GREG RAY: Random testing rules

SO it’s 30 years since they introduced random roadside breath testing for alcohol.

And after all this time I still get a sick feeling in my stomach when I see those blue flashing lights looming up ahead, even if I haven’t had a drink. 

I don’t know how many times I’ve had to blow into plastic tubes or count to 10 alongside some whizzbang sensor thingy, but it’s added up to a fair few over the decades.

It isn’t something I enjoy, but I like to know those police are out there, making potential drink drivers think twice or grabbing at least some of them when they decide – against all advice – to take the risk.

Getting done for DUI is a social stigma most people want to avoid at all costs. And when we read about serious road accidents we always look for the paragraph that tells us whether alcohol was a factor. If it was, we feel angry or disgusted on top of our sadness.

We’ve had it drummed into us so hard that drink-driving is such an incredibly anti-social thing to do that we instantly feel appalled at people who do it.

That might be why I find aspects of the RBT reality TV show quite compelling, whenever I find myself in front of it. I shake my head at some of the idiots and the risks they take with their own lives and those of other people.

On the other hand, I feel genuinely sorry for those cases where some poor P-plater gets pinged when all they did was eat  some of their mum’s supercharged trifle.

The one thing I don’t really understand is, how do they get these people to agree to go on TV and parade their foolishness or misfortune in front of an audience?

Anyway, it’s interesting to reflect on the impact random breath testing has had on society since it was introduced.

It must have done great things for the taxi industry, for a start, though I imagine some Newcastle cabbies must wonder at times whether they might not have preferred at least some of their drink-crazed passengers to have driven home by themselves. Or tried to.

Pubs and clubs always knew that RBT would hurt them badly. How could it have failed to?

The roaring afternoon trade they used to enjoy took a heck of a beating, and even the advent of light beer couldn’t put things back the way they were.

In the bad old days it was nothing for people to go for a big drinking session after work and then drive home, sometimes shakily. 

That’s pretty uncommon these days, but some people do risk it, obviously. 

Whenever I see somebody driving too slowly, too carefully, and maybe having a little bit of trouble staying in the middle of their lane, I wonder to myself if they might not have had one too many beers.

Personally, I worry myself silly if I even drive with just one drink under my belt. 

I hate it when the policeman asks if I’ve had a drink and I have to say yes. And then have to endure minutes of worry about whether some freak of bad metabolism might make me fail the test.

One thing I wondered this week, when I read about the 30-year milestone being passed, was whether, if breath testing wasn’t already law, any present-day Australian government would have the courage to introduce it?

I could imagine the idea being raised (it would have to be by a Green or an independent, of course) and the major parties trying to ignore it. And I can imagine the resistance from vested interests.

Would we get the same kind of expensive advertising campaign that we recently saw employed to protect poker machine income used to prevent anti-drink-driving laws?

I wonder if, in the new reality of modern politics, it would be called “un-Australian” to try to deprive pubs and clubs of income in the name of protecting people from their own foolish actions and lack of self-control?

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