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Driving change . . . Waitaki’s driving under the influence education programme reached its 1001st participant last week. Those involved in the programme are (from left) facilitator Kirsten Dixon, Waitaki road safety co› ordinator Jason Evered, former restorative justice co›ordinator Derek Beveridge and senior constable Ross Lory, of Oamaru police. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

It is not a milestone to be celebrated, but one to be acknowledged.

Last week, Waitaki’s driving under the influence education programme reached its 1001st participant.

The programme was launched in November 2008, founded by former restorative justice co-ordinator Derek Beveridge, Senior Constable Ross Lory and former Waitaki road safety co-ordinator Alison Banks.

At the time, drink-driving-related deaths in North Otago were higher than the national average.

‘‘Something had to be done. We were killing off our youth, in particular, at an alarming [rate],’’ Mr Beveridge said.

At the time, the programme aimed to target drink-drivers appearing in the Oamaru District Court, to prevent future offending and drink›driving deaths. It was supported by local judges and lawyers.

The programme — the only one of its type in New Zealand — involved a hard-hitting video being played to drink-drivers, who chose to take part. They also completed a questionnaire, written by the University of Otago clinical psychology team, before and after watching the video, and the answers and attitudes are taken into consideration during sentencing. It has since expanded to also cater for drug› driving.

The aim was for offenders to see first›hand the effects of drink- and drug-driving on families, friends and the community in general.

Mr Beveridge said he was ‘‘disgusted’’ more than 1000 drink› and drug›drivers had gone through the programme, but he knew it was working.

The current video focuses on Mitchell Clarke, who died aged 19, in a crash in the Waitaki Valley on April 24, 2011. He had been celebrating his 19th birthday, and after being taken home by a sober driver, he and a friend decided to head out again. He had a blood›alcohol level of 220mg.

The video features interviews with Mitchell’s father, Graham, as well as Tim Larkins, who was a passenger in the crash, and emergency services personnel who attended — many of whom were volunteers. The first video focused on Casey Devon, who died in 2007, age 15, in a crash at Waitaki Bridge.

Programme facilitator Kirsten Dixon said it was ‘‘hugely courageous’’ for those affected to share their stories.

‘‘It’s a gift that’s been given to the community from each of those participants.’’

Mr Clarke said the video was an opportunity to honour his son, and help prevent more drink-driving deaths.

‘‘If there’s any chance of any good coming out of the loss of a spectacular young man, [I] sort of feel duty bound to give it a go.’’

Mr Clarke was concerned that, nationally, drink›driving campaigns still condoned drinking — the message seemed to be ‘‘as long as you’ve got a sober driver, it’s fine’’.

Plans could change, as they had for his son, and when influenced by alcohol, people did not have the capacity to make rational decisions.

He was pleased the programme was helping people change behaviours and he encouraged participants to seek support.

‘‘Realistically not many of us can make big changes on willpower alone. It’s supporting people to make change — locking people up and throwing away the key doesn’t actually change much behaviour,’’ Mr Clarke said.

Since the programme’s inception, driving under the influence of drugs had also become more prevalent and Mrs Dixon tried to target the ‘‘underlying reasons’’ people chose to take drugs.

Programme participants could confidentially tell Mrs Dixon they were ready to seek help for drug and alcohol issues, and she could start the referral process. The number of people identifying their problems and trying to change was encouraging, she said.

‘‘At the end of the day, we can’t force someone to change their behaviour, but we can provide opportunities for them to reflect on their behaviour.

‘‘It takes courage to acknowledge that you need some help.’’

Waitaki road safety co-ordinator Jason Evered said supporting people who asked for additional help was the reason he invested his time in the programme.

‘‘That’s out there actually helping an individual to stop it happening again,’’ Mr Evered said.

The programme had evolved to take a proactive approach. Mrs Dixon was now working alongside Department of Corrections, Waitaki District Youth Council, restorative justice and other agencies to offer the programme to anyone who might need help, not just those appearing in court facing charges of driving under the influence.

Mr Evered said nothing would make him happier than a person engaging in the programme because it could help them.

‘‘That to me is the whole reason why we do things.’’

While Mr Beveridge was no longer involved in the programme, he had a strong message for the Waitaki community.

‘‘We really don’t want another incident where we’re looking at making another film in the near future.’’