Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Cut drink-drive limit: poll

65 per cent back slashing level to 50mg, but researcher says Govt would need to weigh benefits against inconvenience.

Photo / APN
Photo / APN

Nearly two-thirds of New Zealanders support lowering the drink-drive limit - although the Government says it won't act until more research is carried out.

A Herald-DigiPoll summer survey found 65 per cent backing for cutting the limit from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg.

Research shows an average-sized adult male can consume about six alcoholic drinks in 90 minutes before hitting the current limit.

The limit has been dubbed "legal drink driving" by critics, but the Government has said it will not decide on lowering it until more research is complete.

It expects to receive data from the Ministry of Transport and a driver-simulation study from Waikato University next year.

Yesterday, national road policing manager Superintendent Carey Griffiths said he backed a reduction.

Drivers at or around the current limit were too intoxicated to drive safely, and dropping the limit would not overly restrict most people, he said.

"For most people two drinks is well under [50mg]. It's not about stopping people enjoying a drink, it's about reducing the risk to everyone."

Mr Griffiths said Ministry of Transport research showed that at the current limit, drivers aged over 30 were about 16 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than if they were sober.

At 50mg, a fatal crash is 5.8 times more likely.

Labour's spokesman for transport safety, Iain Lees-Galloway, said the poll result was unsurprising.

"The law as it currently is allows for legal drunk driving ... New Zealanders appreciate that, and want to see the law changed."

Mr Lees-Galloway said New Zealand's limit was among the highest in the world. Australia, France and Germany were among countries that had a limit of 50mg.

He said research showed a marked decrease in the number of very drunk drivers in Australia after the limit was dropped to 50mg there.

"Once they get over [50mg], they are actually too drunk to make a decision about whether or not they are sober enough to drive."

Statistics recently released to the Herald on Sunday by the Ministry of Transport show that in the past four years, 20 people have been killed in road accidents involving drinking drivers just below the legal limit.

However, University of Canterbury senior lecturer Eric Crampton - who is researching the effects of a drop in limit - said further analysis was needed.

Sober people had serious accidents too, he said, and it was necessary to determine how many people were driving within the 50mg-80mg range, not just the number of crashes.

The Government would need to weigh the benefits of reducing the drink-drive limit with any resulting costs.

"How many people have a slightly less enjoyable night out than they otherwise would?

"That sounds terrible, but it's the same kind of calculation as if we would reduce the speed limit down to 30km/h. We'd save some lives, but we'd inconvenience a lot of people."

Me a drunk? Are you kidding?

There may be a few sore heads and regrets this morning - but the vast majority of Kiwis are not concerned about their drinking.

A Herald-DigiPoll survey found 92.7 per cent are not worried about their alcohol consumption.

Just 4.6 per cent of the 500 adults polled thought they drank too much.

Thirty-two per cent of respondents said they "almost never" drank alcohol, 37 per cent said they did once or twice a week, 16 per cent had three or four drinks a week, and 13 per cent admitted to having five or more.

Dr Andrew Hearn of the Health Promotion Agency said while the poll showed Kiwis weren't concerned about their drinking, research showed the prevalence of risky drinking was high here.

A Ministry of Health survey showed that 61 per cent of those who had drunk alcohol in the previous year had consumed more than the recommended levels at least once.

One in eight drinkers had consumed more than the recommended guidelines more than once a week during the past year.

Dr Hearn said many people underestimated the amount they drank.

There were a number of things people could do to address risky drinking, including knowing what a standard drink is, and tracking both daily and weekly alcohol consumption.

The advice for low-risk drinking is two standard drinks a day (and no more than 10 a week) for women, and no more than three standard drinks a day (and 15 a week) for men. At least two days should be alcohol-free.

- NZ Herald

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