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Random Breath Testing in the State of Victoria, Australia

Inspector Michael Moloney

Traffic Alcohol Section, Police Traffic Centre, 20 Dawson st, Brunswick Vic 3056, Australia


Random Breath Testing in Victoria has established itself as an outstandingly successful method in preventing "alcohol affected driving". Since its introduction in 1976, but particularly since its re-structuring in 1989, we have witnessed a dramatic reduction in drivers killed over the legal blood alcohol limit which in Victoria is 0.05 per centum. In 1977, 49% of all drivers killed were found to be in excess of 0.05%. In 1992 that figure was reduced to an all time low of 21%.

The Victorian RBT programme has focused its entire campaign on the basis of the principles, as espoused by Prof Ross Homel, namely that it must be: highly visible; rigorously enforced so as to ensure credibility; must be sustained; and it must be well publicised. All principles are vital to its success.


The State of Victoria, Australia in the 1990's has approximately 3 million licensed drivers and as many registered vehicles. Two thirds of that driving population and vehicles are located within its capital city, Melbourne.

Statistics indicate that Victoria now has one of the lowest road tolls in the Western World (refer Table 1).

Table 1
Comparison of Fatality Rates

Location YEAR Fatalities Per 10,000 vehicles Fatalities Per 100,000 population
Victoria 1992 1.47 8.9
1993 1.52 9.7
1994 1.34 8.64
United Kingdom 1992 1.7 7.6
1993(prov) 1.5 6.76
Japan 1992 1.8 9.2
Sweden 1992 1.94 8.7
1993 1.62 7.2
Australia 1992 1.9 11.2
1993 1.82 10.9
Canada 1992 2.0 12.3
1993 - 12.3(prov)
U.S.A. 1992 2.0 15.4
1993 2.0 16.0
Germany 1992 2.3 13.2
1993 2.1 12.3
New Zealand 1992 2.9 18.5
1993 2.7 17.1
Source - Monash University Accident Research Centre.

A principal reason for that low road toll has been due to the reduction in alcohol affected driving brought about primarily through Random Breath Testing (R.B.T.).


In order to address the problem of alcohol affected driving it is imperative to understand the full impact of that driving on the overall road toll. Historically, and I believe still the case both in Victoria and elsewhere, the full impact of alcohol effected driving on the road toll is grossly under-estimated. This situation is brought about by a failure to identify alcohol as the primary factor in injury collisions.

From our experience in Victoria, we have found the only truly reliable measure of the minimum impact of alcohol affected driving on the road toll is to the measure the number of driver's fatally injured and found to have a Blood Alcohol Content (B.A.C.) over .05 per centum.

In 1977, when records on Driver/Rider death over .05% were first reliably recorded in Victoria, it was found that 49% of all driver/riders killed had a B.A.C. over .05%. Given that not all drivers with a B.A.C over .05% died as a result of their involvement in fatal accidents, it is reasonable to presume that alcohol played an even greater causative role in the road toll. It is for this reason that when effective drink-driving counter-measurers are implemented, major changes in road trauma can be expected.



In response to the magnitude of the alcohol affected driving problem in Victoria in 1977, the Government of the day introduced random interception and testing of drivers for the presence of alcohol without the intercepting police being required to have any previous knowledge of any alcohol affect on that driver. This was the birth of Random Breath Testing as we now know it. The original objective of this legislation was to identify and prosecute all drivers found to have a B.A.C. over .05% and remove them from our roadways.

Immediately following the implementation of Random Breath Testing, an immediate and significant reduction in driver/rider death over .05% was measured which continued until the 1980's when that reduction levelled out.

An investigation in 1987 throughout Australia on R.B.T. by Prof Ross Homel and others found that the apparent effectiveness of R.B.T. was due to its preventative capacities rather than the detection of offenders for which it was originally designed (Homel, Caseldine and Kearns, 1988). It is now accepted in Victoria that the true objective of R.B.T. is "to create a perception amongst the driving public that if they drink then drive, their apprehension is inevitable". Whether that threat is real or otherwise is not the point, the key is whether the public believes it to be.

Homel found that in order to conduct an effective R.B.T. campaign it was necessary that the enforcement campaign be:-

All factors were vital in order to maximise effectiveness and a reduction in any factor would reduce that overall effectiveness (Homel, Caseldine and Kearns et al, 1988).


Due to the levelling of driver/rider death over .05% during the 1980's and in light of Homel's findings, Victoria Police approached its Government recommending improvements to our R.B.T. program to bring it in line with Homel's findings.

