Nearly half of the drink drivers facing an alcohol interlock on their vehicles are not being sentenced to install one despite a law change making its installation mandatory, a new AA report has found.
An Automobile Association report analysed six months of court data when alcohol interlocks, a device which immobilises a car's steering wheel when the driver is intoxicated, became a mandatory sentence for many drink drivers in July 2018, AA said in a statement.
From July last year, drink drivers caught inebriated behind the wheel more than once in five years, or detected at three times the adult alcohol limit, faced a mandatory interlock. Drink drivers were excluded if they did not have a valid New Zealand licence, a vehicle, a medical condition making an interlock impossible or if they were more than 70 kilometres away from an interlock service centre.
However, the report found that 52 per cent of drink drivers eligible for the lock were sentenced to one, while only 11 per cent of drink drivers under the age of 20 received an interlock sentence. There were also considerable differences between courts over the proportion of drink drivers being sentenced to an interlock.
A separate AA report found that many of the drivers sentenced to a vehicle interlock did not appear to comply with the sentence, AA road safety spokesperson Dylan Thomsen said.
"The AA is concerned that high-risk drink drivers may be finding loopholes to avoid an interlock," he said. "Interlocks are the best tool we have for keeping drink drivers off the roads.
"The few hundred interlocks we've had operational in New Zealand in the past have prevented thousands of attempts to drive by someone with alcohol in their system and that's why it's crucial that as many high-risk drink drivers as possible are getting a device put in their car.
"There are some circumstances when an interlock won’t be possible, so we knew the sentencing rate would be less than 100 per cent but for it to be at basically half that was lower than the AA expected."
Before the mandatory interlock sentence was introduced, the AA hoped to see 5000 high-risk drink drivers have an interlock installed per year. The figure sits at less than 1800 installations.
"There used to be only a few hundred interlocks installed a year, so the increase since the law change has been good but it’s still got plenty more room for improvement."