By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim
The New South Wales Government is setting harsher penalties for drink and drug affected drivers.
Twenty-eight people died on NSW roads during the 2017-2018 summer holiday period – more than double the previous year.
And 2017 was the third year in a row that the yearly road toll increased, having been in decline for several years.
The annual toll was 392, 12 deaths up on the previous year. This is despite the state government investing heavily on more police and other initiatives ostensible aimed at making our roads safer.
The government will now be introducing lower speed limits, and cracking down on drink driving and driving with an illicit substance, or drug driving, as well as those who use their mobile phones while driving.
The government proposes to make it mandatory for those convicted of mid-range drink driving offences to have “interlock devices” fitted to their cars for a period of time after the expiry of their licence disqualifications.
Interlock devices are built into a vehicle’s ignition, and require a person to blow a blood alcohol reading of zero before the car will start.
It is currently mandatory for the following drivers to have interlock devices fitted to their vehicle:
- Those convicted of high range drink driving, and
- Those convicted of mid-range drink driving who have been convicted of another major traffic offence (eg drink driving, driving whilst disqualified etc) within the previous 5 years.
But under the new laws, all drivers convicted of mid range drink driving will need to have the device fitted.
Exemptions from the requirement are only applicable in exceptional circumstances, such as where a person no longer has access to a vehicle or they are unable to use the device for medical reasons.
The government also wants to use its state-wide network of speed cameras to detect illegal mobile phone use behind the wheel.
The technology is already available in some areas of Sydney, but the proposal seeks to extend the program across NSW.
In response to an 85 percent increase in collisions involving light trucks, the government intends to introduce a dozen more heavy-vehicle average speed camera location.
These measure a driver’s speed over long distances and between two points – in Sydney and in areas with increased truck activity.
It also proposes to reduce the speed limit in a number of areas of 60km/h to 50 km/h.
The government will be doubling the number of mobile drug tests, up from 97,000 in 2017 to 200,000 this year.
It also proposes to increase the maximum penalties for drug driving to align with high range drink driving.
A government team is also working with a group of legal and medical experts to consider options for cracking down on drivers affected by medicinal drugs prescribed by doctors.
Cocaine is also being added to the list of drug tested, which currently comprises cannabis, MDMA (‘ecstacy’) and amphetamines (such as ‘ice’).
While rural areas only account for about one-third of the state’s population, they contribute to two-thirds of the road toll.
In an attempt to reduce rural fatalities, the government is committing more than $125 million to upgrade country roads.
Other initiatives include the installation of 1500 kilometres of wire and high-risk curb bumpers to prevent drivers straying onto the wrong side of the road, and $11 million for pedestrian and cyclist refuges on busy roads.
Dob in a driver
The government wants to make it easier for people to report drivers who are allegedly doing the wrong thing, and is looking to publicise a ‘Dob in a Driver’ program as well as a dedicated call centre for that purpose.
It claims the initiative is about road safety, not revenue raising, and has pledged to achieve a 30 percent reduction in road fatalities by 2020.