Drink-drive offences up 50 percent
Last updated 05:00 23/05/2009

The number of drunk drivers caught by police has jumped by more than 50 percent in five years.

Police figures obtained by The Dominion Post show that nearly 36,000 drink-driving offences were recorded last year the highest on record. The number has been increasing steadily since 2002, when just under 23,500 offences were recorded.

It is not just on Thursday and Friday nights, but is "commonplace" at most times of the day even including parents taking children to Saturday morning sport, one officer says.

Depressed doctors tell of attending road crashes where the dead person is still clutching an empty bottle.

Police cite better enforcement as a reason for the hefty increase, but others say that tells only half the story. Health experts are adamant that more people are climbing behind the wheel drunk, despite millions of dollars being pumped into advertising campaigns aimed at cutting the road toll.

By last night, 175 people had died on New Zealand's roads this year, 15 more than at the same time last year. Alcohol is thought to have been a factor in at least a third of the deaths.

The number of convictions will not be available until July, but is expected to be a record.

Inspector Peter McKay, acting national road policing manager, said the increase in drink-driving "reflected an increase in enforcement and enforcement patterns over the three years".

However, critics say that masks the fact that there were likely to be many more drunk drivers getting away with it before enforcement was beefed up. They point to figures showing that almost a third of motorists caught drink-driving have done it before.

"People know they shouldn't be doing it, but that doesn't stop them," Wellington alcohol and drug counsellor Roger Brooking says. "Everybody blames the individual and calls them bloody idiots, but the system allows them to carry on doing it. Nobody takes responsibility."

Wellington district road policing manager Inspector Peter Baird said drunk drivers were being picked up at all times, across all generations. Patrols had stopped more drivers who were at least three times over the limit: "We are finding there is an increase, and we are finding an increase across all time zones.

"It's not just Thursday or Friday nights. We have a lull between midday and early afternoon, but any other time ... it's commonplace now."

Mr Baird said police had become used to pulling over drunk drivers taking their children to sport on Saturday mornings. "There are drunk people out there anytime. And they are coming towards you with only that little white line to keep you safe."

The Government is considering reducing the limit from 80 milligrams to 50mg of alcohol for every 100 millilitres of blood. The average male would reach 80mg downing a six-pack of beer with food in 90 minutes.

Guidelines in Australia, where the limit is 50mg, suggest an adult male could consume two standard drinks in the first hour, then one standard drink an hour after that.

Transport Ministry spokesman David Crawford said the rise in drink-driving offences suggested changes in the way the problem was tackled were needed. "It's not getting better. We haven't had the success in this area like we have with seatbelts and smoking. Is that a concern? Yes, it is."

The fight against drink-driving would be a key part of a new road safety strategy for the next decade due to be completed this year, he said.

Drink-driving injuries and deaths cost close to $1 billion a year. About $3.3m is spent annually on advertising aimed at drink-drivers.

Wellington emergency doctor Paul Quigley said hospital staff had noticed an increase in drink-drive crashes, particularly those involving serious injuries. "They were the sort of accidents that emergency staff turn up to and are just gutted about because the dead victims still have the empty bottles in their hands."

- By KERRY WILLIAMSON, The Dominion Post

From here.