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Exceeding the limit

Local drivers are disappointingly over represented in last year’s drink driving statistics, MARLEE PARTRIDGE finds.

Alcohol-specific driving infringements are trending up around New Zealand and Wairarapa isn’t bucking the trend, with a total 332 drink driving offences in the region in 2023.

Data obtained via an Official Information Act request shows that last year had the highest number of alcohol-specific driving offences in Wairarapa since the records started in 2009.

Despite the drink-driving limit being reduced from 400 micrograms [mcg] per litre of breath to 250mcg on December 1, 2014, most drink-driving offences in the region during 2023 involved drivers over 400mcg.

During 2020 and 2021, the number of drinking offences issued in Wairarapa came to a total of 295 in 2020 and 253 in 2021.

Wairarapa’s drunk driving offences last year totalled 1.23 per cent of all alcohol-related driving offences nationwide, despite its population making up only 0.88 per cent of the national population.

Wairarapa Police area prevention manager Senior Sergeant Gill Flower said that the higher number of alcohol-related driving offences is related to the rural nature of the region. “There is definitely a trend that people don’t think they will get caught so they do it,” Flower said.

Anybody in a vehicle can be asked to undergo a breath test, and Flower tells her staff to breath test as often as possible, even during the day.

“We reiterate to our staff that everybody and anybody that has been stopped, at any time of the day, should be breath tested,” she said.

Morning and midday testing often catch people who have drunk too much the night before and haven’t managed to get it out of their system, or problem drinkers who are constantly over the limit, Flower said.

“It really doesn’t matter for us what time of the day it is, we’re always going to pick up drunk drivers if they’re out there.”

Flower said pubs and bars are generally “quite good” at stopping people when they look too intoxicated, but there are concerns about people purchasing alcohol at off-licence places.

Liquor stores are held to similar standards as bars when it comes to selling alcohol to anybody who appears to be intoxicated, and Flower said police will be keeping an eye out for any stores that might be flouting the rules.

“I don’t mind putting them on notice that we are watching,” she said.

One of the trends noticed in Wairarapa that also appears to be a nationwide pattern is a significantly reduced number of people aged 20 and under driving under the influence of alcohol.

People aged 20 and under have a limit of zero mcg per litre of breath.

In Wairarapa, only 20 drunk driving infringements were issued to people aged 20 years and under in 2023.

“The youth don’t really drink and drive, that message has gotten through to them,” Flower said.

“Our biggest problem are people over the age of 40.”

Flower noted it is typically older generations being caught driving with excess breath and blood alcohol contents and speculated that it is due to growing up at a time when there were no or limited repercussions for that type of driving behaviour.

The data also shows that 95 drink drivers were caught with a breath alcohol between 251mcg and 400mcg, meaning 217 of last year’s infringements were for people driving over the historic limit of 400mcg.

Flower said there is never a good reason to drink and drive, and it’s a problem that occurs when people don’t have a plan on how they will get home.

People make bad choices once they start drinking, and driving can be one of them, she said.

“Drink driving is not a good choice, not for the person driving or the community members who they could crash into and kill.”

Flower urged people to think twice before getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated – or even close to intoxicated.

Her final message to people was to “just get home safe”.

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