ACT News

Cost of drink driving on ACT roads revealed by ACT government forensic report

More than 60 per cent of drivers who tested positive for alcohol consumption after accidents on Canberra roads have recording blood-alcohol readings double the legal limit since 2002. 

A government laboratory report, published online on Monday, revealed more than 10 per cent of hospitalised drivers tested positive for alcohol consumption during the 12 year period. 

A government report has revealed the link between drink driving and road accidents.
A government report has revealed the link between drink driving and road accidents.  Photo: Peter Stoop

One hospitalised driver recorded a blood-alcohol reading of  .63 – 12 times the legal limit – while the average intoxication level in 2014 was 0.136. 

The report also revealed 42 per cent of those who returned positive samples had had a blood-alcohol reading of 0.15, or three times the legal limit. 

But the ACT government's analytical laboratory, based in Weston Creek, found the percentage of drivers returning positive blood samples after accidents had fallen steadily from the 14.63 per cent in 2002, to 7.29 in 2014. 

An ACT government spokesman said the decline was due to changing community sentiment and education.  


"There is little doubt that increased understanding of the risks of drinking and driving have influenced community attitudes and this is seen by most in the community as irresponsible and unacceptable," he said.

"It is encouraging that the rate of drink driving detected has been reducing in recent years."

The laboratory report also examined the use of illicit drugs, with slightly more than 10 per cent of all hospitalised drivers returning positive results. 

Emergency department staff provided the laboratory with 4356 blood samples from those involved in road accidents with a brief to detect tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), methamphetamine and MDMA.

"Almost 90 per cent of the samples were negative for any of the prescribed drugs meaning that [more than] 10 per cent had one or more of the prescribed drugs present," the report said.

Slightly more than 450 drivers tested returned positive results with 278 linked to THC, 110 to methamphetamine and 14 to MDMA.

Canberra drivers also tested positive for codeine, diazepam, methadone, morphine, MDMA, oxycodone and alprazolam. 402 drivers were detected with just one illicit drug in their system while another 55 drivers were detected with at lease two. 

But the spokesman acknowledged the report showed instances of drug driving had increased.

"The percentage of positive results for roadside drug driving tests has increased significantly since roadside drug testing was introduced," he said.

ACT Policing's latest annual report revealed 1097 people were convicted for drink driving offences in Canberra with another 249 guilty of driving with illicit drugs in their system.

The testing regime became a responsibility for hospital staff and officers in 1998 when it became mandatory to take a blood sample from hospitalised drivers. 

The report also reveals the challenges faced by staff at Canberra emergency departments when treating drunk patients and those harmed in road accidents. 

"It is sometimes difficult for emergency staff to ascertain who the driver was and so small numbers of samples from passengers and pedestrians may also be collected," the report said. 

"Additionally, a small number of samples are collected from drivers who have not had accidents, but are suspected by police of driving under the influence of an intoxicating substance."

The Australian College for Emergency Medicine has warned that hospitals across the country are becoming battlegrounds as drunk, aggressive patients flood through their doors.

In December, a survey of 2000 emergency department staff by the college found 92 per cent had been physically threatened by drunken patients while 98 per cent had been verbally abused.

According to ACT Health figures, the number of patients presenting with alcohol related issues increased by 35 per cent between 2009 and 2013.

"Across both ACT emergency department during 2015 there was an average of 81 alcohol-related presentations per month," a government spokesman said. 

"This does place unnecessarily added pressure on the emergency's and our staff – as if people weren't getting intoxicated and injured, they wouldn't be presenting to the emergency departments for treatment."


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