Lessons from the past

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When you choose not to get behind the wheel of a car after you’ve been drinking, what’s the real reason?

Is it that you legitimately realise your reactions and ability could be so severely impacted that you could kill somebody, or is it that you fear getting caught?

I’d argue it’s the latter.

The consequences of drink driving are well known – potential loss of licence, big fines and even the threat of jail time.

Then there’s the potential job loss and the impact on your family.

The truth is we don’t get behind the wheel when we’re drunk because we fear the red and blue lights in our rear vision mirror and the potential losses that follow a moment of stupidity.

Yes, there’s still idiots out there who drive while drunk but advertising campaigns and programs implemented by governments and police have successfully instilled in us a fear of getting caught.

Of course, the same result is achieved as with less drunks on the road, there’s less chance of somebody being killed or injured by a drunk driver.

Often you’ll hear people talk about the “old days” when people got behind the wheel drunk as a skunk because there was no Random Breath Testing (RBT).

So, why was RBT introduced in the first place?

Quite simply, in the early 1980’s the Federal Government realised that road accidents were costing the Commonwealth Budget $100 million a year and that at least one third of adults killed in road accidents had significant blood-alcohol levels.

The solution, the introduction of RBT, was obviously designed to stop people getting drunk and driving by introducing a fear of getting caught and a fear of the consequences.

Controversial as it was at the time, it has been an enormous success. In NSW, study after study has shown that the introduction of RBT coincided with a marked and permanent decline in accidents.

And it wasn’t because people suddenly developed a fear of killing someone; it was because people developed a fear of what would happen if they were busted.

As we consider now the very real problem of alcohol-fuelled violence and unprovoked attacks in Sydney and even here in Penrith, we can look back at the introduction of RBT to learn some lessons from the past to help us guide the future.

With the introduction of RBT, we tackled the core problem head on: the driver.

We didn’t try to get pubs and clubs to lock cars in car parks, or to close earlier.

We didn’t try to restrict sales of alcohol, or scan drivers’ licences when people bought a case of beer.

We didn’t suggest people shouldn’t be driving at 2am, because it’s not what we did “back in the day”.

Ever since the death of Thomas Kelly in Kings Cross in 2012, the issue of alcohol-fuelled violence and unprovoked assaults has been a hot one.

Not surprisingly, in the last few weeks we have seen a fresh array of incidents that have changed lives and torn families apart.

They will keep happening, too.

I understand why much of the argument centres around pubs and clubs and their opening hours.

It’s an easy argument, after all.

But the problem goes well beyond that and as others have pointed out, Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie were both attacked in Kings Cross relatively early in the night and not in a licenced venue.

Just like when RBT was introduced, you can’t turn around and blame the pub or club because of an individual’s actions.

What we need is a legitimate deterrent that makes people think twice before they attack somebody.

Sentences like the one handed out to Thomas Kelly’s killer are so laughable that the message doesn’t get through in the slightest to the next guy who wants to attack somebody in a drunken moment of stupidity and rage.

We will never stop drunk idiots from assaulting people, just like we will never completely halt drink driving.

But we can implement a ‘fear factor’ that dramatically decreases the chances of incidents occurring.

Just like anything in life, the greater the consequences are the less chance you will take the leap.

Forcing someone to think twice about what they are about to do is the key step in preventing violence like that which impacted upon Thomas Kelly, Daniel Christie or Alex McEwen (who was assaulted in Penrith last weekend).

It’s up to the lawmakers and the courts to step up to the plate and help make that happen.

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