Breathalysers fitted to cars could cut road toll, experts say

Eliminating drink driving in just 10 years - it sounds too good to be true.

But Les Libbesson is convinced he knows how to do it. If only the pollies would listen.

The Guardian Interlock Systems managing director wants intelligent electronic devices – known as alcohol interlocks - fitted to more cars so they can’t start if the driver is over the limit.

They are an emerging technological solution to a human behavioural problem wreaking death and destruction on the nation’s roads year after year.

Out of the four road deaths that occur in Australia each day, at least one involves alcohol. Last year, 700 people were killed in an accident where booze was a factor. Evidence show drunk drivers are also more likely to be found on regional roads than in capital cities.

“We need to stop pussy-footing around and demand the political will to get on with this,” Mr Libbesson said.

“Interlocks pose little to no cost to the government but the road safety benefits for the community are huge.”

The NRMA has called for interlocks to be compulsory in all new cars sold in Australia from 2013.

Mr Libbesson, who installs and maintains court-ordered alcohol gauges in the cars of repeat offenders, said more could be done in the interim.

“If we want to fix the road safety problems in 30 years, go ahead and make them mandatory in all new cars,” he said.

“Sure, that’s part of the solution, but what are we going to do today for the woman who goes down the road shopping, drives up the road and a bloke crosses the medium strip, runs into her and he’s dead drunk and it’s his fifteenth offence?

“We can stop that sort of thing happening right now if we make it law that anyone caught drink driving automatically has an interlock installed…no ifs or buts.”

About 5000 drink drivers are currently subject to court-ordered interlocks across five states, Mr Libbesson estimated.

The devices record a treasure trove of information for authorities, especially how many times a driver has tried to drink and drive. Most states force the driver pay for the $150 cost of having the interlock installed, along with the average $150 month rental fee.

The National Road Safety Strategy, which aims to cut the road toll by 30 per cent by 2020, last year recommended state and federal governments commission research into extending interlocks to the broader driver population.

“If the community supported the widespread implementation of alcohol interlocks, then in the next ten years drink driving could almost be eliminated,” the report stated.

But such a move would likely encounter some stiff opposition.

“I recognise the right to privacy and civil liberties, I would fight to my last breath to defend them,” Mr Libbesson said.

“But I won’t fight to my last breath to defend someone who is drinking and driving. The reality is these people have or are committing an offence on a daily basis and often killing themselves and others people in the process.”

The recommended research is underway but is only examining way to introduce interlocks to all drivers on a voluntary basis, not mandatory.

NRMA president Wendy Machin said the public had a history of approaching road safety measures with scepticism.

 “We have to accept there will be some resistance to safety changes, there was to seatbelts and random breath testing (because) some people thought that was a violation of their rights,” she said.

“But as you can see now, there were huge benefits that came from the introduction of those measures.”

She said vehicle manufacturers should wear the cost of including the devices in new cars. The recent introduction of interlocks as part of a suite of tough anti-drink driving measures in British Columbia saw alcohol-related deaths drop by 40 per cent in just one year.

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