Car News

Would lowering the blood alcohol limit help?

Lowering the blood alcohol limit to 0.02 could help reduce the number of drink-driving road fatalities, according to the results of a new Australian study.

THE MONASH UNIVERSITY ACCIDENT RESEARCH COMMISSION conducted a study of different jurisdictions around the world to analyse if there was a link between the different drink-driving limits and road fatalities. It concluded that fewer people would die on Australian roads if the blood alcohol limit for motorists was reduced to 0.02 from the current 0.05.

In 2013, more than 10,000 people were apprehended driving over the legal limit on Victorian roads and people with a blood alcohol limit over 0.05 made up about one fifth of the road toll.

The study found high-range drink drivers generally reduced their drinking by between 30 and 50% when blood alcohol limits were reduced. Blood alcohol limits were last reduced from 0.08 to 0.05 in 1991. Although the limit remains at 0.08 across the US, there are calls for it to be reduced to 0.05 as it is in most European, Asian and South American countries. Generally Australian States require a zero limit for learners, provisional licence holders, probationary licence holders, heavy (greater than 15 tonne) vehicle drivers, taxis, licensed chauffeured vehicles, dangerous goods vehicle drivers and bus drivers (it varies from State to State). Some countries such as Norway, Sweden, Latvia and Ukraine already have a 0.02 limit and Belarus, Hungary and Slovakia have a zero limit for all drivers.

Monash University professor Max Cameron said a lower blood alcohol limit would discourage heavy drink-drivers from drinking. “They unfortunately don’t stop drink-driving,” he said, “They just reduce the amount they drink. It translates into substantial reductions in fatal crashes in particular.”

The report recommended the Victorian Government should consider reducing the limit.

“It is very cost effective, probably the most cost effective thing we could do,” Professor Cameron said. “The only real additional cost was the concern about the need to do evidentiary testing after detecting drivers at random breath testing.”

The results of the study were revealed as Victoria Police called for renewed debate over the current 0.05 limit. Inspector Martin Boorman from Road Policing Command said that while there had been a drop in the number of drunk drivers on Victorian roads, more needed to be done. “Even though we had the lowest road toll in 90 years, we’ve still got more to do because people are still dying and being hurt on our roads,” he said. He suggested a zero blood alcohol limit should be considered.

“It makes it a simple yes/no question. If you’re going to drink, don’t drive; if you’re going to drive, don’t drink.”

Victorian premier Denis Napthine declared the government had no plans to reduce the drink-driving threshold. “This would have a significant implication for the hospitality industry and quality of life across Melbourne and Victoria,” he said. “Our priority should be about making roads safer. Having said that, let me say that we as a government have no plans at this stage to change the 0.05 (limit).”

If Victoria were to push ahead and reduce the limit, it is almost certain other states would follow suit.

Needless to say, the proposal created a storm of discussion in Victoria, with most people firmly against it. The problem with 0.02 appears to be that even a single glass of wine or beer can put people over the limit. On the other hand, a 0.02 or zero limit makes it simple to know if you should choose to drive or not – even one drink puts you at risk of offending. At least the 0.02 limit makes a small allowance for a blood alcohol reading the morning after – something most drivers don’t seem to consider when they get behind the wheel the day after a heavy night’s drinking.

So what do you think? Would a reduction to 0.02 reduce the number of drink-driving crashes? Or would heavy drinkers continue to get behind the wheel? Would a zero blood alcohol limit make more sense? How do we get drink-drivers off our roads? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Paul Murrell

Paul Murrell

Paul’s mother knew he was a car nut when, aged three, he could identify oncoming cars from their engine note alone. By 10, he had decided what his first car would be and begun negotiations with a bank to arrange finance, the first of many expensive automotive mistakes. These days, he is happy to drive other people’s cars (on the road, off the road or on the track) and write up what’s good about them and what isn’t.