Drink-driving still scourge in south

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 14/05/2014

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Each year, hundreds of Southland drivers are getting behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

It is a statistic that has had in dire consequences and needs to come down, police say.

Figures released by police show 576 drivers in Southland were caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs last year.

Across the Southern District in 2013, 1404 people were apprehended for drink-driving.

While numbers have decreased since 2009, when 1923 people were apprehended for drink-driving, they were still too high and not acceptable, police said.

Southland police area commander Inspector Lane Todd said several fatal crashes this year could be attributed to drivers making a poor choice with alcohol.

"We are dealing with this issue at the moment in the southern region with recent fatals across the district," he said.

While police were proactive in trying to catch drink and drug drivers, the true challenge remained changing the attitudes in the community, Todd said.

"I don't think the old attitude of it being acceptable for people to drive after drinking is as great any more but there is still a lot of work to be done."

Eliminating the temptation to drink and then drive on country roads was a challenge police were still grappling with, Todd said.

This month, southern police are focusing on rural drink-driving across Southland and Otago to reduce the trauma caused when people drink and drive.

Southern district road policing manager Senior Sergeant Steve Larking said rural roads provided different kinds of risks and challenges.

"Rural people are more prone to injury on rural roads as the bulk of the roads are 100kmh zones. Road conditions are often more challenging - there are more gravel roads - and the distances from immediate help and medical care are often greater," he said.

Drink-drivers featured in a high percentage of fatal and serious injury crashes and there was also a significant social cost attached as well as a health cost, Larking said.

Alcohol was a factor in 38 per cent of all fatal crashes and people from all age groups, occupations and social groups made the poor choice to drink and drive, he said.

About two-thirds of people apprehended for drink-driving in 2013 were male.

Todd said that along with changing ingrained attitudes, police were working with other partners including the hospitality industry to ensure there were ways to prevent drink-driving.

These included the use of courtesy coaches and campaigns to get "mates to stop mates" from driving after drinking, he said. 

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