Drinking and Driving in Australia
I held a full driving licence in the UK for just over 30 years and drove thousands of miles in that time. My best guess would be somewhere between a quarter of a million and a half a million miles.
I was never, ever breathalysed. Not once.
I have not yet been living in Australia for two years and I drive far less than I used to in the UK. We’ve put about 22,000 miles on our car since we’ve been here, but my wife goes out in it far more often than I do. At best, I’ve driven for 10k.
How many times have I been breathalysed in Australia? Twice!
Not only that, but on three other occasions I have been waved through on an “RBT” because they were either just setting up, just finishing or pulled over enough cars to fill the size of their lay-by.
So what’s an RBT and how do they work?
A random breath test can happen at any time, morning or afternoon or evening. You will be driving along the road and ahead you will see a policeman standing in the middle of the road waving drivers into a lay-by, a side road or a coned off area.
Then he or someone else will come and talk to you through the window. There’s no license to show, no chit chat, just “when was the last time you had a drink, today we are testing people for alcohol, blow into this until I tell you to stop, that’s fine, thank you very much have a good day, bye.” – That’s if you pass.
I hope never to find out how the conversation progresses if you fail.
Sometimes the road can be blocked off from all directions, with a motorcycle cop ready to spring into action if a car tries to turn around or pulls into a driveway.
My first RBT was just 50 yards from my house at 6pm one evening. On this occasion they had blocked off the road from three directions, there was simply no escape. Of course, I didn’t need one. Passed with flying colours….. well I passed – they don’t give out badges!
My second RBT was while we were on our Australian holiday. We were at Bateman’s Bay, it was around 10pm and I’d just had a meal at The Hogs’ Breath Café and with it two beers. BUT….. I had Cascade Lights AND, only schooners. If that last sentence means nothing to you, don’t worry, I’ll explain that next week.
Anyway, the main road in and out of Bateman’s Bay has a bridge, and on it were the RBT squad. Everyone leaving the bay was breathalysed. Despite having only just finished my second drink moments earlier, I passed. But if I had chosen heavies, it may have been a different story. (Again, I’ll explain next week).
It was a whizzy breathalyser test, he just pointed this device at my face and asked me to count to five. No blowing whatsoever.
I was waved through the other RBT’s firstly on Boxing Day at around 11am, the second time has completely slipped my mind, but I know it happened and the third time was just last week.
That’s the one in the photographs above.
What’s interesting about that is probably eight cars in front of me were stopped and I was the first car to be waved on. At the time, I was without my front registration plate. Perhaps he didn’t fancy the paperwork?
So if you’re the type of person who likes to have a darn good drink before getting behind the wheel, then Australia is probably not the place for you. You will get caught.
But hopefully, because of these RBT’s, Australia’s roads are safer. I am only guessing. But I will look into it and hopefully come back to you with facts.
Sorry but I have had to laugh at the comments about RBT. I start riding in Oz in late 1978 after moving here from the UK. After RBT was introduced in the early 1980 attitudes changed immediately. Since then I personally been breath tested a maximum gap of every 3 months, when driving distance averaging 40,000-50,000 km a year to work. I could get breath tested twice a day, often in the same location a couple of weeks apart. Sometimes completely randomly and for no reasons, often in the early hours on the way to work. I would say I have been breath tested somewhere between 100 to 200 times in over thirty years. I’m not a professional driver just drive to and from work, but have had a completely clean licence for probably thirty five years. I have Absolutely NO issue with being pulled over by the police in an RBT as most Australians do and have been a designated driver for a nights out more than a few times. During the 50 hours of learner driver my son undertook with me as an instructor he was even randomly pulled over twice for testing and after testing him they also tested me as the instructor. My daughter had to undertake 120hr with me and then a professional instructor and she managed only the one RBT during that train period. The comment about the quality of the roads here was from what Australians call a city driver. The two countries in the world that you test whether a car or it suspension will fall apart on fast rough roads are South Africa an Australia, hence Jaguar always historically seem to get tested here. P.S. I have driven in the UK,Ireland, Netherland, Austria and Germany more than a few times in the last six years and have to state the constant high speed driving on poor roads is more the norm here. The statistics given are not measure correctly. If it were in death per 100,000 driver per million kilometres driven the ratio would I would guess a maximum of say 25% of that compared to the UK. If you want to make a real comparison against Australian stats compare these against say South Africa similar population similar road quality similar number of drivers and typically older averaged vehicles and just a slightly smaller country also similarly dangers from large fast moving animals that can cross the road. Oh and prepare to be shocked big time! NSW in Oz
Crikey, that’s an astonishing number of breath tests. I only drive about 15,000- 20,000 kilometres a year, I’ve been here 10 years now, I still think I’m only on four RBT’s so far. Went on a three-week road trip around Queensland last year, 5000 kilometres or more I think, didn’t get stopped once.
