Zero youth drink-drive tolerance working

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2012

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Police have been stunned but delighted by the drop in convictions 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 convicted 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.

However, while the law change was off to a promising start, it was too soon to tell how effective the zero tolerance approach had been.

‘‘The true benefit of this legislation will most likely only be known at a later stage with an analysis of the number of road crashes involving alcohol, for drivers in the 15-19 year age group.

‘‘We would hope that is where it truly makes the difference.’’

Youth drivers can now be charged with drink driving for having the slightest amount of alcohol in their system. They risk being disqualified from driving, receiving 50 demerit points and either fined or imprisoned if they are caught with either more than 30 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, or 150 micrograms per litre of breath.

If they fall under that threshold, they face a fine and 50 demerit points.

The average numbers of those charged for having 30mg or more had dropped by about 43 per cent since the law change - from two charges per day to 1.1.On average, the numbers of arrests for youth drivers falling within the ‘‘new range’’ of alcohol restrictions dropped from about 18 charges before the law was introduced to 12.6 since.

Males were far worse than females, with 2205 caught drunk behind the wheel compared to 783.

Mr Morgan said it was possible that before the law change, some teens may have been caught out thinking they were OK to have a couple of drinks and then drive.

‘‘Now it's very clear that they cannot drink at all before driving, and also it may have been that one or two drinks quite often leads to more.''Nine 14-year-olds have been caught drunk behind the wheel since August last year.

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- Fairfax Media

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