Repeat drink driving plagues Bay

By Teuila Fuatai, APNZ

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At least 480 Bay of Plenty drivers have two or more drink-driving convictions.

Figures released by the Justice Ministry show 481 drivers with previous drink-driving convictions were caught and convicted again in the first six months of this year. The figures relate to convictions in Tauranga, Opotiki, Waihi and Whakatane.

Tauranga Travel Safe coordinator Karen Smith urged everyone to assist in reducing drink driving.

"It's everyone's responsibility to make sure that family and friends don't drink and drive.

"Even if you've only had a few, you might still be over the limit.

"Our message is 'don't drink and drive'," Mrs Smith said.

Total convictions for the area this year stood at 855 on June 30. Annual figures for the past two years declined, dropping from 1955 in 2010 to 1882 last year.

Young people are getting the message not to drink and drive because there is a zero tolerance for those under 20 years, she said.

"We're finding also that it's the 35-plus that we're trying to get the message to."

In both 2011 and 2010, five fatal crashes related to alcohol and drug-impaired driving occurred in Western Bay and Tauranga, according to the Ministry of Transport.

There were also 22 serious crashes linked to alcohol and drug-impaired driving last year and 19 in 2010 for Western Bay and Tauranga.

Nationally, nearly 14,000 drink-drive convictions were handed down by courts in the first six months of this year.

A driver convicted on Auckland's North Shore had the country's highest alcohol reading for the period. The motorist was nearly five times the legal limit of 400 micrograms per litre of breath and had an alcohol reading of 1884 mcg.

The Bay of Plenty's worst drink driver registered a reading of 1634 for the period.

NZ Transport Agency general manager strategy and performance, Ernst Zollner, said New Zealand needed to clamp down on drink drivers.

"In spite of a reduction in alcohol-related road fatalities over the past 20 years, drink driving is still a factor in around one out of every three fatal crashes on New Zealand roads.

"It is time for New Zealand communities and New Zealand families to face up to the reality of drink driving. Far too many people still think it is okay to get behind the wheel after they've been drinking.

"And far too many people turn a blind eye to it when people around them drive after drinking. Their actions are the cause of a huge amount of pain and suffering in communities right across the country."

Fatalities from alcohol and drug-impaired driving have dropped in the last two years, from 144 in 2010 to 85 in 2011, Mr Zollner said.

Serious injury crashes linked to alcohol and drug-impaired driving had also fallen 18 per cent for the period, from 554 to 452.

The Ministry of Transport estimated the total social cost of these crashes to be about $898 million for 2010 - a quarter of the social cost associated with all injury crashes.

New initiatives to tackle recidivist drink drivers have also been introduced.

Nationally, more than 7000 drivers with a previous drink-driving conviction were caught and convicted again in the six months to June.

And in 2010 and 2011, more than 13,000 drink-driving convictions each year were handed to motorists who had already been caught over the limit.

Mr Zollner said new sanctions were introduced in September giving judges the ability to require serious or repeat drink drivers to have "alcohol interlock" devices fitted to their vehicles.

Cars fitted with the device will not start if any alcohol is detected in the driver's system.

Repeat drink drivers can also be issued with a "zero-alcohol driver licence", which prohibits them from getting behind the wheel if they have any alcohol in their system.

"These measures are part of a concerted effort to tackle the serious harm caused by drink driving, which also includes the introduction last year of a zero blood alcohol limit for all drivers under the age of 20 and a doubled maximum penalty for drink or drugged driving causing death."

Inspector Pete Baird of National Road Police is also warning motorists to be careful over the holiday season: "While Christmas is a special time for families, there is often an increased risk on our roads as higher levels of traffic are on the roads and people are out socialising with alcohol more often.

"Anyone who gets behind the wheel while intoxicated puts not only themselves at risk, but also other innocent road users," he said.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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