Police told off for being helpful

January 27th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

New Plymouth police have been rapped over the knuckles by national headquarters for taking a hospitable approach to those asking for a breath test.

It was reported earlier this month that people often entered the station asking to be tested. Officers, if not too busy, were happy to oblige.

A very sensible approach, helping ensure people don’t break the law.

However, New Plymouth police have now been told their approach does not line up with national policy – and that they should stop immediately.

“While these staff have acted in good faith and with the best of intentions, there is a risk if for example someone initially passes a test, then drives and is found later to be over the limit, or is involved in a crash, which could have tragic consequences,” Central Districts Acting District Commander Inspector Mark Harrison said.

So the Police would rather cover their arse, than help people not break the law.

Harrison said the best advice to those out socialising was “to make the choice whether to drink or drive – not both.”


That is not what the law says. Who appointed them moral guardians?

Sergeant Bruce Irvine said at the time that those with any level of alcohol on their breath were advised not to drive because test results could change within minutes.

“We will always say this is here and now; if in 30 minutes you go and drive it could be different,” he said. “It’s not a get-out-of-jail free card. We advise unless you’re breathing zero it’s not worth taking the risk.”

Senior Sergeant Robbie O’Keefe said at the time that people who came in were often unsure if they were over or under and wanted to do the right thing.

If a test deterred them from driving it was a good thing, he said.

The local Police were acting very sensibly – testing those who wanted it, but warning them they should not drive anyway. A pity the Police hierarchy would rather people get arrested after the fact, than make it easy for people to make an informed decision about whether it is safe to legally drive.


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Drink driving rate well down

September 27th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The number of breath-tests done by police has rocketed in the past six years.

Figures provided to The Dominion Post show that the number of breath tests increased steadily from 1,713,438 in 2008 to 3,027,347 last year.

The figures suggest that a substantial drop in the number of drink-driving convictions over the same period can be attributed to a reduction in motorists choosing to drink and drive, rather than to any drop in police resourcing.

Last week it was revealed that the number of convictions for driving with excess breath alcohol, excess blood alcohol or refusing to provide a sample had dropped from 30,976 in 2009 to 23,024 last year.

They don’t use the same base year but if we assume 2008 and 2009 are the same, then the number of tests is up 77% and the number of convictions are down 26%. The conviction rate has gone from one in 55 people tested to one in 131. That’s an excellent trend.

Perhaps it is an indication that we can shift some resources from breath tests, to other areas?


Is drink driving down?

September 20th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

The number of us prepared to drink and drive has plummeted in the past five years, but there are still pockets of the country bucking the trend.

Convictions for drink-driving, or refusing to supply a sample, decreased in all but five of the country’s 64 district courts between 2009 and 2013, the latest available Ministry of Justice figures show.

The only courts to enter more convictions last year than in 2009 were Waipukurau, Ruatoria, Thames, Oamaru and Westport.

Waipukurau and Ruatoria saw the biggest increases, of 33 per cent and 54 per cent respectively, and while the other three had marginal increases, they were a long way from the national decrease of 25 per cent, the figures, released to The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act, show.

I’m not sure you can conclude on this data that drink driving has plummeted. It may have, but the number of convictions will be dependent on how much time is spent on checking motorists. I presume it has not decreased, but we don’t know.

The better measure would be the detection rate – what proportion of motorists stopped, are found to have excess blood alcohol?


Do we need a higher maximum penalty for recidivist drink drivers?

May 23rd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

He’s thought to be the worst drink-driver in the country, yet there’s little keeping him off the roads.

Brian Mitchell Hart, 58, from Hawkes Bay, has 20 convictions for drink-driving and 11 for driving while disqualified, and has been sent to prison 33 times for these and other offences.

But every time he gets out, he gets his licence back, drinks again and gets back behind the wheel.

He has twice been disqualified from driving “indefinitely”.

On one of those occasions, in 2002, he underwent counselling and treatment for alcohol addiction and after an assessment by a government-approved counsellor, was approved to get his licence back by the New Zealand Transport Authority.

Under the law, the toughest sentence for repeat drink-drivers is indefinite disqualification, which can be imposed only under a specific set of circumstances.

Driving without a licence is obviously of no concern to Mr Hart, as is driving drunk.

I think you need an escalating penalty regime. But the problem is that the maximum sentence is just two years. Maybe we need a law change that says after perhaps your 10th drink driving conviction, then the maximum penalty increases by a year for each conviction up to say seven years.

Otherwise how else can you stop him?


So how effective are they?

February 22nd, 2014 at 7:20 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The manager of a Wairarapa Maori health service specialising in drug and alcohol programmes has been convicted of drink-driving for the fifth time.

My rule of thumb is that means he has probably driven drunk around 500 times or so.

Taiawhio Tame Gemmell manages Masterton-based Te Hauora Runanga O Wairarapa, which is funded by the Wairarapa District Health Board and lists drug and alcohol counselling and education programmes among its core services.

They don’t seem very good at it if one of their own managers seems impervious to change.

