Part 5: High-volume and high-visibility breath-testing

New Zealand Police: Enforcing drink-driving laws.

In this Part, we assess how well the Police are putting into effect the general deterrence principle of high-volume, high-visibility breath-testing.

Summary of our findings

The Police consider visibility when they plan and carry out operations. They choose places and times to maximise their visibility. The Police set up checkpoints in specific locations to show that they are enforcing drink-driving laws.

The importance of high-volume and high-visibility breath-testing

The visibility of drink-driving law enforcement operations and the capacity to test the breath of many motorists are important to increase the public's perception that if you drink and drive then you will be caught and punished. Research suggests that direct contact with drink-driving law enforcement influences drivers' perceived risk of detection.

The high-visibility general deterrence message is repeated in pre-deployment briefings. For example, we heard a Senior Sergeant tell his unit before a Thursday 8am shift:

This is about high-visibility, high volume and reinforcing the message of anytime, anywhere. We're not likely to catch drink drivers, but it's likely we'll get unregistered cars and licence breaches.

The Police consider visibility when planning operations. For example, a Sergeant told us how the Police chose one checkpoint site that we attended. The site was towards the end of a long, straight, wide and busy road that commuters and parents taking children to school use. The Sergeant told us he was aware of the closeness of schools and the opportunity that provided to increase the visibility of the breath-testing operation.

Highly visible booze buses

The booze bus checkpoints we attended were highly visible and well lit. The checkpoints involved many staff (usually 6-10) and Police vehicles parked beside the bus. All the booze bus operations we attended used bright orange cones, flashing lights, and signs to tell the public that they were drink-driving checkpoints. Police officers used torches to wave down traffic and all officers wore fluorescent vests.

Booze buses were parked on the side of the road and visible to approaching traffic. The buses were positioned so that drivers could pull over safely to the side of the road. This allowed traffic to flow through the checkpoint while officers dealt with drivers on the side of the road.

Police officers can carry out evidential breath or blood alcohol tests and process drivers who exceed the legal alcohol limit on fully equipped booze buses (see Appendix 3). Despite this, it still takes about 45 to 60 minutes to process each drink driver.

Joint booze bus operations appeared to be common between different specialist units of the Police (for example, TAG units working with officers from Highway Patrol, Strategic Traffic Unit, or General Duties Branch). Combining forces to carry out operations meant that the Police were able to carry out larger operations, on bigger roads, and test the breath of more drivers.

The ongoing role of booze buses in general deterrence

The booze bus fleet is important to the Police putting into effect the general deterrence principle of high-volume, high-visibility testing.

We noted that the booze bus fleet is relatively old (even though the mileage for each bus is low) so maintenance issues might arise during the next few years. There is no specific policy for replacing the booze buses – they are managed as part of the overall fleet replacement process. The Police replace vehicles in line with a programme and as appropriate, taking into account their fitness for service as well as their whole-of-life costs.

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