Evidence has emerged that 72% of all alcohol-related deaths on the roads are caused by drivers who are either blind-drunk or repeat offenders.
The research comes during debate over whether the drink-driving limit should be lowered, and ahead of the release of a report investigating drivers who cause the most mayhem.
Legislation is before parliament imposing tough new rules targeting the worst drink-drivers through slapping a zero blood-alcohol limit on repeat offenders for three years.
They also propose alcohol interlocks – a device fitted to the ignition that requires a breath-alcohol reading to start the vehicle – and doubling the prison sentence for dangerous driving causing death.
Transport Minister Steven Joyce said the research showed there were no silver bullets in lowering the number of drink-driving deaths and there were already "a significant number of people operating well outside the law" – meaning that simply lowering the blood-alcohol limit was not the answer.
"Most New Zealand drivers now would not have more than a couple of drinks and drive. But there is a hard core who cause a lot of mayhem. That doesn't mean you should never drop the limit, but you have to get the balance right."
The Transport Ministry research shows that in 2009 88 deaths – 72% of all alcohol-related deaths – were caused by 73 drivers who were either at least 50% over the current limit, or who already had a previous conviction.
Of those 88 deaths, 34 people were killed in crashes where the driver at fault had a previous conviction and 57% – or 50 out of 88 deaths – were caused by drivers with twice the legal alcohol limit.
In 2008, 108 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes and 28 of those – 26% were caused by drivers with a previous drink-driving conviction, while 77 deaths – 62% – were caused by drivers who had consumed more than twice the legal alcohol limit.
The research supplied by the minister's office does not show how many deaths might have been the result of crashes involving drivers who had consumed alcohol but were still below the legal limit.
But it shows 11 deaths in 2009 were caused by drivers with readings of 120mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood or less.
The legal limit is 80mg per 100ml of blood after Cabinet decided against lowering the limit to 50mg earlier this year.
The decision to stick with the current levels ran counter to advice from the Law Commission, the Transport Ministry and others.
But Joyce said the Government wanted to see the evidence first and the ministry would collect details from police of all drivers involved in fatal or serious injury crashes with a blood-alcohol level between 50mg and 80mg, and 250 to 400 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath.
- Sunday Star Times
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