Resort bucks drink-drive trend

Stop: Drink-drive operation PICTURE: BLAIR PATTINSON

Queenstown is bucking the national downward trend for drink-drive convictions – and now has an average of four a week.

Ministry of Justice stats show 208 people were convicted at Queenstown District Court in 2016.

Another 100 have been been convicted in the first six months of 2017.

They’re named and shamed on our front page today, as Mountain Scene takes a stand against a growing problem in our community.

In the last five years, drink-drive convictions have risen here from 169 to 208.

But nationally they’ve fallen by a third over the same period, from 24,621 to 16,014.

And in other major centres, such as Dunedin and Invercargill, along with the region as a whole, convictions are falling.

In fact, they appear to be falling almost everywhere except Queenstown.

Appalled: Glenn Wilkinson

Regional road policing boss senior sergeant Glenn Wilkinson says: “I am appalled at the number of people driving under the influence of alcohol in Queenstown.

“Some of the alcohol readings are extremely high, and demonstrate a complete lack of regard for the safety of other road users.”

Auckland anti-drink-drive campaigner Leah Abrams, of No-one Ever Stands Alone, says there’s always a cost to drink-driving.

“Whether it’s people being killed or injured, or a societal cost from policing and the courts.”

According to stats released under the Official Information Act, 913 people were convicted in Queenstown for driving under the influence offences from 2012 to 2016.

They’ve risen from 169 in 2012 to 208 last year.

Statistics weren’t available for 2017. The 100 names on our front page have been compiled from our court coverage.

They include Nicholas Catlin, sentenced to two years and four months’ imprisonment last Monday after seriously injuring Queenstowner Mutsuko Morisue.

Morisue bravely read out her victim impact statement in court.

Campaigner: Leah Abrams

Abrams, herself injured by a drink-driver, says that’s crucial.

“It’s so powerful for the victim’s voice to be heard in the process – important for her, the accused and the judge.”

The legal limit is 250 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath, with 401mcg the criminal limit (50/80mg in blood).

But international road safety charity Brake wants drivers to pledge not to drink any alcohol at all.

Wilkinson agrees: “The best and safest advice is to always make the choice to drink or drive, not both.”

Alcohol and drugs were a factor in 1200 injury crashes nationally in 2015, resulting in 90 deaths, 409 serious injuries and more than 1000 minor injuries.

Wilkinson says more patrol cars have been on the roads since the Otago and Southland specialist drink-drive units were disbanded in January 2016.

He says the police will continue to catch and prosecute people who put the public at risk but the community must also play its part.

“The community must also make it clear to these drivers that their actions are unacceptable.”

Of the 913 people convicted over five years, 73 were on their third or more drink-drive conviction – which triggers a possible jail sentence.

Sentences vary. Overall, 16 were imprisoned, 11 were sentenced to home detention, 22 to community detention, three to intensive supervision, 18 to supervision, 137 to community work, four to ‘other’ sentences and 702 were fined.

Another 13 people were convicted for refusing to provide a breath or blood sample.

Eight admitted guilt but were discharged without conviction.

This last batch of stats was relatively flat over the five-year period, although the number of fines had increased.