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Technology and road safety

Technology is arriving steadily as an injury prevention tool to deter, detect, and remove dangerous motorists. Although red light cameras and speed cameras reduce traffic danger, the motorist lobby pushes back against law enforcement technology (see Inj Prev 2003;9:293–4). Another technology is also advancing. Post de facto evidence gathering “black boxes” have been used for decades in airplanes for understanding failures but they often remain unused in motor vehicle collisions. Canadian courts have now used their evidence for the first time. In a fatal collision, the black box helped explain what actually occurred. With massive damage to the cars and no skid marks, the police doubted the surviving motorist’s claim of only slightly exceeding the 50 km/h speed limit. Without good evidence, they would have accepted the survivor’s claim that the deceased motorist ran a red light. But the black box showed the surviving motorist was driving at nearly triple the speed limit. With that knowledge, the court convicted the driver of dangerous driving causing death and sentenced him to 18 months in jail. But as with law enforcement technology, the use of black boxes will undoubtedly come under attack. Researchers will need to promote the road safety benefits of black boxes with documentation (from www.cbc.ca/stories/2004/04/14/canada/blackbox_20040414; submitted by Peter Jacobsen).

Responsibility and serving alcohol

The Australian High Court has ruled that a woman who, after drinking all day, was run down by a car, cannot recover from the drinking establishment on the grounds it should have cut her off sooner. Chief Justice Murray Gleeson said “the onus should not be on clubs to prevent injury to those who drank to excess” and wrote: “There are many forms of excessive eating and drinking that involve health risks, but, as a rule, we leave it to individuals to decide for themselves how much they eat and drink. There are sound reasons for that, associated with values of autonomy and privacy”. The decision was split 4–2, dissenting Justices argued that the club should have thrown her out long before, that it had a legal duty “to prevent her drinking herself into a state where she was liable to suffer injury”, and expressed concern that the decision would ensure clubs could profit from alcohol without accepting any responsibility for the harm it might cause (from Sydney Morning Herald, June 2004; submitted by Ian Scott).

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