"NZ's worst drink driver caught drunk behind the wheel again"; "Drink driver five times over the limit tries to destroy blood test"; "Drink-driver caught twice in three weeks"; "'Extraordinarily' drunk driver jailed to protect community after ninth conviction".

The headlines - a tiny snapshot of stories appearing in this newspaper and on our website in the last months of 2018 - say it all: New Zealand still has a drink-driving problem.

This is despite changes to our laws in 2014 (the Herald was among those who campaigned for them) that reduced the breath alcohol limit to 250mcg per litre (from 400mcg) and the blood alcohol limit to 50mg per 100ml (from 80mg).

A significant issue is recidivist high-level offenders, but they are not the only problem.


The number of people being charged for drink-driving has certainly dropped over time - thanks in part to those lower limits for adult drivers, plus zero limit for teen drinkers, increased education and societal expectations. But police statistics show the numbers are creeping up again and there has been an increase in driving-related alcohol offences such as drink driving from 20,970 in 2014 to 25,508 in 2017.

The NZ Transport Agency says drink-driving is a factor in about a third of fatal crashes on our roads.

A behavioural study released this week by alcohol giant Heineken shows our drink-driving culture is still sadly prevalent.

The study was carried out in Auckland and Christchurch bars on a usual week of operation, using 1256 respondents. It found 59 per cent of respondents drove to the bar in question, 90 per cent had decided to drink before they drove there, and 68 per cent said they were happy to have one or two drinks before driving elsewhere.

The positive finding is that, in the same study carried out a week later - when preventative and educational measures had been put in place - the levels of those getting behind the wheel after drinking dropped by several percentage points.

It shows the vital importance of education at source: having highly visible signs and messaging in place, alert staff, and food and non-alcoholic alternatives clearly available.

But the worrying factor is that the preferred messaging around drink-driving - ie don't at all - is largely still unheeded. People seem to make up their own minds up about how much alcohol they can drink while still being safe to drive. It is reasonable to wonder whether those who said they would only drink one or two before driving might actually be drinking more and not admitting it.

How often are people taking the car with the honest intention of only having one or two drinks, but somehow the night goes on a little bit longer, another drink or two is consumed, and, rather than leave the car in town, the decision is made to drive home?

It is time we all took stock of our personal drinking and driving habits, and considered modifying our attitudes and behaviour. We should strive to be good role models. First and foremost we must rethink our "just one for the road" mentality. Before you go out for a drink, have an alternative transport option sorted. Then say "cheers".