New Zealand's unique right-hand rule, a relic of an old Melbourne tram system and cause of 2560 crashes a year, has been marked to be reversed by Transport Minister Steven Joyce.

The rule change is part of the Safer Journeys 10-year road safety strategy, released this morning by Transport Minister Steven Joyce. It also targets young drivers, drink drivers and motorcyclists.

New Zealand is the only country in the world to have the right hand rule, where a car making a big turn to the right across oncoming traffic goes before an oncoming car making a little turn to its left into the same road.

It was introduced in 1977 shadowing changes in Victoria, Australia, which made the rule to help trams on Melbourne's streets, according to the Automobile Association.

But Victoria changed back in 1993 and experienced a decline in intersection crashes, leaving New Zealand on its own.

Mr Joyce described the right-hand rule as "confusing", and needed to be put in line with the rest of the world.

But a change would have to be accompanied by a mass media campaign - to avoid further driver confusion.

Cabinet will consider the issue later in the year and public input will be sought. The New Zealand Transport Agency will lead a media campaign.

The Automobile Association said it supported the change. There was evidence that the give-way rules were a factor in the 2560 intersection crashes, and one or two deaths, each year.

The Government is also considering lowering the alcohol limit for adult drivers as part of a range of measures announced today to make roads safer.

In brief, the Government is considering:

* Changing the give-way rules
* Lowering the alcohol limit from 80mg/100ml blood to 50mg/100ml
* A zero blood alcohol limit for recidivist drink drivers
* A zero blood alcohol limit for those aged under 20
* Compulsory alcohol interlocks
* Reviewing traffic offences and penalties for drink drivers
* Raising the driving age to 16
* Making young drivers undergo 120 hours supervised driving
* A power to weight ratio for young drivers and novice motorcyclists
* Requiring licensing of mopeds
* Measures to improve motorcycle rider training
* A classification system for the roading network

Proposed changes to the give-way rules would go to Cabinet later this year and public input would be sought, Mr Joyce said. The New Zealand Transport Agency would develop a mass media campaign before changes came in.

Mr Joyce said research showed that a law change could reduce crashes at intersections by seven per cent.

Blood alcohol limit

Mr Joyce said Cabinet had not yet decided about whether or not to reduce the current adult blood alcohol consumption limit from 80mg/100ml (0.08) to 50mg/100ml (0.05).

"This is a very finely balanced argument and we need to ensure that New Zealanders understand the difference between 0.05 and 0.08 and what impact a change would have on the road toll," Mr Joyce said.

Australian guidelines said that for women (of average height and weight) 0.05 equated to one standard drink per hour. For men (again of average height and weight), it equated to two standard drinks in the first hour and one standard drink per hour afterwards.

A limit of 0.08 allowed a man to consume six standard drinks within 90 minutes; for a woman it allowed four standard drinks to be consumed.

Most New Zealanders, when asked, Mr Joyce said, agreed the limit should be lower but were split when asked if it should be lowered to 0.05.

"I've said all along that road safety measures only work if they have the broad support of road users - and we'd want to be sure New Zealanders understand the benefits of a change and support it before proceeding."

Crashes involving drugs and alcohol killed 119 people in 2008 and seriously injured 582 more people.

"It's clear that we still have a sizeable drink driving problem in New Zealand. If we can get it under control, we'll see a dramatic reduction in the overall road toll," Mr Joyce said.

Mr Joyce said the law changes will be taken to Cabinet next month. The changes also include compulsory alcohol interlocks, a zero drink drive limit for recidivist drink drivers and a zero drink drive limit for drivers under 20.

It will also include a review of the traffic offences and penalties for repeat offenders and drink driving causing death and serious injury "Either lowering the legal blood alcohol concentration from 0.08 to 0.05, or conducting New Zealand specific research on the level of risk posed by drivers with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08," Mr Joyce said.

He said changes to legislation will be in place by the end of 2010.

Teen drivers

Mr Joyce confirmed measures tackling teen driver problems, including better education.

He said raising the driving age to 16 would mean drivers would be at least 16 and-a-half by the time they got behind the wheel by themselves.

Young drivers would also have to undergo 120 hours supervised driving and have a zero blood alcohol level. The Government would also look at a power to weight ratio for vehicles owned by young people.

Mr Joyce said a similar law would be looked at for motorcyclists which are 18 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than car drivers.

He said he would take that package of measures to Cabinet this month to try to reduce high rates of youth involved in serious and fatal accidents.

"A disproportionate number of young New Zealanders die on our roads - young Kiwis have a 60 per cent higher fatality rate on the roads than young Australians," Mr Joyce said.

He said young drivers made up 14.5 per cent of New Zealand's population and 16 per cent of all licensed drivers, but in 2008 they were involved in around 38 per cent of all serious injury crashes.
"And between 2000 and 2008 the number of people killed or seriously injured in a crash where a young driver was at fault has increased by about 17 per cent," Mr Joyce said.

The government will face opposition from groups, including farmers, over the age change.

Federated Farmers transport spokesman Donald Aubrey yesterday said: "This may work in Kelburn, but not in Kerikeri. Public transport is almost non-existent in rural areas where driving isn't a rite of passage, it's an essential part of life."

Motorcyclists also got special attention with Cabinet to consider later in the year measures to improve motorcycle rider training and licensing and require licensing of mopeds. The Government also intended to introduce a power-to-weight restriction for novice riders which would be consulted on through the select committee process.

The New Zealand Transport Agency would also work on improving safety on high risk rural roads and high risk intersections and develop a classification system for the roading network.

Mr Joyce said dual carriage highways had been planned for Auckland to Cambridge.

Mr Joyce thanked the 1500 people who had made submissions to the Safer Journeys programme last year, saying any changes would need the buy-in of the New Zealand public if they were to happen.

"If we are going to be successful we need to take New Zealanders with us. There will never be a cop around every corner enforcing the law," Mr Joyce said.

"The roads belong to everyone. Roads are where we meet and hopefully pass each other safely."

- NZPA and NZ Herald staff