Northland road safety advocates are concerned about nosediving breath alcohol screening rates in the region.
Nosediving breath alcohol screening rates, both nationally and in Northland, have road safety advocates concerned as fatal road crashes involving booze remain “consistent”.
Nationally over the last six years, the number of breath alcohol tests
carried out by police has dropped from 2.5 million in 2014/15 to 1.5m in 2020/21 – a decrease of more than 40 per cent, according to data released to the AA under the Official Information Act.
In Northland, over the same period, they plummeted from 140,000 tests to just 46,958 – a drop of 67 per cent.
Police figures show there was a marginal increase in testing to just under 1.6m tests in 2021/22. They could not provide figures for Northland.
Police have acknowledged there needs to be more focus on breath testing, and have vowed to increase their presence on Northland roads this summer.
Northland AA District Council chairwoman Tracey Rissetto said the drop in testing has hit Northland with “disproportionate severity”, with screening rates reducing by two-thirds.
Rissetto recently wrote to Police and Waka Kotahi to raise the issue, along with Northland MPs Kelvin Davis, Emily Henderson, Willow-Jean Prime, Mark Cameron and Dr Shane Reti.
“Alcohol-related road trauma is a preventable scourge on communities around the country,” she said.
“The AA sees driver breath screening as an essential tool in preventing road trauma.
“It acts as a deterrent to potential drink-drivers and as a final line of defence to stop impaired drivers harming themselves or others after they have made a bad decision.”
Rissetto said not enough revenue from fuel excise duty and road user charges is being directed back into road safety in the region.
“We wish to see annual screening rates reach a total of 80 per cent of licensed drivers in the district as part of a wider commitment to road safety in Northland.
“The Government is now three years into the Road to Zero strategy, and Northland is not seeing progress in some of the key areas that will improve road safety.”
Northland Police Senior Sergeant Haydn Korach said Covid-19 had a “significant impact” on police’s ability to undertake routine road policing.
However, police acknowledge “there needs to be more focus on breath testing and on enforcing speed”, he said.
“Police has been devoting significantly more resources to road policing over the latter part of 2022, as the impact of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions on police resources have eased.”
In the 12 months to the end of October 2022, police conducted over 2.2m breath tests nationwide, Korach said.
“Our people are extremely passionate about keeping people safe, and every single day they are out there educating and enforcing safe driving behaviour.
“Over the summer holiday period, across Northland and the rest of the country, the public should expect to see an increased police presence on our roads as we undertake prevention and enforcement activities.”
Of the 30 people killed on Northland roads in 2021, 10 incidents involved alcohol and 12 involved drugs.
In 2022, the deaths of 13 of the 38 people who died on Northland roads involved alcohol and 12 involved drugs.
Northland Serious Crash Investigator Warren Bunn said booze was a “consistent” factor in fatal crashes in the region.
“You’re looking at a third of all crashes involving alcohol – it’s pretty significant.
“I’ve been doing this [crash investigations] for 18 years, and I’ve been a cop for coming up to 42 years. I’ve seen so many.
“When kids are involved, they’re the pits. Adults or teenagers, they know better, but kids wear it through no fault of their own.
“Sober people make different decisions than drunk drivers. The consequences can be catastrophic.”
Former RoadSafe Northland “legend” Gillian Archer, who spent 19 years advocating for safer roads in the region, said the rise of social media could be one reason why breath testing had decreased.
“Back in the day, a huge amount of breath testing was done with booze bus stops, but with the increase of social media in any rural area, as soon as it’s seen, the alarm goes out and people avoid them.
“It makes it easy for people to avoid those checkpoints.”
Archer said the reduced testing was “concerning”.
“If they’re not catching people and that’s becoming known in the community, they’re [drink-drivers] likely to take more risks.
“If you can catch people before they cause carnage, they can have a treatment programme.”
Archer said it’s not just a police issue; the whole community has a responsibility to stop drunk drivers.
“The community have to be more involved at keeping drunk drivers off the road.”
RoadSafe Northland co-ordinator Ashley Johnston, who was in the police force for 10 years, also said the reduced testing figures were “concerning”.
The issue was a question of resourcing, she said.
“Police are doing what they can with what they’ve got.
“But the question needs to be asked: do Northland police have the correct resourcing and staffing on the road to deploy them for breath testing?
“Do we need to look at the support they receive and where those staff are being pulled in different directions?”
The Advocate asked police if resourcing was a factor in the reduced testing figures, but received no answer.