Thirty years of safer Illawarra roads

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the random breath test (RBT), and Lake Illawarra highway patrol supervisor Sergeant Kevin Hood has been conducting them for 23 of those years.

Sgt Hood said not only had the safety of NSW roads dramatically improved since the introduction of RBT, so too had attitudes towards drink-driving.

"When RBT first came in, police were under attack for invading people's civil liberties by forcing them to undertake breath tests.

"But as time went by and there was a significant reduction in the road toll, which was shown to be directly linked to RBT initiatives, people's attitudes changed," Sgt Hood said.

"It has now become socially unacceptable to drink and drive and the vast majority of the community does support RBT."

Technology has also forged ahead, and the latest Alcolizer LE is a far cry from the equipment used by police in the early 1980s.

"We used to get people to blow in the bag through a tube with crystals in it, and the crystals changed colour if alcohol was present," Sgt Hood said.

"There's been a number of different devices since, and since about 2004 we've had the Alcolizer LE which allows us to do direct tests and passive tests - we can even download data from our location."

And while Sgt Hood has heard plenty of excuses in his time - like the camera, the Alcolizer LE never lies.

"I've heard 'But I haven't had anything to drink' countless times, or 'I've just had some cough medicine', or 'But I've drunk three cups of coffee," he said.

"But it doesn't matter how many cups of coffee or water, or how many cold showers you've had - that's not going to get the alcohol out of your system.

"Only time will do that - and for the average person, it takes one hour for every standard drink."

Three decades after the first RBT operations were conducted on Sydney roads, the NSW Police Force has performed more than 85 million RBTs and charged more than 545,000 motorists with drink-driving.

Ten years after it was introduced, fatal motor crashes in NSW had halved; 30 years on, deaths on the state's roads are down more than 70 per cent.

Police in the Lake Illawarra and Wollongong local area commands have conducted 11,000 random breath tests in the last seven days - statewide more than 246,500 RBTs have been conducted in that time.

"Statewide the PCA (Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol) charges are down on last year's figures, and locally it's been pretty good too," Sgt Hood said.

"We're running mobile and stationary RBT units; we're keeping a high profile on main roads and we're there on the back streets.

"So if you're drinking at a venue in Shellharbour, in Dapto, or any suburb, you need to know that police know the back roads too."

As part of RBT's 30th anniversary, Operation Paciullo was launched last month to pay tribute to former Liverpool Labor MP George Paciullo, who championed its introduction in 1982.

He died in October, and his legacy lives on through this life-saving technology.

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