By RACHEL MACDONALD
“Unusual and really disappointing” is how North Canterbury Police Sergeant Rob Irvine describes the result of a drink-driving crackdown in the region last Friday.
Three alcohol checkpoints that night saw 16 drivers fined or charged for excess breath alcohol over the course of just 2hours.
Of those 16 offenders, he says, half fell into the window of 250 micrograms to 400 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath that now results in an instant $200 fine and 50 demerit points for drivers aged 20 or over.
The other eight drivers recorded breath-alcohol readings of more than 400mcg/litre and will be headed to court to face criminal charges, including a fine, possible imprisonment, and disqualification from driving.
This staggered penalty regime has been in place since December 1, 2014.
“It shows firstly that people probably aren’t aware how little it takes to push you over the 250mcg limit; and secondly that they’re making bad decisions, getting behind the wheel following after-work drinks,” Sergeant Irvine says.
“The message just isn’t getting through, so on the basis of this we’re going to be ramping up our enforcement efforts, especially in our urban areas and around hotels.
“Something has to change.”
The acting Canterbury Rural Area commander, Inspector Hirone Waretini, said the number of drivers picked up over the limit in such a short time in North Canterbury was “beyond alarming”.
“Every one of the people stopped could have represented a death or serious injury and a tragedy for families.” Any one of them could have been affected, he says.
“We need people to understand that drinking and driving can have devastating results, and we hope these people realise that being caught by us is actually the least serious thing that could happen.”
Sergeant Irvine agrees. “Given that it takes only 250mcg/litre of breath to register as over the limit, people need to have a big think before they drink and drive, and if they’re determined to have a few after work, they need a Plan B when it comes to getting home,” he says.
That proved a popular topic as the Facebook posting of the police statement on the checkpoint operation drew many comments over the weekend.
Some members of the community advocated for more restricted access to alcohol in North Canterbury, while others suggested much harsher penalties for drink-driving.
However, there were also posters who maintained that such drink-driving operations amounted to a cultural crackdown and the police should have better things to do with their time.
One recurring theme was the lack of easily accessed taxis or Uber services in rural areas, which, according to Facebook posters, tended to put coming up with a Plan B in the too-hard basket.
That prompted counter-suggestions that drivers could either stick to softdrinks, assign a sober driver before they go out, or avail themselves of the courtesy transport – or offers to ring a taxi – that all licensed premises have to deliver by law.