If cabinet doesn’t support Transport Minister Paul Swain’s proposal to lower the blood alcohol concentration for driving, serious questions must be asked. The most obvious being, when international evidence shows that lowering the legal limit reduces drink driving, is why not?

Alcohol Healthwatch Director Rebecca Williams says “The evidence is very clear, almost all of the countries that have lowered their blood alcohol concentration have seen reductions in drink driving, and there is no reason to believe that New Zealand will be any different”. Out of all the enforcement measures in the proposed package before cabinet, lowering the limit from 80mg to 50mg will see the greatest reduction in death and injuries. In fact, lowering the limit will achieve a reduction that is two times greater than all of the other proposed enforcement initiatives combined.

Why then does it appear that cabinet are not giving Paul Swain their support? The main concern is that people seem to think that they will be unable to have something to drink when socialising, and then drive. Australian guidelines show that it is possible to have several drinks and remain below the 50mg limit. Several media stories have also shown this to be the case. The most recent (Dominion Post, December 10th 2003, B5) illustrated that people can be intoxicated and still remain below the current level. One journalist, a 28 year old male, consumed eight cans of beer along with two slices of pizza over a three-hour period, and did not even reach the proposed lower limit. His self-assessment was that he could probably drive after four beers, but no more.

Williams says, “The current limit allows people to drive at levels that have been shown to seriously impair the skills necessary for safe driving. The reality of a lower limit is that the only impact it will have on law abiding citizens is that they are less likely to be killed by a drunk driver”. A lower limit has been shown overseas to reduce drink driving at all levels of the spectrum, not just those driving between 50-80mg.

By not supporting a lower limit, cabinet would be signalling that they have a lack of commitment to the goals of the Road Safety 2010 Strategy. They would also not be responding to the overwhelming desire of New Zealanders to get intoxicated drivers off our roads. Further, as more countries are signalling that they may be lowering their limits for driving to 50mg, New Zealand will be left with the highest blood alcohol concentration in the world.

For further information please contact Rebecca Williams, Director, (09) 520 7035 or 021 862 250.

And see Reducing the Legal Blood Alcohol Concentration for Driving in New Zealand www.ahw.co.nz/action_on_liquor.html