Muswellbrook named one of the Hunter region's drink-driving capitals

CRACKDOWN: Port Stephens-Hunter Police District officers are targeting secondary and rural roads for random breath testing operations due to an increase in alcohol-related fatal and serious injury accidents this year. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
CRACKDOWN: Port Stephens-Hunter Police District officers are targeting secondary and rural roads for random breath testing operations due to an increase in alcohol-related fatal and serious injury accidents this year. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

RAYMOND Terrace and Muswellbrook are the region's drink-driving capitals.

Figures obtained by the Newcastle Herald under freedom of information laws reveal drivers in the Port Stephens-Hunter police district, that covers Port Stephens and Maitland, are being nabbed at higher rates than anywhere else in the region.

However, the Upper Hunter town of Muswelbrook had the highest number of motorists caught drink-driving last financial year. 

According to the police data, almost five drivers a day were caught drink-driving in the Hunter in the year to the end of June, including many repeat offenders.

There were 1632 Hunter drivers caught over the legal blood-alcohol limit, with the region's top five drink-driving hotspots being Muswellbrook, with 74 drivers caught, Raymond Terrace, 62, Hamilton North, 54, Cessnock, 54, and Mayfield, 46.

NSW Roads Minister Melinda Pavey announced new laws on Thursday to combat driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

From next year, drivers caught for low-range drink-driving or first time drug-driving offenders will face a $561 fine and have their licence cancelled immediately for three months. 

Port Stephens-Hunter police Chief Inspector Tony Townsend said the number of people still choosing to drink-drive was extremely disappointing given awareness of the dangers.

He said there had been a “noticeable trend” this year of serious alcohol-related accidents on secondary roads and in rural areas in the Port Stephen-Hunter district.

“Unfortunately there are still some people who want to run the risk, putting themselves and other road users at serious risk,” he said.

“We have a big focus on road trauma and traditionally police have targeted main highways like the M1 and Pacific Highway, but we have noticed a trend of accidents on main arterial roads including the Bucketts Way, Richardson Road, Nelson Bay Road and Medowie Road which have become a serious focus.”

Dungog, Seaham and Clarence Town have also been identified as target areas.

Chief Inspector Townsend said the spotlight was on rural roads due to large number of serious injuries from motor vehicle accidents, many due to cars hitting trees and power poles that are close to the road.

Lake Macquarie police district had the most sober drivers in the Hunter last financial year.

According to an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report issued late last year, twice as many men drink-drive as women and 10 per cent of drinkers admit to driving while under the influence of alcohol.

There were 74 people killed on Hunter roads last year, compared to 72 in 2016 and 59 in 2015. The Hunter has not seen a downward trend in its yearly road toll since the low ebb in 2014 when 43 deaths were recorded.

Data from the NSW Centre for Road Safety shows that most fatalities and injuries occur on the Hunter’s country roads, with an average of 830 road users seriously injured outside the Newcastle metropolitan area every year. 

Drink -driving is a factor in about one in every seven fatal accidents in NSW. Of the NSW drink-drivers who were killed in the five years to the end of 2017, 93 per cent were men and 66 per cent were under the age of 40.  

The government has committed to doubling the number of roadside drug tests to 200,000 per year by 2020.

There were 303 fatal crashes, which involved at least one driver who had an illicit drug in their system between 2010-11 and 2015-16.

In the last six months of 2017, there were 2368 roadside drug tests carried out in Lake Macquarie and Newcastle. A further 2608 drug tests were conducted by Hunter Valley and Port Stephens-Hunter police.

A spokesman for NSW Police said he was unable to reveal the number of positive roadside drug tests from the Hunter due to way the data was supplied by analytical laboratories. Last year there were 111,176 drug tests carried out across NSW and 8944 returned positive lab tests.  

According to data from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR), drivers living in Windale, Islington, Belltrees, Greta and Maryville were the worst offenders when it came to drink-driving in the Hunter in the five years to March 2018.

More than three in every 100 residents with a licence were caught drink-driving. This compared to one in every 100 residents who live in East Maitland, Adamstown and Kotara.