Gemmell’s supervisor at the health service said yesterday the conviction was “a blow” to the organisation, but she supported him and hoped he would not resign, or be forced to.

“If I had a problem with the way he worked, that would be different. But he’s a good manager,” runanga board chairwoman Angie Pourau said.

If his supervisor is the board chair, then he is the equivalent of the chief executive.  There is a strong leadership role with such a senior position. I think his position is untenable.

She knew Gemmell had four previous convictions for drink-driving when he was hired, but his alcohol problem was no barrier, as he was not directly involved with drug and alcohol counselling.

Doesn’t matter, if he is the chief executive.

“Nobody’s perfect, and when you look at our client base it’s those who really need our help. I honestly believe Maoridom will support him because he’s an excellent manager.”

The question I have, is what is the success rate of this organisation in terms of treating people with alcohol and drug problems? My suspicion is low, based on their relaxed attitude to even their CEO being a recidivist drink driver.


Recividist drink drivers

February 16th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A 47-year-old man’s 18th drink-driving conviction has sparked calls for a radical law change that would allow judges to sentence the worst offenders to preventive detention – effectively locking them up for life.

Preventive detention is a step too far, but I certainly agree that there should be a threshold at which recidivist drink drivers start to get automatic imprisonment terms.

Darren Corey Newport, 47, has now racked up 18 convictions for driving over the limit – two of them in back-to-back drink-driving episodes this year alone.

Newport joins four other men who each have 18 drink-driving convictions, sharing the dubious title of New Zealand’s worst drink drivers. Newport is the youngest of the bunch.

The scary thing is he has probably driven drunk over 1,000 times. You only get checked around one in 100 times when out driving. To have 18 convictions, you must have driven drunk almost every week for a decade.

Statistics from the Ministry of Justice show that while the number of people convicted of drink driving has fallen in the past three years from 27,518 to 23,377, the number of repeat offenders has remained virtually unchanged.

I think once a drink driver is onto say their fourth or fifth conviction, then jail should be basically automatic and increasing. The recidivist drink drivers (who are no doubt alcoholics) need to know that if they jump in a car drunk, then they will be in jail for years, not months. It may be hard for them to stop drinking, but it is not hard to decide not to drive home.


I hope CYF has removed the kids

January 3rd, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

A woman arrested for drink-driving with two small children in the car had one of the highest breath-alcohol levels recorded in New Zealand – and might have consumed the equivalent of 25 drinks or more.

The 29-year-old was described by police as an “incredibly dangerous driver”. She blew 1568 micrograms per litre of breath – nearly four times the 400mcg legal limit for adults.

It is a miracle she did not crash. A blood alcohol level of that level, while in charge of kids, is almost rounds for proven neglect – even if she wasn’t driving. But to drive with your kids in the car, while plastered like that, is appalling. She should lose access to the kids before they get killed.


The drink driving limit

November 5th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Gerry Brownlee announced:

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says Cabinet has agreed to lower the legal blood alcohol limit from 80 to 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood for drivers aged over 20.

“Legislation to bring about this change will receive its first reading before the House rises for the Christmas break,” Mr Brownlee says.

“Alcohol impairment is a major cause of road accidents in New Zealand, with an average of 61 fatalities, 244 serious injuries, and 761 minor injuries every year caused by at-fault drivers who have been drinking.

“The social cost of these injuries and fatalities is $446 million – a huge sum in a country of our size.”

A two year review of the impact of lowering the legal blood alcohol limit by 30 milligrams suggests 3.4 lives will be saved a year and 64 injury causing crashes avoided – and save $200 million in social costs over 10 years.

“Data collected by Police over the past 22 months shows 53 drivers were involved in fatal and serious injury crashes with blood alcohol readings of between 51 and 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood,” Mr Brownlee says.

It’s proposed the new regime will impose civil infringements on drivers with between 50 and 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. Drivers testing positive for this lower limit will receive a $200 fine and gain 50 demerit points.

This is a typical John Key compromise, but as it happens a pretty good one.

You get the benefits of a lower drink driving limit, but you don’t risk turning people into criminals who (for example) share a bottle of wine over dinner and then drive.

I note the research found that the lower limit will save three to four lives a year. While not insignificant, it is massively lower than the hysterical claims from some that it would reduce the road toll by 33 lives a year. The actual data is just 10% of that.

I think it is entirely sensible that the Government actually gathered data on how many accidents are caused by people with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08, and also how many drivers drive at that level. You can’t make a sensible decision without that data, and it annoys me that Labour who refused to raise the limit for nine years, have demanded that National do so immediately without the benefit of NZ research.

The data on how many people drive with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08 is slightly more than those who are above 0.08. So around twice as many people will be found over the limit with a 0.05 limit. I don’t think the relatively minor reduction in the road toll would be worth a change, if it meant you would be doubling the number of New Zealanders who are getting criminal convictions for their blood alcohol level.

But the compromise of lowering the limit, yet having the penalties be a fine and demerits, rather than a criminal record, is an elegant solution.


Worth supporting to select committee

September 27th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Isaac Davidson at NZ Herald reports:

A member’s bill which would reduce the amount of alcohol New Zealanders could legally drink before driving has been pulled from the ballot today.

Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway’s Land Transport (Safer Alcohol Limits for Driving) Amendment Bill was one of two bills added to Parliament’s workload.

It would lower the allowable blood alcohol content (BAC) for adults from 0.08g per 100ml to 0.05g per 100ml.

The bill’s policy statement said: “There is demonstrable evidence and research already available which shows enough driver impairment between the proposed 0.05 limit and the 0.08 limit to warrant action. A drug and alcohol expert from the United Kingdom has estimated that this measure could reduce our road toll by two-thirds as it would alter driver behaviour.”

Government was already reviewing New Zealand’s drink-drive limits, which were among the highest in the world.

A study which counted how many injuries and deaths were caused by drivers who had a BAC between 0.05g and 0.08g was expected to come before Cabinet at the end of this year.

Labour have been insisting that the Government should drop the legal blood alcohol limit without getting any research done on how many actual accidents are caused by drivers with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08, and how many people are driving with a BAC at that level. They have been hysterically demanding a reduction regardless of what the data shows. Even more bizarre is they of course did nothing in nine years around the limit, but the moment they were in opposition demanded the Government drop it.

I am sceptical that a drop would have much impact on our accident rate and road toll as most drink driving accidents have drivers way way over the existing limit. However I am open to persuasion if the data in NZ backs up that the accident and fatality rate from those at 0.05 to 0.08 BAC is greatly elevated. What I am against is a kneejerk decision.

However if the research is almost done, then what would seem sensible to me is to vote for the bill to go to select committee on the basis that it is an issue worthy of consideration, and then once the data is complete have that considered by the select committee. Then MPs could make an informed decision about whether a change will have a significant impact on the road toll.


Do we need preventive detention for repeat drink drivers?

April 20th, 2013 at 10:45 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

One of the country’s worst drink-drivers has been sent back to prison but has exposed the “pathetically weak” sentences available to judges.

Dean Murray Holder clocked up his 47th conviction yesterday for driving either drunk or disqualified. He was hit with the toughest sentence the judge could give him – 18 months in prison.

A drug and alcohol expert who works with repeat drink-drivers said extreme offenders such as Holden were worse than paedophiles and the law for dealing with them was “pathetically weak”.

Eventually a repeat drink driver will kill someone, so is there a case for preventive detention for them? Not after three strikes by say after 15?

If people are addicted to alcohol, that is fine (not fine, but only hurtung themselves). But take a bus or taxi. There is no excuse to drive drunk hundreds and hundreds of times.


A stupid editorial

March 30th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The HoS Herald editorial:

You have to hand it to the National Road Safety Committee. These public servants don’t conceal their view that the Cabinet needs to lower blood-alcohol limits for drivers. While the politicians wait, inexplicably, for research on safety gains of lowering the adult alcohol limit from 80 to 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, the committee pulls no punches.

The HoS and Herald has been running a campaign for over a year demanding the Government do what it says, and not complete its research. To have a hysterical editorial saying that it is inexplicable they are waiting for research speaks for itself.

They also mischaracterise what the research is. It is not research into whether there would be safety gains from lowering the blood alcohol limit to 50. You don’t need research to tell you that. There would also be safety gains from lowering it to zero. There would be safety gains from dropping the speed limit to 20 km/hr.

What the hysterical HoS demands the Government  not find out is how much of an impact a lower limit would have, and what the cost would be – ie how many people legally drive at an 50 to 80 level, and would be criminalised for doing so in the future.

If you claim there is no need to know this data, then why is 50 the right level to go to? Why not 60? Why not 40?

Its latest Safer Journeys report says: “Any level of alcohol increases driving errors, and affects alertness, skill and judgments … we need the adult legal breath-alcohol concentration limits to better reflect the risk that alcohol poses to all road users and communities.”

Of course any level of alcohol increases risk. Just as any level of speed increases risk.

The committee has leapfrogged the research project – an excuse for inaction by former Transport Minister Steven Joyce – and suggested a new solution: variable limits for types of drivers. While those under 20 already face a zero limit, the committee proposes new levels “lower than the default” for those with drink-drive convictions, commercial licences, in different adult age bands and with existing demerit points.

Not a bad idea. Worth considering.

It is worth looking at the blood alcohol levels in over 25 year old drivers who are fatally injured. In 2011 it was:

  • None – 36
  • 0 to 30 – 68
  • 31 to 50 – 3
  • 51 – 80 – 2
  • 81 to 100 – 2
  • 100 to 150 – 3
  • 150 to 250 – 20
  • 250+ 15

I’m yet to be convinced drivers in the 51 to 80 range are the problem.

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About time

December 30th, 2012 at 7:24 am by David Farrar

Amy Maas at Stuff reports:

A recidivist drink-driver who blew it on his fifth offence is the first person in the country to have a court-ordered breathalyser installed in his car.

