AA concerned at number of drink drivers avoiding interlocks

4 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineOctober 1, 2019

Nearly half the drink drivers facing an alcohol interlock are not being sentenced to one, a report from the AA Research Foundation has found.

The report analysed six months of court data from when alcohol interlocks became a mandatory sentence for many drink drivers in July 2018.

Among its key findings were that:

  • 52% of the drink drivers eligible for an interlock were sentenced to one

  • Only 11% of drink drivers under 20 years old received an interlock sentence

  • There were considerable differences between courts in terms of what proportion of drink drivers were sentenced to an interlock

“The AA is concerned that high-risk drink drivers may be finding loopholes to avoid an interlock,” says AA road safety spokesperson Dylan Thomsen.

“Interlocks are the best tool we have for keeping drink drivers off the roads. The few hundred interlocks we‘ve had operational in New Zealand in the past have prevented thousands of attempts to drive by someone with alcohol in their system and that‘s why it‘s crucial that as many high-risk drink drivers as possible are getting a device put in their car.”

From July 2018, the law became that all drink drivers caught more than once within five years, or detected at three times the adult alcohol limit faced an interlock sentence apart from in certain circumstances.

The exclusions were if the driver did not hold a valid New Zealand licence, if they did not have a vehicle, if they had a medical condition that made using an interlock impossible, or if they were more than 70km away from an interlock service centre.

“There are some circumstances when an interlock won‘t be possible, so we knew the sentencing rate would be less than 100% but for it to be at basically half that was lower than the AA expected,” says Thomsen.

“A separate piece of research we recently commissioned also showed that many of those sentenced to an interlock don‘t appear to be complying with the sentence.

“It‘s not enough to just sentence someone and not have good processes and monitoring in place to make sure people are getting an interlock as they have been ordered to.”

Before mandatory interlock sentences were introduced the AA hoped to see 5000 high-risk drink drivers having interlocks installed annually but there were fewer than 1800 installations in the first year since the law changed.

“There used to be only a few hundred interlocks installed a year, so the increase since the law change has been good but it‘s still got plenty more room for improvement,” says Thomsen.

“Our latest research shows half of the drink drivers eligible for an interlock aren‘t sentenced to one, and then we know that while there was more than 4200 interlock sentences in the last year there were fewer than 1800 devices installed. It adds up to the justice system needing to do much better at making sure every drink driver who should have an interlock is getting one.”

Read the AA Research Foundation‘s most recent reports on alcohol interlocks here: https://www.aa.co.nz/about/aa-research-foundation/programmes/driver-impairment/