pulled over by police for random breath testing

Your Need to Knows on Random Breath Testing and Mobile Drug Testing


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The ‘silly season’ is almost upon us; a time where relaxing and getting festive is par for the course. But letting your hair down doesn’t mean the rules don’t still apply. Before you engage in drink driving or driving under the influence, make sure you understand the realities of RBT (random breath testing) and MDT (mobile drug testing).

Here’s how to make sure your summer festivities don’t end up with a bonus excursion to the local police station.

Someone driving under the influence. a random breath test can get you in serious trouble

What is RBT (random breath testing) and MDT (mobile drug testing)?

RBT is a breath test conducted on the side of roads to detect if drivers are driving under the influence. It’s done by measuring the amount of alcohol in each driver’s system. After almost 40 years, the police have this down to a fine art. In fact, police conduct about 15 million random breath tests in Australia per year.

MDT is another roadside test, to detect a driver’s recent use of four common illegal drugs:

  • MDMA / Ecstasy
  • Cannabis
  • Cocaine (this was only added in 2023)
  • Amphetamines, aka speed

Legislation for MDT was passed in 2006 and testing has been on the increase ever since. In the four years to 2020, NSW police tripled the number of roadside drug tests they did. The goal for just NSW for 2020 alone was 200,000 tests. 

It’s only a matter of time before you’re tested.

What happens during an RBT or MDT?

Every police car is a mobile RBT and MDT unit, and you can be pulled over at any time without provocation. So police can ask you to do random breath testing or mobile drug testing even if you aren’t doing anything “wrong” like speeding or driving dangerously.

You’ll be asked to show your driver’s licence and submit to a breath test for alcohol and/or a saliva test for drug detection. These days, a breath test is as simple as counting to 10 as the unit is held close to your mouth. During the drug test, a mouth swab is done using an absorbent collector.

If you fail either test, you’ll be taken to the police station for a secondary test. If you fail this, you’ll be charged with driving under the influence (DUI).

A woman sits in the driver's seat of a car, potentially engaging in drink driving.

Can I refuse random breath testing?

You can refuse to submit to random breath testing. However, it’s considered an offence and you’ll incur a fine and possible allocation of demerit points. The dollar amount and number of points vary from state to state but they’re substantial.

Also, the police are well within their rights to take you to the station for an official test that can be used in a court against you. So refusing the RBT or MDT doesn’t mean you’ll get away with doing no test at all.

Read our advice on what to do if you’re pulled over by police.

Why do we need random breath and drug testing?

We all want to feel safe on the roads. We all want our families and friends, whether they’re behind the wheel or in the car with us, to be safe on the roads.

According to Roadsense.org.au, drink driving is still the major contributing factor in 30% of car crashes involving a fatality. One in four drivers or passengers killed on Australian roads have a blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, exceeding the legal limit.

Sobering statistics indeed.

All Australian states and territories are serious about reducing drug and alcohol related road deaths. Random breath testing and mobile drug testing helps to reduce the number of fatal crashes that occur on Australian roads. We need RBT and MDT to help keep people alive on the roads and to make driving safer for everyone involved.

Policeman in yellow vest riding police motorbike in Australia, where random breath testing can take place whenever police decide.

You’ve had a few drinks at your office Christmas party. A few more than you planned (we’ve all been there). You feel fine but, being the awesome human being you are, you don’t want to risk driving if you’re over the limit. And not just because of the possibility of random breath testing, but because staying off the roads is the right thing to do.

But what exactly is ‘over the limit’ for a driver?

Different strokes for different folks

Across Australia, the drink driving limit, also called the legal limit, for Open licence holders is 0.05 BAC.

The NSW Transport site explains:

Your BAC measures the amount of alcohol you have in your system in grams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. A BAC of 0.05 means you have 0.05 grams (50 milligrams) of alcohol in every 100 millilitres of blood.

However, if you’re on a Provisional 1 or 2 licence (P-plates) or you’re still on a Learner’s permit, your BAC is 0.00. That’s right, a big fat zero. So no, you can’t have one beer or glass of wine then get behind the wheel.

Many pubs and clubs these days offer onsite testing stations. You can also buy your own personal breathalyser or drug testing kit. We wrote about personal breathalysers in our car technology article a while ago.

Or, you can use one of the many online alcohol standard drinks calculator sites such as the one at Drinkwise. That said, it’s often best just to play it safe after drinking and avoid driving.

champagne glasses in women hands on Christmas lights festive room decorated background

Plan ahead

If you think you might have a few drinks when you’re out, here are a few things you can do to avoid drink driving and keep yourself and others safe on the road:

  • Have a Plan B – don’t leave it to chance. Make sure you’ve already thought about which avenue you’ll take home if you slip up and consume more than expected. Whether that’s calling a friend, leaving your car at the bar, or booking a hotel. That way you’re not left stumbling and fumbling, it’s just a quick switch to your secondary plan.
  • Specify a ‘deso’ before you go out – having a designated driver is smart. Some groups of friends have a roster system in place. This way, everyone takes turns to keep their mates safe by being a drink and drug free driver. And even if you are stopped for random breath testing, you won’t need to worry about whether the driver will be over the limit or not.
  • Install a ridesharing or taxi service app on your phone – Uber, DiDi, Ola, Shebah, 13Cabs… whatever works for you. And get familiar with it. Take a refresher on ridesharing safety before you go.
People Having Wine In A Restaurant

Drunk driving and insurance

Will your insurance cover you if you have an accident while driving under the influence? That’s a big no. It’s one of the exclusions listed in our What Are Exclusions in Car Insurance? article. Drink driving is considered a reckless act and insurance companies aren’t in the business of covering reckless behaviour.

Think of it like this: if you were to jump off a cliff, your insurance company won’t be paying for your medical bills. That’s because jumping off a cliff is a pretty risky activity, and insurance companies don’t want to be on the hook for your daring escapades.

Similarly, driving under the influence is a risky activity that puts yourself and others at danger. Insurance companies don’t want to be responsible for the consequences of your irresponsible choices, so they’ve excluded drunk driving from their coverage.

At the end of the day…or night

The pressure to ‘have a few’ with friends can be great. Especially in Australia where social drinking is such a big part of modern culture.

If your social drinking is getting out of hand, please seek professional advice. Ditto if you’ve slipped into using illegal drugs. Lifeline is available 24/7 as a great first step.

Or, like many of us, you might just sometimes have one too many drinks. If so, don’t risk getting caught by roadside random breath testing. Presume you’re over the limit, leave your car where it is and let someone else get you home.

Cars on the road in

Insurance for the unexpected

While you can do everything in your power to avoid drink driving and getting a positive random breath test or mobile drug test, you can’t always control what others do. That’s why it’s so important to have car insurance to cover you in an accident caused by someone in another car who’s driving under the influence (or otherwise).

PD Insurance is an award-winning brand that has great perks some other insurance providers don’t offer. Chat to us if you’d like to know more or take a couple of minutes to get an online quote.

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