Two years ago, Orean Te Amora, 28, sculled back six beers before getting behind the wheel and driving to the gym. It was part of his “daily routine”. But this time a police stop on Auckland’s North Shore had him working up a sweat when he blew three times over the legal limit. …

At sentencing, offenders are ordered to apply for a $200 Alcohol Interlock Licence. The pink licence means they can only drive a car that has the breathalyser device fitted.

The device is then installed by Auckland-based company Draeger and works in a similar way to a car immobiliser. Before the car can be started, a person must blow into the device and it has to give a zero-alcohol reading.

The licence must be held for a minimum of 12 months. However, if drug and alcohol tests come back clean after six months, and the court approves it, the device could be removed.

I think the interlocks have the potential to make a significant difference. The absolutely hard core recidivist drunk drivers will find a way around them by stealing cars and the like. Nothing short of jail will tend to stop them. But the interlocks  should make a difference for some repeat drunk drivers.


HoS on drink driving limits

December 9th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The HoS editorial:

 New figures released by the Ministry of Transport are effectively that New Zealand research and confirm beyond doubt that the Government must act now to lower the blood-alcohol limit.

The data, released under the Official Information Act, reveals at least 20 people have been killed over the past four years in road accidents in which the driver had an alcohol reading of between 50mg and 80mg.

I don’t have the data they have under the OIA. But I suspect that the stat they quote includes drivers who are aged under 20 who already have a legal limit of 30 (now 0). The relevant stat is how many drivers who can legally drive at 50 to 80 mg blood alcohol have fatal crashes. Hence if you change the law (and assume that those drivers will obey the new law) how many fewer fatal crashes might there be.

Now again I don’t have the OIA data (but happy to be sent it), but we do have 2008 to 2010 data on the Transport website. The data for the number of drivers killed who were over 20 and had a blood alcohol level of 50 to 80 is three per year over those four years.

Now there is definitely a case to say three fewer fatal crashes per year is worthwhile – it is. But what we don’t know (and what the data is being collected for) is how many people drive at 50 to 80 blood alcohol and would be affected by a lower limit. Without solid data, how do we know whether the limit should be 50, 80, 30, 65? It is easy for media to portray an issue as simple and not complex – but I think it is the duty of Government to understand the impact of a proposed law change -how many drivers will be impacted by it, and what is the accident rate for driving at that level. If you don’t have data on the prevalence of driving at that BAC, you can not calculate the accident rate.

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Another repeat drink driver

December 1st, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Anna Turner in Stuff reports:

The courts are not being “tough enough” on a man caught drink-driving for the seventh time, says his partner.

She’s right.

Shayne Kevin Gebbie, 47, was arrested in the early hours of October 28 while driving home drunk from a pub in Rangiora. The police pulled him over in Island Rd, near Kaiapoi, after he nearly hit the patrol car.

His breath-alcohol level was recorded at 1156mcg/L, more than double the legal limit of 400mcg/L.

It was Gebbie’s seventh charge for drink-driving.

If he has been caught seven times, I’d estimate he has driven drunk 700 times or so.

He said he had been drinking whiskey and thought he may have been safe to drive, even though friends told him he had had too much.

“Yes and no,” he said. “I guess I felt all right.”

So he ignored his friends. That suggests little chance of change.

Gebbie, who pleaded guilty in the Christchurch District Court on Wednesday, has been remanded on bail until March 8 for sentencing.

He is not allowed to drink alcohol within 12 hours of driving.

His licence should be gone for good, and he should be told if he is ever found behind a car wheel again he is going to jail. That may sound harsh, but better that him killing someone while driving drunk.

However, Gebbie did not believe he had a problem with alcohol, saying his seven convictions happened over a long period. 

“I’m 47 years old. Those were over many years.”



Bullshit figures

September 16th, 2012 at 8:08 am by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

The Government has blood on its hands for refusing to lower the drink-drive limit, a departing senior road policing boss says.

Superintendent John Kelly, who set up national highway patrols, retired on Thursday after six years overseeing the roads of Auckland’s sprawling Waitemata district and 35 years on the force.

He told the Herald on Sunday that John Key’s National Party ignoring calls for the drink-drive limit to be slashed two years ago was his biggest career frustration. He believed it had potentially contributed to more than 60 road deaths since.

“Between 250 and 300 people are still dying annually on the roads but if we had lowered the drink-drive limit when we could have, there might have been 30 or so of those people still alive every year,” said Kelly.

I’ll note the road toll has in fact been at record lows. I also note that “might have been” is hardly robust evidence. The Government is actually collecting data on the prevalence of people driving at between 80 and 100 blood alcohol level, and what their accident rate is. That way a decision can be made on rational analysis, not hysterical bullshit.

As it happens what we do know from the limited data we have, is that the number of adults who were drivers in fatal crashes with a BAC between 80 and 100 has been around 1 or 2 a year.

Of course lowering the BAC can reduce crashes. If you lower it to zero, that would reduce crashes. If you reduce the maximum speed limit to 30 km/hr that would reduce crashes. But road safety is about getting the balance right – and decisions should be based on hard data, not emotional blackmail.


A looming disaster

September 5th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Northern Advocate reports:

A drunk Whangarei teacher, whose erratic driving forced concerned motorists to take the keys from her car when she stopped at lights, was more than five times over the legal limit.

