A couple who reported a man driving with an open bottle of
beer in Nelson were dumbfounded to be told by police he
wasn't breaking the law.
The legal loophole was confirmed by the area's road policing
manager, Inspector Jenni Richardson, who said people aged 20
or more could drink while driving providing they did not
exceed the legal limit.
However, drivers under 20 years must adhere to a zero alcohol
limit, she said.
"While it is not illegal, police do not encourage people to
drink alcohol while driving and they would certainly stop
them and check their alcohol consumption," said Ms
She urged road users concerned about the behaviour of other
drivers to note their registration details and call police
Road safety campaigner Clive Matthew-Wilson, who also edits
car review website, dogandlemon.com, was shocked to learn the
practice was legal and called for a law change.
"It's completely crazy. I just can't believe our lawmakers
are that stupid," he said.
"It's like saying you're allowed to drive carrying a handgun
as long as you're not shooting anyone.
"One tends to follow the other. If you're drinking while
driving, then it's highly likely that it's going to cause
serious road safety problems."
Assistant Commissioner Road Policing, Dave Cliff, highlighted
Ministry of Transport figures that showed drinking and
driving killed 1463 people and injured 24,789 others in
crashes on New Zealand roads between 2000 and 2011.
Anyone found over the legal limit while behind the wheel
would face the "full pressure of our resources to remove them
from the road", he said.
If they are found to have been drinking at the wheel but are
under the limit, police will "assess all of the available
information and the relevant circumstances and will take
whatever action is appropriate to ensure they do not pose a
risk to anyone else".
Vehicle owners may also find that their insurance does not
cover them for alcohol consumption behind the wheel.
Mr Cliff noted that police do not make the law.
A spokesman for the Transport Agency said: "Consuming any
amount of alcohol impairs your ability to drive."
Nigel Hampton QC said motorists may not be breaking the law
by drinking a beer while driving, but police could have "very
good cause" to pull them over.
"The cop would have every right to ask what they are doing
and get them to 'blow into this machine please'," he said.
- Kurt Bayer of APNZ & Andrew Board of the Nelson