Two Drinks Max: Watchdog says stats misleading

By Leigh van der Stoep

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First-time offenders feature heavily in drink-driving deaths for last year. Photo / Herald on Sunday
First-time offenders feature heavily in drink-driving deaths for last year. Photo / Herald on Sunday

"New evidence" released by the Government last week in a bid to justify its refusal to lower drink-drive alcohol limits has been tagged as misleading by an alcohol watchdog.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce released the statistics last week - which claimed that 72 per cent of alcohol-related deaths on the roads were caused by drivers who were either blind-drunk or repeat offenders. The release was seized on by some media outlets and labelled "new evidence" that backed the Government stance.

But further analysis of the Minister's numbers reveals the sort of statistics the Ministry of Transport has used to back its earlier recommendation for a reduction in the limit - 61.4 per cent of deaths in drink-drive crashes last year were caused by first-time offenders.

That compares to 63.6 per cent the previous year and 54.3 per cent over the years 2005 to 2007. It debunks the theory that repeat offenders are the main problem on the roads.

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams said the presentation of the Minister's figures was "misleading" and suited the Government's view.

Joyce was quoted backing the statistics, saying they showed a "hard core" of drink-drivers were killing on our roads and there was no "silver bullet", such as lowering the limits.

"I think it's valid to challenge the presentation of the statistics," Williams said. "When I read it, I thought, 'What? Where's this journalist going with this?' I thought it was quite dangerous. It's still well more than half [of drivers who are first offenders]."

Although 56 per cent of the 88 deaths caused by drink-drive crashes last year involved drivers who were more than twice the legal limit, the Government does not have figures on how many deaths were caused by drivers below the 80mg level.

Williams said reducing the blood alcohol limits would have a greater impact on drivers with no previous drink-drive convictions.

The Ministry recommended the limit cut as one of 33 recommendations to come out of a review of the Road Safety to 2010 Strategy by international road safety expert Jeanne Breen.

"Reducing the blood alcohol level from 80 to 50mg/100ml, in line with international good practice, is the only drinking and driving countermeasure not yet implemented which could produce significant savings - in this case a 4.5 per cent reduction in social cost by 2010 (a reduction of $103 million annually) - and save 14 lives and 260 injuries annually," the recommendation read.

- Herald on Sunday

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