Drink Driving Limits

September 10th, 2009 at 8:47 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Transport Minister yesterday described existing legal alcohol limits for drivers as “ridiculous”.

Speaking to a conference of traffic experts in Auckland, Mr Joyce said he could drink three-quarters of a bottle of wine in 90 minutes yet still have every chance of being under the legal alcohol limit for adult drivers.

Shouldn’t the test be how impaired one would be at a blood alcohol level, as well as what that means in terms of actual drink.

I see this going the same way as the cellphone debate – a kneejerk reaction with little proof it will actually make a difference to crash statistics.

The Dom Post has a story today that quotes overseas reseach suggesting the cellphone ban will not lead to safer roads – it will just lead to people getting fined for continuing to use their cellphones.

I kept asking on this blog if anyone can quote empirical evidence of a cellphone ban actually leading to fewer crashes, rather than greater fines, but no-one has done so.

Anyway back to Steven Joyce:

But he said heavy advertising when the existing adult limit of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood was introduced in 1978 had made it difficult for him to gain popular acceptance for a further cut.

“A huge amount of advertising was done at the time which said it was just a couple of drinks and then one an hour.”

The result was a popular misconception that reducing the limit to 50mg – one of 61 ideas suggested in a Ministry of Transport discussion paper – would restrict motorists to little more than one standard drink if they wanted to drive home.

I don’t think that, but the rough test for me is that a couple should be able to share a bottle of wine over dinner, and not be breaking the law by driving home afterwards.

A bottle is almost eight standard drinks.

The discussion paper gives six drinks as the allowance for a man of average height and weight. For a woman, the limit is four drinks.

It says a limit of 50mg of alcohol, based on Australian guidelines, would allow an average man to have two drinks in the first hour and one an hour thereafter.

And presumably a woman would be two thirds of that. So let us say a man would have five standard drinks and a woman three standard drinks from a bottle of wine. At a 50 mg limit they would be breaking the law unless the dinner lasted four hours.

But that isn’t een the most important test. The question that (in my opinion) the Minister should ask is how many accidents are caused by drivers with blood alcohol between 50 and 80. In other words how many crashes would potentially be prevented if the limit was lowered, and how many people would be criminalised for having a bottle of wine over dinner. Again I’d like non-emotional study of the benefits and costs of any lowering.

This 2007 report from Transport on blood alcohol levels of drivers killed in car crashes finds the following:

  • 60 drivers found to have a detectable level of alcohol (above 30), and 137 had under 30
  • By far the most common level (36/60) had a level of 200 – 300 – around three times the legal limit
  • Only three drivers were marginally above the limit (80-100) and they were all under 25 so in fact they were well over their limit of 30
  • Only two drivers were in the 51 – 80 range

So most drunk drivers who end up dead are totally plastered. A lowering of the limit to 50 would possibly result in one less fatal crash every six months.

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50 Responses to “Drink Driving Limits”

  1. Gooner (919 comments) says:

    This is a prime example of 2% of the population causing a problem for the remaining 98% and Joyce is going to try to solve it by punishing the 98%.

    Idiot.

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  2. CraigM (541 comments) says:

    “A lowering of the limit to 50 would possibly result in one less fatal crash every six months.”

    What a waste of time, energy and money it is to even look at the issue then. (unless you are ‘the one evey six months’ of course)

    Wasn’t the reason given for not changing the “anti-smacking” law again due to parliament being too busy and not wanting to be hijacked?

    How much time and money would this non-issue take up in coming months/years?

    Looking at the figures given by DPF, surely he should be looking at more serious punishment for the worst offenders, repeat offenders etc..that is where the lives will be saved.

    Either Mr Joyce is looking at revenue gathering models, or pandering to political wankerism.

    As RB stated in another post, how did Joyce end up in the National party?

    He is far more suited to the nanny state creationists currently sitting in the losers seats.

