They're a menace on our roads and they put lives at risk. But the number of drink drivers caught on Rotorua roads is rising despite road safety campaigns to stop people getting behind the wheel drunk. Sandra Conchie uncovers alarming new figures and investigates who is behind the increase. She speaks to experts to find out what the answers might be – and talks to a woman who has spoken out about the dangers of drink driving after her brother made a ''tragic mistake''.
The death of her younger brother six years ago was like a stab in the heart for Deborah Wood.
She's constantly reminded "someone really important" is missing from her life.
She's spoken out, sharing her younger brother Patrick's drunk-driving story in the hopes she can help prevent others repeating his tragic mistake.
Her story comes as figures reveal the number of drink drivers on Rotorua roads jumped 12 per cent in one year.
Police figures show 642 people were caught drink-driving on Rotorua roads last year, compared to 573 in 2017 - a 12 per cent increase in drink drivers caught in one year.
Stricter drink driving laws have been introduced in the last decade, impacting numbers of people caught under the influence.
In December 2014, a new lower drink driving limit of 250mcg (50mg) was introduced, seeing more drivers caught at lower levels of intoxication. This followed a zero-alcohol tolerance for drivers under 20 that came into force in 2011.
In 2015, the year after the limit was lowered the number of drink drivers caught in Rotorua increased from 426 to 468 - a rise of almost 10 per cent.
About 30 per cent of those 468 drink drivers would have passed under the old limit.
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The proportion of drink drivers caught below the old limit has remained between 23 and 33 per cent in the years since the law change.
Last year, about 60 per cent (382 people) of drink drivers in Rotorua had a reading above the old limit of 400mcg (80mg).
Forty-six of the drink drivers caught last year were under 20, five more than the year before.
Rotorua drink-drivers also clocked up $43,200 in infringement fines for alcohol-related offending last year, up from $32,200 in 2017.
Nationally 25,839 people were caught drink driving last year.
Rameka Te Rahui from Rotorua-based Te Utuhina Manaakitanga alcohol and drug counselling service said the service had a steady flow of clients coming through its doors.
"This includes lots of people who are disqualified drivers and some who have two or more excess breath alcohol convictions, " Te Rahui said.
"But there are plenty of others out there who appear reluctant to seek the help they need despite having major alcohol and drug-dependency problems.
"We know alcohol is a factor in a number of crashes and drink-driving kills or seriously maims people. I encourage more people to access our free counselling service."
Wood knows better than most the dangers of drinking and driving.
The Pāpāmoa-based mother-of-four lost her 28-year-old brother Patrick O'Connor of December 9, 2012.
"Patrick was drunk when he crashed his motorbike into a power pole near Shannon, instantly killing himself and injuring his passenger," she said.
"My brother was a risk-taker but his decision wasn't anything ill-intended. It was just a silly last-minute decision which had massive ramifications.
"Not a day goes by that I don't think about Patrick and also think about the what ifs and the if only's. I still get a lump in my throat when I talk about the mistake he made.''
Wood said she hoped Patrick's story reminded others how precious life is.
She has an "absolute zero tolerance" for drink driving.
"My message is that as friends and family it's our responsibility to make sure those who haven't quite got that in their head yet, that we take the keys off them," she said.
"It's far better to fight with them at the time or somehow take the keys without them knowing than having to deal with the aftermath."
Senior Sergeant Mark Pakes, head of Western Bay road policing, said he was disturbed some people had not got the message drinking and driving was "not smart or okay".
Alcohol and/or drugs were a factor in about a third of all fatal crashes, he said.
He urged people to stop their friends and family getting behind the wheel after drinking.
"People should drive with the clear expectation they could be stopped and breath-tested at any time. We want to make Western Bay of Plenty safe for all drivers, he said.
"I make no apologies that police are taking a hard line on enforcing our road safety rules."
"This really is about saving lives. The last thing police want to be doing is knocking on someone else's door to deliver terrible news of a loved one dying in a crash."
Harry Wilson, NZTA's director of safety and environment, said police were working hard to keep the roads safe.
"It's incredibly disappointing so many people continue to put themselves and others at risk. The message is very simple - If you're going to drink don't drive - no excuses."
By the Numbers
People caught drink-driving in Rotorua District:
Numbers of adults fined due to lowered 250 mcg/50 ml blood alcohol limit:
* (the new lowered alcohol limit came into force December 1, 2014)
Source: NZ Police