Lower drink-drive limit 'will save lives'

20:57, Jul 31 2014

The lower drink-driving limit will save lives, supporters say, but should not prevent people having an after-work tipple.

The new law, passed on Wednesday and coming into effect on December 1, lowers the legal blood alcohol concentration from 0.08 per cent to 0.05 per cent.

That means an average adult should not consume more than two standard drinks in an hour before driving. A zero tolerance for drivers under 20 remains.

Health Promotion Agency acting chief executive Andrew Hearn said lowering the blood alcohol limit would complement initiatives under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, and have a positive effect on drinking culture.

More people would choose to drink significantly less, or not to drink at all if they were driving, he said.

But Jeremy Smith, Wellington branch president of Hospitality New Zealand, believed it would not have any lasting impact on bars.


"Initially it may have an impact as people will be uncertain about how much they can drink, but figures show the number of people caught drink-driving with these limits is already low."

Most people would still be able to have a beer or two after work without being at risk, he said.

Institute of Environmental Science and Research science leader Allan Stowell agreed the law would not penalise "moderate social drinkers".

The institute advised that most people would be able to have two standard drinks over two hours and remain under the new drink-driving limit.

Taxi Federation executive director Roger Heale did not believe the law would make much difference to business.

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams said it was a long time coming.

New Zealand was previously behind international standards but it was now on a par with Australia, France, the Netherlands and Denmark, and better than Canada, Britain and the United States, where the limit remained at 0.08 per cent. Williams believed Kiwis would see "real positive changes".

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said the law change sent a "clear signal that consuming alcohol at high levels and then driving is unacceptable". "Changes delivered by this legislation will save lives and reduce injuries."

But the AA said the Government should go even further.

Reducing the limit was unlikely to have an impact on the highest-risk drink-drivers, and the AA wanted it made mandatory for them to have alcohol interlocks in their vehicles, which would prevent them from driving if they had consumed any alcohol, motoring affairs general manager Mike Noon said.

"Courts need to be making rehabilitation and treatment a part of their sentence, so that they don't end up putting more lives at risk on the roads in the future."



From December 1, the limit will drop from 400 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath to 250mcg for drivers over 20.

The blood alcohol limit will reduce from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 50mg.

Offenders with a breath alcohol level between 251-400mcg face a $200 infringement fee and 50 demerit points.

Drivers who refuse or fail to undergo a breath test can be fined $700 and given 50 demerit points.

Anyone who accumulates 100 or more demerit points from driving offences within two years will have their licence suspended for three months.


Data collected by police during the past 22 months shows 53 drivers were involved in fatal and serious injury crashes with blood alcohol readings of between 51mg and 80mg.

3.4 lives a year are expected be saved by the law, and 64 injury-causing crashes avoided.

On average New Zealand adult drivers with readings between 51mg and 80mg are responsible for at least seven deaths, 45 serious injuries, and 102 minor injuries each year.

In 2013, driver alcohol use was a contributing factor in 65 fatal crashes, 297 serious injury crashes and 810 minor injury crashes.

These resulted in 71 deaths, 413 serious injuries and 1158 minor injuries.

The Dominion Post