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Longer pub opening hours and fewer car accidents in the UK

Assuming this data is accurate and sustained (a big assumption, and the usual caveats must apply), this sort of item is going to make the nanny statists out there feel very uncomfortable:

In recent history, the UK has liberalized its rules concerning the hours that pubs can operate. For example, the Licensing Act of 1988 expanded Sunday hours and no longer required pubs to close for two and a half hours in the afternoon. In 2005, the law in England and Wales was further liberalized such that pubs could remain open until 5 am instead of closing at 11 pm. An article in the latest issue of the Journal of Health Economics claims that the 2005 liberalization of pub hours actually decreased the number of traffic accidents.

So writes James Schneider, over at the Econlog economics group blog.

Here is another excerpt:

The reduction in traffic accidents for England and Wales are plausibly related to the change in pub hours because the largest reductions occurred during weekend nights and early mornings. The impact on young drinkers was particularly strong. Accidents involving young people on Friday and Saturday nights decreased by an estimated 32.5 percent.

So there is evidence, perhaps, to confirm a general, common-sense sort of view that if you treat adults like adults, they behave accordingly. It is interesting that the message of this article is as troubling for the paternalist Right as it is for the Fabians on the left. I remember reading some time ago the author Theodore Dalrymple, who has made something of a name by lamenting the alleged ghastliness of modern life in the UK, reticent past, having a pop at liberalised pub hours. The Daily Mail, for example, regularly has a go and rarely fails to write stories about how we Brits are living in a sea of booze.

And yet it turns out that there has been a coincident sharp fall in road accidents on one hand, and looser licensing laws, on the other. It should be borne in mind, though, that recent years have seen a continued strong enforcement of drink-drive laws; police are pretty tough on speeding in general; there may be, for demographic reasons, just fewer tearaways on the roads in general. On the other hand, our island is more crowded than it used to be and our roads are busier, so you might think there would be more risk of accidents, not less. And yet the number of accidents, including fatal ones, has fallen.

Correlation is not causation. It is, however, worth noting that had the number of road accidents risen significantly at around the same time as our drinking laws had changed, I think I can imagine how organisations such the British Medical Association, The Lancet, and other campaigners would have used such sets of data.

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12 comments to Longer pub opening hours and fewer car accidents in the UK

  • CaptDMO

    But..but…the data is flawed because..um…recent university studies that led to health department studies, which were verified by recent university studies, demonstrate the validity of recent on-line polls of people agreeing with “The science is settled”.
    Therefore…as Parliament has nothing better to do that day, another whack-a-mole debate will ensue.
    Emotional pleas of “might”, could, blood in the streets, and obscure references to wooden staired escalators will have priority.
    (apparently essential these days) /sarc. but IS it?

  • It could be treating adults like adults. Far more likely, though, is that with an 11 p.m. closing everybody leaves at 11 and there are lots of drunks on the street to have accidents with each other. But precious few will stay until 5 a.m. — they’ll leave when they feel like it, instead of all at once. And they’ll have a harder time finding another drunk for their accident.

  • Richard Thomas

    Many was the time that at 10:55pm, we’d order two pints for the next 25 minutes. Of course, we were staggering home but there’s little doubt that incentives to increase the rate of alcohol consumption just before home time will have an effect on the ability of those piloting motorized transport. And despite the apparent attempts to persuade us otherwise, there is definitely a difference in skill level between being buzzed and being legless.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    There has been a general decrease in crime in Western countries which I’m told correllates well with the decrease in lead in gasoline. So there may be a purely physical explanation for all the responsible behavior breaking out.

    Just sayin’.

  • Mr Ed

    I’m sure that this is bad news and I think rising oceanic CO2 levels are to blame. Now where are those pink tablets?

  • Surellin

    Heh, by five in the morning perhaps the pub-goers are too paralytic to drive. The dangerous spot is at eleven, when they’re only half paralytic. Shallow sips make one foolish, whereas deep draughts leave one sleeping safely under the bushes.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Pirates. As with global warming, is it not coincidental that Pirates had very liberal drinking hours and not a single traffic accident?

  • Current

    I tend to agree with Ellen. I’ve driven at 11pm-3am in places with staggered pub/club closing and in places where everywhere closes at the same time. The former is far safer than the latter, even if you’re driving sober.

  • Richard Thomas

    Current, on the other hand, if it’s not a matter of safer drivers but just of the timing, it would just mean the risk would be spread. Which would make it harder to avoid accidents simple by not being on the road at kicking-out time.

    On the other hand, there’s also the factor that past midnight, traffic tends to be near zero anyway. Not so much an issue of drunks finding it hard to find other drunks to have an accident with as being hard to find anyone to have an accident with.

  • Richard Thomas

    Then again, a quick search brings up many reports that pubs are in decline. Could it be that there are simply less people out there getting drunk?

  • It strikes me as rather obvious that when you close all drinking establishments at 11pm that the amount of carnage between 11 and 12 is going to be high. I remember visiting London a many years ago and being astounded at the chaos on the streets at closing time – at least when compared to my home (the fairly liberal drinking rules-wise St Louis). Closing at 5am means that people dribble out of drinking establishments when they get tired rather than all charging out at once when they’re gassed up. When you push people into the streets before they’re ready, you take them outside of the enforcement and social norms of the drinking establishment.

  • Robert

    Hmm – this decline in accidents also coincided with a sharp down turn in the economy, and with a big increase in car insurance premiums, especially for young male drivers. I haven’t read the study, but if they haven’t taken these factors into account its pretty worthless.