A quarter of alcohol interlock prescriptions are for first-time drunk drivers. Are they working?

More than 11,000 drunk drivers have been sentenced to liquor lockdown orders since the laws came into force in 2017. Photo/NZME

Dylan Sexton likes to live on the edge.

The BMX rider and crew member of an offshore fishing trawler paid him off in court appearances stemming from poor judgments while driving a car; the latter involving an accident that injured someone.

Not only that; he was driving a car he shouldn’t have been driving – the one that hadn’t been fitted with a breathalyzer after a drunk driving offence.

Sexton recently stood in court with his head bowed, wearing a t-shirt with the words ‘Fast Life’ on the front, as a judge meted out his final punishment.

The dice he rolled when he took out his other car to buy clutch fluid for the car fitted with the device, which he claims was damaged in a burglary, put him back in the bottom of the ladder he had just started. climb.

In June of last year, Sexton joined thousands of others across the country in receiving an alcohol foreclosure order (AIO) for a drink-driving offense since entering into force of the legislation in 2017.

Interlocks are wired into a vehicle to prevent it from starting if alcohol is detected on the driver’s breath. They are an option for convicting first-time offenders with very high alcohol level readings and repeat drunk drivers for whom nothing else has made a difference.

Department of Justice figures from 2016/2017 to June 2021 showed that a total of 11,314 alcohol convictions were handed down, 26% of them to first-time offenders.

Drivers who drive for the first time while intoxicated may be subject to an alcohol lockdown order.  Photo/NZME
Drivers who drive for the first time while intoxicated may be subject to an alcohol lockdown order. Photo/NZME

During Sexton’s initial appearance in Nelson District Court last June, he was banned from driving for 28 days and placed on a zero alcohol license order. This meant he had to follow the rules for the minimum 12 months that a locking device was installed in his car.

While the courts hand down sentences, Waka Kotahi (New Zealand Transport Agency) administers the scheme.

Data showed that in February this year, a convicted driver can typically spend 523 days on a lockdown order before applying for a zero alcohol license – in other words, drivers on average take longer than necessary to reach this stage.

Sexton may have had his standard license back after at least three years, but he is now in the relatively small league of those who reoffended while under a lockdown order.

Police figures show more than 1,500 such offenses have been recorded since the legislation was introduced – police have recorded the number of offenses committed on lockdown orders, as opposed to the number of people who committed them .

National Road Policing Center director Superintendent Steve Greally said that was because a person could end up with more than one charge after an incident.

“There are a myriad of potential offenses in a lockdown [order]including subsequent convictions for drunk driving or interference with a device – this is recorded as an offence.”

Just before Christmas last year, Sexton’s fishing boat returned to port and after a 5am shift to unload the boat, he drank three cans of bourbon and cola.

Later in the day, and having not slept much, he was caught driving without the proper locking device after he crashed into another car which injured a passenger, while speeding through an intersection from downtown Nelson.

He then drove off but left key evidence – his vehicle’s license plate, which fell off and was left at the scene of the accident.

Sexton called the police soon after and told them he had panicked. Subsequent breath tests showed he was over the limit. He was charged with reckless driving, driving contrary to an ignition interlock license and driving with excess alcohol on his breath as a holder of an ignition interlock license.

There was considerable debate at sentencing in April as to the appropriate course of action, and in the end Sexton was sent back to square one: another 28-day disqualification before he could have a new alcohol ignition interlock device installed, and more community work.

“You can’t have alcohol while driving,” Judge David Ruth said.

Looking at regional data since the introduction of interlocks in the 2016-17 financial year, Waitematā tops the charts with 908 repeat drink drivers having received an order, up to the 2020-21 financial year.

South Auckland followed with 879, then Canterbury with 870. Wellington was the example with 128 – the region with the lowest number of alcoholic drivers to be ordered. Waiariki in the Bay of Plenty was second lowest at 267, then Nelson/Marlborough/West Coast at 317.

The region that saw the most orders in a single year since the law was introduced was South Auckland, when 301 lockdown orders were issued in 2019-20. The region with the lowest score in the first full year since the legislation came into effect was Waiariki in 2017-18.

