Drink Driver Programme Marks Milestones

This winter marked 10 years and 1000 participants since the Drive SOBA Programme (DSP) began in Northland.

Across ten years, 1000 people have completed the 12-session course, which provides alcohol education, relapse prevention and role-playing to develop empathy and problem solving to change people who have been habitually drink driving.

Begun in June 2007 by psychologist Bronwen Wood, DSP today has a success rate of well over 90 percent.

Those undertaking the programme range in age from 18 to 70, are mostly male, and are referred by the justice system, Corrections or self-refer under Section 65 of the Land Transport Act. Anyone is able to refer themselves to the DSP.

Bronwen developed the Drive SOBA Programme in 2007 when it was identified that the wait for treatment was too long and there was a need to provide evidenced-based intervention to recidivist drink drivers. The DSP was piloted for two years by the Northland DHB in Whangarei, was found to be effective and was then expanded to the whole of Northland.

Northland DBH continues to fund the programme with the support of Road Safe Northland and Ministry of Health.

Bronwen said the programme sits well under Northland DHB because alcohol is a health issue. The effects of drink driving on physical health, mental health, injuries and emergency department presentations are all connected.


What’s in the course?

12 people are invited onto each DSP group, where they work on problem solving, developing empathy, learning about substances and reducing impulsivity. "We use whakawhanaungatanga to make it a safe learning environment, and it is an evidence-based programme that reduces re-offending,” Bronwen said.


Lifestyle change for programme participants

Clients interviewed were unanimous in describing the programme as therapeutic as well as educational, and said the togetherness approach of facilitators is what helped make the messages hit home.

Josephine [not her real name] was referred to Drive SOBA after a member of the public forced her car off the road and called the police when she was spotted drink driving a third time. Difficult factors in Josephine’s life – the recent deaths of her parents and husband –  were factors influencing her drink-driving she didn’t reflect on until a couple of sessions into the programme.

“I wish I’d done [DSP] years ago. I went through a lot of grief, I lost myself after my husband died. It was hard going through court, I didn’t have any support, but I’ve come out the other end stronger.”

“It was good that I got caught, to be honest. It’s helped straighten me out.”

Aged in her 60s, Josephine said she wasn’t expecting the group of mostly younger men, including some who had gone to prison for drink driving, to influence her until finally Josephine realised “We all had the same problems. Then I didn’t feel so alone.”

What really helped on the DSP was the focus on treatment and education rather than blame and shame.

“DSP turned out to be really informative. Alcohol is a real problem in our society.”

Like Josephine, client Jerry was once arrested when he had been drinking at a pub and felt confident he could drive away safely. Jerry found Whangarei facilitators were on his side, with a shared mission to reduce reoffending.

Jerry said planning ahead is the main skill he has taken away from the programme. “If you know you’re going to have visitors turn up [for drinking], it’s about preparation and being more wary.”

Apart from the damage done to those injured by drunk drivers, Jerry said he now understands how drink driving could have ruined his own life and how he is lucky to have ended up with just one year without a driver licence.

“The programme was about being reassured that offending again just isn’t worth it, eh, the consequences, the drama. Not being able to drive affects work and family and sport, the list goes on.”

Clients interviewed said their behaviour around pre-loading (drinking before going out), making short car trips to the grocery store while drunk and driving between parties has changed drastically.

“As a result of that course I now never get behind the wheel after drinking,” client Sophie said. “You might think you’re okay but you’re not.”

Information about how to refer clients to the DSP can be found at:

Drive SOBA programme facilitators at Puriri House, Kamo. Pictured are Sarah Jarman, Bronwen Wood and Steve Staunton (image: Northland DHB)

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