In conversation

Posted on January 10th, 2013 by James Luckhurst

In conversationWe head to Sweden to meet Arne Winerdal,who heads the ‘Swedish Abstaining Motorists’ Association’ (MHF), a non-government organisation founded in 1926.

 

Describe your organization and what you do?

We have been fighting for a sober traffic in Sweden all these years and we have been rather successful. MHF pushed the Members of Parliament to vote for a law already in 1989 for a maximum allowance of alcohol in traffic to be set at 0.2g/l. I have been the CEO of MHF since spring 2012. Before that I had been Editor-in-Chief of our monthly magazine Motorfraren for the past five years. Today alcohol interlocks and alcohol gates belong to our main

Sweden is among the best performing European countries in terms of road safety. Concerning drink driving, has there been similar progress as for all other road deaths?

Yes, in general you can say so. About 25-30 % of the road deaths annually (in total approximately 250 per year) are related to alcohol and other drugs behind the wheel. That means around 70 deaths because of drink driving. Each one of them reveals an immeasurable tragedy among families and friends. We have adopted a Vision Zero-goal: none should be killed because of drink driving!

What is the current situation in Sweden related to drink driving?

In an EU-perspective we are doing very well in this area. We do more than two million alcohol checks along the roads each year. Compared with i.e. Italy, with over 60 million inhabitants, we do a higher number of checks even if we are just 9.5 million inhabitants. That means of course less drink driving. But drugs behind the wheel are a growing problem because the police forces do not have tools to detect drugs immediately along the roads. Our aim is to develop such tools so drug users can be stopped if they drive under the influence of drugs.

What is the Government’s attitude in tackling this important road safety issue?

When we talk to them they have a very positive attitude to do more against drink driving. But when it comes to action they are not willing to promote laws where Sweden differs from other EU members. Six years ago there was a majority in Parliament to accept a law for compulsory alcohol interlocks in all new cars. But the Conservative Party has so far stopped all these efforts.

How is MHF working to tackle drink driving?

We use all kinds of means to promote this important issue to the Swedish public. One of our best ways to highlight this issue is the big traffic safety seminar in Tylsand each year, where all important leaders in the traffic safety-area are present: people from Government and Parliament, traffic authorities, scientists, media people, NGOs. We have run this seminar every year since 1957.

We are also using social media to reach our goals. We have a Facebook group with 209,000 members. Recently we asked for support for our vision “None should be killed because of drink driving”. In a few days we got 87,000 likes and half a million viewers!

Are you conducting scientific work on alcohol interlocks?

Yes, we invest a lot of money to develop safe and easy-to-use alcohol interlocks. We run an accredited lab where we make official tests of alcohol interlocks from producers all around the world. We would like to invite members of ETSC to visit our lab to learn more in this very important area.

Are you also running communication campaigns to raise awareness on the risks related to alcohol and driving?

Yes, once a year we arrange “The Day of Sober Driving” nationwide in Sweden. In 300 places – squares, shopping malls, petrol stations – our local people try to stress out how important it is to be sober when driving.

How can the Swedish experience help improving road safety in all other EU countries?

We are very happy to become a full member of the ETSC, which is the most important organisation in this very field in the European Union. Sweden is at the forefront of traffic safety so we might have some good examples to hand in.

What more do you think could be done at an EU level to tackle drink driving?

I think the most important issue is to plant awareness in people’s minds: it is not good to drive the car after a party or a visit to a local bar. The car becomes a murder weapon in the hands of a drink driver and must be stopped. If we can raise awareness in this attitude it is possible to plant good ideas on how to do it in practice. When the new alcohol interlocks will have automatic detection without blowing in I am sure that these devices will be installed in every new car all over Europe.

What are MHF future steps within the fight against drink driving?

To use all new (and old!) media tools; to launch awareness and create positive attitudes in connection with driving. The car is a great means to interact with other people even in far distances. But if you drink and drive you can kill both yourself and others.