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  3. david (2,194 comments) says:

    Oh that we would give as much attention to lowering youth suicide statistics. ……. (sigh)

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  4. Redbaiter (11,880 comments) says:

    “The question that (in my opinion) the Minister should ask is how many accidents are caused by drivers with blood alcohol between 50 and 80. In other words how many crashes would potentially be prevented if the limit was lowered, and how many people would be criminalised for having a bottle of wine over dinner.”

    Yes, that is a much better question, but the fact that it does not enter Joyce’s head is why he should not be a Minister, and IMHO, should not even be in government. The unelected Joyce stands, like Bradford and Locke, as yet another stark reason why MMP should be done away with as soon as possible.

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  5. david (2,194 comments) says:

    Joyce appears to be suffering from NNDS = “nervous new driver syndrome”
    Have you ever watched an experienced bulldozer driver or boat driver? They set the course and allow the machinery to do the work.
    Mr Joyce by comparison is twitching all over the levers of his newly found power and wants to continuously be making small corrections as if it is more important to be seen doing something than to get to the destination in the most effective and efficient way.

    But then again, I suppose that is the politicians curse !!!

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  6. AG (1,833 comments) says:

    DPF:
    “Shouldn’t the test be how impaired one would be at a blood alcohol level, as well as what that means in terms of actual drink.”

    Followed shortly thereafter by the statement:
    “I don’t think that, but the rough test for me is that a couple should be able to share a bottle of wine over dinner, and not be breaking the law by driving home afterwards.”

    Contradiction? Discuss…

    [DPF: Read my full post, not quote out of context. I then make clear this is a more minor test compared to impairment and I then call for them to be linked together by measuring costs (not able to have wine at dinner) against benefits (possibe reduced toll)]

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  7. F E Smith (3,307 comments) says:

    I agree with Gooner.

    I am starting to get the feeling that the Nats are firm believers in the nanny state ethos that our previous ‘dear leader’ and her cohorts worked under.

    The fact is that a reduction in the blood alcohol limit has not been shown to be necessary. The only people who will benefit from it are those police officers on road patrol or at the booze bus and their prosecution statistics.

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  8. Buggerlugs (1,241 comments) says:

    hear hear Craig – more serious punishments, coupled with performance reviews of judges who fail to utilise the full extent of the law. I’d go to jail if I was wandering round the streets firing a gun aimlessly. Pissed drivers are the same deal, just with less punishment.

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  9. AG (1,833 comments) says:

    Reddy:
    “The unelected Joyce stands, like Bradford and Locke, as yet another stark reason why MMP should be done away with as soon as possible.”

    Oh, ease up, why don’t you? If necessary, National could have parachuted him into a nice safe seat, like they did for John Key.

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  10. Redbaiter (11,880 comments) says:

    “Oh, ease up, why don’t you? If necessary, National could have parachuted him into a nice safe seat, like they did for John Key.”

    They should both just fuck off and stand for Labour.

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  11. Inventory2 (9,380 comments) says:

    Michael Laws hasn’t helped by his on-air confession earlier in the week that he had recently got trolleyed at a function, drove home knowing that he shouldn’t have, got stopped, and PASSED a breathalyser test.. He freely admitted that he was unfit to drive, even though the breath-tester said otherwise.

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  12. andrei (2,653 comments) says:

    The bottom line is that lowering the Blood alcohol level will not save a single life – as it is the fatal accidents that are caused by alcohol impaired drivers involve drivers substantially over an already low limit under which the vast majority of drivers show no impairment what-so-ever.

    I see incidentally that a Canadian court has jailed a recidivist drunk driver for life after he killed a woman and no amount of fiddling with limits will ever stop this type of offender.

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  13. Cerium (23,804 comments) says:

    I accepted the social engineering that resulted in me not going out and getting pissed and driving home – I was high risk at times. I can now go out, have an enjoyable evening and drive home – and not feel hungover in the morning.

    I strongly object to a low risk category being targeted and socially engineered away from being able to be reasonably sociable.

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  14. Brian Smaller (3,966 comments) says:

    Michael Laws hasn’t helped by his on-air confession earlier in the week that he had recently got trolleyed at a function, drove home knowing that he shouldn’t have, got stopped, and PASSED a breathalyser test.. He freely admitted that he was unfit to drive, even though the breath-tester said otherwise.

