Russell Blackstock

Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Sober enough to drive home?

In the wake of criticism of our tolerance for drink-driving, our reporters test the limit. Russell Blackstock reports.

Photo / Jason Dorday
Photo / Jason Dorday

After a fourth glass of wine, my colleague dived to stop the glass she had accidently clipped with her elbow from wobbling off the table. But she was stunned hear she was still under the drink-driving limit.

A young male reporter drank five standard units of beer, but wasn't quite sure how many drinks he'd actually had. He was under the limit too.

The Herald on Sunday this week tested how much people can drink before they reach the current legal limit for driving, and how much less alcohol it took before they hit the lower level wanted by road-safety advocates.

The results prompted the test subjects to back a call from a former top policeman that the drink-driving limit in New Zealand needs to be lowered.

Last week, recently-retired superintendent John Kelly said a career frustration was that the drink-driving limits had not been lowered from the present 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg.

"It is between these two levels that people start to forget exactly how much they have had to drink," Kelly said.

"It has been proven worldwide that lowering the level to 0.05 per cent [from 0.08] significantly reduces drink-driving crashes."

We breath-tested four reporters - two male and two female - at half-hour intervals while drinking. Three drank bottles of lager and one had standard units of white wine.

After two standard drinks each, all four were around the lower 0.05 level that police are calling for. At this stage, all drinkers agreed they didn't feel much effect and thought it would be safe to get behind the wheel.

"If the limit was lowered to 0.05, I wouldn't drink at all before driving because it just wouldn't be worth it," Chris Thompson, who was drinking Sol beer, said.

But even at five standard units, the beer drinkers were still blowing under the present limit.

"I don't feel that smashed, but it is an eye-opener that I am still legal to drive," said reporter John Weekes.

The beer drinkers consumed six standard units of alcohol - five bottles - before they nudged over the 0.08 level. Celeste Gorrell Anstiss was over the limit after five standard glasses of wine.

Joanne Carroll was astonished it took six beers before she blew 0.08. "It is insane. I'm originally from Ireland where the drink-drive limit is 0.05, which is much more sensible."

Annette Ashley's daughter Carla was just 16 when she was killed by a repeat drink-driver in Auckland. "By not lowering the drink-driving limit it almost appears like the Government is regarding some people as being expendable," Annette said.

"Every time I hear of someone being killed by a drink-driver, what happened to our daughter comes flooding back."

Associate Minister of Transport Simon Bridges said it would continue to research what was happening on our roads over a two-year period before making a decision about lowering the limit.

He declined to answer questions about our testing.

All reporters in the test went home by taxi. The New Zealand Drug Detection Agency provided equipment for our test. The agency has 19 NZ offices and specialises in workplace drug and alcohol testing.

Footnote: In last week's article on this issue, John Kelly was reported to have said he blamed the Government for failing to reduce the drink-drive limit. In fact, he said more pressure should have gone on from Kiwis to force a change, rather than pointing the finger at politicians. To clarify another point, he thinks between 16-30 lives a year would have been saved by lowering the limit. We apologise for those issues.

- Herald on Sunday