DRINK-driving is no laughing matter.
Almost 70 people died on NSW roads last year in alcohol-related crashes.
More than 50 of those deaths were on regional or rural roads.
It is understandable, then, that authorities and leaders would look to drive home the serious nature of the offence through harsher penalties.
Minister for Transport and Roads Andrew Constance announced on Monday that from May 20 onwards drivers will immediately lose their licences if they exceed the 0.05 blood alcohol limit while behind the wheel.
Mr Constance made a point of saying that first-time offenders and those in the low range would not escape an immediate three-month suspension and $561 fine under the new regime.
If you break the law, you will pay the price ...Minister for Transport and Roads Andrew Constance
"This reform makes it clear if you break the law, you will pay the price. We are taking a zero-tolerance approach to drink and drug driving," he said.
Assistant Commissioner Michael Corboy said the reform offered protection for other drivers by quickly removing impaired drivers from the roads.
"Alcohol is one of the major factors in crashes that kill or injure people on NSW roads. The 0.05 blood alcohol limit has been in place for almost 38 years. There are no more excuses," he said.
The attitude is certainly understandable. Police deal first-hand with the fallout of irresponsible and reckless driving, often passing the news to the loved ones of those who have paid the price. The tragedy of drink-driving is that it is not always the driver who stepped outside the law who is injured or killed as a result of the laws.
Penalties, however, are not the only measure of effective policy. The Law Council of Australia has raised concerns about whether mandatory sentencing delivers unjust results "because it tries to apply a theoretical blanket standard to the real life, complex circumstances that surround each criminal act".
Given many jobs rely on workers holding a licence, the penalty of automatic bans can go far beyond inconvenience.
Ultimately, the goal is deterrence, education and rehabilitation rather than punishment for its own sake.
Perhaps a more widespread, reliable measure for drivers to assure they are ready to drive could garner better results, but potentially less votes.
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