidents was just 0.41%, more than 1 percentage point lower than the national average.
Gujarat, which has been a dry state for decades even though alcohol is allegedly available in the cities freely, the percentage share of drunk driving accidents was even lower — just 0.25%.
Both Nagaland and Lakshadweep, where alcohol is banned completely, recorded nil cases of accidents due to drunk driving. It is important to note, however, that these states also had very few road accidents overall — just 42 in Nagaland and 3 in Lakshadweep.
Only Manipur, which has a partial ban on alcohol, bucked the trend with a 3.3% share — more than double the national average. But again, the base was very low — just 668 accidents overall, or 0.14% of the total number of road accidents in India in 2015.
Among the non-dry states, Tamil Nadu recorded the highest number of drunk driving accidents (818) countrywide. The very large number of accidents overall, however, brought the percentage of drunk driving accidents in TN below the national average to 1.2.
Jharkhand, by contrast, had 763 drunk driving accidents out of 5,162 overall — a 14.8% share, almost 10 times the national average.
Bihar, which turned completely dry in April 2016, recorded 776 drunk driving accidents in 2015, second only to Tamil Nadu. However, the share of drunk driving cases in all accidents in the state was 8.1%, well over 5 times the national average and close to 6 times that of Tamil Nadu.
Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state, recorded a percentage share of 2.6; in West Bengal, 3.9% of accidents were due to drunk driving. These 5 states recorded the highest numbers of drunk driving accidents in 2015.
Drunk driving accidents have a higher fatality rate than other accidents, the NCRB data show. Thus, as many as 42% of victims of drunk driving accidents ended up dead — a much higher rate than the percentage of deaths in accidents caused by “over-speeding” (30%), “reckless driving” (33%), and weather conditions (36%).
Another aspect concerns states where the consumption of alcohol is viewed through a social and cultural lens — making it either widely prevalent or widely frowned upon.
Goa levies hardly any tax on alcohol, which is available even in grocery stores, making it both cheap and easy to procure. And still, the state recorded just 19 drunk driving accidents in 2015, with their share in total accidents being just 0.4%.
In Delhi, where people sometimes drink in their cars, the share of drunk driving accidents in all accidents was 1.4%, just below the national average. In Punjab, where too people enjoy their drink, the share of drunk driving accidents (1.3%) was even lower. In Haryana, which has many liquor vends near highways, the share is 3.1%.
In both Punjab and Haryana, however, drunk driving accidents recorded high fatality rates. Almost 70% of victims in these accidents in these states were killed.
In Jammu & Kashmir, where alcohol consumption is viewed with disapproval, there were only 8 drunk driving accidents in 2015 — a share of just 0.1% of all accidents.