Mike Noon: One way to stop repeat drink drivers

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We need to do more to keep the worst drink drivers off our roads.

That may seem a strange comment to make when figures published this week show some good progress in New Zealand's battle to stop drink drivers putting innocent lives at risk.
In the last five years the number of drink drivers being convicted nationwide has dropped by 35 per cent.

But if we look at repeat offenders the figures tell a different story. The number of people being convicted of a third or more drink driving offence has fallen, but nowhere near as much. This shows that while the current drink drivers approach has changed a lot of people's behaviour, there is a group of hard-core offenders that aren't being stopped.

The AA Research Foundation had its own analysis done in 2013 and found that, if we looked at all court offences since 1980, half of the drink drivers caught each year had been caught at least once before.

This is very concerning because repeat drink drivers are some of the riskiest people on our roads.

If we simply carry on catching, fining and taking away their licences like we do now it isn't stopping them getting back behind the wheel. In lots of cases all it does is swamp our courts and fine collection services.

So what can be done? We could send all repeat drink drivers to prison, which would definitely keep them off the roads for a period. Unfortunately it would also cause the prison population to skyrocket, require massive Government spending on new prisons to house them all and it costs taxpayers about $100,000 a year to lock someone up.

The AA believes there is a smarter option. Require every repeat drink driver and those caught at extremely high levels to have an alcohol interlock put in their car. Interlocks are like an in-car breathalyser that require a driver to blow into it before and during journeys and they won't let the vehicle start if alcohol is detected.

READ MORE:Fall in drink driving but diehards unchanged

They are widely used in other countries and have been reducing drink driving reoffending from 35 per cent to 90 per cent. They became an option for the New Zealand courts in 2012 but less than 2 per cent of eligible offenders are being sentenced to one. That is an embarrassingly small number.

Interlocks aren't a silver bullet that will suddenly stop every crash involving alcohol but they will be much, much more effective at keeping repeat drink drivers off the roads than what we are doing right now.

They aren't a soft option either. Interlock users often have to dramatically change their behaviour around alcohol or even stop drinking altogether to be able to keep using their car. This can be extremely hard for people with alcohol problems but can help them maintain their job and family.

Ultimately this is about keeping us all safe on the roads. One in four fatal road crashes and 1 in 7 injury crashes involve alcohol and if we are serious about reducing that then alcohol interlocks are the best weapon we have to stop repeat drink drivers.

Unfortunately, right now New Zealand is leaving them sitting in the holster.

Mike Noon is AA motoring policy spokesman.

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