Amelia Wade is a court reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Fall in drink driving but diehards unchanged

Drink-drive convictions have fallen by a third in five years but the percentage of repeat offenders has remained almost the same.

The Government is reviewing the penalties for drink-drive offences and campaigners say penalties need to be tougher on drunk drivers, including making ignition interlocks mandatory for recidivist drunk drivers.

In the past financial year, 18,000 people were convicted of being intoxicated behind the wheel, a drop of 35 per cent since the 2010/2011 financial year.

Rotorua and Taranaki almost halved their convictions with drops of 49 and 48 per cent respectively, Ministry of Justice figures show.

The data, given to the Herald by the Automobile Association, also highlighted the continuing struggle to stop recidivist drink drivers. Nationwide, there was a fall of just 5 per cent over five years in the number of convictions for the third or more offence. In the past financial year, 4711 people were caught who had already been prosecuted three or more times.

The national road policing manager, Superintendent Steve Greally, said it was Kiwi drivers, not police, who should be congratulated for the falling drink-drive convictions.

"We're just out there doing what we always do, but it's drivers who are making the good decisions."

The 35 per cent fall in drunk drivers caught was a testament not only to the lower alcohol limit since 2014 but also to Kiwis "maturing on the issue and ... deciding it's just not worth it," Mr Greally said.

"That's huge for New Zealand ... I think it's absolutely brilliant."

But more needed to be done to stop people who didn't learn from the first or second time they offended, Mr Greally said, and he believes one of the answers is using interlocks more frequently. He called the devices, which prevent a drunk driver starting the vehicle, "game-changers".

In the past two years, only 570 drink-drivers were sentenced to have alcohol interlock devices installed.

A review now looking at the penalties and sanctions for drink-driving included a look at interlocks, said a spokeswoman for Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss. The Government is likely to make an announcement in the next few months.

AA motoring policy spokesman Mike Noon said while convictions were falling, a group of "hard-core offenders" were not being stopped.

Interlocks would be "much, much more effective" at solving that.

- NZ Herald

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