Every time a person is injured or killed in a drink driving crash it's estimated to cost the New Zealand taxpayer more than $117,000, new data reveals.
The financial costs come with a stark warning from experts who say stronger policies are needed to prevent the harm caused by alcohol and the massive debt future generations will be forced to pay.
Exclusive figures - released by ACC under the Official Information Act to the Helen Clark Foundation - shows that between 2016 and 2020 nearly 10,000 claims relating to alcohol-related crashes were accepted. This equated to roughly more than five claims a day.
On average, ACC projected each claimant would be paid out $117,351 for life-time costs, totalling $1.16 billion of taxpayer money from that five year snapshot of crashes where police identified alcohol as a factor.
The costs cover compensation for loss of income, medical treatment and rehabilitation.
When someone had died, payments were made to surviving spouse and children which included funeral costs, survivors grants, child care, and compensation for loss of income.
A geographic breakdown, based on the location of the crash, showed an uneven burden of cost. The highest cost per person was in rural districts such as Wairoa, Westland and Mackenzie.
Costs obtained didn't include the emotional toll - grief experienced by loved ones, frontline staff attending horrific accidents and medical staff dealing with trauma in emergency departments.
National Road Policing Director Superintendent Steve Greally said road deaths were not just numbers and police officers never lost sight of the real human loss and grieving behind every death on the road.
"That is the highest cost."
Helen Clark Foundation spokesman Matt Shand said the take-away message from the data was that there are many hidden costs that come with alcohol consumption.
"Regardless of whether, or how much, we drink this is a massive debt that (has) to be repaid by future generations in ACC levies," Shand said.
The funding for alcohol-related crashes comes from motor vehicle levies such as registrations and petrol tax. The more alcohol-related crashes there are, the higher levies will get.
Shand said medical facilities, emergency departments, paramedics and police are already struggling to keep up with workloads. Alcohol consumption only adds to that.
"The big question is how much harm are we willing to accept."
Lifetime costs are calculated using historical data of people with similar injuries and estimates of how long they would need ACC support for, an ACC spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said if the injured person was young and expected to live for longer, it's likely to cost the taxpayer far more than an older person who had less time to live.
Of the total $1.6 b worth of lifetime costs, the biggest spend ($525 million) was from people who had suffered fractures and dislocations in alcohol-related crashes.
Australasian College for Emergency Medicines (ACEM) president John Bonning said at worst one in four people presenting to EDs were alcohol and drug-related and at best it was one in eight.
"It's disappointing drink driving is still such a huge problem, especially because all drug and alcohol-related incidents are preventable, frustratingly preventable," he said.
Bonning - who is also a practising ED specialist at Waikato Hospital - said the worst part was the innocent victims injured by drink drivers.
"You want people to understand the consequences of their actions before they do something stupid ... you want them to think 'what if I hit a pedestrian ... nobody wants to hurt or injury an innocent third party."
Broken down by year, in 2016 there were 1337 claims made to ACC from alcohol-related crashes with an estimated life-long cost of $172,875,177.
That cost hiked to $323,323,686 in 2018 with 2081 claims made. It then dropped to $163,069,697 in 2020 from 1937 claims which experts said was likely to be due to fewer people being on the road during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The highest number of claims (2653) were recorded in 2019 but it cost less at $282,044,469 than the year before.
Greally said police were often the first to the scene of a crash and were also the ones who had to deliver the message that a friend or family member had been harmed or died from a road crash.
"We urge everyone to drive to the conditions, wear a seatbelt, don't drive tired or after drinking or taking drugs, and to put the mobile phone away so that drivers aren't distracted."
Shand said there was good evidence to suggest that reducing the hours off-licences could open, removing advertising and sponsorship of sports teams, and increasing excise taxes could all reduce alcohol consumption and reduce these flow-on costs.
"It has been about 10 years since the Law Commission suggested these policies as effective measures to reduce alcohol-related harm in New Zealand, but they were not implemented."
Justice minister Kris Faafoi has said he was committed to a review of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act this term.
The HCF sought the data as part of an ongoing project into the impact of alcohol-related harm in Aotearoa New Zealand, which was due to be released in the next month.
The foundation was working in partnership with the Health Coalition Aotearoa and the MAS Foundation.