The proposal to lower the blood-alcohol limit for driving from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg dates back to at least 2001. That's when I wrote about the difficulties associated with it in Drinkers need method of measuring blood alcohol. My main issue with the suggestion back then was after a couple of drinks most of us have no reliable way of knowing our blood-alcohol level and lowering this level will only make this Russian Roulette-style game even riskier for those operating at its fringes.
But today there's clearly an appetite for taking a harder line on drink driving. Almost two-thirds of those in a recent Herald-DigiPoll survey supported lowering the limit. It seems there's a belief that our roads would be safer if the lawful blood-alcohol level was dropped; there's also a desire to align our limit with that of Australia, France and Germany.
But there's surprisingly little discussion about what impact the proposed measure may have on those people we ought to be very concerned about - that is: recidivist drink-drivers who seem to pay little attention to existing limits. What evidence exists to suggest that this group of dangerous offenders is likely to act more responsibly in the event of a law change?
If the drink drive limit is lowered, I predict that it's the behaviour of the law-abiding masses that will change. Taxis will do a roaring trade, sales of alcohol detectors will climb and non-alcoholic cocktails will become fashionable at last. I reckon it may also help fuel uncharacteristic binge drinking if people accustomed to having a couple of drinks on their way home from work each evening convert this to one massive night out each week (in a taxi or with a designated driver) to avoid falling foul of the reduced limit.
In 2009 a representative from CrossRoads, a Sensible Sentencing Trust subsidiary which aims "to remove hardcore impaired drivers from New Zealand's roads", told the NZ Herald: "Of the 30,000 drunk drivers convicted last year, 10,000 had one previous conviction and 1500 had at least four."
According to CrossRoad's website: "Currently there are over 3000 repeat drunk drivers on our roads with at least three convictions. Many offenders have 12 or more drunk driving convictions."
Surely, rather than the social drinkers, these repeat offenders with blatant disregard for blood-alcohol limits should be firmly in the sights of drink-drive lobbyists and lawmakers. CrossRoads suggests offenders should be faced with significant repercussions such as lifetime driving bans, permanent confiscation of vehicles and (if fatalities result) charges that include manslaughter or murder rather than "driving with excess alcohol causing death".
I don't imagine that simply lowering the legal drink-drive limit will change the behaviour of those recidivist drunk drivers in any meaningful way. This proposed law change seems to be aimed at inconveniencing responsible drinkers and is unlikely to have much impact on the habits of those hardcore drunk drivers who surely should be the target of any changes.
What are your thoughts on the drink-drive alcohol limit? Are you one of the 65 per cent that thinks it should be lowered? If so, what are your reasons for supporting it?