Statistics released this month by the Ministry of Health indicate that of the New Zealanders who drink any alcohol at all, 25 per cent do so hazardously – a figure which is high, in global terms.
Each year, 400 people continue to be killed or seriously injured on New Zealand roads in a crash where the driver was over the legal alcohol limit.
According to Jodi Betts, road safety manager at Far North REAP, "Northland is among the highest in the country when it comes to fatality and serious crash statistics. Bad choices resulting from alcohol and drug impairment are a huge contributing factor to our high fatality rates."
Summer holidays mean a return home to Northland for many people, which leads to an increase in home parties. Towards the end of improving road safety for all Northlanders, Far North REAP has recently launched TheParty.co.nz.
"We want people to start thinking and planning ahead when they have home parties. Everyone at the party, not just the driver, needs to be responsible," Betts said.
The targeted online campaign, using new software for the first time in New Zealand, allows viewers to make choices through an interactive video.
Set in a home party rural environment, the video features 35 different scenes and a number of possible outcomes depending on the viewer's choices along the way. Its purpose is to foster an understanding that with every decision comes a predictable consequence.
"We want people to make better choices if they are placed in a similar situation in real life," Betts said.
Professor Jennie Connor, medical spokeswoman for Alcohol Action NZ (AANZ), agrees there are no easy answers in a rural setting.
"It's been shown to work: if you go out with a plan for how you'll get home or where you'll stay if you happen to drink too much, you're less likely to be injured – and outcomes are even better if you've mentioned this plan to friends or family," Connor said.
Research shows this applies to drinkers of all ages, including young people who need to be able to rely on their parents.
When asked about local taxi options, Betts explained that sober driver startups often cannot offer consistent availability, which makes it hard for people to rely on them.
Bookings are essential, and according to one local taxi service, they are not infrequently cancelled at the last minute when people don't want to leave the party at the time they'd planned.
"The limited transport options in a rural setting mean that people really have to make a plan and stick to it," Betts said.
The complexity of the problem is made clear by Connor, who explains the range of contributing factors – from an inherited culture of heavy drinking from Northern Europe, to the difficulty of regulating digital advertising by foreign-owned alcohol companies, and the ease of quick access to cheap alcohol in New Zealand thanks to online and grocery store sales.
In addition to radio and digital spots, the campaign has also enlisted Nicola "Nix" Adams, a social media and TV star with more than 140,000 Instagram followers, to get people to The Party.
Adams' recent comedy skit portraying party-loving aunty's poor decision-making has garnered hundreds of positive comments and shares.
Betts credits Waka Kotahi / NZ Transport Agency for their integral support from the outset of production, and Whangarei-based production company Facebox for their innovation and deep investment in addressing this pervasive social issue.
"Deaths and serious injuries on our roads are not inevitable, and New Zealanders absolutely do not need to accept that serious crashes are just another part of the holidays," a Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency spokesperson said.
"It's most harmful to the most disadvantaged, like most things. Alcohol itself is inherently hazardous to your health, whichever way you look at it," Connor said.