Drunk driver under the limit

JONO GALUSZKA
Last updated 09:00 01/02/2014

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A Longburn woman is being held up as the "poster person" for incoming lower drink-drive limits, after being convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol despite being under the limit.

Jenna Danelle Clement, 23, pleaded guilty to the unusual charge in the Palmerston North District Court this week.

The charge came about after she had been drinking with friends, before leaving in her car, on December 7.

She was driving on State Highway 3 towards Palmerston North, and attempted to pass a car between the city and Sanson. But as she went to pass, she swerved out in front of a truck.

The truck had to leave the road to avoid crashing into Clement, who kept on driving.

She was seen swerving in her own lane, before losing control and crashing into a bank on the side of the road.

An ambulance was called to take Clement to hospital, and a blood sample was taken.

It was found to contain 75 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit is 80mg.

In court, Judge Gerard Lynch said it was an example of why the drink driving limits need changing.

"You could be the poster person for reducing the limit.

"Plainly, drinking resulted in this crash."

In November, the Government announced it would be moving to drop the blood alcohol limit from 80 to 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

Drivers caught between the proposed limit and current one will not go to court, but will instead face $200 fines and 50 demerit points, halfway to losing their licences.

Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway had already got the ball rolling on the issue, after his private member's bill proposing the same thing was pulled from the ballot box in September.

AA motoring affairs general manager Mike Noon said it had campaigned strongly for the lower limit, as there was local evidence to suggest the current level was far too high. "At [the current level] you are severely impaired, and some functions are not going to be as good - like steering.

"We don't support people drinking up to the limit; if you are drinking you should try to avoid driving."

While the limit was something to keep in mind, people should pay attention to how they feel at the time, he said.

"The thing with alcohol is that it affects different people in different ways, at different times and in different stages.

"Most will have a glass of champagne in the afternoon and think ‘my goodness, I can feel that'.

"They will not have been over the limit, but certainly affected."

Victoria University criminal law lecturer Yvette Tinsley said the charge was not very common, and was usually for people driving under the influence of drugs.

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"It seems they were treating alcohol as any other drug, but we have specific levels around it which makes this charge seem different."

Clement was fined $500 and disqualified from driving for six months.

CHARGE DIFFERENCES

Under the Land Transport Act, someone can be charged with driving a motor vehicle "while under the influence of drink or a drug, or both, to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle". That is different from the more common charge of driving while over the limit. The limit is 400 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath, or 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. If someone is convicted of either charge they are automatically disqualified from holding a driver licence for at least six months.

- Manawatu Standard

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