Our drink-driving shame

By David Fisher

New Zealand's highest ever drink-drive level was recorded yesterday when a female motorist measured almost five times the legal limit, in a police blitz that targeted more than 80,000 drivers.

A staggering 304 people out of 40,000 motorists tested yesterday were charged with drink-driving offences - including the 27-year-old Auckland woman who had to be stopped by another motorist along Tamaki Dr.

"She was driving so badly that a member of the public took it upon himself to stop her," police reported last night. "She did stop without incident and by the time police arrived she was slumped over her steering wheel fast asleep."

The woman recorded a breath-alcohol level of 1943mg - almost five times the legal limit of 400mg. Police said it is likely the woman's drink driving would have killed her, had the motorist not intervened.

The weekend blitz follows a terrible start to the year's road toll, which is sitting at 156; 13 more than were killed at the same time last year. This year alone, 43 deaths (27.6 per cent) have been alcohol related and statistics show the number of prosecutions for drink-driving increased from 29,052 in 2005 to 31,266 in 2006. Everywhere in New Zealand, except for the central North Island and Tasman districts, showed increases.

Police plan to breath test thousands more around the country today, after appalling examples of drink driving were discovered on Friday night and yesterday.

They included:

* A driver pulled over in Napier with six passengers - including five children - who was almost three times the legal limit. The man was driving an SUV that crashed into a roundabout, puncturing a tyre, and continued driving on rims for almost a kilometre when he crashed again. He fled the scene of the accident and when caught returned a breath-alcohol level of 1120mg.

* Southern region police pulled over a drunk husband and wife travelling along State Highway 1 with their three children, all aged under 5. The husband, who was driving with twice the legal limit (882mg), had earlier refused a ride home from a sober driver.

* In Hamilton, a male driver approaching a checkpoint drove his car straight across a roundabout instead of around it. He then recorded an 1158mg breath-alcohol test - and was unable to stand properly when police got him out of his car.

* Waikato police pulled over a 14-year-old driving drunk from Te Kuiti to Hamilton. The boy was pulled over at 3.35am, giving a reading of 695mg.

National road policing manager Superintendent Dave Cliff was with police yesterday morning as they pulled motorists over. He said he was appalled at the "pathetic stupidity" of those who continued to drive drunk.

Of the Tamaki Dr motorist, Cliff said: "It's difficult to work out how someone is capable of drinking that much alcohol to get to that level. At those sorts of limits you're almost paralytic. How she could drive in the first place is astonishing."

The motorist who felt compelled to force the drunk driver to a stop would be one of those who, Cliff said, felt "enough was enough and realised the consequences of doing nothing".

"There are a group of people who seem to have missed the messages - they don't make the link between drink driving and death."

Cliff said: "We anticipated the results would be bad - and they were. All the indicators are going the wrong way at the moment."

He said there seemed to be a sentiment that New Zealand's drink-drive problem had been controlled and was no longer a danger. "There's still a good number of people who are happy to drink drive."

Police had studied devices, he said, which would stop a car from starting if the driver had been drinking. On a local level, most regions had databases of repeat drink drivers who were targeted by local police.

Other instances from the Friday night-Saturday morning blitz were:

* A recidivist drink driver in North Canterbury returned the region's highest level. He had nine previous convictions for the offence and recorded a reading of 847mg.

* A Christchurch youth attempted to escape a breath test on his moped by trying to evade police on a race through a cemetery; "an irony that did not escape the notice of police staff".

* Wellington drivers returned the highest number of drink drivers although the highest reading was comparatively low at 533mg with many breath readings in the 400mg range.

* A male driver attempted to escape police in his car. He was arrested after a short pursuit and charged with failing to stop, dangerous driving and drunk driving. He recorded 846mg.

* A Holden Commodore 5.7 litre V8 did a U-turn before a checkpoint at Matatoki SH26 near Thames and raced away from police at high speed. He was not pursued by police - but was found 10 minutes later after he crashed into a paddock. The driver, 31, was seriously injured in the crash and his blood alcohol level will be taken from a blood sample.

* Another motorist who attempted to escape a checkpoint in Hamilton drove across traffic islands, damaging his car. He was caught and charged with multiple offences.

* Police in the Southern region arrested a driver who tried to escape by turning off his lights in a rural area. When stopped he recorded a breath alcohol level of 856mg - and had five previous drink-driving convictions.

* A teenager was killed when a car ploughed into her at high speed after she wandered on to the road on SH 1, 4km north of Blenheim. Police say the 17-year-old girl had been drinking when she walked into the path of an oncoming vehicle at 1.15am yesterday near Grovetown. One resident, who did not want to be named, said there was a young man in the car with the girl, who had pulled over. The pair were having an argument. "She probably got out of the car because of that and didn't look and got hit."

Ambulance staff rushed her to Wairau hospital, but she was pronounced dead a short time later. The driver of the car was taken to hospital and released with minor injuries.

The local said she heard shouting and screaming just after midnight on Friday when she was in bed reading the Bible. "I opened the window for fresh air and I heard this awful shouting. It sounded like an argument, but at first I didn't go and check because it was dark and I didn't have a torch. I thought it could have been a party or something further down the road.

"I wish now I had done something, but the police said there was nothing I could do and that the youngsters had cellphones to call emergency services."

She said she saw flashing lights and heard screaming all night, even though her property is 10 metres down a driveway.

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