Previous to 1990, R.B.T. had been conducted by traffic and station uniform officers in normal police vehicles. They performed R.B.T. in combination with their other duties. The effect of this, was that the testing was done when other more pressing duties allowed. Overall the RBT Campaign


In September 1989, those improvements in RBT were endorsed by Government and a sole purpose group was formed to conduct R.B.T. in Metropolitan Melbourne. That group was established at the Traffic Alcohol Section and controlled by its own officer. It was that officer's responsibility to identify the places and times that alcohol affected driving was at its height and to direct the available resources to address it.

It was conceded from previous experience that R.B.T. testing duties were repetitious and had the effect of becoming soul destroying on the testing members if done for months at a time. On that basis, it was decided to utilize recently graduated constables to the R.B.T. Section at T.A.S. to conduct the testing. That group was to remain for one month and to be replaced by the next graduating group.

The effect of this injection of youth, whilst inexperienced, was infectious in its enthusiasm and extremely productive on all involved. Its interaction with the public proved to be outstandingly successful due to their positive approach. The creation of the section and the use of newly graduated constables instilled regularity and credibility to the Campaign which had previously been lacking.


In order to raise the visibility of R.B.T., a special purpose vehicle was designed. When designing that vehicle it was necessary that it had to be instantly recognisable by the public for what it was. It therefor had to be different from all other police vehicles. It also had to be designed in such a way as to encourage efficiency in the conduct of R.B.T. at the road side. It became the visible "flagship" of the Victorian RBT Campaign.

During 1990, seven "Booze Buses" were built and utilized in Melbourne and six others located in Regional Victoria.


In order to publicise the campaign the Government charged the Transport Accident Commission (T.A.C.), who have financial monopoly and responsibility for all motor vehicle injury in Victoria, with that responsibility. The subsequent publicity was professionally prepared and saturation in form both on Television and in other media. It focused on the identified problems of "speed" and "alcohol".

The T.A.C. accepted full financial responsibility for entire campaign both in advertising and in the purchase of equipment. It has also funded many special operations carried out by police in order to raise and proliferate the RBT presence in the public arena.

The T.A.C. engaged independent auditors whose role it was to monitor the effectiveness or otherwise of the campaign.


Since the introduction of the re-structured R.B.T. campaign, which commenced on 12.11.1989, Victoria has witnessed a massive increase in both R.B.T. productivity and visibility. Visibility has been enhanced through the buses individually recognisable and repeated road side presence, together with the numerous specialist operations, eg. freeway RBT conducted during peak alcohol time, all of which were designed to attract public and media attention. The saturation advertizing conducted by the T.A.C. served to spread that presence throughout the whole community.

Driver/Rider death over .05% dropped from 113 in 1989 to 49 in 1994. This was a reduction from 49% of all drivers/riders killed over .05% in 1977 to 24% in 1994. It went as low as 21% in 1992.

Blood Alcohol Levels of all offending drivers from 1989/90 (fiscal year) to 1993/94 indicated significant reductions overall but particularly in the highest level, namely the 0.150% and above category.

An examination of all offending age groups indicated that since 1990 all groups had returned significant reductions in terms of numbers. The largest group,the 20 - 24 year olds, were amongst the greatest reduction.

Offending levels have decreased progressively since 1990 however that decrease seems to have flattened out at the end of 1993 and began a slight increase during 1994. This may be due in part to the introduction of the Drager 7110 Automated instrument into Victoria on 1.8.94.

In order to monitor the trends involving alcohol on the road-toll without waiting for the Blood Alcohol results on fatally injured drivers, we apply fatality separation by utilizing high and low alcohol times. Research indicated alcohol related death was 10 times more likely in high alcohol time than low (Sloane, South -1983). In 1990, death during high-alcohol time was 50% greater than during low-alcohol time. Since 1990 that margin has closed to the point in 1995 where it is no more likely that a person would be killed on Victorian roads during either time span.


I believe Victoria has utilized R.B.T. to levels of effectiveness not equalled elswhere. On our experience, I believe it is possible to lower driver/rider death over .05% still further to 15% of over-all driver death. The accomplishment of this achievable target will only be possible if we maintain our current methods and management of R.B.T. and by increasing available resources.

R.B.T. has proved itself in Victoria to be an enforcement tool capable of changing an entire community's attitude towards drinking and driving.


Homel, Caseldine and Kearns (1988) "Drink driving Counter-Measures in Australia". Alcohol Drugs and Driving volume 4, number 2.

Sloane H.R. and South D. R. (1983) - "The Characteristics of Accidents involving Alcohol in Victoria in 1977-1982" - Vic Roads.