A Tauranga City councillor and bar owner has called on the Government to scrap plans to lower the blood alcohol limit, saying it will be an "inconvenience to everyday New Zealanders" and will not lower the number of fatalities on our roads.

Cabinet last night approved lowering the blood alcohol limit from 80mg per 100ml of blood to 50mg for drivers over 20.

The legislation to change the law will have its first reading in Parliament before Christmas says Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee.

Mr Brownlee said alcohol impairment was a major cause of road accidents in New Zealand, with an average of 61 fatalities, 244 serious injuries, and 761 minor injuries every year caused by at-fault drivers who have been drinking.


"The social cost of these injuries and fatalities is $446 million - a huge sum in a country of our size," he said.

A two-year review of the impact of a 30mg reduction in the legal limit suggested 3.4 lives would be saved and 64 injury-causing crashes avoided each year, equated to savings of $200 million in social costs over 10 years.

Under the changes, the penalty for returning a positive test between 50mg and 80mg would be a $200 fine and 50 demerit points. Testing positive to more than 80mg would remain a criminal offence. The change will bring New Zealand into line with Australia's legal alcohol limit of 50mg per 100ml of blood.

It has been applauded by some, including the New Zealand Transport Agency and Ken Evans, from Sensible Sentencing Tauranga, who said he would like to see the limit reduced even lower. "This is a great start but New Zealand is far behind the rest of the world," Mr Evans said.

"It has been .5 in Australia for a long time and in Scandinavia it is even lower at .2.

"When you look at our road toll, which is so shocking, you start to think, should we be congratulating ourselves for finally catching up on the rest of world?

"I think we could do better, but at least this is a start."

However, the Bay's bar owners are concerned their profits will drop under the proposed changes, with more people choosing to stay at home and drink.

Newly sworn in TCC councillor Clayton Mitchell, who is also the Hospitality New Zealand Bay of Plenty chairman, said the Government should leave the blood alcohol limit at 80mg per 100ml and instead impose harsher penalties for repeat drink drivers.

Mr Mitchell, who owns Mount Mellick and Ivory Boutique and Restaurant and Bar, both in Mount Maunganui, said the changes would result in a "breakdown in social engagement".

"This plan is not tackling the real problem, the repeat offenders who get back behind the wheel over and over again," he said.

"Instead it is inconveniencing the regular people who can normally go and have two or three drinks with a meal after work and catch up with friends.

"Now they will only be able to have one with a meal. I think we should be keeping the level the same but instead hand out harsher penalties for the people that go over or repeat offenders and I also think we need a sliding scale of punishment."

"This plan doesn't make a lot of sense and I don't see how it will lower the fatalities.

"All they have done is throw a blanket solution over the whole of New Zealand."

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams said the long overdue decision meant it could finally get on with the business of further reducing alcohol-related deaths and injuries on the roads.

"The research evidence is clear, the more alcohol in the system the greater the risk of being involved in an alcohol-related crash."