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17 Dec

EDITORIAL: New NSW drink-driving penalties pale next to the guilt

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RARELY does a long weekend arrive in NSW without a seemingly simple warning from authorities that continues to elude some of the state’s drivers.“When you behave dangerously behind the wheel, you aren’t just putting your own life at risk, but you are endangering the lives of other innocent road users,” NSW Centre for Road Safety executive directorBernard Carlon said on Thursday.

“Make sure you stick to the road rules and take your time, if you feel tired pull over and take a break and don’t drink and drive.”

It is almost certainly not the first time Mr Carlon has uttered those words, and even less likely to be the first time the sentiment has found itself in the path of drivers.

Yet the statistics are clear that it is not soaking in for some drivers, who continue to defy the simple suggestion of self-preservation. Anecdotally, it appears to be headed in the wrong direction in our region. Port Stephens-Hunter police Chief Inspector Tony Townsend describes what he callsa “noticeable trend” of serious alcohol-related accidents on secondary roads in the region.

Given most Hunter fatalities and injuries occur on country roads, that observation isparticularly concerning.

Judging blood-alcohol levels is an imprecise science, including the day after the party, but one that demands drivers err on the side of caution. As it stands, that is not a universal position.One in every seven NSW crashes has a link to drink-driving. Any step that could cull one seventh of serious incidents on the roads would quickly curry political favour, and rightly so.It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the state government has tightened the screws. On Thursday NSW Roads, Maritime and Freight Minister Melinda Pavey announced new reforms that will loom over those who fail to adequately consider the safety of themselves and other road users.First-time, low-range offenders will lose their licence for three months immediately alongside a $561 fine from the end of the year under the rules that have passed parliament.“The 0.05 limit has been in place in NSW for almost 38 years,” Ms Pavey said. “We need a stronger deterrent.”

Perhaps that is true, and these tougher laws will do more than offer a political boost to the government for punishing offenders more harshly. Regardless, it is hard to think of a greater deterrent than the life sentence of guilt over becoming responsible for inflicting trauma on others.

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