Failure to lower blood-alcohol limit scandalous, says expert

03:16, Jul 29 2010

The Government's failure to lower the blood-alcohol limit ignores widespread research that it would save lives, a medical expert says.

Christchurch-based National Addiction Centre director Doug Sellman said yesterday that the failure to drop the limit from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 50mg was "scandalous".

"I think the most important thing has been missed. [The Government] is saying that people are allowed to drink to over the level of intoxication and then drive. It's scandalous when you look at the international evidence," he said.

Although the Government had said it would spend another two years looking into whether to lower the limit, Sellman said, researchers agreed doing it now would save lives.

"The researchers aren't saying they need more research. There are 60 studies that support the reduction," he said.

"In New Zealand ultimately we will [lower the limit] because the rest of the world is doing it. We are an extremely slow follower."

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He said the Ministry of Transport had estimated reducing the blood-alcohol limit to 50mg could save between 15 and 33 lives, prevent up to 680 injuries and save between $111 million and $238m every year.

"They are throwing that all away and saying, `We are quite relaxed about 30 deaths and 680 injuries and $230m'. I thought the Government was short of money," Sellman said. Harsher penalties for drink-drivers would not be as effective as treatment, and only 5 per cent of offenders were currently assessed to see if they needed help with alcohol.

He welcomed the zero limit for people under 20 and recidivist drink-drivers, as well as the introduction of car interlocks for repeat offenders.

Carol King, whose son Nathan King, 28, died in Marshland Rd in Christchurch after being hit by a drink-driver, said the limit should have been raised.

"Some people can only drink a small amount and it will affect them differently to others, so I think they should drop it," said King, 51, of Kaiapoi.

"They don't need another two years. The number of deaths on the roads is increasing and I think they need to take a tougher stance against the whole issue, if it's dangerous driving or anything. It's not the people who are drinking and driving who are serving sentences; it's the ones that lose innocent people."

The Press