Hard News by Russell Brown

28

Friday night road warrior

As the designated driver for some beautiful party people, I wound up covering a few miles on Friday night - and I almost feel cheated that I wasn't one of the 40,000 New Zealanders stopped at police alcohol checkpoints. I didn't even see a police car.

I certainly read about it in the papers though. The Herald leads this morning with the story of a frighteningly drunk young woman being relieved of her keys by a decisive member of the public, and in the Herald on Sunday David Fisher filed a story headlined Our drink-driving shame.

And, don't get me wrong, but I can't help but feel as if we're being played a little bit. Fisher's story says "a staggering 304 people out of 40,000 motorists tested yesterday were charged with drink-driving offences."

But it's not that staggering. It's one in every 131 drivers tested. Still too many obviously, but two weeks ago another big blitz found one in 60 drivers over the limit, and Auckland's City's road policing manager lamented that "We are not seeing a big change [in driver behaviour], it's out there, and people just seem to be very blase about it." That weekend, the patrols even had a Herald reporter out with them.

In March, a similar swoop in Auckland netted 94 drunk drivers from just under 8000 vehicles checked, or about one in 84. A separate operation in Waitakere nabbed one in 170. In November 2005 it was one in 150. In September 2006 it was one in 64. In December 2005, it was about one in 100.

More detailed figures are given in a table in a May 25 Herald story relaying the news of an "alarming" surge in drink-driving.

The table does show an increase in drivers charged between 2005 and 2006 in all but two regions, but gives no indication of how many drivers were actually stopped in either year. And on the raw numbers (to May 21 this year) the number of drivers nabbed in 2007 seems to be running behind that in 2006. At the end of 2006, the Auckland, Waitakere and Counties Manukau police districts released statements declaring a "slight" increase in drink-driving apprehensions. That has now become "an alarming surge". I'm confused.

The most useful trend over time - the proportion of all drivers stopped who are subsequently charged with drink-driving offences - could presumably be hauled out of the numbers with an hour or two's work, but it never appears in the police press releases from which the journalists write their reports.

Don't get me wrong. I'm very happy indeed for the police to be out there stopping and testing drivers. My safety as a road user depends on it. But I'd prefer alarming claims to be backed up by the alarming facts.

Anyway, enough of that. First stop on Friday night was the 95bFM 'Fancy New Bands' showcase at the King's Arms, which, as it apparently did on Thursday night, filled the place. It was really good fun: I saw three young bands I thought were really pretty good (the Bonnie Scarlets, Fighting the Shakes and Coshercot Honeys) and caught some of what was widely deemed a cracking live performance by Collapsing Cities on the radio simulcast. I'm not really involved with bFM these days, but I'm really pleased for the station. The b is always healthier when it has a healthy live music scene to engage with, and that seems to be the case at the moment.

From there, our crew popped in at Shanghai Lil's, which was mostly peopled with amiably munted Ponsonby types, then went up the hill to Totos for a look in at The Turnaround. Lest it be thought I only went to The Turnaround because it was written up in Metro (and there were a few: "blonde women dancing twice as fast as everyone else," according to Stinky Jim), allow me to point out that I have been to two of its previous locations - y'know, back in the old days.

Mere, my old friend from Planet days, appeared at the desk and let me in for free, and inside it was truly a t'ing gwan off. I had a little dance (unless I'm mistaken, that was Mu troubling the decks), then a yarn with a few people and then it was Dad's bedtime. Everyone else had clearly drunk a lot of coffee earlier in the evening.

Elsewhere: in light of the weekend's thunderous polling, Juha wonders if Telecom is stalling until National's in government, but really, I think even Maurice is on board with regulation these days.

And the $27 million Creation Museum opens in Kentucky tomorrow, placing Boblical peoples alongside animatronic dinosaurs and greatly advancing the cause of stupidity. The enthusiastic report from CBN News is on YouTube.

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