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Thursday, 22 May 1980
Page: 3078


Mr KATTER (Kennedy) -On behalf of the Standing Committee on Road Safety, I present the report of the Committee on alcohol, drugs and road safety, together with the transcript of evidence and extracts from the minutes of proceedings.

Ordered that the report be printed.


Mr KATTER -by leave-First of all, I would like to thank the secretariat staff and my Committee members. We were really put to the test on this occasion because, at the critical moment when we were about to produce this report, we lost the services of Frank Hinkley, who was then the Secretary to the Committee. His place was taken by Bill Mutton, who did a splendid job which was far beyond what one would have expected under the circumstances. He stepped in without having heard the evidence and without having been associated with the hearings. He was ably assisted by Kristin Ballard. I pay particular tribute to those two people and, in addition, to David South and Dr Joe Santamaria. Undoubtedly, members of the public at times say to themselves: 'How can a group of politicians be expert on road safety and in the critical involvement of that subject?' On all occasions while I have been on this Committee we have had the advantage of having not only consultants who were nationally equipped, but also consultants with an international reputation. They assisted the Committee in a very decisive manner.

This report was produced as part of a general investigation into human behaviour as it applies to road safety. The first term of reference which we have dealt with concerns alcohol and drugs. Driving under the influence of alcohol is the most important single factor contributing to serious road crashes; the statistics are horrifying. In 1979, 3,506 people were killed in road crashes in Australia. At least one-third of all adults killed-that is about 1,000 people in 1979- would have had a significant concentration of alcohol in their blood. Furthermore, many of those unaffected by alcohol would have been killed in crashes involving a driver who was affected by alcohol. Research suggests that alcohol is a factor in 50 per cent of crashes involving a fatality.

In 1977 over 91,600 people were injured in more than 67,500 reported road crashes in Australia. In some 34 per cent of all road crashes resulting in personal injury at least one driver, rider or pedestrian would have had a significant blood alcohol content. Finally, this dismal record of statistics tells us that a survey in Adelaide has shown that overall 8.4 per cent of drivers surveyed had been drinking; 2.5 per cent of drivers had a blood alcohol content exceeding 0.05 grams per hundred millilitres and 1.6 per cent had a content exceeding 0.08 millilitres. In the period from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, 28.9 per cent had been drinking; 16.1 per cent had a blood alcohol content exceeding 0.05 grams per hundred millilitres and 1 1.7 per cent had a content exceeding 0.08 millilitres. That might sound a rather dry statistical record. One cannot dramatise them or bring them out in colour- except that the colour might be blood red. One cannot make the statistics something that would appeal to the nation. We want them to terrify the nation.

No one who is familiar with the problem of drink driving doubts that it is a road safety and community health problem of truly major proportions. The drink driving problem is one of great complexity. Drinking and driving are integral parts of most people's way of life. Many social pressures tend to support, even encourage, drink driving. On the other hand, the opposing forces do not have a strong influence on a significant proportion of the community. Leaving my formal report for a moment, I just mention that there is a very grave responsibility on those who are handling the advertising and the glamorising of beer more particularly, but alcohol generally.

Penalties for drink driving are already quite severe, yet the law is frequently and consistently disobeyed. Drink driving is still not seen by many as a criminal act. The motorist who breaks a drink driving law but who is not involved in a serious crash resulting in injury is not seen as an antisocial criminal but as a basically law-abiding citizen. These permissive attitudes to drink driving are a fundamental impediment to other measures aimed at minimising the drink driving problem. Modifying such attitudes must be seen as a high priority, long term objective.

Governments have become increasingly aware in the last decade of the significance of alcohol as a contributing factor in road crashes. Efforts have been made to combat it, for example through the use of the breathalyser and the imposition of severe penalties. Despite such efforts the problem remains critically serious. The Committee 's major recommendation is that random breath testing be introduced in all States and Territories. I can imagine the reaction from people who ask: 'What about our sacred right, the right of the individual?' What about the right of the individual who goes out in his car with his wife to have an afternoon drive? Some hood or hooligan full of grog comes along in a car which possibly should not be on the road and wipes out the lives of those two people, and probably the lives of a couple of kids thrown in for good measure.

Late in 1978 the effectiveness of random breath testing was subjected to an evaluation in Victoria- a very important operation, may I say- and my deputy chairman, the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones), who has done such a splendid job on the Committee will have something more to say about that. During the evaluation period, testing was carried out in short, intense bursts accompanied by widespread publicity. This use of random breath testing was found to be most effective in reducing alcohol related road crashes. Although it has not yet been established that other methods of using random breath testing are effective, we concluded that its potential value was such that all States and Territories should introduce it. I repeat that, without delay- because every hour a life is being wiped out in this nation- all States and Territories should introduce random breath testing.

The purpose of random breath testing is to raise each potential drink driver's estimation of the likelihood of his being detected. It is clear that raising such estimations is an important determinant of the effectiveness of penalties. But important though it is, this is just one facet of the drink driving problem. A variety of measures are required to deal with the many other facets. For example, there is a need for effective rehabilitation programs for people with drinking problems. Greater efforts need to be made in schools and in the mass media to attempt to modify community attitudes toward drink driving. Research needs to be undertaken on how the drinking environment might be changed to reduce the incidence of drink driving. The physical road environment needs to be improved to make it more forgiving of impaired driving performance. More effort needs to go into the development of mechanical devices for vehicles to prevent drink driving from occurring. I deviate again for a moment to draw the attention of honourable members to a device that was shown recently on Nationwide. One breathes into the device- a little box. If one has over the allowed blood alcohol content one cannot start the motor of one's car- a simple device, but an effective one. I ask the Department of Transport to look closely at that device. I think it is practical and will help tremendously.

There is a need to evaluate carefully those counter measures which have been adopted already. The magnitude of the problem created by drivers affected by drugs other than alcohol and by drugs in combination with alcohol is not yet known. We were not able to get a great deal of clear and decisive evidence. Indeed, little is known of the effects of many drugs on driving skills. It is clear, however, that even some commonly prescribed drugs, especially when used with alcohol, can have seriously adverse effects on driving skills. Whilst it seems clear that the problem of drink driving is much greater than that of driving under the influence of drugs, the Committee believes that measures to counter the latter problem are needed and that lack of knowledge is a basic impediment. The Committee has identified several areas in which reseach is required. The use of alcohol and drugs presents a variety of problems for the community. There are limits to the extent to which driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs can be dealt with in isolation from the more general problem of abuse of these substances. There appears to be a ground swell of community concern about the abuse of alcohol and other drugs. The Committee's inquiry, I believe, clearly demonstrated that this concern is well justified.

In conclusion, I thank again the deputy chairman of the Committee, the honourable member for Newcastle, for always being present to assist when I was not about. I also thank the other members of the Committee. I do not want to pick out individuals, but in particular I wish to thank the honourable member for Barton (Mr Bradfield), the honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter), the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) and the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys).


Dr Klugman - You are picking out individuals.


Mr KATTER - I am picking out all the individuals. The Committee worked extremely hard for one reason. I repeat that we lost the services of our secretary who was the reservoir of information. Quite suddenly, he was not there. Again I commend the secretary and his assistant, Mrs Ballard, for doing a splendid job. I am very concerned that the Government might at some future time feel that we are duplicating the work which has been done in some of the States. It would be a sad and serious situation if this Standing Committee on Road Safety were no longer vigilant, in examining closely and with a great sense of responsibility the greatest killer this country will ever know; that is, the killer or the roads. The numbers are increasing day by day. There are 10 road deaths per day now. I will leave the House to make its own conclusions in that regard.







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