Police plea on drinking, driving

STAFF REPORTERS
Last updated 05:00 26/06/2012

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Southern police have called on the wider community to take ownership of the south's drink-driving problem, an issue highlighted in three separate ways yesterday.

Southland area commander Inspector Lane Todd said enforcement, education and cultural attitudes were all important in addressing the issue, but it was time for a wider effort.

"I think now probably it's really down to the wider community taking some ownership," he said.

Hard-hitting campaigns publicising the dangers of drink-driving had been running for several years and police continued to target drink-drivers, as shown by the number of people being processed for the offence.

Hotel owners and publicans also had a greater awareness of the issue, but as more people were now drinking large amounts of alcohol before going out, or pre-loading, families and friends needed to shoulder some of the responsibility, he said.

Mr Todd's comments were made after two southern judges yesterday spoke out about drink-driving related issues.

Judge Stephen O'Driscoll said in Balclutha District Court that there were too many drink-drivers coming before the courts in South Otago. Eleven people appeared before him yesterday charged with drink-driving.

"If drink-driving offenders are going to continue to appear before the court, then it will be necessary to increase the sentences, because the message is clearly not getting through," he said.

Judge Kevin Phillips also commented on alcohol issues when sentencing Dennis Anton Robertson in Invercargill District Court for his third drink-driving offence since 2000, saying it was pointless ordering people with drinking problems to counselling if they did not want to help themselves.

The comments were also made after eight people were caught drink-driving in Central and Western Southland during the past 10 days.

Sergeant Greg Smith, of Winton, said the problem was "epidemic", with drivers caught either at random stops, from tipoffs, or as a result of car crashes.

The number of people caught drink-driving was "just ridiculous", he said. "We've had a gutsful, to be fair. It's not a case of if, it's a case of when someone gets killed."

Those caught over the limit included a motorist with a breath alcohol level of more than 800mcg, a 15-year-old male with a level of 444mcg (for under-20s, the legal alcohol limit is 0) and a man involved in two car crashes in just over an hour.

The first crash, at Browns, happened when the man was driving his car at 9.45am on Sunday. The second happened about 11am at Centre Bush and was caused by inattention when the man, who was then driving a ute, went to answer his cellphone and ran off the road, Mr Smith said.

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Police did not yet know what his alcohol level was because they were waiting to receive a blood alcohol reading from the hospital, he said.

Mr Smith said he believed some people still thought they would not get caught. Police were targeting those who got behind the wheel after drinking, and encouraged people to contact police when they saw someone do it.

At least two drink-drivers caught recently had been drinking at private functions. Hosts had a responsibility to provide safe transport, he said.

- The Southland Times

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