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Overhaul needed to get drink drivers off roads - expert

Published: 10:28AM Monday June 11, 2012 Source: ONE News

Urgent moves are needed to get repeat drink drivers off our roads, an addiction expert says.

Figures released to ONE News show that in 2011 the number of people with eight or more drink drive convictions jumped more than 20% on the previous year, the highest in a decade.

Drivers who have multiple convictions can be disqualified indefinitely, but that means they can start the process of getting their licence back just one year and one day after the disqualification.

To do that they have to pass a drug and alcohol assessment, but some critics says the guidelines are too loose, and offenders know it. 

"They get to know how to manipulate the system. They get to know what they need to do to get their licence back," said drug and alcohol counsellor Roger Brooking.

"The assessment process needs to be completely overhauled because right now it just does not work."

Brooking said indefinitely disqualified drivers wanting another licence should meet far stricter guidelines, abstain from alcohol for a year and have no further convictions of any sort during that time.

Binge-drinking culture

Brooking told TV ONE's Breakfast he thinks New Zealand's binge drinking culture has been "out of control" for the last 20 years ever since liquor laws were liberalised in New Zealand.

"And one of the manifestations of binge drinking is repeat drink driving, so more and more people are appearing in court as repeat offenders."

In feedback to Breakfast, many viewers wondered why someone with 19 drink-driving convictions was not in jail, but Brooking said that driver probably has been to prison numerous times.

"And this is where you get the crux of the problem of what's not happening in New Zealand in dealing with drink driving. We're good at punishing them. We do send drink drivers to jail but we don't get them into treatment," he said.

Sixty percent of people convicted of drink driving meet criteria for a drinking problem but, "we're not actually addressing the cause of the problem, we're just punishing them," Brooking said.

He said there is good evidence about what works in treatment programmes, but there are too few specialised programmes for drink drivers.

Brooking, who is involved in running such a programme in Wellington, said to his knowledge there are only half a dozen of them in the whole country.

"And this is one of the biggest difficulties, that New Zealand has not put sufficient resources into providing drink driving programmes for repeat drink drivers."

Brooking said interlock devices which stop drink drivers starting their car if they have been drinking may help, but are only effective if combined with treatment.