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Status Report, Vol. 35, No. 3 | March 11, 2000 Subscribe

Motorists in 4 countries report differences in drinking-driving laws

Motorists in Australia and Canada report being stopped and checked for alcohol far more frequently than motorists in the United States and the United Kingdom. Perhaps this is why a majority of motorists in Canada and, especially, Australia say police are doing enough to enforce drinking-and-driving laws.

These are the findings of a recent Institute survey of more than 2,000 motorists, conducted by telephone across the four countries. Eighty-two percent of respondents in Australia reported being checked for alcohol, more than half said they'd been checked more than once, and 47 percent said this had happened on three or more occasions. In contrast, only 16 percent of motorists in the United Kingdom and 29 percent in the United States said they had ever been checked for alcohol.

"The difference is Australia's extensive breath test program. Police can stop and check drivers randomly, but not in the other three countries," Institute senior vice president Allan Williams explains. In the United States and Canada, police must have a reason — for example, erratic driving — to check a driver for alcohol. Sobriety checkpoints are conducted in the United States and Canada but not in the United Kingdom.

Neither random breath tests nor sobriety checkpoints are conducted in the United Kingdom, but there's another strong deterrent. Every motorist stopped for a traffic violation or involved in a collision is tested for alcohol.

The survey results "generally indicate public tolerance for vigorous enforcement of tough laws," Williams adds. "There's considerable support for tougher penalties in all four countries, even Australia."

Percent of motorists who reported being stopped and checked for alcohol

Graph image

Telephone survey about alcohol enforcement

U.S. U.K. Canada Australia
Police enforcement:
doing enough to enforce 46 43 54 65
not doing enough 42 47 35 26
doing too much 5 4 4 4
Penalties for violators:
about right 38 33 36 42
not tough enough 53 60 56 45
too tough 4 1 3 5
Results are shown as percentages of respondents answering "yes."

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