Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Fines backed for low-level drink drivers

Police have long lobbied for the lower limit and stricter penalties. Photo / Thinkstock
Police have long lobbied for the lower limit and stricter penalties. Photo / Thinkstock

A move to fine lower-level drink-drivers $200, but not impose criminal convictions is widely backed, a Herald-DigiPoll survey shows.

The law change would lower the breath-alcohol limit for adult drivers from 400 to 250 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath. Those caught driving between the new limit and the old limit would be fined $200 and lose 50 demerit points.

The blood alcohol limit would also drop from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood. This meant the amount drivers could consume and stay under the limit would drop by two to three beers.

The issue has stirred debate among MPs, who disagreed about how low the alcohol level should be set, how punitive the penalty should be and whether the Government should have acted more quickly.

Police have long lobbied for the lower limit and stricter penalties, which would bring New Zealand into line with most developed countries.

The poll found support for the option taken by Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee, who opted for a less punitive policy.

The survey showed that 65 per cent of New Zealanders agreed that the policy would encourage people to drink less. Only 28 per cent felt that the lower limit should have been made a criminal offence.

Mr Brownlee said the change would save 3.4 lives a year and prevent 64 injuries, leading to savings of around $200 million over 10 years.

In introducing the legislation to impose the sanctions, he said the change would also save a "huge amount of misery" for families who were affected by alcohol-related road accidents.

Labour had sought a tougher policy, and MP Iain Lees-Galloway had tabled a bill which would have made it a criminal offence to drive after drinking more than the lower limit.

He said he was not surprised by the poll result.

"I think the Government's decision to use the infringement offence approach means they had probably done their own polling on the issue before they announced the policy."

He said the poll was not a vindication for using infringement offences for low-level drunk driving.

"The only thing that will vindicate that approach is a reduction of the number of people killed or injured in alcohol-related accidents.

"That may or may not happen. I'm looking forward to seeing the evidence for and against each option at select committee.

"I hope the final decision about which approach to use is based on evidence, not polling."

AA spokesman Mike Noon said the poll result was "completely and utterly" consistent with polling of AA members.

About two-thirds supported the proposed changes, he said.

"Some people are going to have to go through a transition," Mr Noon said.

"[But] if you're going to be drinking then you shouldn't be driving."

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams said it supported the use of infringement notices for lower-end drink drivers.

"The key to this change is the change in alcohol level, not the penalties."

- additional reporting Ben Irwin

- NZ Herald

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