Southern boy tops booze readings

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 18/05/2012

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A Southland teen recorded the highest breath alcohol level in New Zealand for a person under 20 last year, with southern police concerned the new zero alcohol limits are not working in the south.

Police figures show a 16-year-old Southland male blew a breath alcohol reading of 1118 micrograms, the highest recorded by a person under 20 in the country in 2011.

The legal driving limit for a person over the age of 20 is 400mcg.

The limit for drivers under 20 is now zero. Before the legislation change came into effect in August, the youth level was 150mcg.

Southern district acting road policing manager Steve Larking said unfortunately the unwanted title reflected on the southern region's continuing battle to reduce the number of teenage drink drivers.

"Nationally it appears the number of teenagers being arrested is dropping, but the message is still not getting through to young southern drivers," he said.

Provisional figures from the Southern police district showed the region had the unenviable record of topping the national arrest rate for blood- and breath-alcohol offences for 15-to-19-year-olds.

However, the figures could reflect the amount of work police are doing to tackle the problem, Mr Larking said.

The southern region covers from Oamaru in the north to Stewart Island in the south and west across to Haast.

"Here in the South we are very proactive at enforcing the drink-drive legislation and this could be one of the factors contributing to this high number.

"We have two teams of police whose focus is drink-driving and road safety across the Southern district. We have a high level of enforcement. However, this is a community issue and not just about enforcement. There is a lot of good work by our road safety partners to educate and reduce the number of drink-drivers and youth drink-drivers.

"We need to work together as a community to reduce drink-driving and the carnage and heartache that can result. It's about making our roads safer for all of us," Mr Larking said.

Statistics provided by Road Safety Southland show alcohol-related accidents increased 11 per cent in 2011 for drivers under 20.

Southland road user safety adviser Jane Ballantyne said the increase was odd considering in previous years 15-to-19-year-old drivers had not been disproportionately represented in alcohol-related crashes.

"Of all crashes in Southland in the period of 2007-2011, 13 per cent were alcohol related," she said.

"As a specific group, alcohol-related crashes for young drivers under 20 were also 13 per cent of all crashes for that age group."

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However for 2011 the figure jumped to 24 per cent. and currently sits at 15 per cent for 2012.

The number might have been skewed, Ms Ballantyne said.

To get a more balanced overview, the numbers would need to be looked at again, at the end of 2012.

neil.ratley@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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