Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Boozers back behind wheel in Northland

At least 380 Northland drivers have two or more drink-driving convictions.

Figures released by the Justice Ministry to APNZ show 387 people with drink-driving convictions were caught driving under the influence between January and June this year. The figures relate to convictions in Dargaville, Kaikohe, Kaitaia and Whangarei.

Northland has some of the highest drink-driving rates in the country, particularly for repeat offenders.

The extent of the problem has been highlighted by police catching nine alleged drink drivers in Whangarei over the weekend.

Northland Road Safety co-ordinator Gillian Archer said repeat offending was a behavioural issue.

"If you've had more than one conviction, you've got bad habits that need to change. There is no amount of alcohol that is worth risking your life or the life of others," she said.

Between January and June, 743 people were convicted for drink-driving in the region.

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

"If you're running a party or any event where there is alcohol available and people are at risk, provide alternative transport home or take their keys off them after they arrive."

The region's worst drink-driver in the first half of this year was more than three times the legal limit of 400 micrograms per litre of breath, registering an alcohol level of 1433mcg.

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

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 past two years, from 144 in 2010 to 85 last year, 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.

- Northern Advocate

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