Teenage drivers are getting drunk and climbing behind the wheel in greater numbers than ever before, say police.
Their regular booze checks in the greater Auckland area indicate the number of drunken drivers under 20 has risen by 77 per cent compared with two or three years ago.
The figures horrified Julie Elliotte from the lobby group Students Against Driving Drunk (SADD), which has members in about half the country's secondary schools.
She said it showed how important it was for the drinking age to go back to 20 and for the alcohol level for under-20 drivers to be removed.
"For under 20s the level should be zero. They are inexperienced drivers and inexperienced drinkers and it's a dangerous combination," she told NZPA.
She said 18 and 19-year-olds were the biggest binge drinkers in the country and SADD surveys showed about a third of young people believed they could still drive after drinking provided they felt all right.
Police said m any of the young drivers were recidivist drink drivers with at least three incidents on their records.
One of those was a 19-year-old girl stopped in South Auckland recently, said Inspector Dave Walker, in charge of the Auckland motorways and Auckland Traffic Alcohol Group.
Her breath alcohol level was 1000mcg of alcohol per litre of breath. The legal limit is 150mcg for drivers under 20. It was her third drink-driving incident since she turned 16, he said.
Mr Walker said that of the 2229 drunken drivers stopped at checkpoints in the year to the end of June, 97 were teenage girls and 11 of them already had at least three drink-driving convictions.
In the same period 279 teenage boys were over the limit and of those, 50 already had three or more convictions.
He said the figures were similar to 2007-08 but showed a huge 77 per cent increase compared with the years before that.
He said there was nothing to suggest similar figures did not apply around the country as alcohol became easier and cheaper to buy and bars stayed open longer after the drinking age was lowered a decade ago.
"We have had some horror stories," Mr Walker told NZPA.
One 18-year-old teenager was stopped two nights in a row on the North Shore, the first time with 547mcg and the second time with 270mcg. He also had a record of drinking and driving.
Another driver had 12 convictions for drink-driving and 12 for driving while disqualified when he was picked up recently with a level of more than 1000mcg.
Mr Walker said that of all the drivers caught drinking and driving by the Traffic Alcohol Group in Auckland in the 12 months to the end of June, almost 40 per cent were recidivist drink drivers with at least three previous convictions.