A quarter of drunk drivers sentenced to an anti-alcohol order are first-time offenders.  Photo / 123RF
A quarter of drunk drivers sentenced to an anti-alcohol order are first-time offenders. Photo / 123RF

In New Zealand, there are two approved suppliers of alcohol ignition interlock devices, and each has installers across the country. A device cannot be purchased, it can only be rented for a monthly fee, which the convicted driver pays. The fee is about $183 per month, or about $133 for those eligible for a government grant, determined by their income status.

Figures from Waka Kotahi show that from January 2018 to December 2021, grants totaling over $2.7 million have been distributed. The figure has increased year on year, from $57,268 paid out in 2018 to $1,250,611 paid out in 2021.

There was a 59.7% increase in the amount of grants paid from 2019 to 2020

There’s also installation and removal costs, also paid for by the driver, and there’s a catch for owners of electric and hybrid vehicles, and those with push-button ignition. A spokesperson for one of the supplier companies said that Open Justice’s locking devices were not designed to fit these types of vehicles, so the additional manipulations required to install a device resulted in higher costs.

Waka Kotahi is also the agency responsible for issuing alcohol interlock licenses. From July 2017 to January 2022, it issued 9183.

A 2014 report by the New Zealand Automobile Association into impaired driving in that country revealed a pattern of recurring and multiple problems with the foreclosure sentence that had led to appeals to the High Court. Issues included unclear or conflicting legislation, continued use of existing sanctions, costs to participants, and the perception that this was a ‘soft option’.

National Highway Patrol Manager, Superintendent Steve Greally.  Photo/NZME
National Highway Patrol Manager, Superintendent Steve Greally. Photo/NZME

Steve Greally told Open Justice that the schemes, aimed at tackling serious alcohol-related crime, were generally working well, but there was one sector of the population that would remain hard to reach, and that included people with disabilities. addiction issues.

“Lockdowns are just one tried and tested measure but like everything there are people who simply cannot be reached, whether they are in court or undergoing other prevention or intervention measures. , they are very difficult to reach.

“Or maybe it’s just that they have a particular outlook on life that most people don’t share and those people will always find a way around the system.”

Greally said the two main things killing people on the roads here and abroad were alcohol and speed.

“We know that and that’s why we focus so much on those two types of behavior.”

He recognized the big role that alcohol played in people’s lives, which was fine until someone decided – no matter what they drank – to get behind the wheel.

“This puts you, other occupants and all other road users in the vicinity at risk, and that is simply not acceptable.

“We just want people to do their best and plan. If we can do that, we can avoid the statistics which in this country are way too high.”

Figures from the Ministry of Transport show that in 2020 there were 139 fatal accidents on our roads and 194 accidents with serious injuries. Of this total, 151 people died and 261 were seriously injured, with alcohol and drugs being a contributing factor in these accidents.

An MoT spokesperson said data from Open Justice 2021 is likely to be available later this year, due to the process required to collate and confirm road cause of death results. He said the information came from multiple agencies, including the police and the coroner, and it often took time to finalize the data if any inquiries or inquiries were ongoing.

Greally said that apart from the terrible physical and emotional toll resulting from road accidents, they were something first responders never got used to.

“It’s our frontline emergency personnel who have to attend to these accidents who would much rather not see people driving while intoxicated, but that’s a big ask.”

How does the Alcohol Interlock License Program work?

There are seven stages of the BAC program to which drunk drivers and repeat offenders are now sentenced.

Mandatory lockdown penalties apply to anyone caught driving with a blood alcohol level at or above 800 micrograms of alcohol per liter of breath, or more than 160 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood, or who has been convicted of a drunk driving offense within five years of the offense conviction.

The seven steps are:

1: Disqualification begins, 28 days minimum.
2: Apply for an alcohol interlock permit.
3: Installation of the device for a minimum of 12 months.
4: Completion and exit from the program.
5: Zero alcohol license issued, if the driver complies.
6: Removing the device.
7: Standard license again after a minimum of three years.

About Michael Brafford

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