OPINION: The good news is the number of teenagers drinking and driving is falling. The bad news is thousands of young drivers still get behind the wheel when impaired by alcohol, despite the risks being well known and extensively publicised.
In the year to July, 4240 teenagers were convicted of drink-driving. Although that was 1223 fewer than the preceding 12 months, it is still an average of more than 11 cases a day - a disturbingly high figure in an age in which nobody can claim to be ignorant of the dangers of drinking and driving.
The fall in teenage drink-driving has been put down to the zero alcohol limit for motorists aged under 20, introduced in August last year, and the "ghost chips" advertising campaign, in which a young man talks his drunk mate out of driving home after a party.
The zero alcohol limit has removed any doubt from the minds of teenagers about how much they can drink before being above the limit by leaving no room for guesswork, while the advertising campaign has made it cool for young people to challenge their peers about driving after drinking.
However, the fact so many teenagers are continuing to ignore the warnings and messages underlines the serious problem New Zealand has with drink-driving, particularly among the young. Drivers aged between 15 and 19 account for one in five of all drink-driving crashes. Those aged 20 to 24 account for another quarter of such crashes. Those are not statistics to be proud of.
The Transport Agency is therefore correct to direct a significant proportion of its $12 million budget for road safety advertising towards deterring young men - for males account for the vast majority of offending - from drinking and driving. At the same time, police are right to direct a significant amount of their resources towards catching drivers of all ages who get behind the wheel in no fit state to drive.
Their job could soon be made much easier after Police Minister Anne Tolley ordered police managers to streamline the unnecessarily complicated rules for processing drink-drivers.
The present system is clearly archaic, and requires screeds of paperwork for little apparent purpose. Doctors must write their names or signatures 17 times on the forms for suspected drink-drivers giving blood samples, blood tests must be done using a specified brand of swab and the whole process is recorded on carbon paper.
One slip-up in the paperwork could see charges dismissed on a technicality. No wonder it takes police 45 minutes to process a suspected drink-driver.
Of course, police must properly follow procedures when processing people accused of breaking the law. Making those rules as straightforward as possible benefits not just the arresting officer, but also the accused, who can see more easily whether their rights are being observed.
The outcome of drink-drive charges should be determined by whether or not somebody was caught behind the wheel with more than the allowable amount of alcohol in their system, not whether they can afford a lawyer to exploit loopholes that have no bearing on that question whatsoever.
- The Dominion Post