Key Points:

Children as young as 14 are being caught drink-driving, prompting road safety officials to admit their multi-million dollar awareness campaigns aren't working.

Despite the Government ploughing $3.3 million into anti-drink-driving campaigns this year alone, the number of offenders is skyrocketing and is now at record levels.

Newly compiled police figures requested by the Herald on Sunday reveal the overall number of drink-drivers soared from 25,133 in 2003 to more than 34,700 in the year to November 30 - that's 95 a day.

In the under-18 age group, the number of offences almost doubled between 1998 and last year. Eighteen 14-year-olds have been caught in the past year.

Transport Ministry environment and safety manager David Crawford said it was clear officials "haven't cracked" the problem.

"These stats are telling us we are not that successful yet, so we've got to do some more thinking.

"It's going to require people taking responsibility, and us as enforcement and policy agencies to think about how we can do that."

Police national road manager Paula Rose said alcohol was involved in more crimes of all kinds.

"It is very frustrating. The best thing that could happen to a drink-driver is that they get caught by us. The worst thing is that they become a killer."

In 2003, 4870 women were charged for drink-driving compared to 6500 in 2006 and 8003 in the past 11 months.

In 2003, 19,160 men were charged, compared to 22,672 in 2006 and 26,579 in the past 11 months.

The drink-drive epidemic cost New Zealand almost $81 million in ACC payouts alone between 2001 and 2005. Alcohol was a factor in 1923 crashes during that period, prompting 2873 claims.

Prime Minister John Key was astonished by the figures and said the number of youth offenders was "disturbing". He wouldn't comment on whether campaigns were working but said it was clear more research was needed.

"It's disturbing that 14-year-olds are driving, especially being unable to hold a licence, and drinking."

The chief executive of support group Parents Inc said the figures were a "shock" and parents had to take responsibility for young teens caught drink-driving.

"Unfortunately, some of these kids come from homes that have seen mum and dad drunk a lot, and potentially driving, and they're carbon copying that."

Children's Commissioner Dr Cindy Kiro said it was "disturbing" that more 14, 15, and 16-year-olds were getting pulled over for drink-driving and alcohol was still New Zealand's most abused drug.

The Transport Ministry, Health Ministry and Land Transport New Zealand are working on a national plan to combat alcohol-related problems.

The Transport Ministry is testing devices already operational in Australia, Canada and Britain that breath-test repeat offenders each time they get behind the wheel.

If they are over the legal limit their car locks so they can't drive.

Alcohol watchdog Rebecca Williams said it was clear the worldwide recession hadn't stopped the flow of booze.

She wanted the price of alcohol increased, a lower maximum blood alcohol limit for drivers, the end of liquor advertising and sponsorship, and the drinking age returned to 20.

"We heard during the election campaign we needed more police and hospitals, but we need to step back from that bottom of the cliff mentality and look at prevention."

Alcohol Advisory Council chief executive Gerard Vaughan said New Zealand's drink-drive figures had to be looked at in the context of the wider drinking culture, where drinking to intoxication is the norm.

"We need to change that culture to make progress not only on drink drive incidents but also the countless other alcohol-related harms that affect this country."

Megan McPherson, who lost her 28-year-old brother to a repeat drink-driver two years ago, said she wasn't shocked by the latest figures.

Christchurch accountant Jonathan Keogh was killed on Mother's Day, 2006 by David Cashman, who was sentenced to three years in jail, disqualified from driving for 10 years and told to pay more than $47,000 in reparation.

"The increase just represents more innocent people ending up in the cemetery," said McPherson. "On paper it's statistics, but good New Zealanders are ending up dead because more people see it as their right to drink and drive."

McPherson is a member of Cross Roads, which lobbies for harsher penalties for repeat drink-drivers.

"It's disgraceful that people are being killed by drink-drivers and repeat drive-drivers and the offenders get home detention as a sentence.

"Life is really cheap on New Zealand roads and I think drunk drivers know that. It's an epidemic and it's getting worse."