Drink driving statistics in Australia – are men or women worse?

Australia, like other western developed countries, has a distinctive and perhaps romanticised cultural reverence for alcohol. It’s certainly true that the Australian character on the world stage is one of self-deprecating humour and a keen appetite for beer.

As the world becomes’ smaller and more interconnected, we see more of what really goes on around the country. We can see the thousands of deaths from road accidents caused each year by someone’s choice to operate their vehicle while inebriated.

Australia’s historic encouragement of a drinking culture, even if we deny it, is very powerful and can be seen in any pub around the country. This culture leaves thousands of people every weekend with the dilemma of how to get home, and far too many make the unfortunate choice to drive.

Successive federal and state governments have both carried out various means of reducing the numbers in drink driving statistics in Australia. These measures have ranged from PSA’s, to national advertising campaigns and most prominently a greater allocation of law enforcement dedicated to policing our roads through breath testing operations.

Despite national awareness on this issue for quite a long time, it still remains a significant cause of death and injury on our roads. Let’s take a look at some of the drink driving statistics to see what we can infer from the figures.

Drink driving facts – us against the world

While we are not yet the world’s heaviest consumers of alcohol (Russia still consumes 3L more per capita) we do quite well for ourselves. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) ranks Australia as the 20th drunkest nation in the world with each of us consuming an average of 11.2L of pure alcohol.

In the area of the Asia-Pacific, only Koreans are known to drink more than us.

Despite this, drink driving statistics in Australia are almost anomalous when compared to the alcohol consumption of other countries. The most recent numbers show that in 30% of all road accidents that result in a fatality, alcohol abuse was cited as the cause.

Now compare this to Russia, which is the world’s 4th drunkest nation yet only has 9% of road fatalities connected to alcoholism. At first glance these numbers seem skewed by some variable factor that we haven’t accounted for, and this certainly may be true, but it’s undeniable that our country has a problem.

When comparing drink driving statistics with other ethnographically similar and economically developed countries, we are not doing terribly well. While next door New Zealand has an alcohol related road fatality percentage of 31%, the average amongst similar nations is 20%, so we both could stand to improve.

But when you break down the drink driving facts even further you start to see a difference between regional areas of the country and urban ones. It’s shocking that 85% of fatal crashes in rural NSW occur as a result of alcohol abuse.

In contrast, metropolitan NSW reduces this percentage to 17%. These numbers indicate a much higher prevalence of the issue in regional areas.

Drink driving statistics by age – which generation is at the most risk?

Let's talk about drink driving statistics in Australia
It’s not just young people breaking the law – middle aged and elderly drivers drink drive at higher rates in some areas. Photo: Michael Heim, Bigstock

According to WHO, road accidents are the primary cause of death for people aged 15-29 around the world. Next to speeding, alcohol abuse is listed as one of the major contributing factors to this.

While it’s easy to dismiss ‘young and dumb’ as the reasoning behind these numbers, you might be surprised to know that millennials are slightly less at risk than gen x’ers and baby boomers, who drink more alcohol per capita. In fact, Nielsen data shows that younger people tend to drink more expensive drinks, less frequently.

Other drink driving statistics in Australia recording road trauma showed that in general vehicle accidents involving 17-25 year olds had decreased. It reports that these young people are actually more compliant with road rules than older generations.

This conclusion is supported by general road safety numbers from 2017 which showed that people aged over 70 were the most likely to be involved in a car crash across a 5 year average. The highest numbers seem to belong to those between 20-29 and 40-49.

Are men or women worse?

No discussion of problematic trends is complete until men and women find out which gender is most responsible. Perhaps unsurprisingly, men are guiltier than women with 90% alcohol related road deaths being attributed to them.

This stark difference between the genders suggests that there is something about men or male culture that leads to higher drink driving statistics. General numbers on risk taking behaviour have historically always shown men as being more reckless in making dangerous choices than women.

Drink driving facts – when do we do it the most?

As you can expect, the majority of alcohol consumption and the majority of related road accidents are closely linked to the weekend. In fact, the culture of alcoholism in this country shows that even weeknights see high alcohol consumption when people return home from work.

Let’s talk about drink driving statistics in Australia
High Alcohol Times (Drinking Frequency) Photo: Transport Accident Commission

Drink driving statistics – are we being overconfident?

Let’s talk about drink driving statistics in Australia
Believe it or not – some people actually think they can drive with vision like this! Photo: Nimai, Bigstock

Drink driving facts from 2011 tell us that 58% of respondents had operated a vehicle after consuming alcohol and 72% had done so on at least 2 occasions in the last 12 months. Since the 1980’s, drink driving statistics have shown certain percentages of people are either unapologetic about their consumption of alcohol, believe they can “handle” more than the average person or that alcohol does not impair them in the same way.

While it is scientifically true that different levels of alcohol affect people in different volumes, all amounts of alcohol impair the person who consumes it. This is why the unscientific belief that someone can overcome their impairment by drinking coffee, eating food or via some other ritual is as dangerous as it is unethical to corroborate.

Drink driving statistics in Australia – what’s our problem?

