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Debate: Random sobriety tests for drivers

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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.

Argument #1


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. 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 pursuing those about whom there are concrete suspicions, rather than trawling society at large in the hope of turning something up. 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.

Argument #2


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.


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. 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?

Argument #3


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!


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.

Argument #4


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.


It is different when it comes to pilots and train drivers etc, who are professionally employed to move others around – that is a workplace responsibility to remain sober, something we expect equally of those operating heavy machinery – and, for that matter, for people in offices etc! That kind of testing is about your job and making employment conditional on random testing is a very different principle from stopping Joe Public in the street. For that matter, plenty of people oppose testing in the workplace, too. It’s a completely different debate.

Argument #5


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?


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.

Argument #6


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.



  • 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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