To Serve and Be Protected: Improving police officer safety and road safety at random breath testing sites in Australia

Author(s): Timms
Mavis Johnson Traffic Safety Award

Slidedeck Presentation:

6B - Timms - TS&BP Improving Safety


To combat alcohol-related crashes, police in New South Wales were given the power in 1982 to stop a motor vehicle at random, and subject the driver to a roadside breath test. After nearly 40 years, no other road safety initiative has done more to save lives.

Stationary Random Breath Testing (SRBT) continues throughout Australia today but an evolving risk environment has impacted on operations. This however presented an opportunity to integrate the latest in safe systems thinking to road policing.

The procedures for SRBT in place since December 1982 typically see a line of police standing on a road adjacent to a running lane testing vehicles signaled to stop. The only restriction was that the road had to have a speed limit of 80km/h or less. In the context of Safe Systems, this is a high-energy system with police (pedestrians) being exposed to critical impact speeds (Austroads, 2016) from passing traffic greater than what the human body could tolerate. The risk of being hit by a vehicle is foreseeable and the Work Health Safety legislation and codes of practice require this risk to be treated.
A policy change in July 2016 to minimise exposure to those forces resulted in risk transference to other unforeseen hazards. Police found the procedures cumbersome and the number of breath tests fell, leading to concerns about the impact on road trauma.

An urgent Work Health and Safety (WHS) review was initiated. RBT is carried out by all uniformed police in NSW. Although Highway Patrol officers perform about 70% of all activity, this still leaves a considerable task for generalist police to carry out so the rules governing the activity need to cater for a range of experience. In July 2016 a working party was established and proposed a range of ideas. Expert advice from forensic crash reconstruction and independent driver training experts was taken and test days on a controlled track were staged. Referencing 2016 Austroads (www.austrods.com.au) guidance on safe systems thinking, a new model for SRBT was devised, tested and approved for use. The features of the new 'multi-lane' model include:

* Creation of a chicane in advance of the SRBT activity
* Provides for a safety car as protection for testing officers
* Calms traffic and forces traffic to change lanes/alter course and speed to either:
o Enter the testing area, or,
o Drive past the safety car
* Similar effect as reducing the speed limit
* Safety car is will absorb kinetic energy if struck reducing the consequences if an officer is hit

Use of the multi-lane method began late December 2016. Average monthly RBT activity for Jan-Oct 2017 has increased 28% compared to July-Dec 2016. Other indicators such as drink driving charges have remained reasonably stable throughout the period.

Using lessons as to how to apply road safety thinking to resolve WHS issues, further work using the WHS hierarchy of risk controls is now improving safety for roads where multi-lane model cannot be implemented.