Drink drive limit lowered

Lees-Galloway bill not supported

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 15:56 04/11/2013

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Prime Minister John Key says cabinet has agreed to lower the blood alcohol limit for all drivers.

The limit will fall from 0.08ml per 100ml of blood to 0.05ml.

Key said the new lower limit would give fines to drivers caught between the old limit and the new one.

He said the government had a strong track record for road safety, with the road toll falling by about 100 deaths a year while in government.

"The work is not over, no death is acceptable."

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said the decision was striking a balance of showing that the government was serious about alcohol in driving, while deciding whether drivers were criminals.

Drivers in between the limits would incur 50 demerit points, meaning two offences in two years would result in licenses being lost.

It was not expected drivers having a drink after work or a wine with dinner, Brownlee said, saying he expected having "one or two" would probably fall below the limit.

It was hard to assess how much court time would be taken up if breaches of the lower limit would see offenders taken to Court.

Brownlee said the AA had indicated support of the policy.

Research on whether the lower limit would lead to lower accidents and deaths had come back in the last six to eight weeks.

Brownlee said the two year review of the impact of lowering the legal blood alcohol limit by 30 milligrams suggests 3.4 lives will be saved a year and 64 injury causing crashes avoided - and save $200 million in social costs over 10 years.

The research was not entirely "compelling" it was the right course of action.

Iain Lees-Galloway, the Labour MP for Palmerston North, had his Land Transport (Safer Alcohol Limits for Driving) Amendment Bill drawn from the Member's Bill ballot last month.

But the Government would not support Lees-Galloway's Bill as it would require too much amendment, with a Government Bill introduced.

It would be given a further consideration by Cabinet before being put to Parliament, and would be subject to a full select committee.

Fines were proposed to be $250.

In 2010 the government decided not to lower the drunk driving limit, a year after then-Transport Minister Steven Joyce described the current limit in New Zealand as ''ridiculous''.

Recent polls have shown the majority of New Zealanders support lower alcohol limits for drivers.

Last week's ONE News Colmar Brunton poll found that 69 per cent supported lowering the limit to 0.05g per 100ml, with 29 per cent opposed.

The government was initially non-committal on whether it would support the Bill, however in late October Key hinted it would soon consider lesser penalties such as fines for drivers caught between the two limits.

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''There are some logical reasons supporting that and they include the clogging up of our courts,'' Key said last week.

''It might be a feature if we decide to change, but those decisions haven't been considered by cabinet.''

Police have said publicly that they support the drink drive limit being lowered.

In September, Assistant Commissioner Dave Cliff told the law and order select committee that reducing the limit would undoubtedly save lives.

"Research we've seen, has shown that at the limit of around 50mg a lot of people make a decision they're too intoxicated to drive and then don't drive, or they don't drink any more," Cliff said.

"By the time you get to that 80mg limit, people are so affected by alcohol, they think they're OK to drive."

The Automobile Association also supports the move.

"The AA will be calling for drivers caught at a BAC level between .05 and .08 to be issued with fines and demerit points on the spot by police rather than facing protracted court and criminal charges," said general manager Mike Noon.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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