The Northland Road Safety Trust has created a new website.
It went live a couple of months ago and one of the first posts created some excitement. It read- "I've failed a breath test for drink driving and I'm about to appear in court. I need some help with this problem and saw your drink driver rehabilitation program on line and I want to enrol. I want to better myself as a person so this does not happen again. This has already put a lot of strain on my family and my employment. Please help."
Wow, if only all online messages were as meaningful as that.
Two courses are referred to, and the first is Drive Soba - a 13 week by 2 hours a week program for recidivist drink drivers who have had 3 or more drink driving charges.
The second is Stop Alcohol Impaired Driving (SAID)- a 3 week by 2 hours a week course for first time offenders.
Both courses are evidence-based and get inside the minds of participants to change drink driver behaviour. They focus on examining behaviour, planning ahead, and confronting the predispositions and consequences of getting behind the wheel after drinking.
Participants are self-referred or come through the justice system and the courses have a nationally acclaimed non-reoffending rate.
International research tells us that repeat drink drivers think they are invincible and are okay to drive. They have little regard for their own safety and believe they will not be caught. Despite having a heavy session they do not feel drunk. They have no idea about whether or not they are over the limit but they are a disaster behind the wheel.
NZTA advises that "In 2017 there were 154 road deaths involving drivers with non zero evidential alcohol readings both above and below legal limits combined." That's 40 per cent of our road toll with alcohol contribution.
The drink driving issue has had a raft of legislation over the past few years but lowering the drink driving limit has made little difference to deaths and serious injuries on our roads.
This legislation needs to be combined with a solid enforcement presence and focus. A zero tolerance for alcohol while driving is the only credible solution, if we are serious about the "Road to Zero".
But having the armoury in place to catch and prosecute drink drivers is only part of the issue relating to alcohol. The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 is about controlling and minimising the harm caused by alcohol in the community.
This comes down to how available alcohol might be to those who are vulnerable to the undesirable effects of it, what sort of say the community has and what controls we have about the sale and supply of alcohol.
In this context, the recent application for a bottle store liquor licence at the Maunu shops pricked my interest. Liquor licences are granted as on licences for bars, pubs and clubs, or off licences for supermarkets, food stores and bottle stores. Generally only bottle stores are able to sell a full range of spirits, beer, wine and RTD's. It is all that they do.
In general the on-licence scene has a strong focus through legislation, responsible licensees with a strong incentive to behave, and a highly visible police presence.
Increasingly though, drink drivers are consuming their liquor at home or at private functions and the potential to drive down the road at night to top up supplies from a bottle store is a major issue.
Recent research conducted by Waikato University is conclusive about the significant and increasing relationship between bottle stores and alcohol related social harm. The greater the number of alcohol outlets, the greater the consumption which leads to more social harm.
In 2015, the Whangārei community was widely consulted about its local alcohol policy.
This became a provisional policy which declared a moratorium on no new bottle store licences for a six year period.
A new bottle store at Maunu, next to a childcare centre and a service delivery centre for at risk children, in the close vicinity of two schools and just down the road from a newly developed social housing estate, is just wrong.
Drink driving is an outcome of irresponsible availability and consumption of alcohol. Let's all strive to minimise that harm.
* John Williamson is chairman of Roadsafe Northland and Northland Road Safety Trust.