ROAD TRAFFIC AMENDMENT (ALCOHOL INTERLOCKS AND OTHER MATTERS) BILL 2014

HON LYNN MacLAREN (South Metropolitan) [8.14 pm]:

I rise to speak about the Road Traffic Legislation Amendment Bill 2014. The Greens will certainly support what is before us. I would question why this amendment to the road traffic legislation does not include something to protect cyclists. There is another bill on the notice paper that would protect those vulnerable road users. The Road Traffic Amendment (Keeping Safe Distances from Bicycles) Bill 2014 proposes to amend the Road Traffic Act 1974. The government, in response to that bill, was seemingly hesitant to amend the Road Traffic Act to protect cyclists. If the government is talking about road safety, surely it would be talking about one of the most highly publicised risks to vulnerable road users—cyclists clashing with motor vehicles. This year there has already been a cyclist death on the road. This would seem to be a prime opportunity to amend the Road Traffic Act 1974 by including greater protection for cyclists. I would be interested to hear the Attorney General explain in his reply to the second reading speech why the government will not insert section 63A, which is proposed on the notice paper at this time. We propose to amend this legislation, we are looking at this bill; therefore it would be a prime opportunity to address that. If the government has an alternative suggestion to protect cyclists, I would have thought this would be the time to do it. Be that as it may, the Road Traffic Amendment (Keeping Safe Distances from Bicycles) Bill 2014 sits on the notice paper and there is still that opportunity to do that. I thought that this bill being debated before us today would be an ideal opportunity to improve road safety for cyclists. Hon Kate Doust has already gone into great detail about the increased penalties and the rationale for that. She also mentioned one of my concerns—it is really hard to make a penalty a deterrent when people earn such disparate incomes. A small fine for a high-income earner is not such a great deterrent as a small fine is for a low-income earner. I support the bill before us. I would like the Attorney General to explain why there was not some attempt to protect vulnerable road users—cyclists. As it is currently being debated in the public arena, this would have been a prime opportunity to do that. With those brief comments in relation to the Road Traffic Legislation Amendment Bill 2014, I indicate that at this point the Greens are predisposed to support the legislation although we would like to see it expanded to include protections for vulnerable road users.

 

HON LYNN MacLAREN (South Metropolitan) [5.58 pm]: We have before us a very important bill that is long awaited by the community and parliamentarians. The intent of the Road Traffic Amendment (Alcohol Interlocks and Other Matters) Bill 2014 is to separate drinking and driving behaviour primarily through the imposition of alcohol interlock devices in the vehicles of repeat drink-driving offenders. I want to thank the Attorney General and his department for briefing me before the Christmas break.

The bill amends several acts, namely the Road Traffic Act 1974 and three others that are yet to commence operation—the Road Traffic (Administration) Act 2008, the Road Traffic (Authorisation to Drive) Act 2008 and the Road Traffic (Vehicles) Act 2012. The Greens support serious penalties for driving while under the influence of alcohol and other drugs that impair cognitive or psychomotor skills. Indeed, in the May 2012 debate on the Road Traffic Amendment (Alcohol and Drug Related Offences) Bill 2010, my colleague Hon Giz Watson queried why alcohol interlock devices were not being introduced at that time in line with other related measures. Alcohol interlocks have been on the agenda for a long time. In 2003, the Road Safety Council proposed measures that separate drinking from driving, including alcohol interlock devices, vehicle impoundment or confiscation and treatment. In Western Australia the evidence supports the use of alcohol interlock devices but, interestingly, the effectiveness of separating drinking from driving diminishes once the devices are no longer in use. Alcohol interlocks are effective only when they are being used. That makes sense to us all. They have no lasting deterrent effect. I believe that Hon Kate Doust was just going into some detail about that. It is important that a licence to drive a vehicle with an alcohol interlock is backed up by a rehabilitation program for that driver.

Sitting suspended from 6.00 to 7.30 pm

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: There are different responses to the question of treatment and rehabilitation around Australia, and not all alcohol interlock programs include a treatment component. However, research presented at the Tenth International Alcohol Interlock Symposium in Melbourne in 2009 pointed to the need for appropriate treatment programs. If we want to facilitate behaviour change and see offenders separate drinking and driving, interlocks have to be combined with these treatment programs. I looked at the report “Alcohol Interlocks: Taking Research to Practice”. I know Hon Kate Doust asked about research on the effectiveness of interlocks, and I will share this report with her. It is important to be clear about the function of the interlock device: it only incapacitates the vehicle; it cannot change behaviour. We have touched on that before. Treatment programs can give offenders recognition of their drinking behaviour and help them move towards a readiness for change.

