26 Feb 2018

Dramatic reduction in roadside breath tests

10:13 am on 26 February 2018

The number of alcohol breath tests being carried out by police is plummeting despite the rising road toll.

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Photo: RNZ

New figures supplied to RNZ News show 1.75 million alcohol breath tests were recorded by Police last year, the lowest in at least 10 years.

It is down 43 percent on 2013 - when more than three million breath tests were carried out.

During that same time frame, 2013 to last year, the road toll rose 50 percent.

The Police Commissioner Mike Bush argues the Police are focussed on quality not quantity.

"Yes so we're getting very targeted in terms of where we do it, so it's about making sure our interventions are in the right place."

But associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter was taken aback by the figures.

"It's particularly concerning given that we know that there are many more people driving on our roads, and therefore we need a higher level of enforcement to ensure the same amount of safety on our roads."

And Ms Genter laid the blame squarely at the former government's door.

"Overall under National, policing was underfunded, given the crisis we're having with deaths and serious injuries on our roads safety is a major priority for this government."

Ms Genter said the government was looking at its options for increasing funding for road policing.

In a statement National's police spokesperson Chris Bishop said success should be measured by the number of crashes prevented - not simply the number of breath tests conducted.

Yet the Transport Ministry said while the number of roadside breath tests being done by Police was dropping, alcohol remained a leading factor in serious and fatal accidents.

It has asked the government to consider boosting funding specifically for additional breath tests.

An economist and roading expert with the New Zealand Initiative Sam Warburton said stagnant police funding had led to a drop off in road policing across the board.

"It's not just breath tests, it's speed tickets, it's not wearing seat belts and it's mobile phone use - all of these areas have seen less enforcement because of flat funding and because of having to attend more accidents instead."

Mr Warburton said with more traffic on the roads and more accidents occurring he would expect there to be more Police enforcement not less.