RBT Bodies

Reporter: Georgia Main

Despite decades of campaigns and millions of random breath tests every year, 1 in 5 of the drivers killed on our roads has a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. It wasn't until the 80's that NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory lowered their point 08 drink driving limit to point 05, in line with the rest of the country. Now there are calls to reduce it even further, to point 02. "A 23 year old girl last weekend was seriously injured in a motor car collision. She would normally expect to be 80, but she will be 60 years a cripple. It's really sad", said Inspector Greg Parr from Victoria Police.

According to Inspector Parr, not enough drivers pay attention to the current laws. "It seems to us that about a third of the people involved in fatal collisions are over .05 or over the prescribed limit. That's a measure in itself. If we could just get people to comply with the legislation that exists you could probably comfortably say a third of the fatals may not happen", he added.

Last year across Australia, 12.4 million motorists were breathalysed -- around 111,000 were over the limit. "I think it should be zero, it removes that guessing game out of it", said Penny Marshal, who lost her son Josh in a drink driving accident 8 years ago. "Josh was a passenger in a car driven by a P plate driver who was drinking and very high speeds were involved too -- I think that's often missed -- the alcohol content often gives the Dutch courage to do the speeds they wouldn't normally do", Penny said.

For Professor Peter Cameron, head of the Alfred Hospital's Trauma Unit, it's a common story. He says on a typical Friday or Saturday night, "There's always a small percentage of people -- maybe 10 to 20% -- where alcohol is critically involved and in that group if the alcohol wasn't there, the accident wouldn't happen", Professor Cameron said. "The drivers at .05 are certainly a risky group but the risk really accelerates when you get above .08", said Professor Max Cameron is from the Monash Accident Research Centre.

"In fact two thirds of our current killed drivers who have alcohol on board are at 0.15 and above", he added. The latest research reveals that with a blood alcohol limit up to point 04, a drivers risk of crashing remains virtually the same as when sober. At point 05 that risk nearly doubles and at point 08, an accident becomes much more likely. "If governments were to invest in more random breathtesting, especially in quiet streets where the smart drink drivers are now travelling, I can tell you that would certainly reduce the road toll much more effectively than a reduction in the BAC limit", he added.

But countries such as Norway, Sweden and Poland who have lowered their drink driving limit to point 02, are reporting an 8% reduction in alcohol related incidents. While the law can be changed relatively easily, the social and cultural change could be more difficult. "The Australian psyche is different to the Scandinavian psyche. I don't know if we are ready in Australia for a .02 limit nor do I think its justified", said Professor Cameron."Reducing road trauma is now seen as a community problem and everyone wants to be involved, so if nothing else comes of this that's been a real win", said Inspector Parr.