I want to briefly outline the differences in these programs across the country in the hope that Western Australia will be a leader in this area for other states to follow. South Australia does not have a treatment component; however, an offender is required to be assessed for alcohol dependence if they re-enter the system within five years. As of October last year, alcohol interlock devices are mandatory in Victoria for drink-drivers who have had their licences cancelled. Victoria has rehabilitation measures in place that an offender may be required to complete. A magistrate may order a treatment program for an offender; however, if no order is made, an offender enters a treatment program towards the end of their licence suspension before the installation of an interlock device. In New South Wales, all offenders must undergo a brief intervention, such as a consultation with a medical doctor.

In the system this bill proposes for Western Australia, during the period when an offender’s licence is disqualified, an offender may apply for the grant of a new driver’s licence. The applicant may be required to submit to a medical assessment, which is likely to include a liver function test. Additionally, when it appears an offender has difficultly separating drinking and driving behaviour, they may be referred to an alcohol assessment and treatment program. Compliance with the treatment program is necessary before licence restrictions are lifted. I hope that there will be a review period to evaluate the effectiveness of separating drinking and driving behaviour. In his response to the second reading debate on this bill, I would like the Attorney General to describe how this assessment and treatment program will run and provide positive outcomes for both the community and the offender. I think we could have a little more detail on that to fill us in. A key question is whether alcohol interlocks serve as a link between criminal justice sanctions and substance abuse treatment. An interlock cannot be expected to result in long-term change in the amount and extent of a person’s alcohol consumption. The report from the Tenth International Alcohol Interlock Symposium held in Melbourne refers to research on the issue and states — Policies should be designed to engage offenders in remediation work that counters the deficits that they may possess. Many programs that exist tend to be disproportionately burdensome for these offenders and the motivation for immediate gratification leads them to drive unlicensed as opposed to comply with program conditions. [4]

Extract from Hansard [COUNCIL — Tuesday, 17 February 2015] p41b-48a Hon Kate Doust; Hon Lynn MacLaren; Hon Michael Mischin; Hon michael mischin Members can certainly see how that would be a huge temptation. The report continues — Contingency management approaches have proven to work well in dealing with this population—e.g., providing vouchers as incentives for early and successful participation.

I think that goes to the heart of what Hon Kate Doust was talking about: if behaviour change is not achieved, an interlock device is not going to stop a person trying to drive a car. Another thing I reflected on while listening to the speeches in the second reading debate thus far is that someone who is under the influence of alcohol cannot really be judged for the decisions they make, because their decision-making ability is impaired. It is completely irrational and illogical to get behind the wheel of a car and drive, but because a person is under the influence of alcohol they cannot make that rational decision. That is why we need these interventionist techniques and behaviour change to possibly run alongside the use of interlock devices. I would look at that in future anyway.

The report goes on to state — … research is that even the most hardcore of cases are not a ‘lost cause’ when it comes to treatment. These offenders may be amenable to the ‘right’ intervention adapted to their characteristics.

In 2012–13, the Office of Road Safety coordinated the remote area alcohol interlock demonstration program to assess the efficacy of alcohol interlocks. I note that that was after comments by Hon Giz Watson and many other members who felt that when the driving and drug offences bill was in this place, we should have looked at alcohol interlocks. I note that some progress was made by doing that trial program and carefully looking at how interlocks could be implemented in remote areas. It was really good. We always support research-based policy. I thank the Attorney General’s office for providing us with the summary of the remote area alcohol interlock demonstration program, dated November 2013. The summary does not have a lot of detail, but it does let us know that the outcomes of that project were positive, and they have shown the way forward for the program we are about to legislate. The Ngarliyarndu Bindirri Aboriginal Corporation was contracted to provide leadership and community liaison for the coordination of the project. Nominated vehicles that could be operated by multiple drivers were fitted with alcohol interlock devices. The project provided some interesting outcomes. Drivers who failed the blood alcohol concentration test on numerous occasions waited until they were under the limit. That is a good result. In some cases, drivers presumably found someone else to operate the vehicle. A positive outcome of that trial is that some drivers were more conscious of the effect of several drinks, and became more aware of time needed for their blood alcohol concentration to fall. The alcohol interlock devices were seen as “protective of the family”, which is a wonderful outcome. I am glad that consideration of extenuating circumstances is included in the bill. If there is no suitable interlock-fitting place, for want of a better term, within 150 kilometres of someone’s usual place of residence, an order for the use of an alcohol interlock device cannot be made. If someone is medically incapable of blowing into the device, again, an order will not be imposed on that person.

In 2013, Professor Simon Lenton from the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University stated that alcohol ignition interlocks were proven to be one of the best deterrents for repeat drink-driving offenders. He gave an example of a great success that should have been emulated here. In 2003, New Mexico implemented an interlock scheme similar to that proposed for WA. In its first six years it reduced road crashes involving alcohol by 31 per cent and fatalities involving alcohol by 35 per cent. Imagine if WA had begun this 10 years ago.

The Greens definitely support this bill and would like to see more clarity over how the alcohol assessment and treatment program is to be conducted. It is important that offenders are not discouraged from seeking treatment and are able to separate their drinking and driving behaviour.