The drink driving limit

Gerry Brownlee announced:

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says Cabinet has agreed to lower the legal blood alcohol limit from 80 to 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood for drivers aged over 20.

“Legislation to bring about this change will receive its first reading before the House rises for the Christmas break,” Mr Brownlee says.

“Alcohol impairment is a major cause of road in New Zealand, with an average of 61 fatalities, 244 serious injuries, and 761 minor injuries every year caused by at-fault drivers who have been drinking.

“The social cost of these injuries and fatalities is $446 million – a huge sum in a country of our size.”

A two year review of the impact of lowering the legal blood alcohol limit by 30 milligrams suggests 3.4 lives will be saved a year and 64 injury causing crashes avoided – and save $200 million in social costs over 10 years.

“Data collected by Police over the past 22 months shows 53 drivers were involved in fatal and serious injury crashes with blood alcohol readings of between 51 and 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood,” Mr Brownlee says.

It’s proposed the new regime will impose civil infringements on drivers with between 50 and 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. Drivers testing positive for this lower limit will receive a $200 fine and gain 50 demerit points.

This is a typical John compromise, but as it happens a pretty good one.

You get the benefits of a lower drink driving limit, but you don’t risk turning people into criminals who (for example) share a bottle of wine over dinner and then drive.

I note the research found that the lower limit will save three to four lives a year. While not insignificant, it is massively lower than the hysterical claims from some that it would reduce the road toll by 33 lives a year. The actual data is just 10% of that.

I think it is entirely sensible that the Government actually gathered data on how many are caused by people with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08, and also how many drivers drive at that level. You can’t make a sensible decision without that data, and it annoys me that Labour who refused to raise the limit for nine years, have demanded that National do so immediately without the benefit of NZ research.

The data on how many people drive with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08 is slightly more than those who are above 0.08. So around twice as many people will be found over the limit with a 0.05 limit. I don’t think the relatively minor reduction in the road toll would be worth a change, if it meant you would be doubling the number of New Zealanders who are getting criminal convictions for their blood alcohol level.

But the compromise of lowering the limit, yet having the penalties be a fine and demerits, rather than a criminal record, is an elegant solution.

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