Challenge to reach all drink-drivers

Last updated 05:00 28/11/2012

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OPINION: Road-kill is not limited to the possum and pukeko.

Having attended many road crashes involving alcohol, picked up the bodies and received them at mortuaries, attended and officiated at the funerals, and comforted the families in their grief, I do not have much time for those who drive drunk.

And my head tells me that the public have had a gutsful of the drunken driver.

While many would have thought it abhorrent, driving drunk was once seen as a bit of bad luck by some in the community and a lot of people viewed the loss of licence from being over the limit as a mere inconvenience.

Times have changed, thankfully, and we no longer see driving with excess alcohol in our system as acceptable at all.

The question in recent times has been "Is any blood/alcohol reading acceptable and if so how much?" We now have a zero alcohol level for drivers under 20 years of age and those on restricted licences.

But the prospect of lowering the blood/alcohol level from 0.8 micrograms alcohol per millilitre of blood to 0.5mcg is the big question for the Government.

This has been taken seriously and a study is under way to determine how many people involved in crashes have this blood/alcohol reading.

Many other countries have already made that change under compulsion from the federal authority such as in the United States when roading funding was withheld for levels of blood/alcohol and alcohol purchase age restrictions. This Government study will be out soon and I think there will be a stronger call for lowering that blood/alcohol level.

In recent times we have seen the decline of the country pub, which was a familiar sight around Taranaki and any province in New Zealand.

Thankfully our younger generation is much better at taking responsibility for their drinking and that of their friends when vehicles are involved at least, than when some of us were younger.

The emergence of the "courtesy van" to run people home, the strategy of making sure each group has a sober driver, the provision of alcohol-free drinks, but most of all the public condemnation of those caught drink-driving is setting a new standard.

New alcohol laws will lessen the availability of alcohol and there will be even fewer people driving drunk.

The numbers who continue to be apprehended though, in spite of the advertising, the awareness, and the lack of respect for those who are caught, are still amazing.

These people have to catch on. They will be doing longer sentences in jail and serving longer disqualification periods for driving with more booze on board.

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Maybe another initiative we could explore is banning alcohol from the passenger compartments of vehicles so it can only be carried in the boot or luggage area of a van or station wagon. This is a provision used in many countries.

I couldn't finish an article such as this without offering thanks to those police, fire and ambulance officers, the towies and the volunteers who deal with road crashes as part of their community work both paid and unpaid.

These people see horrific sights. They are the ones who carry in their minds the failure of others to obey the law and as a consequence kill themselves and others, much to our shame as a society.

Hopefully we can learn these most basic of lessons and prevent more deaths on our roads.

- Taranaki Daily News

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