Commentaries on Pechansky & Chandran (2012)
THE ADVOCACY FACTOR: THE IMPORTANCE OF GRASSROOTS MOVEMENTS IN SUPPORT OF DWI POLICIES
Article first published online: 6 JUN 2012
© 2012 The Authors, Addiction © 2012 Society for the Study of Addiction
Volume 107, Issue 7, pages 1208–1209, July 2012
How to Cite
PINSKY, I. (2012), THE ADVOCACY FACTOR: THE IMPORTANCE OF GRASSROOTS MOVEMENTS IN SUPPORT OF DWI POLICIES. Addiction, 107: 1208–1209. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2012.03815.x
- Issue published online: 6 JUN 2012
- Article first published online: 6 JUN 2012
- drinking and driving;
The paper by Pechansky & Chandran  discusses what is lacking in South America drinking and driving policies in order for them to be as effective as those already employed in North America and other countries, such as Australia, New Zealand and Scandinavia. In Brazil, the largest country in South America, and an emerging economy, it is unquestionable that the drinking and driving field has experienced great visibility in recent years in the media among politicians and the general public. A watershed event was the approval, in 2008, of a federal law setting the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) for drivers at virtually zero (0.02). As a result of increased enforcement and media coverage, driving while intoxicated (DWI) accidents showed a significant reduction .
However, fewer than 4 years after this important change, the media have been inundated with renewed accounts of DWI-related accidents and deaths. A decrease in enforcement and a loophole in the law that made breathalyzer testing a voluntary action are the central factors contributing to the upswing in DWI. In fact, as strict as the law initially appeared to be (most of the developed countries have less severe alcohol limits), the existence of loopholes in the law, such as that mentioned above, makes it almost impossible to keep a DWI driver who kills in jail for more than 1 day, reducing the efficacy of the enacted law. These are the types of poorly designed laws mentioned in the paper by Pechansky & Chandran .
Despite the fact that the three issues pointed out by the authors (systematic collection of data, laws without loopholes and appropriate training of the police) are still lacking in Brazil, another relevant aspect to take into consideration is advocacy and active popular support. The organization of grassroots movements, starting with people affected directly by DWI [with Mothers Against Drink Driving (MADD) being the most successful example] has been pivotal in changing the scenario and reducing accident rates in the United States and other developed countries . Unfortunately, this type of advocacy is not present in Brazil.
Brazil, as a relatively young democracy, lacks a tradition of citizenship movements. Nevertheless, in an analogous field—that of tobacco—the country is at the forefront of policies , with an important contribution from advocacy groups such as Aliança de Controle do Tabagismo (ACT; http://actbr.org.br/).
A recent development in Brazil could also be a turning point in the DWI field. On a Saturday night last September, a drunk driver killed a woman and her 28-year-old daughter on the pavement next to a São Paulo mall. Rafael Baltresca, their son and brother, was left without a family. This could have been one more tragedy forgotten in a couple of weeks, except that Mr Baltresca decided to initiate a movement to change DWI regulations. He joined a cause organized by the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (OAB, a law association) in an attempt to reform the existing laws. In a matter of weeks he was able to attract a group of supporters, including family members and friends of other DWI victims, lawyers, researchers and young people outraged at the current situation. An intense media advocacy component has, so far, been contributing to the movement's organization with several initiatives, including a public petition (that already has approximately 200 000 supporters) to be sent to the Congress, alliances with several other associations and heavy marketing of the movement through the social media (http://www.facebook.com/NaoFoiAcidente). The movement is called ‘Não foi um acidente’[‘it was not an accident’]—to point to the fact that many people, including most politicians who speak publicly about DWI accidents, still consider those to be mere accidents, and not the product of preventable behaviour.
Brazilians, with an annual traffic accident death rate of more than 38 000 in 2008  and rising, now seem to be realizing that the active participation of civil society in organized advocacy movements is a critical success factor to tackle the state of affairs of drinking and driving rates.
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