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High-risk drink-drivers cause almost two-thirds of fatal crashes where alcohol is a contributing factor and new figures on the country's recidivist drivers do "not make pretty reading", a top road policing manager says.
A Ministry of Transport report shows that between 2006 and 2010, there were 576 deaths in crashes where alcohol was a contributing factor.
The majority of those deaths - 364 (63%) - were in crashes caused by a high-risk driver who had either a blood-alcohol level at least 50% over the adult legal limit or a prior alcohol offence.
Figures on recidivists - released to the Otago Daily Times under the Official Information Act - "does not make pretty reading", acting national road policing manager Inspector Peter McKennie said this week.
The Ministry of Justice figures show in the Otago region alone, 152 people had two or more drink-driving convictions last year, including 25 with five or more previous convictions.
That included two men aged 46 and 50 who both received their 13th drink-driving conviction last year.
Recidivists convicted of a drink-driving offence in 2011 included a 50-year-old man from the Gisborne area who had 18 convictions.
During the same period, a 41-year-old male Aucklander had a 17th conviction, while a 54-year-old from Manukau had 15.
The overwhelming majority of recidivist drink-drivers featured in the study were middle-aged men.
Only three females made the country's top five list for each court district. They included a 45-year-old woman from the Invercargill area who received her eighth conviction last year.
Insp McKennie was not surprised the list of recidivists was almost exclusively middle-aged men.
Some convictions dated as far back as 1980 and many of those drivers would have chronic alcohol problems.
"Years ago, people used to skite about 'I don't remember how I got home, but the car is in the driveway'. Those times are gone for most people, thank goodness."
Police were now witnessing a shift in drink-driving behaviour, particularly by drivers under the age of 20, who had a zero alcohol limit.
"That sends a clear message ... you don't have a drink before you drive."
He applauded the proactive approach by Southern District police in dealing with recidivists. Police confirmed to the ODT last month they were "cold-calling" repeat drink-drivers at their homes.
"We would much rather they didn't drink and drive in the first place, because as soon as they do, they pose a risk to road users, including themselves.
"We want to prevent offences occurring rather than being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff," he said.
Insp McKennie said when police identified a drink-driver, "we try [to] do some work with them to try [to] stop them going out and offending again".
He said the recidivists, and drink-drivers in general, were not just an issue for police but the whole community.
And his message to those repeat drink-drivers?
"If you do think you need some help to sort your drinking out, seek it.
"We would rather that, than knock on someone's door because a tragedy has taken place."