Police say to expect more breath-testing now COVID-19 restrictions are gone

By Mohammad Alafeshat of RNZ

Police are carrying out significantly fewer roadside breath tests than they used to.

There has been a huge decline in the number of breath tests carried out nationwide over the last five years, data released to RNZ under the Official Information Act shows.

Last year, 1.5 million breath alcohol tests were taken.

Police said COVID-19 related protocols had a significant impact on the programme, and testing numbers were expected to increase as COVID-19 restrictions eased nationally.

In the 2014/2015 year, 2.6 million breath alcohol tests were conducted nationwide, plummeting to 1.6 million in 2020 and decreasing further to 1.5 million in 2021.

In Auckland City, 127,689 tests were carried out in 2015/2016 - reducing to 30,355 in 2021.

Northland had 140,051 alcohol breath tests in 2015/2016 and just 46,958 in 2021.

In Wellington, 366,170 were carried out in 2015/2016, and 142,621 in 2021.

In Canterbury, 2015/2016 saw 269,546 breath tests, falling to 163,649 in 2021.

The Automobile Association (AA) said this directly impacts the road death toll.

Road safety spokesperson Dylan Thomsen said the road toll has returned to pre-pandemic levels, with provisional figures showing 377 people killed in crashes in 2022.

"We had a couple of years where we saw fewer deaths because of lockdowns and restrictions on movement through the COVID-19 response, but it seems we're back to where we left off."

The government's Road to Zero strategy set out a pathway to reduce fatalities by 40 percent between 2020 and 2030, but Thomsen said interventions and initiatives are not being introduced quickly enough.

"Alcohol testing is a visible deterrent to potential drink-drivers, and a last line of defence against those who have decided to get behind the wheel after having too many."

The holiday road toll this season is already at 15, just one fewer than last year, which was the worst in several years. The official period ends at 6am on Wednesday, 4 January.