Drink-driving 'will not be tolerated'

A judge yesterday fired a warning shot to drink-drivers in South Otago to expect tougher penalties as tolerance to continued offending had reached an end.

Judge Stephen Coyle blasted several drink-drivers in the Balclutha District Court, which was sitting in Gore.

As he sentenced five drink-drivers, which made up the bulk of the sentencings, he said the community appeared to have no willingness to address the issue of the high number of drink-drivers within it.

Judge Coyle sentenced one recidivist drink-driver, on his 14th conviction, to 13 months' jail and labelled him a menace on the road.

He said past sitting judges at the Balclutha District Court had also raised concern at the number of drink-drivers appearing before the court.

These drivers were playing Russian roulette and gambling with lives of the public and it would not be tolerated any longer, Judge Coyle said.

With the Balclutha District Court to shift to Dunedin, he warned drink-drivers to expect tougher sentences.

Dunedin judges would not be as tolerant as others, and sentences would be lengthier in the future, Judge Coyle said. "They'll be getting a lot more serious."

Clutha District Mayor Bryan Cadogan said yesterday he was not aware drink-driving was an issue in the area.

"The police have never raised it as an issue. This is the first I've heard," he said.

But Mr Cadogan said he was disappointed to hear of the high number of drink-driving convictions, and the council would support Judge Coyle's comments.

The case of the drink-driver with 14 convictions was "disgusting" and he would contact police to discuss the situation and find out what could be done by the council to help, he said.

Southern district road policing manager Andrew Burns said the whole community needed to take action to stop drink-driving.

"Yes we believe there are issues around drink-driving in our small rural communities," Mr Burns said.

"It's up to people taking individual responsibility and also family and friends need to stand up and say it's not acceptable.

"The reality is it's an accident waiting to happen."

Police were addressing the issue through patrols "but we can't be everywhere", and to have those people appearing in court showed a level of policing, Mr Burns said.

The Southland Times