    Then obviously he wasn’t as pissed as he thought.

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  15. Jeff83 (747 comments) says:

    What I know I can legally get away with I would never drive after consuming, I know my reactions are fucked. However it is easy for someone who lives in the city in this regard taxis etc are in high supply.

    Thing is at 50mg a bottle of wine between two over dinner would be below the limit. However at the current limit over the same period (say 2 1/2 hour dinner) a male could get away with an entire bottle, not really ideal.

    I fail to see how changing the limit to a reaasonable level which wont punish the so called 98% is really an issue.

    To be honest the law I have more of an issue with is the one about consuming a bottle of wine at a beach with dinner, when all of them are dry zones now in Auckland. That is bullshit laws wrecking it for the majority based on the minority!

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  16. Alan Wilkinson (1,935 comments) says:

    Joyce is demonstrably a fool as Redbaiter says. When did we last have an intelligent Minister of Transport?

    Did we ever – I’m not an historian but I can’t remember one?

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  17. PaulL (5,449 comments) says:

    DPF, I would argue the number of deaths saved is fewer than 1 per 6 months. That was everyone who died who had blood alcohol within that range. But a whole lot of people died with zero blood alcohol, so clearly it is possible to have an accident without alcohol being to blame.

    Conversely, your figures don’t include non-drivers whom are killed. So that could cause a distortion the other way.

    I agree with your general conclusion though – this is a solution looking for a problem.

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  18. GPT1 (2,021 comments) says:

    I would fall on the conservative side of this debate. ie: no change. Goonder made the point well above.

    That said, I am not quite so emphatic as I was having had the opportunity to go through a BST and Evidential Breath Test after drinking (but not driving). On neither occasion would I have driven and indeed was heading towards being a bit wobbly. After around a dozen beers, couple of whiskeys and couple of cocktails (over four odd hours) I was fail youth and after 7 jugs I was 398 (limit 400). So maybe there is a point about people being able to consume a lot before the hit the limit.

    That said I would like to see evidence that it is these drivers causing crashes (rather than recidivist 800 plus drivers) before the knees are jerked.

    And if there must be a change I would suggest that it is a fine/demerits up to the current limit before getting a Court date.

    Getting six months for blowing, say, 300 seems bloody unfair to me. In fact six months dsq for a first offence is quite high. I realise that some overseas countries are higher but they tend to have bigger populations and the critical mass for public transport (eg UK). That does not apply here. Six months without a licence is a bloody long time.

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  19. AG (1,833 comments) says:

    DPF:
    [DPF: Read my full post, not quote out of context. I then make clear this is a more minor test compared to impairment and I then call for them to be linked together by measuring costs (not able to have wine at dinner) against benefits (possibe reduced toll)]

    But why peg this limit at what just happens to be the current volume of a bottle of wine? If wine was sold in 500ml bottles, then wouldn’t it change your metric of analysis? And might this actually be a wise industry response to a reduced drink-drive limit? You are being entirely arbitrary by saying “one 750ml bottle between 2 people in a 2 hour dinner is right level until shown otherwise.”

    Furthermore, it’s all very well calling for a “cost/benefit” analysis of the enjoyment of drinking wine vs reduced road carnage (not just deaths, but also injuries, remember). But how would you construct a meaningful comparison of the two? Wouldn’t it rather depend who you asked … my view on whether or not I should be allowed to drive after 3 glasses of wine in an hour would change markedly if my wife happened to be hospitalised after being run down by a (somewhat) intoxicated driver.

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  20. Kris K (3,570 comments) says:

    Isn’t it interesting that we are debating about a possible law change which, as DPF mentioned, may result in one less fatal crash in a six month period. And just to be clear; I am all for responsible drinking, and support the existing alcohol-blood levels while driving.

    But really, all this ‘energy’ expended while we ignore the fact that approximately 346 infants are murdered in their mother’s womb WEEKLY.
    Or, if we want to compare that to the above (possible) saving of one life in six months then that’s ~9000 abortions per six months.

