Up till 2011, approximately 30,000 people a year were convicted of drink-driving in New Zealand. About one third of these were repeat offenders, indicating that they probably had a drinking problem. Sentencing legislation requires drink drivers to be disqualified, fined or sent to prison, but little attention has been paid to their rehabilitation. In fact, up to 2011 only about 5% of drink drivers (approximately 1500 people) attended any kind of alcohol and drug assessment or treatment prior to getting their driver’s licence back.
Most of those who had an assessment were drink drivers who had been disqualified indefinitely under section 65 of the Land Transport Act. In order to get their driver’s licence back, they were required by law to have an alcohol and drug assessment which included a liver function test. As part of this process, if their drinking was not yet under control, the assessor would also require them to attend a treatment program of some sort.
Types of treatment
In broad terms, there are two levels of drinking problem – alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse. Those who are dependent are often referred to as alcoholics. Those who abuse alcohol are generally referred to as binge drinkers.
Obviously, the level or intensity of treatment required depends on the severity of the drinking problem. Alcoholics need to stop drinking; but binge drinkers may simply need to cut back and think about what they are doing.
Up till 2013, if a drink driver was referred for assessment and treatment there were very few programmes available which specifically targeted the thinking and attitudes associated with drink driving. Programmes that were available usually targeted the offender’s drinking rather than their thinking.
But most drink drivers tend to be binge drinkers, and as such, they need targeted programmes. In 2013, for the first time the government made $1 million available for the delivery of targeted drink-driving programmes up and down the country – which is a drop in the bucket compared with $850 million the government raises from taxes on alcohol every year.