DRIVER BREATH TESTING IN COOK ISLANDS THIS YEAR

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By Florence Syme-Buchanan

AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (March 13, 2000 – Cook Islands News)---Cook Islands police are hopeful that alcohol breath testing will be part of normal traffic surveillance by the end of the year.

In addition to a mobile breathalyser unit, the legal division of Police National Headquarters in Rarotonga is drafting amendments to the Transport Act, which will see a general tightening up and updating of laws passed in 1966.

A proposal has been prepared for the purchase of a NZ$ 4,000 (US$ 1,953.60) breathalyzer unit and the cost of running it, "which is minimal, " says Chief Inspector Maara Tetava.

Whether police actually get the unit "will depend on government, if government sees it as a priority," says Tetava.

Until a breathalyzer unit is brought in, police will have to continue relying on common signs of drunkenness to prohibit people from driving.

He says law changes will need to be made to the Transport Act for police officers to be able to legally use breath testing equipment.

COMPULSORY

In addition, says Tetava, blood testing has to be made compulsory as a backup in the event some drivers refuse to be breathalyzed. At present drivers suspected of being under the influence of alcohol who are involved in accidents are not required by law to undergo a blood test.

Tetava says the entire Transport Act "needs to undergo a overhaul."

Prohibitive cost has been the reason given in the past by the Police Department for not getting a mobile breathalyzer unit earlier.

Tetava feels it's a pity that overseas aid agencies weren't tapped to assist with purchasing a unit to curb drunk-driving here.

RESTAURANTS/BARS

"An excellent idea," says a spokesperson from the Restaurant and Bars Association, who predicts "it's definitely going to affect the pubs -- people doing big bar trade -- but not so much the restaurants."

The spokesperson says it'll make people think twice about boozing and driving, and instead choose sober drivers and possibly keep taxis busier.

"But taxis have got to put their rates down; two-dollars (US$ 0.98) a kilometer is insane." This could see Rarotongan Beach Resort guests using a taxi to get to and from the Flame Tree Restaurant in Muri paying up to NZ$ 72 (US$ 35.17) on top of dining out expenses.

The spokesperson says the spin-off from the introduction of a breathalyzer unit could be the start-up of new businesses, like the driving services in New Zealand for drinkers.

STATISTICS

Cook Islands police statistics show that alcohol related accidents have decreased since 1998. However, at the height of the economic crisis in 1997, there were 82 accidents because of drunk driving, setting a ten-year record. The number of fatalities has also decreased.

A study by the South Pacific Commission released about three years ago rated Cook Islanders the biggest drinkers in the South Pacific

  ALCOHOL RELATED MOTOR ACCIDENTS

Alcohol Related  

Total # Accidents

Fatalities

2000

3

38

-

1999

12

164

3

1998

25

151

2

1997

82

195

1

1996

57

184

4

1995

33

100

4

1994

49

133

5

1993

57

136

2

1992

27

90

10

1991

27

116

10

1990

29

123

5

* Source: Cook Islands Department of Police.

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