Five times? At least she only teaches the kids, not drives them to school.

A police summary of facts said Ash was driving on Western Hills Dr about 6.10pm on February 1 when her driving – including weaving from lane to lane and appearing confused and lost – attracted the attention of other motorists.

They were so concerned that when Ash stopped at traffic lights a motorists took the keys from her car’s ignition and called police.

Ash was unable to complete a passive roadside breath test.

Unable or unwilling? How blotto do you have to be to be unable to do a breath test?

She refused to tell police what type of alcohol, or how much, she had been drinking. The blood test recorded a level of 424 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, more than five times the legal limit of 80mg.

That is a massively high level. For a woman weighing 65 kgs, you’d need to do around 15 drinks in an hour to get that much alcohol in your blood. At that level you would be close to passing out.

Ash was sentenced to three months’ community detention, 150 hours’ community work, 15 months’ supervision and indefinitely disqualified for her third drink-driving conviction.

I wonder if that is enough. To have three actual convictions means you have probably driven drunk well over 100 times. Her level of alcohol was massive, and she seems quite unrepentant.  I fear someone is going to end up dead or injured at her hands.

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A sensible change

September 3rd, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The AA will take a cautious look at a bill which closes a drink-driving loophole.

Coromandel MP Scott Simpson’s Land Transport (Admissibility of Evidential Breath Tests) Amendment Bill, drawn from the parliamentary ballot last week, would widen the circumstances where a positive evidential breath test is admissible evidence in drink-driving prosecutions.

Under current law, a positive breath test is not admissible in evidence if the suspect opts to have a blood test, but there have been a small number of cases where police were unable to get blood tests after suspects had chosen to have them, and had not been able to fall back on breath test results to prosecute.

Mr Simpson cited one 2005 case, where police had struggled with a suspect whose blood sample was gained only after several attempts.

I believe there is also a problem sometimes with drug addicts whose arms are so wrecked that finding a vein to draw blood from is near impossible.

So the law change is pretty simple – they can use the breath test as evidence, if it proves impossible to get a blood sample. Not sure anyone will be against that.


10 reasons why making it illegal for 18 and 19 year olds to purchase alcohol is the wrong thing to do

August 28th, 2012 at 8:01 am by David Farrar

1 – A split age will encourage more supply to minors

One of the most important changes proposed in the Alcohol Reform Act is to make it an offence to supply alcohol to minors without parental permission. I support this new law, as a major flaw in the current law is that (for example) it is currently legal for any adult to supply beer, wine or even spirits to a 14 year old.

I believe we need both a law change and a culture change where it is illegal and “uncool” to supply alcohol without parental permission to those not able to legally purchase it for themselves – just as over the past few decades it has become “uncool” to drink and drive.

But increasing the purchase age to 20 for off licenses, will work against achieving a culture of not supplying alcohol to those who can not purchase alcohol for themselves. 18 and 19 year olds are legally not minors and hence the new law making it an offence to supply alcohol to minors without parental consent will not apply to them. What this means is that it will be legal for a 20 year old to supply alcohol to a 19 year old (who can not legally purchase it), but illegal to supply it to an 17 year old. This will be confusing and work against achieving a culture where no one supplies alcohol to those unable to purchase it for themselves, without parental consent.

The only way to achieve a culture of non-supply is to have the purchase age the same as the age at which a minor becomes an adult – which is 18. That will be consistent and maximise the chance of the new non-supply law being respected. A purchase age of 20 will encourage a culture of supplying to those under the purchase age. This works directly against the other reforms in the Alcohol Reform Bill to prevent supply to minors.

2 – Fewer youth are drinking now than when the purchase age was 20

ALAC’s annual alcohol monitor survey shows that in 1997 80% of 14 to 18 year olds were drinkers. The latest 2010 survey shows only 32% of 12 to 17 year olds are drinkers. This is a massive drop.

The age ranges have not been entirely consistent over the years, but a breakdown of the 2010 research shows that only 53% of 15 to 17 year olds are drinkers – still a massive reduction from 80% in 1997.

The prevalence of youth drinking is dropping, not increasing. In 2006 ALAC research found 53% of 12 to 17 year olds were drinkers, and amongst the same age group it is 32% in 2010. That is a relative 40% drop in the youth drinking prevalence rate since 2006.

Many people have said that the drop in the purchase age in 1999 has led to more under 18 year olds drinking. This is clearly false on the ALAC research, and in fact the opposite has happened.

Also the age at which young people start drinking has been increasing. In 2006, 35% of young drinkers started before they turned 14. In 2010, it was just 21%.

The ALAC research is not the only survey. Auckland University’s Adolescent Health Research Group did a survey of around 10,000 secondary school students in 2000 and again in 2007.  Their reports are here. The prevalance of secondary school students who have drunk alcohol in 2000 and 2007 they found to drop from 70% to 61%.  Two highly reputable independent pieces of research have both found that fewer young New Zealanders are drinking than in the past.

