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Four decades of random breath testing marked by decline in road fatalities

Friday, 16 December 2022 10:43:33 AM

Deputy Premier and Minister for Police, Paul Toole has joined Transport for NSW and NSW Police Force to mark four decades of random breath testing on NSW roads, ahead of the Christmas/New Year holiday period.

Tomorrow (Saturday 17 December 2022), marks the 40th anniversary of the introduction of random breath testing across NSW roads.

Prior to random breath testing, the state’s annual road toll regularly surpassed 1,200 fatalities, and authorities recognised that measures needed to be introduced to address the issue.

In 1982 NSW became one of the first jurisdictions in the world and the first in Australia to introduce random breath testing.

Prior to the introduction of random breath testing police could only stop a motorist due to their manner of driving.

In the first five years following the introduction of random breath testing across the state, road fatalities fell from 1,303 in 1980 to 1,067 in 1985.

In 1980, the percentage of road fatalities linked to drink driving was 30%. Of the 275 road fatalities recorded in NSW last year (2021), 17% were attributed to drink driving – cutting the percentage by almost half and reducing the number of alcohol related fatalities by 88%.

In January 2007 NSW Police also commenced testing motorists for drug driving.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Police Paul Toole said community attitudes have shifted over the last four decades.

“Today, drivers are well aware that they could be stopped for a random drug or breath test anywhere and at any time,” Minister Toole said.

“The statistics speak for themselves - since RBTs were introduced, thousands of lives have been saved.

“We all want to ensure everyone gets home safely to their loved ones this Christmas period – and no one should rob a family of that with a selfish decision to get behind the wheel after they’ve been drinking.

“If you are planning to have a few drinks over the festive season, leave the car at home and have a Plan B.”

Traffic and Highway Patrol Commander Assistant Commissioner Brett McFadden said alcohol and drug driving was still a major concern for police.

“Despite road fatalities having dropped since the introduction of RBT, it is still disturbing that many drivers can’t see an issue with having a few drinks, or consuming illicit drugs, before getting behind the wheel,” Assistant Commissioner McFadden said.

“Getting behind the wheel of a car under the influence – no matter how much you consume – is not a sign of someone who is in control, it’s a sign of someone who can be up to 25 times more likely to be involved in a crash because of their state of intoxication.

“Our aim is to bring alcohol and drug-related fatalities to zero.

“Alcohol and drug-related fatalities are 100% avoidable. The message is simple – don’t drink or take drugs and drive, have a plan ‘B’ if you’re planning on having a few, and speak up if you see someone getting behind the wheel under the influence.

“We all have a part to play in keeping our roads safe.”

Minister for Metropolitan Roads Natalie Ward said since the introduction of RBT, we have seen alcohol related road deaths fall from 389 in 1980 to 47 in 2021.

“RBT has been key in driving down drink driving, saving an estimated 9,100 lives in NSW since it began and preventing the trauma those deaths would have caused to many more,” Mrs Ward said.

“Drink driving still contributes to about 15 to 20 per cent of deaths on NSW roads each year, so I’m urging all drivers to help us reduce that to zero.”

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Sam Farraway said the introduction of RBT laws was a watershed moment for NSW in helping reduce the road toll.

“It also marked a change in community attitudes and driver behaviour towards drink driving from being almost socially acceptable – to now being generally regarded as reckless behaviour that puts lives at risk. We also know from attitudinal research of NSW drivers, that drink and drug driving enforcement has high levels of community support.” Mr Farraway said.

“Throughout its 40 years, RBT has been well supported by large scale public education campaigns to further deter drink driving, from our ‘Will you be under .05 or under arrest?’ in the 1980s through to our ‘Plan B’ and ‘Stop it. Or Cop it’ campaigns today.”