Do you support lowering the drink drive limit?
LATEST: Drivers who exceed a new lower drink drive limit will be hit with instant fines and demerit points, the Government announced today.
It insisted Kiwis will still be able to have "one or two" drinks.
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee today revealed that Cabinet had lower the legal blood alcohol limit from 80 to 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood for drivers aged over 20.
However, drivers caught between the new limit and the old one will not be subject to court action, with police able to issue penalties on the spot.
Brownlee told reporters that Cabinet was conscious of the need to reach a balance between "the desire to indicate that we want people to be more cautious about the level of alcohol in their blood when they get behind the wheel and in fact determining that they are at a criminal level".
$200-fines and 50 demerit points
The fines were likely to be $200 and 50 demerit points.
This meant two infringements within two years would result in drivers losing their licences, Brownlee said.
A two-year review of the impact of lowering the legal blood-alcohol limit by 30mg suggested 3.4 lives would be saved a year and 64 injury-causing crashes avoided - and $200 million in social costs would be saved over 10 years, Brownlee said.
"Data collected by police over the past 22 months shows 53 drivers were involved in fatal and serious injury crashes with blood-alcohol readings of between 51 and 80mg per 100ml of blood," he said.
Prime Minister John Key said the new rules reflected the international trends to new lower limits, "the weight of public opinion" and research which showed overall benefits.
"What this decision means is that you will still be able to have a couple of drinks with dinner, when you go out. It's not going to prevent your ability to engage in normal social activity," Key said.
"But it does send a message that we are serious about alcohol-related harm on our roads."
Labour claims credit
Labour immediately claimed credit for the changes.
Last month Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway's private member's bill, proposing the blood-alcohol limit be cut by the amount which the Government announced today, was drawn from the ballot meaning it would go before Parliament.
He had since claimed that he could have passed the bill even without the support of the National Party.
Today Lees-Galloway said it was his proposal which had led to today's decision.
"The Government originally kicked for touch on this issue. It's been something which has been around which they could have moved on at any stage over the last three years," he said.
"Clearly my bill being drawn from the ballot was the incentive they needed to get on with the job and I'm very pleased they've made this decision. It is the sensible one."
However, Brownlee said the Government would not support Lees-Galloway's bill as it would require too much amendment, with a government bill introduced. The government bill would be given further consideration by Cabinet before being put to Parliament, and would be subject to a full select committee.
Lees-Galloway expected that Labour would support the government bill so long as it was a priority, meaning the proposals would become law around the middle of next year.
"If that's going to be what happens with the government bill then yes, I think we should get in behind their bill."
In 2010 the Government decided not to lower the drink-driving limit, a year after then-transport minister Steven Joyce described the current limit in New Zealand as "ridiculous".
Opinion polls support decision
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 50mg per 100ml, with 29 per cent opposed.
The Government was initially non-committal on whether it would support lower limits, but late last month Key hinted it would soon consider lesser penalties such as fines for drivers caught between the two limits.
"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 AA 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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