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Wairarapa considered “highest risk” in region

 

HAYLEY GASTMEIER
hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz

Drink-driving is still a “major issue” in Wairarapa, with people ignoring safety messages and putting innocent lives at risk, a road safety expert says.

From 2009 to 2017, there were five fatal and 17 serious injury crashes involving alcohol in the region, New Zealand Transport Agency figures show.

And the number of people caught drinking and driving is probably only the tip of the iceberg.

According to official police data, the number of alcohol-related driving offences in the region has stayed relatively stable in recent years.

Wairarapa had 303 recorded drink-driving offences in 2009, with numbers in the intervening nine years fluctuating from a high of 324 in 2010, to a low of 208 in 2016.

Last year 259 drunk-drivers were caught.

Wairarapa Road Safety Council manager Bruce Pauling said the figures showed that drink-driving was clearly “still a major issue” across the district, which was considered the highest risk area in the Wellington region, when it came to road safety.

He said in 2017, the statistics amounted to someone caught drink-driving “every 1.5 days” – with alcohol a factor in four serious-injury crashes.

“It begs the question of how many more non-apprehended drivers are still driving over the limit and putting innocent lives at risk,” Mr Pauling said.

“Four serious alcohol-related injury crashes last year means lives have been damaged, some irreparably.

“The ongoing physical, emotional and financial trauma to victims, and the immense social costs to communities from a selfish and senseless act of drink-driving, is sad to say the least.”

Mr Pauling said while attitudes towards drink-driving had changed over the years, there was clearly still a group of road users – especially in rural areas – who were “thumbing their noses” at the police, their community, and other road safety agencies.

Mr Pauling said some drink-drivers had serious alcohol issues, which were often only addressed when they were sentenced in court for subsequent offences.

“Perhaps mandatory attendance at a professional counselling drink-drive course at sentencing, even for first-time offenders, could change their behaviour and nip things in the bud, before a tragedy occurs.

“The Wairarapa Road Safety Council wants these senseless drink-drive crashes eradicated, either by drivers changing their selfish attitudes, or these people knowing they will be stopped, processed, and facing serious consequences, before they cause misery to innocent victims.”

This month, police are running a national road safety campaign, focusing on driver behaviour that contributes to harm on New Zealand’s roads.

Senior Sergeant Mike Sutton said alcohol and drugs, driver inattention, and cellphone use, were all factors that commonly contributed to serious crashes and the results of this was sometimes fatal.