Police are encouraged by the low number of drivers caught drink-driving after hundreds of motorists were stopped and breath-tested in Northland during a police blitz.

But concern was raised over the number of unrestrained or incorrectly restrained children discovered and drivers using their cellphones during the Friday night operation.

Teams of police set up 18 checkpoints in Whangarei, Bream Bay and Dargaville with more than 700 motorists stopped and tested including those behind the wheel of taxis, pizza delivery vehicles, ambulances and truck and trailer units.

Of the drivers tested for alcohol, 14 were found to be over the legal limit of 250 micrograms per litre of breath, but were under the 400mcg level.

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In December 2014 the law changed so that drivers caught with breath-alcohol levels of between 251mcg and 400mcg would not receive a criminal conviction, but would receive a $200 fine and 50 demerit points. Anybody caught driving with a breath-alcohol level of more than 400mcg go to court.

Road policing Senior Sergeant Ian Row said the results showed the message about not drinking and driving was finally getting through to a majority of drivers but some were still getting the amount they could drink wrong.

"This says a lot of people have got the message," Row said.

"But a small percentage just don't seem to be getting it right."

Senior Sergeant Ian Row breath tests one of the hundreds tested by police during a blitz. Photo/ Kristin Edge
Senior Sergeant Ian Row breath tests one of the hundreds tested by police during a blitz. Photo/ Kristin Edge

A male driver, from Hikurangi, stopped at the SH1 checkpoint about 11pm was on his way to collect his wife said he had three beers. It was the first time he had been tested and he was nervous about the results.

However, following the roadside test the number on the screen showed 250mcg, meaning he narrowly escaped a ticket and demerit points.

A fortunate driver was on the cusp and 250mcg means no fine or demerit points. Photo/ Kristin Edge
A fortunate driver was on the cusp and 250mcg means no fine or demerit points. Photo/ Kristin Edge

But what alarmed Row the most was a 1-year-old baby not restrained properly, put it in serious risk if the driver had to stop suddenly. The baby was sitting in the lap of its mother in the passenger set, tucked under the seatbelt.

Mr Row explained to the male driver if he had to stop the force of the woman against the child would have serious, if not fatal consequences.

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"These children have no choice in the matter, it's up to the adults to ensure they are restrained correctly."

There were at least 16 drivers nabbed using their cellphones while driving.

It became an offence in 2009 to use a cellphone when driving unless using a hands-free kit and is punishable by a $80 fine and 20 demerit points.

Five vehicles were impounded, including one driver who had never obtained a licence. His parents came and collected him to save him a long walk home.

Six drivers were caught for either being disqualified or suspended, while 123 fines were issued for a variety of offences including cellphone use, not wearing seatbelts and lack of warrant or car registration.

Seven people stopped at the checkpoint were arrested as some had warrants out for their arrests or were breaching their bail conditions. One man was handcuffed and taken to Whangarei Police Station after a check showed he was wanted for assaulting a female three months ago.

A gang associate was referred to the specialist methamphetamine harm reduction team after a meth pipe was found in his possession.

Today is the start of Road Safety Week. Police are calling on drivers to wear a seat belt and put down their phones when at the wheel. The official theme of the week is Belt on, Phone off – Make it a habit.

"We live in an age when being constantly connected is normal and we find it hard to put down our smartphone, even for a minute. While there are enormous benefits to this technology, it's also posing dangerous temptations to drivers to divert their concentration away from the critical task at hand, often putting our most vulnerable road users in danger," Caroline Perry, Brake's NZ director, said.

In Northland police are extending the theme across the rest of the month and say there will be plenty more checkpoints across the region targeting errant drivers.