How much harm is too much?

Accident Compensation Corporation claims related to drink-driving crashes in the five years to 2020 are expected to cost taxpayers $1.162billion, we learned last week.

It is a sobering statistic, even for anyone taking a break from the booze by participating in this year’s Dry July campaign. (That fundraising campaign, which began in Australia, in which participants are sponsored to go dry for the month has been running in New Zealand since 2012 raising millions of dollars for cancer-related charities.)

The figures, released through the Helen Clark Foundation (HCF), broken down into where crashes occurred, showed rural districts Wairoa, Westland and Mackenzie were estimated to have the highest lifetime claim costs per head of population from the 2016-20 crashes. In Wairoa it was estimated at a staggering $2542 per person, compared with $1140 in Westland and $891 in Mackenzie.

In the deeper South, the Southland district, which had an estimated $18.8million in ACC claims, had the highest estimated lifetime cost per head of population at $579. The other estimates for our area were: Waimate $343 per person (total $2.8million), Invercargill $319 ($18.2million), Waitaki $222 ($5.2million), Clutha $203 ($3.7million), Gore $189 ($2.4million), Dunedin $133 ($17.9million), Queenstown-Lakes $123 ($5.8million), and Central Otago $120 ($2.9million).

These figures illustrate we are all paying for alcohol harm, whether we drink or not, through our ACC levies and taxes.

Mere figures cannot cover the impact on both those directly involved in crashes and those around them, be they loved ones or professionals dealing with the aftermath.

While road deaths involving a drunk driver increased by 77% between 2014 and 2019, roadside breath testing during that time decreased from 3.02 million tests in 2013-14 to 1.27million in 2018-19. This is being ramped up, but it was expected to take some time to reach 3million tests again.

Not that any driver should need the spectre of running into a checkpoint to ensure they do not drive over the limit.

And, as horrendous as the ACC claim figures are, they are only part of the story.

The HCF is due to release its comprehensive report on alcohol-related harm soon, but two years ago Alcohol Action, which has been lobbying for meaningful change to our alcohol laws, estimated the yearly cost of alcohol harm was around $7.8billion a year.

These harms would include premature deaths, physical and sexual assaults and children born with alcohol-related damage. There is also increasing evidence of alcohol’s part in susceptibility to a variety of cancers.

Reports of drunks clogging up our stretched emergency departments have become so commonplace, is anyone really shocked any longer?

But how much harm is too much for our political leaders?

The Labour Party manifesto gives no indication of reforming zeal in this area, instead taking the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff line of increasing services to deal with alcohol and other drug dependency.

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi told Newsroom in March this year it would be beneficial to review the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, but that the timing and scope of any review would need Cabinet consideration and approval.

He has been keen to see the effect of the voluntary code for alcohol advertising and promotion administered by the Advertising Standards Authority which comes fully into play this month.

He also said he wanted to ensure alcohol regulation in New Zealand is fit for purpose and operates effectively.

We would be surprised if there is a review, that anything much more than tinkering will result. Politicians seem a long way from accepting increasing prices, reducing the places and times alcohol can be sold, eliminating alcohol promotion, and adopting a virtually zero alcohol limit for driving would be likely to have the most effect on minimising harm.


I understood ACC legislation did not cover injuries incurred doing illegal activity and have always thought if NZ was serious about it's laws the best way to encourage compliance with road and drinking laws would be to implement this no coverage for illegal activity.

Reads HCF. Looks for hidden agenda. Finds it. The covid control freaks won’t stop. They have no lives.



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