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Drink-driving in rural NZ

Community Action on Rural Drink Driving : The Waikato Rural Drink Drive Pilot Project 1996-1998 Formative Evaluation Report (1998)


Rural dwellers are at greater risk of injury and death from an alcohol-related traffic crash than people living in urban areas. The 1996-1998 Waikato Rural Drink Drive Project (WRDDP) was established and funded by the Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC) as a community action pilot to develop strategies which would support rural communities to reduce problems associated with drinking and driving. The project was set up in what was the Te Awamutu Police District, a wholly rural area covering the Coromandel Peninsula, Waikato and King Country.

The preventative approach underlying the project drew on two research literatures. One is the evaluation of community action as a strategy to prevent alcohol-related problems and the other is research evaluating a range of policies and other strategies which impact on either the drinking or the driving environment.

At the first meeting an inter-sectoral co-ordinating group was set up. This group met every two to three months to discuss issues, plan action and feedback on activities. This first meeting also decided that group representatives would mobilise communities in their local area on drinking and driving. The community groups, corresponding to territorial local authority areas, would be able to apply to ALAC for funds for activities from a pool allocated to the WRDDP.

Towards the end of 1996 it became clear that the concept of mobilising a community group was inhibiting action in the WRDDP. Only one of seven areas had made specific steps to set up such a group. Members reported difficulty in doing this because of lack of their own time, organisational resources and mandate in their jobs and asking already busy community members to participate in another group.
The project co-ordinating group decided to turn its focus to preservation and enhancement of existing efforts such as use of the Last Drink Survey which could influence drinking environments and help support police enforcement practice. Emphasis was on working with and across professional roles and on mobilising resources and procedures which people used to reduce drink drive crashes in some way.
Research conducted prior to the WRDDP suggested compulsory breath testing (CBT) did have an initial deterrent effect on rural residents, but its impact had worn off when drivers realised they were unlikely to get stopped by a CBT operation. The Te Awamutu District police obtained funding in mid 1996 to conduct CBT and mobile testing operations, strategies for which were informed by research, local police experience and were adapted to the rural driving and policing context.
A key strategy was to circumvent such local practices as using the bush telegraph to warn of checkpoints, using back roads and waiting until rural police had gone off duty. The aim of the rural mobile CBT police operations was to make policing visible but unpredictable so the best option for drinking drivers was to stay off the roads. Police used a booze bus and squad cars in highly visible, frequently moving checkpoints, blocked off back road escape routes and checked licensed premises as part of their strategy around the district.

The police operations contributed to a considerable decrease in the number of impaired drivers prosecuted to the number breath tested, project members noted increased awareness in the region’s communities that drivers were more likely to be stopped and said this translated into changes in behaviour with less drinking and driving. Hotel owners reported an impact on their turnover and taxi drivers and courtesy vans increased business. Decreases in other crime such as disorderly behaviour, car conversions, burglaries and family violence were noted. A police peer review of the operations recommended the rural operations continue. There was concern during the project about how to ensure the police momentum was sustained following significant fluctuations in breath testing results, police district amalgamation and in the light of staffing and funding shortfalls.

As well as the police operations, the project supported other initiatives, some of which had been running in the Waikato for several years. These included host responsibility training seminars, the Last Drink Survey and liquor licensing liaison groups. Other activities included a school poster and video competition and displays, development of host responsibility related posters and other resources, calendars, alcohol assessment and early intervention training for health and community care providers; submissions on alcohol advertising and media advocacy in local newspapers, radio and television to raise awareness by highlighting police breath testing operations.
The project co-ordinating group strengthened the various Last Drink Surveys (LDS) in the region by employing a part time Information Officer (IO) whose main tasks were to collate, analyse and disseminate the police data. This and the introduction of LDS log books in each police station helped significantly improve the speed with which the information from the LDS became available and the credibility of the LDS. The LDS information was used by police for planning CBT operations and by liquor licensing liaison group members. Some licensees used the information as a self audit tool. The IO and police publicised the results of police operations in local media to maintain deterrent visibility. The IO position was considered very valuable and funding was obtained to continue it beyond the end of the pilot project.
Te Ara Ki Mana o Raukawa Addiction Services and the Raukawa Trust Board in the Waikato developed a programme called Waka Taua with a kaupapa that linked traditional tikanga concepts and responsibilities to whanau, hapu and iwi. This project paralleled the roles of a warrior in a waka taua, to responsibilities as a driver of a modern day motor vehicle. The programme was delivered through hui and at the Ngaruawahia regatta and funding for further development and delivery was obtained from Midlands Health.
The intersectoral project group decided they wanted to continue meeting once the official two year pilot finished in June 1998, to maintain the benefits of information sharing, discussion of ideas and issues and development of action which meetings helped provide. Funding was obtained through the Land Transport Safety Authority’s Road Safety Programme and Environment Waikato to help with ongoing meeting organisation.
Four essential dimensions to communities building capacity for action on alcohol or other health related issues are development and maintenance of partnerships across relevant organisations; continuous reciprocal transfer of knowledge about harm reduction activities and issues; flexible and innovative problem solving; and investment of social, human and economic capital (Bush and Mutch 1998). These dimensions were evident in the project and how participants worked together.
Workload pressures and specific contract requirements made it difficult for project members to sometimes give as much support to project activities as they would have liked. The project sometimes generated more work for people on top of their existing workloads. Consideration
should be given to funding co-ordinator positions for future projects of this kind to help both actively generate and support initiatives. Building specific activities and outputs into employment contracts for project participants will also help goals be achieved.
Putting resources into planning, refining and improving activities or projects, or using formative evaluation techniques, is important in supporting projects to be effective and achieve their aims. Undertaking priority planning and regular reviews of progress can help community action adapt or change direction as necessary.
Reducing rural drinking and driving and related crashes can at first seem daunting and be put in the too hard basket because of the geographical area to cover, scattered populations and cuts in economic and social resources and services placing extra stress on rural communities. However the WRDDP showed that by people working together, pooling research-based information and local and national knowledge, experience and ideas, sound strategies could be initiated and supported. Health promotion provides a useful guide for the range of strategies and approaches.
However, local efforts must be supported by regional and national level agencies, through development or maintenance of appropriate policies. Examples are the need to continue resourcing compulsory and mobile breath testing at efficient levels in rural areas and mass media campaigns to reinforce this activity. This is particularly important when the public perception remains that it is unlikely they will be breath tested on rural roads. Only 11% in a recent Land Transport Safety Authority survey thought this very or fairly likely.
A range of initiatives to reduce drink drive-related crashes is necessary, including the deterrence strategy of compulsory breath testing and other enforcement, attention to shaping licensed and private drinking environments through regulation, development of policy to control the use or supply of alcohol in various community environments (eg public places, special events, festivals, on campus). Enforcement and/or promoting host responsibility, promotion of community awareness through media advocacy and local campaigns and culturally viable programmes to support members of Maori communities reduce alcohol-related traffic injury are also crucial.

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