Drink-drive test shake-up demanded

00:32, Oct 28 2012

The Government has ordered police to come up with a better system of testing drink-drivers because too many are finding "escape routes" to avoid prosecution.

The move comes after a senior emergency department doctor told the Sunday Star-Times he is on the verge of refusing to process drink-drivers because the "archaic" processing system puts doctors at risk, takes far too long, and gives drivers dozens of loopholes to evade charges.

Five years after John Bonning, the clinical director of Waikato Hospital's emergency department, first raised his concerns with police and ministers, the Government has finally ordered police to devise a new system.

Frontline police are also understood to be frustrated at paperwork which means it takes 45 minutes to process a drink-driver.

Bonning said the present test offered up to 50 different technicalities for drivers to escape charges.

"I am on the verge of conscientious objection," Bonning said. "I am passionate about getting these people off the road because it is you and I that are at risk, but it is so complicated and it takes up to 20 minutes to do the paperwork and we are really busy with patient care.


"A lot of us are really frustrated with how cumbersome it is, how unfair it is, how much time it takes and that nobody in government is listening. I believe there are some changes in the pipeline but I have been lobbying actively since 2007 . . . and it still hasn't changed. Everyone said, it all sounds really good, and nothing happened."

Police Minister Anne Tolley told the Star-Times she had told police to take a "clean sheet" and devise a new, faster system that couldn't be beaten by specialist drink-drive lawyers.

Bonning said the test required doctors to put themselves at risk of hepatitis C by taking blood samples then squirting the blood into open sample bottles; required a specific brand of swab; had to be conducted with police present; and was so archaic it was done on carbon paper. It required the doctor's name or signature 17 times on every form, and had 12 sub-clauses. Any mistakes in that paperwork could result in charges being dismissed.

Bonning wants New Zealand to adopt the Australian test, which requires one small form and three signatures and a faster blood-testing system.

Tolley said officials had previously resisted change but visits to booze-buses had made her realise the problem.

She had met government agencies and the Automobile Association and expected plans from police early next year.

But change may take longer.

"There are people who make their living out of escape routes, so we have to make sure we can legally sustain this, and certainly, learn from these defence lawyers," she said.

"We don't want a simplified process that allows even more drunk drivers to get off; the object is to get more drivers off the road faster with a simplified system for everyone involved."

Specialist lawyers advertise online about potential escape routes from drink-drive prosecution, but one, Alistair Haskett of Drink Drive Law Ltd, said Tolley was wrong.

"People have got to be very careful labelling things technicalities or loopholes . . . if police don't follow the law themselves and comply with procedure then evidence obtained isn't admissible.

"It's a little frustrating hearing the likes of the minister saying there are technicalities."

Police national road policing manager Carey Griffiths said police had no power to make changes without consultation but were "mindful of the need to make [procedures] as streamlined as possible, and are currently working through a number of options that may address some of the current concerns in some districts".

Sunday Star Times