3 – Most alcohol is supplied by parents or family members

60% of youth moderate and binge drinkers say their last drink was at home, or a relative’s home. Only 27% say they were at a friend’s house. Scapegoating 18 and 19 year olds for allegedly being the source of alcohol to under age drinkers, is not bourne out by the facts.

The Auckland University survey found only 20% of secondary school students had alcohol supplied by an adult  who is not their parents – a drop from 25% in 2000. Blaming adult 18 and 19 year olds on school age students drinking is unfair and untrue.

4 – A split 18/20 age will increase risks for young women

The proposed split age of 18 for off-licenses and 20 for on-licenses (while preferred to a 20/20 age) will push 18 and 19 year olds who wish to have a drink to go into town, rather than have a drink at home. Far more violence and crime occurs in town, than at people’s homes. 18 and 19 year old women especially will be at risk of greater sexual assaults, if they are prevented from being able to legally purchase alcohol to drink in the safety of their own home.

5 – 18 is the age of majority

18 and 19 year old men and women are required to register on the electoral roll, and can stand for election to Parliament or local authorities.

The MP for Botany, Jami-Lee Ross, was elected to the Manukau City Council at the age of 18. He did a sufficiently good job to be re-elected in 2007, and then elected to the new Auckland Council in 2010, and to the House of Representatives in 2011.

It seems absurd that a young adult such as Jami-Lee could serve on the Manukau City Council, actually help determine and vote on local alcohol policies for the city, yet be legislatively banned from being able to buy a bottle of wine at a supermarket on the way home from a Council meeting.

Can an MP justify voting in favour on Wednesday in favour of 16 year old gay and lesbian couples being able to get married at 16, yet vote on Thursday against them being able to purchase alcohol until they are 20?

6 – Increasing the purchase age will encourage disrespect for the law

It is naïve to think that 18 and 19 year olds who are working or studying will not purchase or acquire alcohol. Of course they will. In fact it will be legal for others to acquire it for them, which will make the law somewhat farcical. Under the split age proposal, it will be illegal to sell alcohol to an 18 or 19 year old, but legal to supply it to them for free!

Laws which are widely broken or worked around, lower overall respect for the law. The United States has a higher purchase age than New Zealand, and this law is so widely broken that even Jenna and Barbara Bush broke the law – despite their father being President of the United States.

7 – There is no evidence that a split age will work

Even the groups that support increasing the purchase age to 20 say that there is no evidence that a split age will work in reducing alcohol related harm. It will simply send a confusing mixed message about whether or not 18 and 19 year olds can purchase alcohol.

No other country in the world has a split purchase age, It is an untested experiment, with no scientific basis to it. It sends out a contradictory message on the appropriate age to purchase alcohol.

8 – A split age will discriminate against rural areas

Banning 18 and 19 year olds from being able to purchase alcohol in off-licenses will have a greater impact on those in rural areas. On-licenses are common in urban areas, but many of those who live in rural areas do not have a nearby on-license. Hence this means that an effective different purchase age will apply in urban and rural New Zealand.

9 – It’s about the culture

An increase in the purchase age does nothing to address the real issue of the New Zealand drinking culture. You can’t get a change in the culture by making it illegal for a 19 year old to buy a bottle of wine. The culture change comes about by engaging with drinkers, and making unsafe drinking behaviour unattractive.

Professor Doug Sellman was quoted in this week’s Sunday Star-Times as saying “The fact is that less than 10 per cent of the 700,000 heavy drinkers in New Zealand are under 20″.  Alcohol issues in New Zealand need a culture change across the board. Scapegoating 18 and 19 year olds for the problems caused by heavy drinkers is unfair – especially as fewer than 10% of the heavy drinkers are youth.

10 – Drink Driving

Youth drink driving has been dropping massively in the last few years. It dropped by just over 50% from 2007 to 2011 amongst under 17 year olds, and in the last year dropped 52% amongst all teenagers.

The split age proposal may encourage more drink driving amongst teenagers. 18 and 19 year olds will not be able to purchase alcohol to drink at home. They will only be able to purchase alcohol by going into an on-license. This is highly likely to lead to more teenagers then driving home after they have been drinking – especially in more rural areas.

Please do the right thing and vote to keep the purchase age at 18.

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Youth drink-driving

August 4th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Police have been stunned but delighted by the drop in arrests for drunken driving by teenagers – almost a year after the zero alcohol limit was brought in for the under-20s.

Figures released by police under the Official Information Act show that in first nine months of the new law coming into force on August 7 last year, 3091 youths aged 15-19 were arrested for drink driving.

The figure for the 12 months before the law change was 6414 – tracking towards an ‘‘absolutely brilliant’’ change, acting national manager road policing Superintendent Rob Morgan said.

Police had expected the introduction of the law to lead to more offences overall for young drivers, but it appeared as if the law change was acting as a deterrent  ‘‘… certainly these results are very encouraging,’’ he said.

This is excellent. It shows the value of laws that target correctly.

In fact youth drink driving has been declining for several years, which shows that the age of purchase being 18 is not a barrier to safer roads.

