Police in several Australian states have stopped conducting stationary, large-scale random breath tests and drug tests in an effort to protect both officers and the public from transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Police forces in Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland this week confirmed their officers will avoid carrying out high-volume booze bus testing, instead relying on targeted testing to catch those driving under the influence.
The precaution is being taken over concerns the use of drug and alcohol testing equipment, as well as the increased proximity of the public to the police officers, could lead to the spread of infections.
Although the measures are temporary, it's not yet clear when the practice will be allowed to re-commence.
"The Police Federation of Australia (PFA), with all the state unions and associations, pushed for this to occur," PFA CEO Scott Weber told CarAdvice.
"It’s a high risk activity in regards to the coronavirus and what we want to make sure is police are out there keeping the community safe and not assisting with the spread.
"The last thing we want is to be doing RBT and contaminating people or causing them to be isolated."
In a statement issued on Tuesday, ACT Police said it already favours a targeted testing approach over large-scale RBTs and would continue to do so amid the coronavirus outbreak.
"ACT Policing has provided advice to our members to maximise hygiene controls to continue to conduct roadside alcohol and drug testing safely," it said.
Northern Territory Police told CarAdvice it was working on a response to the matter.
In a statement, NSW Police said the Police Commissioner had "determined police officers may decide it is not reasonable to undertake stationary RBT and RDT in the current climate".
“Police officers will therefore use their discretion to determine the viability of conducting stationary RBT and RDT," it said.
Meanwhile, the Queensland Police Service said this week it had suspended "static, multi-vehicle roadside testing", effective immediately, and remaining in place "until further notice".
"Road safety continues to be a significant priority for the QPS. The QPS will continue to undertake random breath and drug testing through high visibility mobile patrols," it added.
Tasmania Police also suspended large scale testing to protect against the spread of the virus and "allow more time for police on the roads with an increased focus on targeted breath and drug testing and high visibility patrolling, which are methods we already utilise," it said.
Victoria Police issued a tweet reminding drivers it would still have a presence on the state's roads and that preliminary breath tests would not be suspended entirely.
"Rest assured we will be highly visible and mobile, with PBT’s, to test drivers who choose to drink and drive. Let us be clear, if you drink and drive or commit other offences you will be caught," it said.
#COVID19au: We have not suspended Preliminary Breath Tests.Rest assured we will be highly visible and mobile, with PBT’s, to test drivers who choose to drink and drive.Let us be clear, if you drink and drive or commit other offences you will be caught. pic.twitter.com/uGhKiCqMp4— Victoria Police (@VictoriaPolice) March 16, 2020
WA Police also reiterated that its decision did not mean a free pass for drink drivers, saying in a statement: "This decision has been made to minimise the risk to officers and the community, but should not be interpreted that police will not be stopping and testing drivers. Roadside testing will continue but not in the same format."
Finally, SA Police Assistant Commissioner Ian Parrott said the state would follow other police agencies in suspending "all static and block RBT operations".
"A number of other Australian police agencies have already undertaken a similar course of action. Our priority is to balance road safety needs with the health risks associated with COVID-19 for operational police officers and the community more broadly," Mr Parrott said.
Mr Weber from the PFA said the kind of targeted testing that will replace mass roadside breath tests has been statistically shown to be more effective in apprehending drink drivers.
"To limit mass volume RBTs, there will be more targeted and mobile testing and more police officers out on the road interacting with drivers," Mr Weber said.