Transport Minister, Simon Bridges has toughened up the alcohol interlock section of the Land Transport Amendment Bill.
The Bill that will also modernise regulation of small passenger services such as taxis and update rules for heavy vehicles was introduced to Parliament on Monday.
But it's the changes Simon Bridges is making to the law relating to alcohol interlocks that will likely have the most impact.
"Alcohol interlocks are a highly effective tool for reducing drink-driving. The amendments contained in the Bill are expected to result in greater use of alcohol interlocks by high-risk offenders and recidivist drink-drivers," he says.
An alcohol interlock is similar to a breathalyser and is connected into a vehicle's starting system. Before the vehicle can be started, the driver must blow into the device and if the analysed result is over the pre-programmed breath alcohol level, which is effectively zero, the car won't start.
What are the key changes to the Bill?
Alcohol interlock orders are currently provided for in the Act as a discretionary sentence under section 65A. However, under the Bill's amendments, they will become mandatory sentences for certain qualifying offences.
How will mandatory alcohol interlocks effect road safety?
The Bill proposes to improve road safety by reducing recidivist drink driving.
The Act contains a discretionary alcohol interlock sentence that the courts can impose on first-time offenders with high alcohol levels and offenders with repeat drink-drive convictions. However, the discretionary sentence is applied sparingly. The Bill makes alcohol interlocks mandatory for these offenders, with limited grounds for exception. Alcohol interlocks will also become mandatory for drink-drive offenders subject to alcohol assessment orders under section 65 of the Act.
The Bill also sets out how the mandatory alcohol interlock sentence applies when other offences with disqualification penalties have been committed. Changes for this purpose cover situations where the offender:
- is currently disqualified or suspended
- is being sentenced concurrently for other offences
- is serving an alcohol interlock sentence and is convicted of a subsequent drink-drive offence
- is serving an alcohol interlock sentence and is convicted of a subsequent non-drink-drive offence
International reviews of alcohol interlock programmes indicate that alcohol interlocks can reduce drink-drive reoffending by an average of 60% while the device is fitted. The amendments contained in the Bill are expected to result in greater use of alcohol interlocks by high-risk offenders and, in turn, improve road safety.
Dunedin-based criminal barrister Sarah Saunderson-Warner has a lot of experience with drink-driving cases and says the move from discretionary to mandatory should produce good results.
"I have done one application for an interlock and I believe it was the only one that has been granted in Dunedin. The application was successful. Overall I think that the change from discretionary to mandatory alcohol interlock licenses will dramatically increase the number of interlock licenses. This is a positive, both for the community in terms of road safety but also in reintegrating and rehabilitating drink drivers," she says.
However she says it is possible for the holder of an alcohol interlock licence to drive a car that has not been fitted with an interlock device but that is illegal under the Land Transport Act.
How will the Land Transport Amendment Bill changes affect criminal lawyers?
Sarah Saunderson-Warner says it means that written applications and affidavits will no longer be required, simplifying the process to get an interlock licence in action.
"It is likely that to fall within the exceptions to NOT impose an interlock license, evidence would be required to be filed. The provision for 'special reasons' not to impose an alcohol interlock license is likely to follow the same procedure as that applied to special reasons not to disqualify found in s81 of the Act.
"Over the years this area of law has become more complex and while the application of most of the statutory provisions is uncontroversial, to advise clients in this area you need a wide knowledge of consequences such as alcohol interlock licenses, vehicle confiscation, zero alcohol licenses, indefinate disqualifications, 28 day suspensions and roadside vehicle seizures," she says.
The bill also proposes to increase the penalties for drivers who fail to stop when being directed to do so by traffic police to up to 2 years disqualification from driving, along with strengthening the power of courts to confiscate the cars owned by repeat offenders.
NZ BORA report from Attorney-General
However to throw a possible spanner in the works, Attorney-General, Christopher Finlayson QC has studied the Land Transport Amendment Bill and has found some deficiencies in it.
He concluded the Bill's provisions relating to the power to impound a vehicle for 28 days for failure or refusal to provide information leading to the identity of the fleeing driver, or providing false or misleading information to be inconsistent with section 21 of the Bill of Rights Act. Enforcement officers will also be granted new powers to tackle fair evasion on public transport such as buses and trains under the amendments.
The Land Transport Amendment Bill is set to become law by 1 April 2018.