12 Jul 2017

Police slash number of roadside breath tests

8:17 am on 12 July 2017

There has been a dramatic reduction in the number of roadside alcohol breath tests being conducted by police.

A police officer directing traffic at an alcohol check point.

Police carried out 1.9 million breath tests last year. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Official information figures obtained by RNZ show that last year 1.9 million breath tests were recorded - the lowest number in nearly a decade.

It is also a 38 percent decrease from 2013 when more than 3 million roadside breath tests were conducted.

Police said the drop was partly explained by a concentration on targeting high-risk rural areas, where fewer drivers pass through checkpoints than in urban centres.

National manager for road policing superintendent Steve Greally said police were also taking a more sophisticated, science-led approach to checkpoints.

"We're not after volume, we're after effect - and sometimes that will mean a reduced number of people going through our checkpoints.

"When we target at the moment we use intel products. We go out there to try to understand where the problems are, where the pressure points are for alcohol - so it's not just going out there blind and testing everyone under the sun.

"It's about where we're likely to see the risk - and that's what counts."

Superintendent Greally said breathalysers were calibrated once every 12 months so the data didn't align perfectly with calendar years.

Police Association president Chris Cahill said the drop was due to lack of funding - and road safety was suffering.

"The reality is that there has been less front-line police officers out on the street... they're stretched and things are dropping off and clearly these figures show that breath testing is one of the things that have dropped off."

Mr Cahill said the lowering of the drink-drive alcohol limit two-and-a-half years ago should have led police to put more emphasis on testing, not less.

Police Minister Paula Bennett wouldn't be interviewed on this issue, saying it was an operational matter.

Labour police spokesperson Stuart Nash said police needed more resourcing from the government so they could keep the public safe.

"The odds of you now being stopped at a checkpoint in a big city like Auckland have dropped significantly, and I think that's the wrong message.

"What I would like to see is actually an increase in the number of breath tests because that says to me that the police are on their game not only to keep us safe but to put the bad guys behind bars."

New Zealand First police spokesperson Ron Mark questioned whether a shift in focus was behind the drop in roadside breath tests.

"They're telling us the reason they're not conducting breath tests on motorists is because they're focused in the rural area where there are fewer drivers and fewer fatalities.

"This is nonsense."

Drink driving convictions have been steadily falling. In 2009 there were just over 30,000 and last year just under 16,000 convictions were recorded.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs