Youngest drivers put over-30s to shame: top cop

By Teuila Fuatai

WANGANUI'S top road cop says the city's youngest drivers behave more responsibly than their older counterparts when it comes to drink-driving.

Most drink-drivers were aged over 30, Sergeant Colin Wright said.

"We don't get as many under 20s as we thought we might."

Figures released by the Justice Ministry show 178 people were convicted for drink-driving in Wanganui in the six months to June this year.

Last year, 446 people were convicted in the area, up from 392 in 2010.

In Northland, 743 drink-driving convictions were handed out in the six months to June this year. Rotorua had more than 630 convictions for the period.

Numerous Wanganui motorists were regularly caught drink-driving, Mr Wright said.

In the first half of this year, police busted 91 recidivist drink-drivers in Wanganui.

Most drivers who were caught tested between 550 to 880 micrograms per litre of breath. The legal limit was 400mcg for drivers aged over 20.

"It's not very often we get over the 800 [mcg]."

The region's worst drink-driver this year was more than three times the legal limit, at 1248mcg.

A recent incident demonstrated how dangerous drink-driving was, Mr Wright said.

"We had one girl who was 17. She actually blew over 500 [mcg].

"She was driving two others ... and couldn't remember going from where she started - through town - until she crashed."

Fatal Wanganui crashes related to alcohol and drug-impaired driving fell from four in 2010 to one in 2011, Transport Ministry figures show.

Seven serious crashes linked to alcohol and drug-impaired driving occurred in the region last year, compared to six in 2010.

Nationally, nearly 14,000 drink-drive convictions were handed down by courts in the first six months of this year.

A driver convicted on Auckland's North Shore had the country's highest alcohol reading, blowing nearly five times the legal breath alcohol limit - 1884mcg.

NZ Transport Agency general manager strategy and performance Ernst Zollner said New Zealand needed to clamp down on drink-drivers.

"In spite of a reduction in alcohol-related road fatalities over the past 20 years, drink-driving is still a factor in around one out of every three fatal crashes on New Zealand roads," he said.

"Far too many people still think it is okay to get behind the wheel after they've been drinking.

"And far too many people turn a blind eye to it when people around them drive after drinking.

"Their actions are the cause of a huge amount of pain and suffering in communities right across the country."

Fatalities from alcohol and drug-impaired driving fell from 144 in 2010 to 85 in 2011, Mr Zollner said.

Serious injury crashes linked to alcohol and drug-impaired driving had also fallen from 554 to 452.

The Transport Ministry estimated the total social cost of these crashes at $898 million for 2010 - a quarter of the social cost associated with all injury crashes.

New initiatives to tackle recidivist drink-drivers have also been introduced.

Nationally, more than 7000 drivers with a previous drink-driving conviction were caught and convicted in the six months to June.

Mr Zollner said new sanctions were introduced in September giving judges the ability to require serious or repeat drink-drivers to have "alcohol interlock" devices fitted to their vehicles, which would not start if the driver had consumed alcohol.

Repeat drink-drivers can also be issued with a "zero-alcohol driver licence".

"These measures are part of a concerted effort to tackle the serious harm caused by drink-driving, which also includes the introduction last year of a zero blood-alcohol limit for all drivers under the age of 20 and a doubled maximum penalty for drink or drugged-driving causing death."


Ongoing toll

New Zealand drink-driving convictions:

January to June, 2012: 13,849

2011: 27,707

2010: 28,714

Wanganui drink-driving convictions:

January to June, 2012: 178

2011: 446

2010: 392

Highest alcohol reading recorded in six months to June (micrograms per litre of breath):

New Zealand: 1884

Wanganui: 1248

Note: Legal limit is 400mcg for drivers aged 20 years and over

Source: Ministry of Justice


- Wanganui Chronicle

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