Sandra is a senior crimes and justice reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Bay drink driver numbers declining but not for seniors

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More than 800 people have been prosecuted for drink-driving on Western Bay roads this year with figures showing a growing number were over 50.

Head of Western Bay road policing Senior Sergeant Ian Campion said 837 drink-drivers had been prosecuted as at September 8 this year - the latest figures available.

That compared with 1278 drivers for the whole of 2015.

Mr Campion said of the 837 prosecutions, 76 per cent were men.

"While the numbers of drink-drivers has been steadily declining since 2009, except for last year, there are still significant numbers of alcohol-impaired drivers putting you, me, us, and our families at great risk.

"One drink-driver on our roads is one too many," he said

Mr Campion said the one positive was that drink-drivers under 20 were "leading the way" compared with the 50 and over age group.

"Back in 2008 the numbers under 20 were 27.2 per cent of the total drink-driver numbers, and last year it was 10.3 per cent. That's a huge reduction. Unfortunately the over 50s age group is going in the opposite direction," he said.

Mr Campion said the percentage of 50-plus prosecutions had almost doubled from 7.6 per cent in 2008 to 14.5 per cent last year.

"It's very disappointing. The over 50s group can certainly learn a lot from younger drivers and they should know better in the way they're continuing to offend," he said

Data obtained by the Bay of Plenty Times under the Official Information Act also revealed there were 102,045 breath screening tests done across the Bay of Plenty Region in 2015/2016.

Of those tested 2517 infringements for excess breath alcohol were issued compared with 3372 in 2008/2009.

Police said breath test data was not available before 2008.

Students Against Dangerous Driving (SADD) New Zealand's national manager Julie Elliotte said it was "absolutely brilliant" to see young drink-driver numbers declining.

"It's something that SAAD as an organisation has been trying to achieve for three decades. Unfortunately for some older drivers the habits that formed when they were a lot younger are clearly harder to break," she said.
Tauranga Grey Power president Jennifer Custins said she was not surprised but clearly disappointed older drivers featured so highly in the data.

"I guess for older drivers who are hardened drinkers it's more difficult to break their habits after getting away with it for so long, and for some I think it's just stubbornness."
Police Minister Judith Collins said she applauded the younger generation in their conscious decision to not drink and drive

"I agree with the head of road policing in the Western Bay of Plenty area that those in the older category should know better. They are role models for the younger generations and should be setting the example of what it means to keep our roads safe."

Ms Collins said police staff did an excellent job in enforcing drink-driving laws.

"However they cannot do it alone. We all need to take our responsibilities seriously, especially when we get behind the wheel of a car, and this includes taking action when we see others who have disregarded these responsibilities," she said.

Calls for harsher punishment

Tauranga father and Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Ken Evans said the trust was hugely disappointed by the overall drink-driving numbers but it was "fantastic" to see young drivers starting to getting the message.

The Evans family know firsthand the pain caused by drink driving.

On June 22, 1981 Mr Evans and his wife Jocelyn lost their 18-year-old son Grant to a drink-driver. Their lives changed forever, they said. Grant was killed after a car travelling in the opposite direction crossed the centreline near Kerepehi and crashed into him.

"The pain just never ever goes away and we can never get over the loss of our beautiful son, particularly in these circumstances."

Mr Evans said New Zealand's drink-driving laws were weak compared with other countries and some drink-drivers treated the sentences as "a joke".

Mr Evans said the latest figures provided a "wonderful opportunity" for Police Minister Judith Collins, who had reduced the number of boy racers through her crushing law, to take a similar approach to drink-drivers.

Mr Evans was calling on Ms Collins to push for legislation which would result in mandatory confiscation of vehicles for all drink-drivers.

"Doing so would probably save about 150 lives from the 300-odd people who are killed on our roads each year," he said.
Western Bay police districtdrink driving prosecutions:
Year Numbers
2016: 837 *
2015: 1278
2014: 871
2013: 1009
2012: 1256
2011: 1532
2010: 1568
2009: 1861
2008: 1867
2007: 1675
2006: 1435
*(as at September 8, 2016 )

Age group breakdown of 2016 prosecutions:
Under 19: 11.78 %
20-24 years: 19.8%
25-29 years : 17%
30-34 years: 12.7%
35-39 years: 9.2%
40-44 years: 7.2%
45-49 years: 7.6%
50 and over: 14.7%

Source: Tauranga Police

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