Two Drinks Max: Tough drink drive talk in Oz

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The National-led Government will keep the blood alcohol limit at 80mg - for now. Photo / Herald on Sunday
The National-led Government will keep the blood alcohol limit at 80mg - for now. Photo / Herald on Sunday

John Key's Government continues to refuse to reduce the drink-drive limit but in Australia debate has started on radical new proposals that may reshape driving habits there.

The Australian Transport Council this week released a discussion document calling for the national alcohol limit to be reduced to 20mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. Some states, such as Victoria, already have a limit of 50mg, which is 30mg lower than New Zealand's 80mg.

The council called for a "major shift in thinking by governments and the community". It said in Sweden there was a 10 per cent reduction in drink-driving fatalities when the limit was cut from 50mg to 20mg.

In Victoria, 18 to 25 year olds make up 13 per cent of licensed drivers but 36 per cent of all drink drivers killed in road crashes.

Catherine King, the Ballarat MP in charge of road safety, said: "Lower blood alcohol limits may not be popular and may not be practical but it's a discussion for the community to have.

If people are not prepared to accept these things, are they prepared to accept the road toll staying as it is?"

The report says road crashes claim 1500 Australian lives each year and leave 30,000 people in hospital. The cost to society is $27 billion, plus the human toll of lives cut short while others suffer pain, grief and suffering.

It reveals the target set a decade ago to cut the toll by 40 per cent will not be met. It is down just 27 per cent. The new target for 2020 is to cut the road toll by a further 30 per cent.

Leading accident researcher Dr Bruce Corben, from Monash University's Accident Research Centre, said a 20mg limit would be easier to judge for drivers.

In New Zealand, the Government says it needs local research before agreeing to proposals to cut the limit to 50mg. That appears at least two years away.

Meanwhile, National is refusing to say whether it has taken election funding from major breweries in recent years.

Law changes since 2002 mean that donations of $10,000 or more must be declared and both DB Breweries and Lion Nathan said no money was donated to any political party.

However, Progressive leader Jim Anderton said the law change didn't stop National from taking repeated donations of "$9999.99" from those in the hospitality industry.

"You get 100 of these, then you can get away with it." Something had to explain National's lack of urgency on the issue, he said.

National president Peter Goodfellow said no information would be released about political donors. He said the party complied with the law.

"I don't want to sound cagey on this - the law has changed and we comply with the law. It's easy to make allegations that have no basis."

- Herald-Sun and David Fisher

- Herald on Sunday

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