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Booze buses, ads work well to deter drink driving

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Harsh drink driving penalties are of little deterrence unless backed by effective random breath testing programs, an Australian Institute of Criminology review has found.

In a paper examining measures to reduce drink driving, Institute researchers Kiptoo Terer and Rick Brown found that the most effective deterrent was personal contact with a random breath test operation, either a stationary booze bus or one administered by police officers on patrol.

The researchers said the introduction of random breath testing had been associated with a significant reduction in fatal car crashes, including a drop of 15 per cent in the decade following their introduction in New South Wales, and a 35 per cent fall in Western Australia over four years.

According to the study, the effectiveness of RBT as a deterrent lay in perceptions about the likelihood of being tested and detected, and warned that their influence was likely to wane unless the effort of conducting tests (accompanied by prominent media campaigns) was sustained.

The researchers said RBT policies needed to aim to test a high proportion of drivers, though they admitted further research was needed to establish what the optimum percentage would be.

The report cited research showing that 58 per cent of drivers admitted to having driven under the influence of alcohol and, of these, 72 per cent said they had done it twice in the preceding 12 months.

All up, between 20 and 30 per cent of people caught drink driving reoffend, and the researchers found that this group was the least responsive to deterrents like RBTs, public campaigns and social opprobrium.

According to the study, while the most effective drink driving penalty was loss of licence, even severe sanctions likes imprisonment were largely ineffective unless there was a perceived reasonable likelihood of being detected.

Of interventions for repeat offenders, the study found the most effective was ignition interlocks, which require drivers to provide a breath sample before they can start their car, and which immobilise the vehicle if alcohol is detected.

The authors recommended that their use, which has so far been limited, be expanded significantly for repeat offenders.

The report came following the release of figures showing a drop in the nation’s road toll, from 1303 in 2012 to 1193 last year.

The Australian Automobile Association said an extra 220 lives could have been saved last year if every other State and Territory had matched Victoria’s road fatality rate of 4.24 people per 100,000.

The AAA added that, with the number of road fatalities decreasing, greater attention needed to be paid to reducing the number of serious injuries suffered in road accidents, citing National Road Safety Strategy estimates that around 32,500 people suffered serious injuries in road accidents each year.

Adrian Rollins

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