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A job for CYF

June 19th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

An Opotiki policeman says he was shocked to find that a woman he had stopped for drink-driving had a baby on her lap and two other preschool children unrestrained in her car.

Acting on information received from a member of the public, police stopped the 24-year-old woman in Opotiki about 9.30am on Friday. She recorded a breath alcohol reading of 780 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath – nearly twice the legal limit, Senior Constable Doug Henry said.

She was also found to have been a disqualified driver, so her car was impounded.

This sounds like a good candidate for having their kids removed from them.


How long do blood tests take?

June 3rd, 2012 at 9:17 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Outrageous Fortune star Robyn Malcolm has described herself as ”bloody idiot” after testing over the legal limit at a random breath test at a downtown Auckland checkpoint last month.

Malcolm has not yet been charged with any offence relating to the tests but agreed to make a statement to the Sunday Star-Times after it learned of the incident.

Malcolm took the evidential breath-test at a checkpoint in Hopetoun St, Auckland, on May 19 at about 10pm.

”I had been routinely stopped and breath tested and found to be over the legal limit for alcohol,” Malcolm said in a statement. 

”It was, and is my intention to front up the media about this as I have no interest in hiding what happened. However I was advised by my lawyer not to comment until I had been charged.  

”As this issue will now be made public prior to any charge, I would like to front up regardless.

”I had been out for dinner with colleagues on the night in question. I was driving a friend home when I was stopped at a routine checkpoint. I was not speeding or driving in a dangerous manner. I told the police officer that I had been out to dinner, and had drunk wine.   

”I was subsequently breath tested at the check point, and have given a blood test. I am currently awaiting the results to the blood test. At this stage I have not been formally charged with anything.

Does it normally take two weeks to get the results of a blood test? I don’t know from personal experience, but I have worked in a medical laboratory and most testing is done within 48 hours.

It will be interesting to see what the actual level recorded in the blood test is. While both are illegal, there is a difference between being marginally over (one glass too many) and being way over.

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How about a permanent ankle bracelet?

May 31st, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

One of New Zealand’s most dangerous drivers has just clocked up his 26th drink-driving conviction.

When Raymond Laing – who is already banned from driving indefinitely – was stopped in Napier last month, his breath test recorded 1198 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath, almost three times the legal limit of 400mcg.

It was the seventh time the 44-year-old Hastings man had blown more than 1000mcg, and the 31st time he had been caught driving while disqualified.

Appearing in Napier District Court yesterday, he pleaded guilty to drink-driving and driving while disqualified. Judge Tony Adeane requested a probation report and remanded Laing in custody until July for sentencing.

In 2010, Laing was jailed for two years and six months for drink-driving, refusing to give blood, assault and dangerous driving causing injury. He was also indefinitely disqualified from holding a driver’s licence.

It is a minor miracle Laing has not killed someone yet, but it is only a matter of time.

I’m tempted to say he should be given the maximum sentence but it is only two years jail, or five years if he causes injury.

The problem is he then gets out, and maybe drives drunk a few dozen more times until he is caught again.

What *might* work is if he could be sentenced to wear an ankle bracelet with GPS, that would immediately alert Police if his speed is more than say 20 km/hr indicating he must be in a vehicle. They can then intercept the vehicle and arrest him if he is the driver. Knowing that they will know if he is in a vehicle, may actually discourage him from drink driving as certainty of being caught is a major deterrent.

If someone else is driving, then that is fine. But it doesn’t sound like he is someone who gets others to drive him often.

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Was it a one off lapse?

April 16th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

NZ Herald reported:

A West Coast man committing his 18th drink-driving offence when overtaking a police car has told a court he didn’t stop because he did not want to have to leave his motorbike to the mercy of thieves.

Overtaking a Police car is rather stupid. Doing it while drunk is even more stupid. Refusing to stop another step up the dumb ladder, and then claiming you were worried your motorbike would be stolen takes the cake.

Longjohn William Sheenan, 64, had a breath-alcohol level of 943mg when he finally stopped after a 1.6km pursuit on December 18, Greymouth District Court was told yesterday.

That is well over double the limit.

Judge Raoul Neave said that the 24-year gap between Sheehan’s 17th and 18th drink-driving offences had saved him from jail. …

“You have not previously offended this century and I am prepared to accept that this was one-off lapse of judgment, although a very silly one. I also accept that you have done your best to put your chequered past behind you.”

The Judge is probably right to give him the benefit of the doubt, as 24 years is a long time.

However if I had to lay money on it, I’d say Mr Sheenan has driven drunk many times over the last 24 years, and just hasn’t been caught. Very very few people get done for drink driving the only time they do it.

According to ALAC:

Police estimate that each day in New Zealand, approximately 5,923 compulsory breath tests and 2,743 mobile breath tests are undertaken and 100 people are charged with drink driving (New Zealand Police, 2010).

So on average there are 8,500 breath tests a day. Now if each day there are 850,000 motorists driving about, then you get breath tested on average 1 in 100 times. Based on my experience, it is even less often that that.

So if you drink drive once per month, then you could easily go a decade without being caught, on average.

