Local drivers cause hiccup for cops
By EMMA O'NEILL
TOURISTS are not to blame for the Byron/Tweed region recording the highest number of drink-driving offences in NSW last year.
Figures gathered by local police revealed that nearly two-thirds of the 1004 drink-driving offences in the Byron and Tweed shires in 2007 were committed by locals.
Tweed/Byron Local Area Command Superintendent Michael Kenny compiled the figures based on offenders' postal codes after becoming frustrated by a general perception that visitors were to blame for the region's drink-driving problem.
"Because we have such a large number of tourists, people often assume that's why our region tops the list for State drink-driving offences. But after gathering these statistics it can be seen that this is not the case," he said.
"Our region has had the highest number of drink-driving offences in the State for six out of the past seven years. We have to start thinking collectively about how to fix the problem. People need to become individually accountable."
Supt Kenny said, to his knowledge, this was the first breakdown of drink-driving offenders by postal code carried out in the State and the results had not surprised him.
"I had discussed the issue with prosecutors and police during the year, who had indicated that most offenders were local, but I had to wait till the end of 2007 to gather the statistics and prove it," he said.
Monique Phillips, owner of Byron Bay nightclub Cheeky Monkeys, also said she was not surprised at the figures.
"This doesn't shock me at all. Most tourists don't have cars anyway, and I believe the residents that live here have simply become complacent. They are in a sort of comfort zone and feel that they'll be right when they get into their car," she said.
Ms Phillips said she believed a stronger police presence in the area would help counter a growing lack of discipline in relation to drink-driving in the community.
"Just take New Year's Eve as an example. With more police around fewer people risked taking a stubby down the street," she said.
Ms Phillips also applauded the Byron/Tweed LAC's plan to introduce more breathalysers into licensed venues.
Supt Kenny said most people pulled over by police and charged had said they 'didn't have far to drive', or thought they were 'simply one drink over' despite recording levels that were, in some cases, almost double the legal limit.
"Some drivers think they are OK to drive, while others have a complete disregard for the law; such as one local man who was charged on December 29 last year with a reading of 0.17. This was his fourth offence in two years," he said.
Supt Kenny said he hoped the new figures would make locals realise that drink-driving was still a big problem in the area and prevent them from using the excuse that Byron was a party town full of tourists.
"Byron Bay has a large number of pubs and clubs, which would obviously not help the situation. However Newcastle is also known as a party town, but doesn't record as many drink-driving offences," he said.
Supt Kenny said the Byron/Tweed LAC would work with the RTA and Byron Council to try to turn the trend around this year. He said the aim was to ensure the issue was not forgotten.