The positive downward trend that New Zealand has experienced in drink drive crashes during the last decade has plateaued. The reduction of the blood alcohol level to 50mg/100ml blood is the most effective and proven intervention available to continue to reduce drink driving in New Zealand.
Alcohol Healthwatch strongly supports the proposal of the National Road Safety Committee to lower the blood alcohol limit to help government meet its goal of reducing the road toll.
Since the present blood alcohol limit of 80mg was established in 1978, research has shown that important driving skills including vision, steering and braking are adversely affected by even small amounts of alcohol. At the present limit, drivers are at least five times more likely to have a crash than before drinking.
Health Promotion Advisor Angela Baxter says that many countries have a 50mg blood alcohol limit and have experienced benefits in terms of reduced crashes, injuries and fatalities. The greatest reduction was seen in Queensland, Australia with an 18 percent reduction in fatal collisions and a 14 percent reduction in serious accidents. These positive results were achieved before the introduction of random breath testing eight years later.
“Based on overseas experience, we could expect a reduction of between 16-72 lives saved, and 640-1280 injuries saved each year by lowering the legal blood alcohol concentration” says Baxter.
Australian research found that lowering the blood alcohol limit not only impacted those driving between 50-80mg; but also reduced the number of drivers with higher blood alcohol concentrations. After the legal limit was lowered from 80mg to 50mg there was a 40 percent reduction in the incidence of driving with a blood alcohol concentration greater than 150mg. Angela Baxter says “this shows that a blood alcohol level of 50mg will go a long way towards achieving the targets of the Road Safety 2010 Strategy of no more than 300 deaths annually on the road by 2010”.
Alcohol Healthwatch will release its briefing paper Reducing the Legal Blood Alcohol Concentration for Driving in New Zealand next week as part of its Action on Liquor Legislation campaign. Alcohol Healthwatch has identified five areas in New Zealand’s liquor legislation that require strengthening, these form the basis of the campaign. They are: alcohol advertising, the legal blood alcohol level, alcohol health and safety advisory statements, Sale of Liquor Act amendments, and changes to the excise tax system.
The campaign calls for legislation and regulations associated with alcohol to be more consistent with government aims of reducing alcohol-related harm. The campaign promotes a bold and co-ordinated approach be taken to lower the benchmark for harm to a more acceptable level. The changes proposed in each of the five areas, while all effective on their own, will be much more effective if undertaken collectively.
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