Teens turn blind eye to drink-driving

AMY MAAS
Last updated 05:00 29/10/2012

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The Government has been warned not to "take its foot off the pedal" as new statistics reveal that thousands of teenagers drink and drive with little regard for the law or safety.

Figures show that during the past two years a total of 9703 teenagers were found guilty of drink driving in New Zealand. Fifteen teens have been convicted at least six times in that period.

Auckland teenagers had the highest number of convictions for drink-driving, with 1553 in the past two years.

Christchurch teenagers weren't far behind, with 1383, while 793 Hamilton teenagers were convicted and 728 Wellingtonians.

The number of boozing teen drivers has fallen slightly since a zero-tolerance policy towards under-20s came into effect in August 2011 - meaning they cannot drink any alcohol before driving.

During the 2011-12 financial year, 4240 teenagers were convicted of drink-driving nationwide, a drop of 1223 over the previous year 2010-11.

Students Against Drink Driving chief executive Anna Braidwood said it was great to see a downward trend since the introduction of the zero-tolerance policy, but the Government could not afford to "take its foot off the pedal".

"I think overall the drink-driving issue for young New Zealanders is just enormous. We don't compare favourable to most of the developed world in terms of our stats, so it's going to take a lot more and a lot longer."

Teenage years were the risk-taking part of a person's life-cycle and alcohol affected the brain differently, so when combined with novice driving skills it was a recipe for disaster, she said.

AA spokesman Mike Noon agreed that the zero-tolerance change had made a big difference, for both drivers and passengers.

He believed it had removed any confusion about how much teenagers thought they could drink before driving, and also made it easy for people to know whether they should be getting into a car with someone or not.

Younger generations were more aware of the dangers of drink-driving than their older counterparts, he said.

But teenagers being repeatedly caught and processed for drink-driving was a worry, with more effort needed to ensure they received treatment for alcohol issues.

"It says the system is failing extremely badly that they're clocking up multiple convictions . . . the system is good at catching them and putting them through the courts, but the sad thing is one in every four or five drink-drivers have been caught before."

If a teenager is convicted of a drink-driving offence, they risk being disqualified from driving, receiving 50 demerit points and a $200 fine if they have an alcohol reading of under 30 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, or under 150 micrograms per litre of breath.

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If the reading is higher, they can be fined up to $2250 or imprisoned for three months.

The number of teenagers arrested for drink-driving has halved almost a year after the zero alcohol limit was brought in for under-20s. Police figures show that in the first nine months since the law came into force on August 7 last year, 3091 youths aged 15 to 19 were arrested for drink-driving. The figure for the 12 months before the law change was 6414.

Acting national road policing manager, Superintendent Rob Morgan, said results were encouraging. However, "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-to-19 age group".

- Stuff

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