Part 6: Strict enforcement, repeated as often as possible

New Zealand Police: Enforcing drink-driving laws.

In this Part, we discuss:

  • how well the Police are putting into effect the general deterrence principle of strict enforcement of drink-driving laws (including assessing whether the Police follow a consistent process);
  • the reliability of drink-driving equipment and efficiency of paperwork processes;
  • how well the Police are putting into effect the general deterrence principle of repeating breath-testing operations as often as possible; and
  • the challenges the Police encounter in resourcing their enforcement operations.

Summary of our findings

At each of the checkpoints we attended, the Police strictly enforced the drink-driving laws. There was no bargaining with drivers and the Police were polite, fair, and firm when processing each drink driver.

The Police follow a consistent process to carry out breath tests and process drivers who have a breath- or blood-alcohol concentration above the legal limit. Some aspects of this are messy and labour-intensive. The Police told us they had begun work looking into how they can process drink drivers more efficiently.

The Police's operations are generally in keeping with the characteristics of effective enforcement through general deterrence repeating the same enforcement strategy often, night-time operations in well lit and safe areas, and breath-testing every driver they stop.

The Police face challenges in deciding how many staff and resources to assign to an operation.

Aiming to test the breath of every stopped driver

The Police have a new policy to test the breath of every driver they pull over, regardless of why the driver was stopped. Road Policing Managers told us that it would take time to embed this new policy into daily operations, but were confident that Police officers tested the breath of most of the drivers that they stopped.

Research shows that if drink-driving laws are strictly enforced, drivers are more likely to comply with them. Drivers must understand that the Police can legitimately stop and breath-test them, and believe that this will improve their safety.

At the checkpoints we attended, the Police tested car drivers, taxi drivers, motorcyclists, and, on one occasion, the driver of a reasonably full passenger bus. The success of strict enforcement relies on the certainty of being breath-tested when pulled over, no matter how clever a driver feels they are in concealing the effects of their drinking.

Often, there is heavy traffic at checkpoints. Police officers allow a few vehicles to pass through checkpoints without being stopped. The Police told us that this is to manage traffic. The Police said that this was not ideal but reflected the practicalities of allowing traffic to flow. At one checkpoint, the Police said that they did not like drivers to wait more than five minutes to be breath-tested. Overall, the Police handled the volume of traffic well, with minimal delays to drivers.

Most checkpoints had a car ready to chase vehicles that turned to avoid the checkpoint. When checkpoints got busy, the chase driver often had to help on the checkpoint line. This meant that if a vehicle turned to avoid the checkpoint, a Police officer would have to run to their car and give chase. Usually, the Police caught the drivers who turned to avoid the checkpoint.

What happens when the Police stop a motorist

We observed that when a motorist was stopped at a checkpoint or pulled over by an officer in a patrol car, Police officers followed a consistent process.

The Police followed an approach of checking "licence, registration, breath". Many non-alcohol-related traffic infringements are detected and dealt with at checkpoints. For example, a Sergeant in one District showed us statistics on how effective booze bus operations can be at detecting other matters (such as stolen vehicles, burglars, and illegal drugs). This is an efficient use of Police resources.

Officers use hand-held breath-testing devices to check whether a driver has consumed alcohol. This is known as the passive breath test. If the hand-held device indicates alcohol, the driver is required to take a breath screening test. This involves a mouthpiece being attached to the hand-held device and the driver blowing into it. If the breath screening test indicates an alcohol reading over a certain limit, the driver must accompany the officer to either the booze bus or a local police station for an evidential breath or blood test.

Reliable equipment

The hand-held devices used to test drivers are considered reliable, easy to use, and accurate. The machines used for evidential breath tests are also easy to use and considered to be reliable. The Police calibrations laboratory told us that, in the last 20 years, no court has overturned a drink-driving conviction because of a faulty machine. If any evidential machine is found to be faulty, all cases begun after it was last calibrated would be withdrawn. This has happened twice in the last 20 years.

The Police use Secure Mobile Access and Reporting Technology (SMART) devices to issue infringement notices for other traffic offences. Officers told us that SMART devices have, made the job much easier and reduced the number of mistakes, allowing Police officers to return to breath-testing as quickly as possible.

SMART devices hold drivers' licence details but do not contain photos. This means that Police officers cannot always verify drivers' identities and creates inefficiencies.