    How long will we as a society ignore the real elephant in the room?

    [DPF: This is at least the second time you have tried to turn a thread on something else into a thread about abortion. Next time demerits. You can post about abortion in the general debate but ‘deaths’ due to abortion is no mroe relevant here than deaths due to malaria, war or global warming]

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  21. RRM (10,099 comments) says:

    DPF: “I don’t think that, but the rough test for me is that a couple should be able to share a bottle of wine over dinner, and not be breaking the law by driving home afterwards.”

    I don’t understand this comment. Are we talking about basing legal alcohol limits on proven standards of impairment/road safety, or on a Rob Muldoon attitude that Mr & Mrs Average “should” be able to “have a drink” if they want to?

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  22. GPT1 (2,021 comments) says:

    Kris K – piss off. If you are that excited about an issue go and start your own blog.

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  23. Pongo (374 comments) says:

    Joyce has been captured by his department again, he got off lightly with the cell phone ban but this is getting ridiculous. He is turning into some safety evangelist, we will all be wearing crash helmets, neck braces and flame retardant suits next.
    Do I have to limit my self to a shandy so I am better able to avoid a crash with a 15 year old in a WRX.
    Perhaps he should take up golf or knitting to fill in his days rather than constantly meddling, no political nose this one.

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  24. Jeff83 (747 comments) says:

    “Do I have to limit my self to a shandy ….”

    Ha. How about stick to facts rather than emotional ramble. Noone is talking about reducing consumption to a shandy, rather reducing limits to actually reflect what has been advertised as the understanding of the limit – i..e approximately 2 beers in the first hour and 1 an hour after that.

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  25. Brian Smaller (3,966 comments) says:

    Jeff83 – A finite number of drinks as a limit is ridiculous. Different people metabolise alcohol at different rates. There was a program on TV back in the 90s where they gave this group of volunteers standard drink units of their favourite tipples and measured their blood alcohol after every drink. One woman was over the limit after one glass of wine. At the other end one guy had about a dozen drinks and was still under.

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  26. B.A.D.D (3 comments) says:

    ALAC advising the public – male and female can have X amount of booze, before reaching a limit.

    Never mind we’re all differing Weights/Mental Health/Physical Health/Liver Health.

    I saw nothing regarding the livers expellation rate compares to one standard drink per hour -based on a healthy liver?

    How many kiwis have been bingedrinking and have hammered their livers – therefore expellation rate is less?

    Raising BAC limits quickly under those conditions!

    Liver expellation is a test question in the Hospo Industry Exam for Bar Duty Managers, which I passed, that had to have backing by ALAC for Industry standards!

    Why the Governing Body over alcohol would be advising MOT or the public this in such basic terms, ignoring the variables – makes no sense.

    Let’s also ignore that in 2005 – 2007 – Over a three year period 57% of alcohol related fatalities did not hold a full license.

    Also in the same period, many alcohol fatalities were well in excess of the current BAC limit of 80mg/100ml

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  27. F E Smith (3,307 comments) says:

    BADD, blood alcohol is removed from the body at about 15 microgrammes per 100 ml of blood per hour.

    As you say, most alcohol related crashes, let alone fatal crashes, are caused by people well over the limit.

    But think about how many more people are going to be convicted and lose their licence each year. The number will go up by hundreds, if not thousands.

    The question is whether the change would make any real difference.

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  28. Brian Smaller (3,966 comments) says:

    FE SMITH – No – but you will get more work and government coffers will increase because of fines and more Police and court time will be wasted for a dubious amount of difference.

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  29. F E Smith (3,307 comments) says:

    True, Brian. Not to forget the extra legal aid paid out as more people become liable to imprisonment on their third or fourth EBA…

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  30. Brian Smaller (3,966 comments) says:

    This “get a taxi” call when you are going out for dinner is bullshit too. OK if you live in the centre of town but on the once or twice a year we eat at a restaurant we have to drive 20km into Wellington. If we take a taxi we spend another $80 on a night out. I usually drink a beer or two and a glass of wine with dinner on those occasions.

