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British-Romanian researcher wins global award for analysis of drink-driving crashes

Young Researcher of the Year Award 2018 for George Ursachi for innovative approach to better target drivers prone to alcohol crashes

Paris, 09 May 2018 | The winner of the International Transport Forum’s 2018 Young Researcher of the Year Award is Dr George Ursachi, a Romanian national and Senior Research Analyst with British transport consultancy Agilysis.

Dr Ursachi pioneered an innovative statistical analysis of which drivers are most likely to be involved in alcohol-related crashes. His findings provide a highly nuanced picture of who is at risk to crash in a drink-driving incident. This will help to target high-risk groups with precisely tailored interventions.

Drink-driving is a significant factor in fatal road crashes. In Europe alone, 32 000 road deaths every year are related to drink-driving. The risk to die in a crash is three times higher for drivers with a blood alcohol concentration between 0.02 grammes alcohol per decilitre of blood than for non-drinking drivers. It is sixfold for drivers with alcohol levels between 0.05 g/dl and 0.08 g/ dl and grows exponentially with higher blood alcohol levels.

Changing the behaviour of people who drink-drive is, therefore, a central component in any strategy to reduce the number of road traffic deaths and injuries.

To profile drivers most likely to drive under the influence of alcohol, Dr Ursachi used a dataset of 612 221 drivers who were involved in reported injury collisions between 2011 and 2015 in the United Kingdom. Of these, 24 577 drivers (4.01%) had had their driving ability impaired by alcohol.

This dataset was merged with a widely used consumer classification database, Mosaic, which groups the UK population into 66 “types” based on socio-demographic and behaviour characteristics.

On a general level, the analysis confirms previous research findings: The typical drink driver involved in injury collisions in the UK is a young adult male, driving a car in the dark on a dry, rural, single carriageway, non-main road. A second important category of drink drivers is older, lives in areas with low income and education levels and is often in poor health.

However, Dr Ursachi’s detailed analysis adds considerable nuance to this picture: He found that 26 of the 66 Types have a significantly higher-than-average likelihood to drink-drive.

These range from “Streetwise Singles” (hard-pressed singles in urban and fringe locations searching for opportunities) via “Midlife Stopgap” type drivers (maturing singles in employment renting short-term affordable homes) and “Rural Vogue” types (country-loving families pursuing a rural idyll while commuting to work) to “Village retirement” (Retirees enjoying pleasant village locations with all amenities).

Dr Ursachi said:

“The specifics of these different types enable decision makers to have a better understanding of their target audience. They make it possible to create more effective public education campaigns and interventions.”

Young Tae Kim, Secretary-General of the International Transport Forum, said:

“George Ursachi’s work is a showcase for how creative use of data can improve public policy. His analysis opens new possibilities to combat the scourge of drink-driving that causes thousands of deaths and serious injuries every year. This is number crunching that can truly save lives.“

The winning entry was chosen from 21 submissions by a jury of international road safety experts. Dr Ursachi’s paper is part of a project on Behaviour Change in Road Safety that will use similar approaches to other crash-causing factors, e.g. speeding or distracted driving.

The award will be presented to Dr Ursachi at the 2018 Summit of transport ministers on 24 May in Leipzig, Germany. More information at http://2018.itf-oecd.org

Read the winning paper here.

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