Drunk drivers on the spot

A mandatory in-car breathalyser system for high-risk motorists prevented over 37,000 potential drunk drivers from taking to the road last year.

Alcohol interlocks became a compulsory sentence for a number of New Zealand drivers in 2018. Once installed, drivers are required to carry out a breath test before turning the key. If the device detects alcohol above a certain level, it will prevent the vehicle from starting.

The system halted 37,061 potential drunk drivers in 2020.

“Interlocks stopped more than 100 high-risk drunk drivers with alcohol in their system from being out on our roads every day in 2020,” says AA road safety spokesperson Dylan Thomsen.

“That is a staggering number – especially when you consider that there are only a few thousand interlocks in use across the country.

“The figures show once again why the AA calls interlocks the best weapon we have in the fight against drunk driving.

“If there weren’t interlocks in those vehicles, those drivers would have simply turned the key and been able to put themselves and others at risk on the road again. Instead, the car just won’t start and there’s no risk of a crash.”

AA data does not consistently record what level of alcohol was in the driver’s system, but interlock providers say a substantial proportion of the attempts are at levels above the legal limit.

However figures obtained by the AA show that the number of interlocks that should already be installed on New Zealand’s roads fall well short of the mark.

In 2020, 3488 drunk drivers were sentenced to an interlock, yet only 2359 devices were installed says Dylan.

“One in three of the people sentenced to an interlock are not obeying their sentence and actually ending up with an interlock in their car.

“Chances are they are just continuing to drive illegally and will quite likely end up drunk behind the wheel again at some time.

“There is no follow-up in the current system to make sure the people who are sentenced to an interlock follow through on getting a device.

“It’s a huge loophole that needs to be urgently fixed.

“A few thousand interlocks are stopping tens of thousands of potential drunk driving attempts a year, and we should be using them much more than we are.

“Alcohol impairment was a factor in nearly 70 fatal crashes in 2020, and we have stalled in making any reductions in drunk driving since 2014.

“Making sure every high-risk drunk driver gets an interlock is one of the keys to New Zealand’s battle against impaired driving, along with lifting the number of roadside alcohol tests back up to where they used to be, more assessment and treatment for those with addiction issues, and introducing roadside drug testing.”


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