Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Locks block drink drivers

Convicted alcohol offenders allowed to install safety device which ensures they are sober.

Alcohol interlock devices can prevent cars from starting if the driver has been drinking. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Alcohol interlock devices can prevent cars from starting if the driver has been drinking. Photo / Michael Cunningham

The first drink-drivers sentenced under new legislation will be eligible to install an alcohol interlock system for their vehicles from today.

A Government report released to the Herald showed 16 drink drivers have been issued with the alcohol-detecting devices since they became a sentencing option three months ago.

Two offenders sentenced on September 10 would be eligible from today for licences to drive with the interlocks after a three-month disqualification period.

Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the figures were encouraging and expected the number to rise as judges made greater use of the measure, introduced under the Government's Safer Journeys strategy.

"I think it's a good start and I'm confident it's going to become an increasingly important sentencing tool for the courts, and that the numbers will shoot up over time."

Mr Bridges said the interlocks were an important measure to prevent drink-drivers from re-offending and help make the roads safer for motorists.

Other recent measures include a three-year "zero alcohol" licence sanction for repeat offenders, a zero blood alcohol limit for drivers under 20 and a doubled maximum penalty for drink or drugged driving causing death.

The Government would consider suggested improvements to the interlock system when it came to review the law in a year, Mr Bridges said.

The Automobile Association's motoring affairs general manager, Mike Noon, said the organisation would continue to call for the interlocks to be made mandatory for all drink drivers caught a second time.

"We'd also like them to be able to be applied immediately, rather than after a stand-down period," he said.

This would prevent drivers them from using their vehicles during the disqualification period.

Other vehicles the offenders tried to use instead should be confiscated and forfeited, Mr Noon said.

"We are extremely supportive of the interlocks and our members have very little tolerance for repeat drink drivers, and are very unhappy that those drivers may be coming at them from the other way.

"We catch between 30,000 and 35,000 drink drivers each year. The problem is that very many of those - [around] one in five - we have caught before."

"So the issue is, what we are going to do to fix those drivers who need more alcohol and rehabilitation?"

Drink and drug-driving researcher Dr Gerald Waters said the most effective approach was ordering all convicted offenders to install the alcohol interlocks.

He cited research from New Mexico, where an increase in compulsory interlocks over the past decade had corresponded with a decline in crashes and injuries.

Those ordered to install them this year ranged in age from 23 to 49. Six orders were made in the Auckland District Court, four in Porirua District Court, two each in the Henderson and Upper Hutt district court, and one each in the South Auckland and Hastings district courts.

Alcohol interlock devices

*Introduced in September, the devices are similar to a breathalyser and are connected to a vehicle's starting system.
*Before the vehicle can be started, the driver must provide a zero-level breath sample and if the test is failed the engine will not start.
*Judges have the option of imposing them at sentencing on repeat drink drivers, who can apply for a special licence and pay the $150 cost of fitting the locks following a three-month disqualification period.
*Ministry of Transport figures estimate about 10,000 people nationwide a year would be eligible for the alcohol-interlock programme.

- NZ Herald

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