Now also consider that to have racked up 18 drink drive convictions, the possibility he has driven drunk over 1,000 times. Of course there are other factors, such as Police may target you if known to be a problem, and bad driving may get you pulled over more often. But still 18 convictions still implies a huge number of times driving when drunk.

The AA quotes US research that

An American study quoted by MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) found that drink drivers in the US have driven drunk on average 87 times before being caught.

As I said, I think Mr Sheenan is fortunate to avoid jail, especially as he refused to pull over.


Take the kids off them

January 18th, 2011 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Giles Brown at The Press reports:

A young mother was caught in Christchurch driving with nearly twice the drink-drive limit, sipping from a cup of rum and with two children in the car, police say.

Southern Canterbury area commander, Inspector Malcolm Johnston, said it was one of the worst cases of drink-driving he had seen in 30 years.

He said the 21-year-old woman was caught in Riccarton Rd about 8.15pm on Saturday after police spotted her driving erratically. Her 25-year-old partner was in the front passenger seat with an unrestrained two-year-old boy on his lap, Johnston said, and a baby boy was in a restraining seat in the back.

Johnston said that while the mother was being spoken to by police she was drinking rum from a cup.

I’m not sure what is worse – the drink driving with kids in the car, the holding of the boy on a lap, which is guaranteed to kill him in a crash, or carrying on drinking while the Police are talking to you.

Regardless, the combination of such moronic behaviour has me conclude that there is no way they can be safe parents.


The precautionary principle

January 11th, 2011 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Dean Knight blogs:

RadioNZ reports that Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce, says “more evidence is needed before the Government will consider lowering the general drink-driving limit”.  Others such have David Farrar have echoed the claim that specific evidence is needed that lowering the drink drive limit will have an instrumental effect on the number of road deaths and accidents.

Yes, changes to laws should be justified.  But, no, the justification need not be specific evidence.

Both Joyce and Farrar are ignoring the precautionary principle.  In general terms, this principle says that, in relation to risky activities where there is scientific or empirical doubt about the nature and extent of the risk, policy- and law-makers should favour the course of action which avoids the risk.  That is, in the face of uncertainty, the burden shifts to those undertaking the risky activity to demonstrate it is not harmful. 

I call baloney on Dean’s baloney.

First of all, transport policy is not about eliminating risk, it is about balancing it – a point he admits later. Without that balance, then one would easily conclude that driving at faster than 30 km/hr is dangerous (and it is) and should be banned.

So, we know that drink driving is a risky activity.  That’s why we prohibit driving above the current blood-alcohol level (80mg).  If there’s doubt about whether driving while above a reduced limit of 50mg (which I not sure there is doubt about when looking at international practice), then the precautionary principle would favour lowering the limit anyway and collecting data to demonstrate it is not risky or has no instrumental influence on road accidents and deaths – not the other way around!

Dean ignores one crucial point – if you lower the limit now, you will never ever be able to collect data on the prevalance of legally driving at a BAC of 0.05 to 0.08, and its associated risk.

Ultimately, these things involve a cost-benefit calculus. There are seldom king-hits in law- and policy-making. A balance must be drawn.

Joyce and Farrar et al are, however, underplaying the benefit (risks avoided) of lowering the limit by proclaiming uncertainty about their nature and extent.  In this context, though, we’re entitled to assume there is a risk associated with driving with a blood-alcohol of over 50mg, unless evidence shows otherwise.  This means, for the purpose of the cost-benefit calculus, we can assume lowering the limit is beneficial   

Yes there is a risk driving with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.05.  Lowering the limit would lower that risk. But there is also a risk in allowing people to drive at faster than 30 km/hr. There is a risk at allowing people to drive with passengers in their car, as they can be distractions.

Banning passengers and lowering the speed limit to 30 km/hr would also be “beneficial” if you only are focused on the road toll.

Of course, on the other side of the ledger, we can also say there is negligible cost associated with lowering the blood-alcohol limit. 

That is nonsense. There is significant cost associated with such a lowering. It could mean that many more people will be unable to legally drive, and in rural areas especially could even lead to the closure of pubs, where public transport is not a viable option. It may also impose extra costs on people who then take taxis home. Now you may think that is a good thing, but it is also a cost. And again I’d like to know the costs before a decision is made.

And here is the problem – we currently do not measure at all what the “cost” would be of lowering the limit, because we do not know how many people currently drive with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08, and hence we can’t calculate what the cost will be of a law change.

I want the Government to be able to answer a few simple questions before they make a decision:

  1. What is the current prevalance of drivers with BAC between 0.05 and 0.08
  2. How many drivers with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08 are involved in accidents
  3. What then are the accident rates for drivers with a BAC below 0.05, betwene 0.05 and 0.08 and above 0.08
  4. How many accidents and fatalities are caused by adult drivers with a BAC betwene 0.05 and 0.05

Once you have that data, then you can make a sensible decision about whether the benefits of reducing the BAC to 0.05 is worth the cost.

If you go down Dean’s path, then we will never ever be able to gain that knowledge. His precautionary principle plea, is in fact a cloak for making a decision that one could never later challenge.

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