Australia's peak road transport and traffic agency Austroads has called for the legal blood-alcohol limit to be reduced to zero, in an effort to combat the nation's ongoing drink driving problem.
A 2020 report from Austroads has urged policymakers to decrease the existing legal blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for driving from 0.05 to 0.00 per cent, along with introducing a host of other tough measures to curb road fatalities.
Austroads claims drink driving is involved in about 18 per cent of all road fatalities nationally, resulting in more than 200 deaths a year and thousands of injuries.
Ideally, the report said, the BAC limit should be reduced to zero, or at least to 0.02 per cent in the "medium term".
Additionally, Austroads called for the frequency of random breath testing to be increased, immediate roadside licence suspension to be implemented, the fast-tracking of vehicle technology development, support and treatment for alcohol-dependent drivers improved and, finally, the price of alcohol to be increased.
Another recommendation was the expansion of interlock technology, which prevents a driver from starting their car's engine if a pre-fitted breathalyser registers them as over the legal limit and is now widely used in New South Wales as a court-mandated measure for mid-range (0.08-0.149 BAC) offenders.
Above: Interlock technology prevents drink driving offenders from starting their cars while over the limit.
Eric Howard, co-author of the Austroads report, said these tougher measures were necessary in order to achieve the national target of zero road fatalities and injuries by 2050.
"These are things that could happen in the next 10 years," he argued.
When it comes to the frequency of random breath testing, Mr Howard said most states hovered around 0.7-0.8 RBTs per licence holder per year, but best practice is 1.16.
"Up to 1.5 RBTs per driver per year and you start to see a clear positive benefit. If frequency drops to 0.6 or 0.7 per driver per year you get an almost immediate increase in drink driving fatalities," Mr Howard explained.
Mr Howard cited Victorian research that showed drivers were seven times more likely to have a crash with even a small amount of alcohol in their system, compared with no alcohol in their system.
Russell White, CEO of the Australian Road Safety Foundation, said removing the guesswork out of drink driving would go a long way to decreasing accident rates.
"We expect people to guess whether they’re okay to drive but they really have no way to know. If you say it’s zero, it takes the ambiguity out of it. If you’re drinking, just don’t drive. Anything that alters your physical or mental state will impair your driving," Mr White said.
Additionally, Mr White called for a nationally consistent policy on penalising drunk drivers and said rural communities needed to be closely monitored and provided for, given their decreased access to alternative forms of transport.
"You’ve got issues on the rural side of things where the perception of the risk of being caught is relatively small," he added.
Above: Oslo, where the BAC limit is 0.02, the 2019 road toll was one person.
In other parts of the world, a reduction in the legal BAC limit has been cited as a contributing factor to the overall reduction in annual road toll.
In Norway, where the BAC limit has been 0.02 since 2001, the 2019 road toll was the lowest in the world, with capital city Oslo recording a road toll of just one person. The entire country reporting only two road traffic deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in that same year.
However, other industry figures have questioned whether a reduction in the BAC limit is the right solution to Australia's national drink-driving problem.
"If were were to introduce a policy like that it would require a fundamental shift in community behaviour, and that shift will come from people who pose no risk to the community," Peter Khoury, spokesperson for the NRMA, said.
"One in five deaths are still attributed to drink driving, which is clearly too high, but are we pulling the right levers here? We want to make sure that new rules introduced target the areas where there are risks."
Instead, Mr Khoury said the NRMA supports the introduction of tougher limits for high-risk groups like repeat offenders, rather than restrictions that will create challenges for the broader community.
"We’re not talking about people who’ve had three beers instead of two, we’re talking about people getting behind the wheel drunk," he argued.
"We want to see policies that will target individuals who are high risk, plus more education – there’s a raft of things we think need to be looked at."