The Government's announcement to lower the blood-alcohol
level for drivers has been praised by the agencies dealing with
the impact of drink-driving in New Zealand.
Yesterday Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee announced the
legal blood-alcohol limit would be lowered from 80 to 50
milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood for drivers aged over
That change had been approved by Cabinet and could be law by
early next year.
The announcement follows a two-year review of the impact of
lowering the legal blood-alcohol limit by 30mg.
That study estimated an average 3.4 lives would be saved
annually and 64 injury crashes avoided, saving $200 million
in social costs over a decade.
A request by the Otago Daily Times for a copy of that
report was declined by the Ministry of Transport and Mr
However, an earlier Ministry of Transport report showed
between 2006-10 there were 576 deaths where alcohol was a
High-risk drink-drivers had caused almost two-thirds of fatal
crashes where alcohol was found to be a contributing factor.
Of the 576 deaths, 364 (63%) were in crashes caused by a
high-risk driver who had either a blood-alcohol level at
least 50% over the adult legal limit or a prior alcohol
Mr Brownlee said alcohol impairment was a ''major cause of
road accidents in New Zealand'', with an average of 61
fatalities, 244 serious injuries, and 761 minor injuries
every year caused by at-fault drivers who had been drinking.
The social cost of these injuries and fatalities was $446
million - ''a huge sum in a country of our size''.
''We know that drivers with a very high blood-alcohol
concentration, and recidivist drink-drivers, are responsible
for a much higher proportion of alcohol-related road
fatalities,'' Mr Brownlee said.
Police data over the past 22 months showed 53 drivers were
involved in fatal and serious-injury crashes with
blood-alcohol readings between 51 and 80mg per 100ml of
Assistant Commissioner, road policing, Dave Cliff welcomed
yesterday's announcement, with police ''to work alongside our
road safety partner agencies to support the legislation''.
The New Zealand Transport Agency agency road safety director
Ernst Zollner said the change sent a clear message to ''those
who would put others at risk by driving drunk''.
''Together with other recent changes including zero-alcohol
limits for teens and new penalties for serious and repeat
drink-driving offenders, this measure will make New Zealand
roads safer for everyone.''
The New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell
congratulated the Government's move as ''it shows they are
taking road safety seriously''.
Labour's Associate Health spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway, who
was behind a member's Bill to lower drink-driving levels,
said he would withdraw his Bill and work with the Government
''to make sure this is a robust and enduring change''.
Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams said the change
would reduce alcohol-related harm on the country's roads,
while reducing the pressure on the court system.
At a glance
• Legal blood-alcohol limit to be lowered from 80 to 50mg of
alcohol per 100ml of blood for drivers aged over 20.
• While yet to be confirmed, breath-test levels are likely to
be lowered from 400mcg per litre of breath to 250mcg,
bringing New Zealand in line with Australia.
• Drivers testing positive for this lower limit will receive
a $200 fine and gain 50 demerit points
• 100 demerit points for driving-related offences in any
two-year period can lead to a three-month suspension of
• Testing positive to more than 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of
blood while in charge of a motor vehicle will remain a