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  31. Redbaiter (11,880 comments) says:

    “Noone is talking about reducing consumption”

    Get an education you indoctrinated socialist yokel.

    Its “no one”.

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  32. Jeff83 (747 comments) says:

    “Get an education you indoctrinated socialist yokel.

    Its “no one”.”

    Go fuck yourself you bible bashing, fox watching, morally deluded, out of touch nut job. The lack of a space has nothing to do with the posts statement. Oh and for the record your statement should read ‘It’s “no one”, you retarded wannabe; as your statement is trying to state ‘It is “no one”‘.

    Stupid idiots in glass houses.

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  33. CraigM (541 comments) says:

    “fox watching”

    Hilarious. A new kind of insult is born.

    Listen up you CNN watching SOB…
    Up your’s you NYT reading asshole…
    You TV3 watching imbecile…

    I look froward to a whole new class of insults being used on kiwiblog as people attempt to put others in pidgeon holes…

    BTW DPF, with your willingness to dish out demerits today, how does the post from our anti- fox watching friend Jeff get through unscathed? Just curious.

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  34. B.A.D.D (3 comments) says:

    FE Smith.

    Perhaps my post is not clear enough.

    My point is, if we decline to teach accurately, what exactly raises BAC limits quickly, we are in real trouble if we lower the limit.

    Yes, I believe the lowering the limit idea, obviously aimed at binge drinkers, will cultivate in more revenue, and more convictions.

    if enforced the same as the current limit, and the current idea that you can have X amount of alcohol and be under a limit.

    That is BS, we cannot assume our limit, under any circumstances.

    For ‘you’ one day you may be able to down 3 standard drinks and drive, but tomorrow, you may only be able to consume one.

    And, no, lowering the limit does not focus on the other side issues involved in alcohol related smashes.

    The question – Difference in what, fatalities, smashes, enforcment?

    Isn’t it suggested we’d save 14 lives per year? Out of how many alcohol related fatalities per year?
    I suppose that depends on what 14 lives mean to people.Which I believe to be entirely possible if everyone takes personal responsibility with the right ed!

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  35. AG (1,833 comments) says:

    CraigM

    No. Jeff83 means that reddy watches foxes. He has a large collection of DVDs from the UK’s “National Fox Welfare Society” (http://www.nfws.org.uk/fox_gallery.html), which he sits up with until the early hours, drinking milo.

    In fact, his hatred of all things governmental comes from a failed application to import a cub into NZ. That’s when he first realised the evil depths the lefties would stoop to, just to mess with his brain. Coincidentally, he first donned his tinfoil hat that day, too.

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  36. backster (2,196 comments) says:

    National does seem intent on following the Nanny State restrictive regime of Liabour, and in my view it is because they are taking on board the opinions and dubious research of the Socialist bureaucratic boffins and Commissioners appointed by the previous regime, and selected from their party hacks and former office holders.

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  37. Nigel (493 comments) says:

    Totally agree with DPF here, Joyce obviously is delusional, thinks he is in the Labour party & NZ was in need of more nannying.

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  38. CraigM (541 comments) says:

    Holy shit Jeff, I was attempting sarcasm tinged with humour. Clearly I failed miserably.

    I should have gone with my first instinct which was to roll out a few Basil Brush jokes. (if you’re young, you won’t get that either)

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  39. Kris K (3,570 comments) says:

    CraigM 3:43 pm,

    BTW DPF, with your willingness to dish out demerits today, how does the post from our anti- fox watching friend Jeff get through unscathed? Just curious.

    Holy afterbirth Batman, that man just died due to inconsistency.
    Or maybe it was from having “50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood” due to a long lunch.
    Poor bastard! When’s the funeral?

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  40. Jeff83 (747 comments) says:

    “Holy shit Jeff, I was attempting sarcasm tinged with humour. Clearly I failed miserably.”

    Internet really needs sarcasm font.

