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Random breath testing - a successful policy recipe.

Casey, G J (Peer reviewed)

Drink Driving


Australia, amongst the most highly motorised countries in the world (1), pays a high price for motorised transport. Deaths and injuries aside, the financial costs are estimated to be in the vicinity of $15 billion annually (2). Crash causation is constantly examined by a broad range of bureaucracies, researchers, motoring organisations, community groups and Government committees so that policies are focussed on counteracting the most prominent issues in a cost effective manner (3).

Numerous public policies implemented throughout New South Wales (NSW) in the 1970s and early 1980s years have attempted to curb the alcohol related road toll. The list includes the introduction of a legal blood alcohol limit of 0.08 in 1968, increases in fines for drink-driving from $400 to $1000 in 1978, licence disqualification for first offenders in 1979, mandatory breath testing of drivers following a crash or certain traffic offences in 1980 and later that year, a reduction of the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) from 0.08 to 0.05. (4; 5)

Despite these measures and in response to the death and injuries still occurring on the roads and community pressure to do something about it, the NSW Government, on 17th December 1982, implemented what was then a radical move in an attempt to curb alcohol related road crashes – Random Breath Testing (RBT). History now shows RBT as something of a 'silver bullet'(6) with RBT operations now a widely accepted part of driving in New South Wales. Yet as one of a considerable number of policies designed to target alcohol related driving, it differs significantly from that which commenced in 1982. Ongoing evaluations have resulted in further policy and legislative enhancements to the initial version.

Many drink driving studies recognise the success of RBT in the context of the behavioural effects it achieved, but do not discuss the public policy context. In fact, the path it followed throughout its policy implementation and development is a major reason for its success. This paper discusses that policy process within the context of a 'policy cycle' (7), including the actors involved, identification of the issue, analysis, policy instruments and implementation and evaluation. Clear implications for those seeking to implement future road safety policy initiatives are drawn out between the policy theory and the RBT example. A conclusion is then drawn about why the policy succeeded and why it maintains very high levels of community support.