Personal tools

Debate: Random sobriety tests for drivers

From Debatepedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Are random breath tests for drivers a good idea?

Background and context

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 breath testing for alcohol is currently legal in several EU countries, and in Australia, where drivers may be stopped at any point along any road by a police officer for a "random breath test", commonly referred to as an "RBT".


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


  • It's a good use of police to and guarantees a culture of awareness 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 deterrent 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.
  • Random alcohol breath tests reduce accidents, save lives. "Random breath testing, but still no reduced alcohol limit.": "Random breath testing, but still no reduced alcohol limit." "Increasing breath tests. A main element of the new strategy to combat drink driving appears to be an increase in the number of breath tests administered to drivers and the introduction of ‘random’ breath testing. The review reports a ‘welcome increase’ in the number of breath tests conducted and a reduction in drink-related accidents over the Christmas period of 2006 compared with Christmas 2005, and it explains that Department for Transport and Home Office Ministers wrote jointly to Chief Constables in England and Wales in early 2007, outlining the government’s position on enforcement levels. The Government gave ‘a clear steer’ to the police that criminal motoring offences are as serious as other criminal offences and should be enforced as such."
The Centers for Disease Control, in a 2002 Traffic Injury Prevention report, found that in general, the number of alcohol related crashes was reduced by 20% in states that implement sobriety checkpoints compared to those that do not. Oregon State Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland, extrapolates that such a reduction would mean 30 fewer alcohol-related deaths on Oregon highways, 2,100 fewer serious injuries and millions of dollars in savings to the health care system. Those would be substantial gains.[1]
  • Random breath tests are a justified public health intervention. Public Health Law Research[14], an independent organization, reported in a 2009 evidence brief summarizing the research assessing the effect of a specific law or policy on public health, that there is strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of selective breath testing sobriety checkpoints as a public health intervention aimed at reducing the harms associated with alcohol impaired driving.
  • Operating a dangerous vehicle makes random tests appropriate.


  • 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 drunk driving 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 drunk 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.
  • Utility of stopping every car doesn't justify breach of rights. Constitution doesn’t provide exceptions to searches: "That stopping every car might make it easier to prevent drunken an insufficient justification for abandoning the requirement of individualized suspicion."
  • Little evidence random alcohol tests deter drunk driving. There is a dearth of research regarding the deterrent effect of checkpoints. The only formally documented research regarding deterrence is a survey of Maryland's "Checkpoint Strikeforce" program. The survey found no deterrent effect: "To date, there is no evidence to indicate that this campaign, which involves a number of sobriety checkpoints and media activities to promote these efforts, has had any impact on public perceptions, driver behaviors, or alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and injuries. This conclusion is drawn after examining statistics for alcohol-related crashes, police citations for impaired driving, and public perceptions of alcohol-impaired driving risk."[2]

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


  • Unless police suspect someone is doing something wrong, they are giving an 'unreasonable search'. 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.
  • Randomly testing employees is different than testing citizens. People who have to take random breath tests to drive trucks or fly planes as part of their jobs are taking the test as part of their job. They are being paid and must do what their employer wants them to do in order to keep their job. Searching random people outside of the context of employment with no suspicion of a crime erodes civil liberties and sets a dangerous precedent.


  • 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.
  • Random breath tests make alot of people angry.

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?


  • Alcohol causes poor judgement. 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.


  • Individuals should be able to judge whether they are okay to drive. 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?


  • Police money is better spent catching concrete offenders. Instead of wasting innocent drivers' time and government and police money, police should crack down on concrete offenders, not try to catch people they don't suspect have been drinking. And because the tests are random, offenders can easily get away.


  • Random breath tests work to stop offenders and keep our roads safer. You cannot say that random breath testing is a waste of money. They act not only as a detterent to drink driving, but they catch offenders who aren't deterrent. Advertsing alongside random breath testing also works to lower road death rates and keep innocent pedestrians and car passengers safer. You cannot say that saving lives is a waste of money.

Are morning random breath tests revenue raisers?


  • You cannot say that random breath testing at 10am is trying to legitimately catch offenders. Often random breath tests are carried out in the morning. These are designed to trap people who drank the night before. A lot of the people caught had been drunk the night before but had not driven the previous night and didn't realise that they may still be over the limit. The people caught are not usually intoxicated and often are caught by dodgy testing. This is not genuinely trying to save lives, but trying to raise money when issuing fines. This is also a waste of money and technology because very few people are drunk or intoxicated at 10 o'clock in the morning.


  • If people still have alcohol in their systems from the previous night, it is not okay for them to drive. Random breath tests which are conducted in the morning are generally designed to catch people who drank the previous night and still have alcohol in their system which is over the legal limit. Police often find offenders and regardless of whether they realised they were too drunk to drive or not, they are breaking the law and it is dangerous to have these people on our roads. It is fair to charge them with drink driving if they are over the limit when driving. Drunk drivers are still dangerous.

Pro/con sources



See also

External links and resources


Problem with the site? 

Tweet a bug on bugtwits