    “Or maybe it was from having “50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood” due to a long lunch.
    Poor bastard! When’s the funeral?”

    Is there free drinks at this funeral?

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  41. eszett (2,450 comments) says:

    But that isn’t een the most important test. The question that (in my opinion) the Minister should ask is how many accidents are caused by drivers with blood alcohol between 50 and 80. In other words how many crashes would potentially be prevented if the limit was lowered, and how many people would be criminalised for having a bottle of wine over dinner. Again I’d like non-emotional study of the benefits and costs of any lowering.

    This 2007 report from Transport on blood alcohol levels of drivers killed in car crashes finds the following:

    * 60 drivers found to have a detectable level of alcohol (above 30), and 137 had under 30
    * By far the most common level (36/60) had a level of 200 – 300 – around three times the legal limit
    * Only three drivers were marginally above the limit (80-100) and they were all under 25 so in fact they were well over their limit of 30
    * Only two drivers were in the 51 – 80 range

    What you are showing here, is merely the statistics of drunk drivers that killed themselves.
    What this doesn’t show is the alcohol levels of drivers that killed or injured others, merely injured themselves, or just caused accidents without injuries.

    So you cant draw any conclusions from these numbers at all

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  42. TomYum (23 comments) says:

    Who was that independent commentator on road safety/drink driving from a few years back? Statistical analysis chappie. From Wellington/Hutt Valley I think. Seemed to have a very good ability to cut through the received wisdom and translate the stats into understandable ideas. I remember him in TV news and docco shows. Without being rude, he was somewhat unusual in appearance and speech.

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  43. bruceh (102 comments) says:

    Alan Wilkinson asks; ‘Joyce is demonstrably a fool as Redbaiter says. When did we last have an intelligent Minister of Transport? Did we ever – I’m not an historian but I can’t remember one?’

    Try Richard Prebble. Man, do we miss Prebble as a cabinet minister these days. Especially after reading the CIS Kiwirail report thread. I imagine Preb would be an even worse nightmare for National ministers than having Roger in cabinet with them. But the country would be a helluva lot better off.

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  44. lasam (2 comments) says:

    I have used a police breathalyser gradually over an evening drinking with friends. It really is alarming as to how drunk I felt but still passed the test. I think perhaps the actual method of testing needs to be looked at. We all metabolise what we consume differently, we are some big, some small, some narrow and some wide. I personally have a very high metabolism, so much so that I feel hung over from my first beer by the time Im done with my second ( I know, its horrible).
    Is there a way, what with the technology of today, that we could some how measure if our driving ability has been impaired. Like a modern ‘walk the white line with your finger touching your nose please sir’ .

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  45. Alan Wilkinson (1,935 comments) says:

    bruceh, thanks for that. I had indeed forgotten Prebble. And of course he was memorable for dealing to the big issues and not the trivial crap Joyce is fixated on.

    TomYum, I know who you are thinking of but I can’t recall his name. He was an independent university researcher who was frozen out of access to crash data by the Government goons when his findings didn’t support their party line.

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  46. Kris K (3,570 comments) says:

    [DPF: This is at least the second time you have tried to turn a thread on something else into a thread about abortion. Next time demerits. You can post about abortion in the general debate but ‘deaths’ due to abortion is no mroe relevant here than deaths due to malaria, war or global warming]

    Although to be fair, death due to malaria, war, or global warming, in the New Zealand context, are all pretty unlikely.

    And I wasn’t actually trying to turn the thread, but just draw a comparison between one form of death and another which are both pertinent to everyday life in New Zealand. One the government/media thrash to death, the other is essentially ignored and pretended not to exist.

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  47. Alan Wilkinson (1,935 comments) says:

    TomYum, I remember his name now. You are thinking of John Bailey. He was indeed a refreshing voice of sanity, clarity and science in our official self-interested bureaucratic road safety dross.

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  48. Jeff83 (747 comments) says:

    “One the government/media thrash to death, the other is essentially ignored and pretended not to exist.”

    Cause it doesnt, a fetus is not a human, and not every person believes in stone age religions. Get over it.

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