The tragedy earlier this month in which a motorist blew 3 times the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit after mowing down and killing four children, has re-ignited discussions concerning our current legal BAC’s and has experts calling for their review of our current laws; and the possibility of a mandatory zero blood alcohol level for all Australian drivers.
But are lower BAC limits really able to help to further reduce road deaths?
Most of Australia has had a BAC driving limit of .05 for almost 30 years and there have been significant reductions in our road toll in that time. Since random breath testing was introduced in the 1980’s, the number of alcohol-related deaths on our roads has reduced about fivefold.
But drink driving does still remain a major factor in road fatalities, with about one in every seven road deaths involving alcohol. But that number is much higher in rural areas where about 40 per cent of road deaths involve alcohol.
Some experts have suggested that there is evidence to indicate that countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia who have zero BAC limits are effectively reducing their road toll. With the number of traffic deaths in the Czech Republic falling 57% between 2000 and 2018.
But let’s have a realistic look at that data.
The Czech Republic has had a zero BAC limit since the 1950’s yet only a few years ago had one of the highest road death rates in all of Europe. While Romania had a road death rate of 9.8 people (per 100,00 inhabitants) in 2017 – Australia usually sits at around 5.5. The European Commission has confirmed that very few European Countries has recorded a rate higher than 8.0.
If we combine this with data from Poland which has around 9.0 deaths per 100,000 people and China which has 18.2 deaths per 100,000 despite both of them having a .02 BAC. Is the lower BAC the effective factor at play?
The only real success stories of where lower BAC (0.02) coincides with low road deaths is in Norway and Sweden – who’s death rates are consistently around 2.0 per 100,000 people. But we should consider that there are many other factors at play here, including proper driver education. Scandinavia is regarded by all as the leaders in road safety, with year on year low road deaths. Sweden was the original country to develop the “Towards Zero” mission that has been adopted in most countries worldwide.
So, does the evidence suggest that having a lower BAC limit actually reduces the road death rate? But more importantly would a zero tolerance to alcohol have stopped the tragedy of what happened to these four children.
Sadly, the simple answer is No. Because this person chose to drive regardless of how much he had to drink, or what his limits might have been. He showed complete disregard for the law or for other people. People like him will continue to break the law regardless of the outcomes.
We believe what may be a better deterrent is a better police presence, tougher sentencing for criminals, better driver education for all drivers and mandatory breathalysers in every vehicle.