Either I am lucky, not that getting pulled over would bother me, I don’t drink drive, or Queensland are a lot more relaxed than New South Wales and Victoria. Funnily enough, the last time I was breath tested was almost 3 years ago, but that was in NWS, not Queensland.
Anyhow, it’s lucky you don’t drink drive either, or you’d probably be banged up by now 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story.
Surprisingly the Aussie road death rate is 86% higher than the UKs. Not as bad, though, as Iran and Venezuela which, despite all being ethnically Caucasian, are at least 8 times worse than the UK for motoring fatalities.
Beware the Gold Coast to Brisbane highway:
Australia’s pluses: excellent roads, low speed limits and strict police enforcement.
Australia’s negatives: aggressive bogan/redneck attitudes, the alcohol/drug culture and soporifically-long & boring stretches of road.
I live in Cambridge, England and our bugbears are swerve-inducing potholes and pedal cyclists. The local council, despite hosting world-class colleges and high-tech companies, always pleads poverty when it comes to city road maintenance; the inter-county highways are good though. Students arrive from all over the world and, together with local cycling idiots, fail to display lighting at night, and break the highway code whenever it suits them. 2 days ago I was side-swiped in my car by a cyclist following too close, and not looking ahead, when I had to brake at 15-20 mph for an oncoming vehicle in a narrow section. Be prepared for lots of verbal abuse from cyclists here, despite doing nothing wrong. The authorities are quick to fine motorists for driving in bus lanes, or triggering speed cameras, yet they ignore the suicidal-cyclists’ brigade!
British residential roads are notorious for being narrow and permitting parking on both sides. Constant weaving in and out to let oncoming vehicles pass makes driving a real pain. Countries like the USA and Australia have plenty of space and design roads to accommodate dual-flow traffic, plus parking, usually on both sides. Spaces in British car parks are mini-sized, so you can guarantee regular damage from adjacent drivers’ doors. I’ve also twice suffered substantial damage within my private residential compound: one a hit-and-run, another from incompetent manoevring. It is statistically impossible to avoid vehicular damage in such a small, overpopulated country with inadequate provision of road-space.
Moving to Oz: (a) Always give priority to buses. (b) Don’t speed. (c) Don’t park against the traffic (one can in the UK). (d) Wait 3 seconds at stop signs. (e) Keep licence, registration (reg-o), recovery & insurance up-to-date. (f) Don’t drink or use illegal drugs.
I think the higher fatality rate here on our roads is probably because in the UK most cars don’t get out of second gear, too much traffic 🙂 It’s much harder to have a crash when you are travelling at 15 mph nose to tail. If you look at the US statistics, again a big country with open roads, their rate is almost double that of Australia.
Some good tips at the end there about driving in Australia, it’s always well worth keeping within the law, the fines here are quite hefty.
i have actually stopped watchiing RBT for good, as from now.
Completely sick of the stopping (not finishing) and starting of stories
For those who do not know what RBT is…
Trying to watch RBT in between ads 🙁
Ha ha, I know what you mean John. For those who don’t know how frustrating the shed loads of adverts we have on some of our commercial TV stations, see…
Timeshifting and/or Netflix is the only way to go.
That is similar to my experience, I have driven hundreds of thousands of miles on three continents, I was never tested for alcohol or drugs. Here in Melbourne, I was tested twice and I was waved through twice more. At the same time I have seen them either set up or checking the other direction a few times as well. This happens at any time or day, not just evenings on the weekends. This is all great stuff as drinking is part of the culture here and people are careful with designated drivers and such because of these controls. Eehmm, yes I did pass both times and the second time the cop console me on the loss of my footie team. 🙂
Yes, drinking and driving is not a good idea here in Australia and like yourself Ilias, I also think that’s great. These RBT’s can literally happen anywhere and at any time, they set one up in the street I live in once and it was 6 o’clock in the evening.
As they say, think before you drink before you drive.
Bob, Victoria is tough on drink driving. Denser population, more police per mile of road, highly organized & responsive alcohol testing regime, and, the heaviest penalties for breaking this law. When in doubt, get a cab! Cheers.
Compared to the UK, the whole of Australia is tougher on drink-driving, certainly in terms of actively stopping and testing people. And yes, I know Victoria are hotter on this than probably any other state. So anyone arriving in Victoria, better behave when driving! And today, apparently, is D-Day, touch your mobile phone in the car and you’re nicked!
There is no mucking about in Australia with regards to drink driving any more. I am actually surprised to hear you have only been breath tested twice. I would say in the last 2 years I have been randomly tested at least 5 times.
All came back clear — thankfully.
Well I don’t do much driving after dark, I can’t, I’m normally drinking 🙂 so maybe that’s it. Are you in Victoria by the way? I’ve heard they are very tough down there.