Carrying out breath tests efficiently

Several officers we spoke to had stories of drivers avoiding conviction on a "technicality". To reduce the likelihood of this happening, the Police have prepared a detailed, step-by-step guide to completing a breath test and processing a driver.8 The officers we observed set out to follow the process and treat all drivers the same.

Processing a drink driver requires a lot of paperwork, especially if the driver decides to take a blood test. We watched Police officers stapling, gluing, and taping forms. In our view, the likelihood of transcription errors with names and addresses or for errors crossing out the wrong option seems unnecessarily high. We acknowledge that most of the paperwork is necessary to support the prosecution of the drink driver. However, the process seemed messy and labour intensive.

We note that the Minister of Police has asked the Police to devise a quicker and more efficient system to process drink drivers. The Police told us they have begun looking into how they can process drink drivers more efficiently.

We watched officers searching for forms and other materials needed to complete tests and to process drink drivers in Police stations and in booze buses. In our view, tidying up the administration that supports the processing of drink drivers might save a few minutes for each test – but given how many tests are involved, the cumulative time savings would be significant.

Repeating as often as possible

Research on the long-term effects of random breath-testing in four Australian states shows that drivers must consistently see and hear about enforcement activities to reinforce the "anytime, anywhere" message. The most effective drink-driving campaigns repeat the same enforcement strategy often.

The Global Road Safety Partnership commissioned research that found that the characteristics described in Figure 6 form the basis of a strategy that can be highly successful in bringing about a general perception that motorists can be tested anywhere, anytime.9 In our view, the Police's operations displayed the characteristics summarised in Figure 6.

Figure 6
Characteristics of effective enforcement through general deterrence and our observations of Police practice

Characteristics Observations of the Police's practice
Repeat the same enforcement strategy often Good alignment

The Police have been carrying out breath tests for a long time. The process is well known by the Police and the public. When a motorist is stopped, a clear process is consistently followed.

Operations are sometimes targeted to risk and at other times aimed at increasing public awareness of drink-driving law enforcement. These strategies are not mutually exclusive.
Carry out night-time operations in well-lit, safe areas Good alignment

We reviewed rosters in the Districts we visited and saw evidence of TAG units being rostered on consistently at night. Almost all of the checkpoints we observed were well lit and in safe areas.
Test the breath of every driver stopped CBT: Good alignment

At checkpoints, the Police checked car drivers, taxi drivers, motorcyclists, families, and, on one occasion, a reasonably full passenger bus. In paragraphs 6.8-6.10, we describe how the Police manage high-volume traffic at checkpoints. Very few drivers pass through a checkpoint untested.

MBT: Inconclusive

The Police have a policy to test the breath of all motorists stopped for any reason. Road Policing Managers thought it would take time to embed this new policy into daily operations. However, they were confident that the breath of most drivers stopped was tested.

Challenges in finding resources for enforcement

Checkpoints come under pressure for a number of reasons. In some instances, they might need to be closed. Two of the 10 booze bus operations we attended closed earlier than planned because the Police did not roster on the number of officers required to meet demand.

Forecasting demand on any particular day or time is difficult. The Police do not know how busy they will be on any given shift and how many resources they might need to deploy. The Police could assign several resources to an operation, experience low traffic volumes, and not stop any drivers who have been drinking because it was a "quiet night".

However, when a driver has been drinking, one officer needs to process them while a second officer checks the driver's identity and licence details. This means that two officers are no longer available to direct vehicles to the side of the road and administer the "sniffer" test to detect alcohol (they are "off the checkpoint line"). If a second driver is processed, three officers will be off the checkpoint line (a single officer can check the identity of more than one driver). We saw a booze bus operation where five drink drivers were processed at the same time and traffic volumes were high.

Apprehending many drink drivers in a single operation is considered a success because the drivers have been taken off the road. However, this success can lead to booze buses closing early because there are not enough Police officers available to manage traffic. Closing early is counter to the general deterrence principles – high visibility, strict enforcement, and repeating as often as possible.

8: The Land Transport (Breath Tests) Notice 2009 (SR 2009/386) details the step-by-step process that Police officers must follow.

9: Global Road Safety Partnership (2007), Drinking and Driving: A Road Safety Manual for Decision Makers and Practitioners, Geneva.

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