Government changes creating a zero drink-drive limit for under 20 and recidivist drink drivers found widespread support this afternoon, but both the Labour Party and an alcohol watchdog say the moves don't go far enough.
Transport Minister Steven Joyce today announced a zero drink drive limit for recidivist drink drivers and drivers aged under 20 from early next year.
It will be imposed on drivers after their second drink driving conviction and is likely to last three years after their disqualification period ends.
But the Government didn't lower the legal adult blood-alcohol limit from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 50 milligrams.
Mr Joyce said that the Government will first do some New Zealand-specific research on the level of risk posed by drivers with a blood alcohol limit between 0.05 and 0.08.
Critics - Govt has failed to act
But Labour said the Government had attempted to kick the issue of drink driving into touch by postponing a decision.
Labour's transport safety spokeswoman Darien Fenton said the Government had failed to act decisively over the issue.
"Anything that will save lives on our roads is worth doing," he said.
Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams said not reducing the limit was "gutless" and a missed opportunity.
At least 14 lives a year would be saved by lowering the limit, she said.
"We simply do not need more research to tell us this will effectively save lives and reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes on our roads.
"This is a regrettable failure that leaves our Government with blood on its hands."
AA general manager of motoring affairs Mike Noon welcomed the announcement the Government would undertake research on lowering the blood alcohol limit and the tough stand on recidivist drivers.
"We are talking about seriously drunk people who are blatantly ignoring the current rules. We want them off the road."
The Government should commit resources to alcohol assessment and treatment to help people deal with their addiction, Mr Noon said.
A second, lower, blood alcohol limit for younger people was confusing so a zero limit for under 20-year-olds was good, he said.
Other changes, tougher penalties
Under other changes, drivers who cause death because of dangerous or drunken behaviour will face tougher jail sentences and the Government will introduce alcohol interlocks - devices which stop a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking - for repeat drink drivers.
The interlocks will be user pays and be used at a judge's discretion. They cost about $150 a month.
Cabinet has also asked for more work to be done on penalties for the most serious repeat drink drive offenders.
Mr Joyce said alcohol was a factor in almost one in three fatal crashes, and that current policies are not having a big enough impact, particularly where repeat offenders and young offenders are concerned.
"By targeting those identified as most likely to break the law - namely those with a history of offending and young people - we're confident we'll have a significant impact," says Mr Joyce.
The research into the blood-alcohol limit will include the number of serious and fatal crashes caused by those drivers with a blood or breath alcohol level between 0.05 and 0.08.
"The Government will make a law change to allow that data to be collected by police in these crashes."
This research will be carried out over a period of two years following the law change.
"We need to ensure that New Zealanders understand the difference between 0.05 and 0.08 and what the likely impact a change would have on the road toll.
Cabinet today agreed to strengthen penalties for the following offences:
*Drink/drug driving causing death.
*Dangerous/reckless driving causing death.
*Illegal street racing causing death.
*Failing to stop after a crash when someone is killed.
*The maximum prison term for dangerous / reckless driving causing death will be doubled to up to 10 years in prison.
Mr Joyce said the penalties for these offences were last reviewed in 1962, and changes were well overdue.
Charges of manslaughter or murder would remain as an option for police in cases that warrant them.
Legislation for these changes will be in place by early next year.By Derek Cheng Email Derek