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Call for zero blood-alcohol limit for drivers

Australia should consider moving towards a zero blood-alcohol limit for drivers in the wake of the deaths of the four children in Oatlands, according to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

The college's National Trauma Committee chair Dr John Crozier - who is also a trauma surgeon - said there was an evidence base for the argument given that several other countries have banned the consumption of alcohol for road users.

There are zero-tolerance zones located in the Czech Republic as well as Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

Dr John Crozier chairs the National Trauma Committee of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Picture: Craig Greenhill
Dr John Crozier chairs the National Trauma Committee of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Picture: Craig Greenhill

And in countries like Sweden and Norway, the limit is much lower at 0.02.

"I think it's right as you look at this tragedy that any further way of reducing the risk of ­alcohol affecting the behaviour of the driver - and it does - should be explored," Dr Crozier said on Sunday.

"We have it as a requirement for all commercial drivers and poignant deaths like this, it's reasonable to further explore whether we should have a zero blood-alcohol requirement for all drivers."

While NSW has a blood alcohol limit of 0.05 for most drivers, a zero alcohol limit applies to all those on a learner or provisional licence.

About 57 people died as a result of a crash that involved a drunk driver last year in NSW, according to the Centre for Road Safety.

Dr Crozier said drink-driving remained a huge problem in rural NSW, where two-thirds of the state's road deaths occurred. And in up to 40 per cent of those deaths, he said alcohol was a co-contributor.

The children’s mother Leila Geagea at the location of the tragedy. Picture: AAP
The children’s mother Leila Geagea at the location of the tragedy. Picture: AAP

But Dr Crozier conceded a zero-tolerance approach was "probably not the sweet-spot politically".

He said other options could be explored such as interlocks that require people convicted of serious drink-driving offences to blow into a breathalyser before starting their car.

"The other thing to be aware of … is that in a range of illegal acts where drivers have tested positive (for alcohol), courts haven't exercised their full limit of penalties that could be applied," Dr Crozier said.

"Not infrequently still we see recidivism - there have been drivers who have tested positive for blood alcohol well in excess of limits, police have prosecuted the case and magistrates on repeated occasions have waived the opportunity to exercise penalties that could reasonably be introduced.

"There is still opportunity in the full enforcement space in NSW to do better."

Leila Geagea prays for her children on Sunday. Picture: Adam Yip
Leila Geagea prays for her children on Sunday. Picture: Adam Yip

Road safety expert and professor emeritus at the University of NSW Raphael Grzebieta agreed that governments needed to start moving towards a zero-tolerance approach for road users.

"We've been talking about 0.02 for a long time so it's time to work on that," he said.

"The reason it's 0.02 is in case someone takes medication, but 0.02 means you don't drink and drive."

Pedestrian Council of Australia chair Harold Scruby also said he wanted to see a "complete review of drink and drug driving rules".

"I'd like to see more of what they do in Scandinavia where they have moved to a zero-alcohol limit," he said.

"You can never control someone who wants to get off his tree but we can minimise the harm. The Scandinavians are the lowest in the world for deaths per hundred thousand while we're still up."

Police now have the power to seize the licence of any ­motorist over the limit under "zero-tolerance" laws that were introduced last year.

Distraught father Danny Abdallah on Sunday. Picture: Adam Yip
Distraught father Danny Abdallah on Sunday. Picture: Adam Yip


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