When was the last time you saw an RBT on the street? The NRMA claims RBTs deter motorists and there should be a lot more of them. We look at the stats on trauma caused by drink driving and question whether some drink driving is still socially acceptable.
Most drivers do the right thing
In 2022, 10.639 million motorists took a random breath test somewhere in Australia. Of these, 638,000 (0.6%) were over the legal limit of 0.05.
In NSW during 2022, 3.825 million motorists had to stop to blow into a tube and 15,580 people (0.41%) were over the limit. Another way of saying that is 1 in 242 breath tests were positive.
On the face of it, 99.59% of drivers do the right thing. But with 6.735 million licence holders in NSW, we don’t know how many drink drivers escape being tested.
Bust the Boozers
RBT appears to work as a good deterrent to drivers. If you haven’t been tested recently, or haven’t even seen an RBT, you might be less inclined to worry about being caught. The NRMA study, Bust the Boozers, asked people about their recent experiences of RBTs and any drink driving.
The study found 45% had seen an RBT in the last 6 months and only 23% had seen an RBT in the last 7 to 12 months. It also discovered:
- 12% had driven while over the limit.
- 17% drove when possibly over the limit.
Of those who drank the night before, the next day:
- Nearly a third may have been over the limit.
- 11% knew they were over the limit.
As a result, NRMA wants to see a recommended RBT testing rate of 1.1 tests per drivers licence (it was 0.57 in 2022). This equates to 7.4 million tests in NSW, nearly double the number carried out in 2022.
Are RBTs the only way to deter drink drivers? Are people affected by the deaths and injuries caused by drink driving?
Drink driving can kill and injure people
Everyone knows drink driving can kill or seriously injure innocent people.
In the year to October 2023, 36 people died in an alcohol-related crash (11.3% of all road deaths). This is the same number as during the whole of 2022. However, 2023 deaths are currently 21% below the 3-year average of 45.3, which was lowered by 2 years of Covid restrictions.
Deaths and injuries from alcohol-related crashes in 2022 were more likely on country roads:
- 12.8% of all road deaths in NSW (14.1% of deaths in the country)
- 7% of all serious injuries in NSW (9.1% in the country).
The worst region for drink driving offences in the state is Tweed Shire, with 430 drink drivers and, in third place with 389 drink drivers, Byron Shire. Ironically, these popular areas rely on attracting tourists and retirees who are looking for a healthier life.
Do people understand drink driving?
Many people appear to be still misinformed about drink driving. This means their drink driving may not always be intentional.
A Budget Direct survey of 1,000 people in 2021 found:
- A quarter of NSW residents were unsure about drink driving laws.
- 43% didn’t know how many drinks they could have to stay under the legal limit.*
- Over half believed sleeping, drinking water and eating something greasy could speed up the absorption of alcohol – yet only time can do this.
- Some think they are safe to drive the next morning after a big night.
*Alcohol affects everyone differently at different times so asking how many drinks you can have to stay under the limit is itself a misleading question.
Even so, there is a difference between the attitudes of drink drivers and all NSW drivers:
- Drink drivers are less likely to plan ahead when going out.
- They are more likely to justify their drink driving.
- Situations they think justify it are a short distance to drive home or needing the car next morning.
Is drink driving sometimes acceptable?
The consensus seems to be that Australians no longer see drink driving as acceptable. However, it is an easy thing to say and more difficult to act on during a good night out.
Various advertising campaigns have worked to dispel any ideas that drink driving is acceptable.
For example, the 2022 South Australian drink driving campaign, Drink Driving. Selfish Prick, apparently worked. Research showed 100% of the target market felt ashamed about previous drink driving and 97% thought others would judge them if they drove drunk. However, this campaign was clearly aimed at young men only.
Perhaps the biggest problem is how to separate alcohol from driving. Alcohol is such a big part of everyday life in Australia. You can see alcohol advertised on the sides of buses and at Sydney’s Central Station and many children see their parents drinking every evening. Meanwhile, influential characters in movies and TV series nearly always drink alcohol in social situations and when they are upset.
Trying to separate alcohol from driving is as thorny a task as trying to separate mobile phone use from driving.
While attempts to educate the public are well intended, they may be too broad (or too targeted) to apply to each individual. It may be easy to remember 0.05, but difficult to apply it to the unmeasured glasses of wine you just enjoyed. After all, how can an individual know they are over the legal limit unless they measure it?
RBT is one way to measure whether someone is over the limit, but by then it’s too late.