Alcohol testing in Australia a positive story

The drop in the road toll due to alcohol testing, combined with education on the dangers of mixing alcohol and driving, has been a great success. Credit Highway Patrol Images

Turn on the news or read a lot of news articles and chances are that most stories will be somewhat negative. We’d have to admit, some of our blogs are a bit on the negative side, whether it’s about people who have failed alcohol and drug testing or alarming statistics – hardly positive or feel good!

Well, here’s a story that is positive. It’s about a change in Australia four decades ago that has made our roads much safer, saved many thousands of lives and reduced the number of critical injuries. The change? Alcohol testing on our roads.

Yes, it is around 40 years since random breath testing was introduced in Australia, although some states were far quicker to introduce programs. In Victoria, for example, random breath testing has been carried out on our roads since July 1976.

What is undeniable, however, is that in all states and territories, the improvement in road statistics since roadside alcohol testing was introduced has been quite staggering.

In NSW, for example, where random breath testing was introduced in 1982, the number of fatal crashes that have involved alcohol has dropped from around 40 per cent to 15 per cent. Back in 1982, just under 350 people lost their lives on the road in accidents where alcohol was a factor. That has dropped to around 50. That’s 300 lives saved each year.

The figures in Victoria are just as impressive. The proportion of motorists killed on our roads with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.05 was a staggering 49 per cent back in 1977. It’s now around 15 per cent a year.

War not won

While random roadside alcohol testing and education programs have made a significant difference, it’s fair to say the war is not won. Motorists are still driving and riding on our roads under the influence of alcohol… And dying in the process:

  • In Queensland, more than 250 people died between 2016 to 2020 while over the legal limit.
  • In the ACT, around 25 per cent of fatal crashes involve alcohol.
  • In Tasmania, motorists in the 17 to 25 year age group make up 12 per cent of drivers, but contribute to 28 per cent of serious road accident casualties involving alcohol.
  • In the NT, alcohol is involved in 40 per cent of road fatalities and 20 per cent of injuries.
  • 42 people died on WA roads due to crashes involving alcohol in 2020. Regional areas over-contributed to this figure.
  • In SA, around 18 per cent of drivers and riders killed on the roads have a blood alcohol level of 0.05 or more.
  • Drink driving is involved in 1 out of every 7 fatal road accidents in NSW.
  • 1 in 5 drivers and riders who lost their lives in Victoria are over the legal limit.

So, while we’ve made great inroads there is plenty more that needs to be done. While there is a lot of focus on drugs on our roads, because they are now responsible for more fatalities than alcohol in most Australian states and territories, the alcohol issue is not going away.


The drop in the road toll due to alcohol testing, combined with education on the dangers of mixing alcohol and driving, has been a great success. Credit Highway Patrol Images

By Michael

Michael is the founder of Integrity Sampling and is responsible for overseeing all national operations. He is based at Integrity Sampling's head office in Melbourne and is also responsible for the co-ordination of drug and alcohol testing within Victoria, assisting in the implementation of drug and alcohol (fit for work) policies and the presentation of drug and alcohol education and awareness programs. You can connect with Michael Wheeldon on LinkedIn

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