Poll supports cutting alcohol level

New Zealanders have moved strongly in favour of cutting the alcohol level for adult drivers - a proposal being pushed by medical experts.

A Research NZ poll of 500 people has found 63% support lowering the adult blood-alcohol limit from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, to 50mg. Previous surveys have seen a 50-50 split.

The poll also found 84% in favour of a zero blood-alcohol limit for drivers under 20.

The current limit is 30mg per 100ml of blood.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce is due to take a range of measures to Cabinet aimed at cutting the number of alcohol-related accidents on New Zealand's roads.

The proposals will include zero drink-drive limits for under 20s and recidivist drink-drivers, and a review of the traffic offences and penalties for repeat drink-drivers, and offenders causing death and serious injury.

But Mr Joyce has yet to push for a 50mg adult blood-alcohol level, saying he will make that proposal with an alternative that research be undertaken into the level of risk posed by drivers with blood-alcohol readings between 50mg and 80mg.

Research NZ partner Emmanual Kalafatelis said the results were "a clear sign" Mr Joyce could afford to be more pro-active in pushing for a lowering of the adult blood-alcohol level.

The survey, conducted between March 15 and 19, has a margin of error of plus-minus 4.8%.

Mr Joyce last night described the 63% support as "interesting", and if reinforced by further studies would be evidence of a "shift" in public opinion.

Previous Transport Ministry surveys had found a "rough 50-50 split" on the matter, he said.

The "Safer Journeys" initiatives are due to go to Cabinet early next month.

ESR forensic toxicologist Allan Stowell said drivers could be slurring their speech, walking unsteadily and lacking co-ordination, but still be legally allowed to get behind the wheel, he said.

Otago University public health physician and epidemiologist Jennie Connor said adult drivers with a blood-alcohol level of 80mg were almost four times more likely to have a fatal crash than those with a 50mg reading.

Automobile Association spokesman Mike Noon said cutting the legal limit to 50mg did not address the "enormous problem" New Zealand had with recidvist drunk drivers.


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