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Debate: Random sobriety tests for drivers

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Revision as of 10:39, 5 July 2008

Are random breath tests for drivers a good idea?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Alex Deane. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

Random breath testing of drivers for excess alcohol in the blood is a policy that intends to bring down the number of drink drivers. The European Commission believes that the police forces of all member states of the European Union should be able to conduct random breath tests. This could, for example, involve officers being sent to a different road every day and pulling over perhaps every hundredth car to subject its driver to a compulsory breathalyser test. If the driver failed the test, they would be prosecuted and mostly likely punished. However, some countries (such as the UK) have laws that state that drivers can only be tested if officers have a reason to believe that they have been drinking, usually because of the erratic manner in which they have been driving. This has therefore been a debate in Europe for some time. Random testing is currently legal in several EU countries, and in Australia.

Is random breath testing "time well-spent" by police?


  • It's a good use of police to and guarantees a culture of awarness to prevent drink driving. Guaranteeing a culture of awareness that the driver might be subjected to testing – and thereby ensuring people drink responsibly – can be achieved by random testing. It’s a good investment of police time, which will ensure a cultural change that is desperately needed. If, as the opposition alleges, officers falsify the results, then that is against regulations and they should be investigated for it – as they were in Western Australia.
  • There is a need for random breath testing in places where it is not allowed. In reality, even where random testing is not allowed, most officers realise that this is necessary – that is why they often make up reasons to stop people (like claiming they were driving erratically) in order to carry out a de facto random testing system already.


  • Police time is better spent pursing proper offenders. Police time is better spent pursuing those about whom there are concrete suspicions, rather than trawling society at large in the hope of turning something up. Most random breath tests deliver negative alcohol results and it mostly a waste of time. Also, because it is random, offenders could get past while police test thousands of innocent drivers. Since police officers realise this they often (as happened in Western Australia) falsify the information for tests, making up tests, etc. in order to get the requirement to conduct them out of the way – so they can do proper police work.

Are random breath tests necessary to stop drink driving?


  • If people are aware they could be tested anywhere, anytime, it acts as a deterrant to drink driving. Drink driving is a scourge of modern life. Every developed country – and most less developed – suffer from it. People continue to fail to take the act, and its consequences, seriously yet each year hundreds of people die unnecessarily, including many completely innocent passengers, pedestrians and other drivers - all killed by people unable to control their vehicle because they have been drinking. The only way to stop it is to carry out random testing which will make people realise that they may be tested at any time.


  • Everyone knows drink driving is wrong. Of course drink driving is wrong. You are wasting time trying to convince us of that – we all know it. The debate has to be about whether random testing will do anything, and whether it is proportionate to the problem concerned. People still continue to drink drive regardless of knowing they are breaking the law and aware that they may be breath tested. Roads and transport ministers in Australia have even been booked for drink driving.
  • Random breath testing doesn't necessarily lower drink driving offenders. Many countries have had random testing for some time and have seen no real fall in drink driving figures. For those that have seen such a fall, can you distinguish the effects of random testing from the accompanying advertising and awareness campaigns, which can also be conducted without the testing?
  • Most drink driving offenders are not caught through random breath testing. The majority of people caught drink driving have not been from random breath tests. They have been from tip-offs, police chases and police pulling over suspects, not random breath testing. Drink driving crime rates have barely gone down in most countries since it was started.

Are random breath tests "unreasonable searches" that "invade people's privacy"?


  • It is not evading privacy to check for crime. All the high-flown nonsense about the privacy of the individual being invaded and so forth must be dismissed. It’s blowing into a tube for goodness sakes! Occasionally having to do that is a fair price to pay for being trusted with a huge lump of speeding metal (i.e. a car) – oh, and many lives might be saved, into the bargain. Have a sense of perspective!
  • Random breath tests are routinely carried out with public vehicle drivers. It can hardly be called an invasion of privacy or an investigation without due cause, because random tests are routinely carried out by many train companies and are being introduced on airlines.


There are civil liberties issues concerned that must not be swept aside. Random testing constitutes an ‘unreasonable search’ in USA terminology – i.e. it is being carried out without due cause. The state should not interfere with citizens unless it has just cause to suspect that they are doing something wrong. Permitting things like this distorts the nature of the relationship between citizen and state.

Are breath test readings fair and accurate?


  • The technology used is becoming increasingly accurate. The technology used for testing is becoming more and more accurate. Furthermore, attacks on it are oppositions to any sort of breath-testing for drink driving, not just random testing. Presumably the opposition don’t think that we should stop testing completely?


  • Different people absorb alcohol at different rates. Bodies absorb alcohol at different rates. This results in very unfair readings – some people will have very little to drink (and be in control), yet still trigger the machine, whilst others will have had more, and are still ‘ok.’ Furthermore, breath test kits make mistakes all the time – that is why people have the right to go for a second test at the police station.

Is it wrong to assume people can judge for themselves if they're okay to drive?


The opposition can hardly rely on the notion that individuals should be allowed to judge for themselves, since the very point is that people have consistently failed to behave responsibly – that’s why we need testing at all. After all, one of the key effects of alcohol is that it clouds judgement. This is also an opposition to testing in general rather than just random testing.


It is still legal to have a drink and then drive – but the culture of nanny state control is increasingly meaning that self-righteous moral pundits condemn people for doing so, when in truth it should be up to the individual to judge whether they are ok to drive. People should be judged by the consequences of their actions, not by theoretical possibilities. Having random tests will only add to this.

Are random breath tests a waste of money?



Are random breath tests revenue raisers?





  • This House would blow into the tube
  • This House would introduce random breath tests
  • This House believes random testing is the best way to combat drink-driving

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