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Call for young drivers to be breath tested before driving

Breathalyser interlocks should be mandatory for P-plate drivers to help reduce car crashes, a national road safety report says.

The recommendation by Austroads is based on data that shows P and L-plate drivers are eight times more likely to have an illegal blood-alcohol level when involved in a crash compared to fully licensed drivers.

The report by the national road safety body, of which the SA Transport Department is a member, comes as the State Government conducts its own review into the effectiveness of its existing interlock scheme.

As revealed by News Corp Australia last month, a record number of motorists are using interlocks, which are mandatory for drivers caught three times over the limit or driving under the influence at least twice in five years. But the Austroads' interlock report says there is a "strong case" for the system to be extended to include all novice drivers.

There is evidence to support the installation of alcohol interlocks for all probationary drivers

According to the report, 17 per cent of P and L-plate drivers involved in a crash between 2003 and 2012 had an illegal blood-alcohol level. P and L-plate drivers must have a zero blood-alcohol level.

Of fully licensed drivers – for whom the blood-alcohol limit is 0.05 – only 2 per cent of drivers involved in a crash had an illegal blood-alcohol level.

"Based on the crash and offence statistics and the effectiveness of alcohol interlocks to prevent drink-drive episodes whilst installed, there is evidence to support the installation of alcohol interlocks for all probationary drivers," the report says.

"The widespread installation and use of alcohol interlock devices would have clear safety benefits and likely lead to a reduction in night-time crashes."

The report, titled Options to Extend Coverage of Alcohol Interlock Programs, also says "with compulsory alcohol interlocks, the case for passenger and night-time restrictions (applicable to P-platers) could be re-examined".

As part of the current interlock scheme, a driver has to blow into a breathalyser device and record a zero alcohol reading before the car will start.

If extended to include P and L-plate drivers, they too would have to record a zero level.

The report acknowledges there may be issues around the use of interlocks for novice drivers who don't own a vehicle but share cars with other family members or drive a commercial vehicle. The current scheme involves an installation, servicing and administration fee costing the driver more than $2000 a year.

It is not clear how the scheme would be paid for if expanded but would likely be at the vehicle owner's expense.

It is something the State Government should investigate

Road safety expert Dr Rob Atkinson said he supported the introduction of mandatory interlocks for novice drivers.

"Anything that we can do that mitigates the chances of dying on the road I support and in principle it is something the State Government should investigate,'' said Dr Atkinson, an SA member of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons' Road Trauma Committee.

"They should do a pilot study, get some evidence and generate community support.''

However, the RAA believes such a scheme would be expensive and potentially unworkable.

RAA road safety manager Charles Mountain said he supported a review into the use of interlock devices but questioned imposing them on novice drivers.

"We have three cars in our family and the kids drive them all, which means we would have to install a device to each car," Mr Mountain said.

He also said the report's crash data did not include the impact of recent changes to the graduated licensing scheme, "which introduced curfews for P1 drivers and P1 passenger restrictions and potentially would have addressed some of the issues identified".

Road Safety Minister Tony Piccolo said the Government was always looking at new ideas to help reduce the road toll and the recommendation would be considered.

But he said the logistical challenges raised in the report showed it could be a difficult model to adopt.