Alcohol and road safety

Alcohol is a major factor in road deaths and serious injuries in Victoria. Each year about 17 per cent of drivers killed in road crashes had a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .05 or above.

What can increase your BAC?

Other than alcohol, some medications will actually increase your BAC and some ingredients in chocolates, cough lollies and mouthwashes may cause a mouth alcohol reading when breath tested.

BAC limits

Blood and Breath Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is a measure of how much alcohol is in your body.

At a BAC of .05, your risk of being involved in a road crash is about double compared with a BAC of zero.

  • You need to drive with zero BAC if you: 
  • have a learner permit
  • have a P1 or P2 licence
  • have been relicensed after a drink driving or drug driving cancellation
  • are a restricted motorcycle rider (shown as an ‘E’ condition)
  • are a driving instructor
  • drive a bus or commercial passenger vehicle
  • drive any rigid or articulated truck greater than 15 tonnes GVM.

Other drivers and those people supervising learner drivers, must drive with a BAC below .05.

It is an offence to drive while unauthorised e.g. unlicensed driving on an expired licence or driving while disqualified. If you do this and have alcohol in your system, you would also be committing a drink driving offence, as unauthorised drivers are subject to zero BAC laws.

These laws apply if you are on private property or a public road. 

Drinking alcohol in the vehicle

You must not drink alcohol, even if your blood alcohol concentration stays below your legal limit, while:

  • driving a motor vehicle
  • sitting beside a person who is learning to drive.
Failure to comply may result in a fine of up to ten penalty units, or if you receive an infringement notice, the penalty is two penalty units.
This is an offence even if you are under the legal limit.

Passengers are not prohibited from drinking alcohol in a vehicle. However, it is advised that passengers do not engage in drinking, as drunk passengers could distract a driver.

Alcohol testing

Victoria Police undertake random roadside breath testing.

It is a serious offence to not:

  • stop at a booze bus or random breath testing station,
  • provide a breath or blood sample, or
  • cooperate with police who are trying to carry out a breath or blood test.

The penalty for refusing to take a breath test is generally more serious than the penalty for exceeding your BAC limit.

To find out about the penalties that apply for refusing a test, visit drink-driving penalties

The laws regarding driving with alcohol and drugs are published in The Road Safety Act 1986. Please refer to Part 5 - Offences involving alcohol or other drugs. Instructions on how to locate a full copy of The Road Safety Act can be found at Road Management Act, regulations & codes

Always plan ahead and use other ways to get home safely.

The safest option is if you are going to drink, don’t drive, or if you are going to drive, don’t drink. 

You can avoid drink-driving by:

  • having a designated driver who will not drink or take drugs
  • hiring a taxi or ride share
  • using public transport
  • staying the night (make sure you are not still over the limit in the morning)
  • arranging for someone to pick you up
  • only accepting a lift if you are certain the driver has not been drinking or using other drugs
  • always having a plan B if plan A goes amiss.

Driving is a complex task requiring concentration, judgement and decision making. Alcohol affects these skills and decreases a driver’s ability to safely control their vehicle. 

At a BAC of .05, your risk of being involved in a road crash is about double compared with a BAC of zero. 

Drink-driving statistics from TAC indicate that the vast majority (99.7 per cent) of drivers tested do not exceed their legal blood alcohol levels. However, in the last five years, around one in five drivers and riders who lost their lives had a BAC greater than .05.

Alcohol is a depressant that: 

  • slows your brain so that you can’t respond to situations, make decisions or react quickly
  • reduces your ability to judge how fast you are moving or your distance from other cars, people or objects
  • gives you a false sense of confidence - you may take more risks, thinking that your driving is better than it really is
  • makes it harder to multi-task – while you concentrate on steering, you may miss seeing traffic lights, passengers or cars entering from side streets 
  • affects your sense of balance – a huge risk if you ride a motorcycle
  • makes you drowsy – you could fall asleep at the wheel.

If you have been drinking, allow plenty of time for the alcohol in your bloodstream to reduce before driving. Cold showers, exercise, black coffee, fresh air or vomiting do not help.

Please note that if you have drunk a lot of alcohol the night before you are still likely to be over the legal limit the next day, or hungover. You should rethink driving or using heavy machinery the next day, especially if you are a learner or probationary driver, or a professional driver on zero BAC. 

A hangover will make you feel unwell and tired, and is another reason why you shouldn't drive the next day. If you know that you need to drive the next day, make the decision to not drink the night before.

Two people, who drink the same amount of alcohol, can register different BACs. 

This is because:

  • a smaller person will have a higher BAC than a larger person
  • a person with a lot of body fat tends to have a higher BAC
  • a woman will almost always have a higher BAC than a man of similar size who drinks the same amount.

As there’s no easy way to know that you are okay to drive after drinking, the only way to be sure is to not drink alcohol if you are going to drive.

Coin operated and commercially available breath testing units that measure BAC can be used as a guide but should not be relied on because they can be inaccurate and can’t be used as evidence in case of a drink-driving charge. So, it’s best to completely separate your drinking from driving.

Don’t drink alcohol when you’re taking other drugs as small amounts of alcohol combined with drugs or medications can reduce your ability to drive safely.

This applies to medicines prescribed by your doctor, bought in a supermarket or pharmacy, or illicit drugs such as cannabis and speed.

Mixing alcohol with energy drinks is dangerous. Energy drinks can mask the effects of alcohol as the caffeine makes you feel more alert, and you may be drunk without realising it. 

Never drive if you’ve had alcohol mixed with drugs, medicines or stimulants. 

Alcohol-related crashes remain one of the leading causes of death on Victorian roads, with a third of Victorian drivers killed between 2008 and 2011 having alcohol in their systems. 

Therefore, VicRoads commissioned the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety – Queensland (CARRS-Q) to undertake the study “The Effect of Sanctions on Drink-Drivers in Victoria”. 

The study examined the effects of a range of drink-driving measures on a large sample of Victorian drink-drivers by examining whether the measures influenced crashes and re-offending after they were introduced.

There were several strong findings, including:

  • Cancelling drink-drivers’ licences had a significant effect on reducing offending and crashes, both while banned from driving and after being relicensed. 
  • Alcohol interlocks were effective in reducing offending while fitted, both for first-time drink-drivers with a high BAC reading and for repeat offenders. 
  • Decreasing the BAC level at which police can impose immediate licence suspension from 0.15 BAC to 0.10 led to a reduction in repeat drink-driving offences and fewer crashes.

More information about the study can be found here

Was this page helpful?

 

Please tell us why (but don't leave your personal details here - message us if you need help or have questions).