When you consider these drink driving statistics and begin to make inferences based on them, it’s not terribly hard to piece together a view on why this problem is so prevalent in our country. A mix of factors have created and perpetuated a culture of routine alcohol consumption in a wealthy country with a lot of driving adults.

What this means is that there’s been a generational passing of the torch whereby each year more teenagers become adults who enter a culture that loves alcohol. It’s not uncommon for average Aussies to drink Friday, Saturday and even Sunday nights every weekend.

While the majority of people seem to follow the rules and get a cab, have a designated driver or use public transport after a night of drinking, the percentage that chooses to drive is still too high. The reasons for why we see so much road death from alcohol abuse can be seen when the numbers are broken down further.

The vast majority of fatal road accidents involving alcohol occur in regional areas. These are places with long stretches of open road, far less traffic and far less cautious drivers.

Essentially, the middle-aged, working class men who drink every night after work are choosing to drive home from the pub because it’s a rural road with less supposed hazards around. While this is a stereotype based on demographic information, it reflects the trends of older people stubbornly believing they have grown to handle alcohol and that they don’t need to be as cautious on a country road.

The issue is that the tongue and cheek culture of Australian alcoholism is at odds with demands for safer roads. As a nation, we drink too much and this means that the percentage of people who will eventually die as a result of drink driving is always going to be higher than if we drank less.

As a nation we are certainly more reckless on an individual basis and the use of alcohol only adds to our overconfidence. When you consider these things it’s not that surprising why so many people make the choice to operate a vehicle while inebriated.

Drink driving facts – what’s being done about it?

Let’s talk about drink driving statistics in Australia
One of the biggest deterrents against drink driving is that people get caught very easily. Photo: Vertolet, Bigstock

Local, state and federal governments have each undertaken their own individual and joint initiatives to reduce the problematic rates seen in drink driving statistics. As mentioned earlier, common tactics have been to use public education through advertising and increased policing.

This unfortunate trend on the nation’s roads has been a prevalent issue for more than 30 years and has never really left the public consciousness. Despite this, combined efforts by the government and changes in public attitudes have seen a significant reduction in drink driving statistics in Australia since the 1980’s.

The countermeasures that involve law enforcement, random breath testing, advertising and interventions all vary in effectiveness depending on how they are implemented. For example, random breath testing (RBT) has been shown to be most effective as a deterrent because less people believe they can get away with the crime, even if they thought they could operate the vehicle properly.

Specifically targeted interventions are also a very important part of slashing drink driving statistics as they are crucial in curbing the behaviour of re-offenders. Many of the people who die as a result of drink driving have been caught by a RBT before or have been involved in prior accident.

Many of the re-offenders will be alcoholics or mentally ill people that have either avoided or received poor quality public health outcomes. Another portion of drink driving statistics simply represents the people who make one fatal mistake after a night of alcohol use.

The combination of highly targeted intervention for repeat offenders and general public outreach has, on the whole, been effective in reducing drink driving statistics in Australia. Despite gradual success, the issue is still a priority in addressing road safety in this country.

The task of convincing the general public that driving drunk is both dangerous and wrong is not the hard part. The hard part is preventing those who don’t care about this message from getting behind the wheel.

What the effectiveness of these countermeasures tells us is that the likelihood of being caught by police is more of a deterrent than the inherent danger of the crime itself. A lot of people choose not to break the law for fear of police prosecution, not because there have any sincere belief the crime is wrong.

What should people do if they are charged with drink driving offences?

Let's talk about drink driving statistics in Australia
So you’ve been charged by police with a DUI – time to hire a traffic lawyer. Photo: Kasia Bialasiewicz, Bigstock

Anyone facing police charges for serious traffic matters should immediately seek out the services of highly experienced drink driving lawyers. A lot of people don’t realise how seriously the court system takes this issue and it is very impatient with offenders in general.

Within NSW, being convicted of DUI can results in fines, suspension of license or even imprisonment depending on the severity of the offence. It also means receiving a criminal record which can have profound effects on your future employability.

Hiring a skilled drink driving and criminal lawyer means that you will have a better chance of securing a section 10, which means that no criminal record is created and no penalty is applied. A section 10 is essentially a last chance to stop people who make a one-time mistake from being recorded as criminals.

According to The Defenders – the criminal defence lawyers in Sydney, the chances of you getting a section 10 depend heavily on how the case is presented to the presiding magistrate. Securing the help of a drink driving lawyer will aid you greatly in understanding and meeting the standards needed for a section 10.

There are several factors that the court will review when considering a request for a section 10:

  • Age
  • Character
  • Existing record (if any)
  • Health (including mental)
  • The triviality of the DUI
  • Mitigating circumstances
  • Anything else that might be relevant to the court

The best drink driving lawyers will be able to help you mitigate the consequences of the offence and help you to navigate the legal process. If a section 10 is unachievable they can still help you to either reduce the period your licence is suspended, reduce the fine you receive and help you to avoid imprisonment.

Christian Woods
Christian Woods
Christian is a morning reporter and technology columnist for Best in Australia. Christian has worked in the media since 2000, in a range of locations. He joined Best in Australia in 2018, and began working in Melbourne in 2019.
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