A coroner has called for the drinking age to be raised to 20 after a 19-year-old died after drinking a dozen beers and crashing into a truck.

Blenheim butcher George Bernard Holland died on August 6 last year in the early hours, when he failed to give way in his ute to an oncoming truck on a one-way bridge in Marlborough.

Holland collided head-on with the truck on the Wye River Bridge on State Highway 63.

Holland had drunk 12 Lion Double Brown cans of beer that night while on a "boys weekend" in Murchison, and also had MDMA (ecstasy) and cannabis in his system.


In his findings Coroner David Robinson recommended the Government raise the drinking age to 20.

"In the absence of individuals making responsible decisions around alcohol use and
adhering to restrictions imposed to protect them and their communities, it is incumbent on the state to further restrict access to alcohol."

The drinking age was lowered in New Zealand to 18 in December 1999.

"There appears to be incontrovertible evidence of a direct link between the lowering of the alcohol purchasing age in 1999 and an increase in the incidence of injury and fatal
accidents involving alcohol impaired drivers aged 15-19 years," Coroner Robinson said.

In his report, Coroner Robinson referenced extensive research into raising the drinking age, consistent with the recommendations of the Law Commission in 2010.

Even though the permissible alcohol level for drivers aged under 20 was lowered to 0 in 2011, two recent studies showed crashes affecting 15 to 19-year-olds where
alcohol was a factor increased from 102 in 2014 to 134 in 2015, and from 101 in 2016 to 142 in 2017.

The day before Holland died, he drove from Blenheim, where he lived with his parents, with seven of his friends for a "boys weekend" at an address in Murchison.

After they left the main road, Holland drank two beers before arriving at the house on Tutaki Valley Rd about 6pm.


His friend William van Asch, who travelled with Holland, told police he saw Holland drink about 10 cans of beer once at the house.

After an incident at the house, Holland and the group he travelled with decided to leave.

The plan was for Van Asch to drive Holland's ute to the main road, where Van Asch's girlfriend and a friend would act as sober drivers to get them home, leaving Holland's ute behind.

Holland appeared determined not to leave his ute behind, and Van Asch told police he had a "five-minute argument" with Holland that he should not be driving.

Eventually the group relented and it was agreed they would travel in convoy with Holland travelling behind the others.

They intended to pull off at Lake Rotoiti to "see how he was doing."


Van Asch's assessment was that Holland was "a bit drunk at this stage but not written-off".

As the group travelled towards St Arnaud, Holland overtook them, travelling at about 100 km/h.

They stopped at St Arnaud, as planned, but Holland had travelled on.

Leslie Kemp was driving a heavy truck and trailer unit from the opposite direction.

At about 1.40 am, he was approaching the one-way Wye River Bridge from the northern end, which gave him right of way, and had slowed to between 60 and 70km/h to negotiate it.

He noticed the headlights of a vehicle travelling towards him when he was about 50m from the bridge, but expected it to pull off to the left at the give way sign.


But Holland did not give way, and drove on to the bridge where there was a collision which Kemp described as an "explosion... in front of the truck".

Kemp reported the bonnet of the truck went up in flames and began to "lash up at the windscreen". Kemp and his passenger quickly exited the truck and moved to a safe location.

The front of Holland's ute was crushed and the whole vehicle was damaged by fire.

His friends saw the fire as they approached the bridge, before arriving and finding Holland dead. The Coroner found he died from "traumatic head injuries".

While Van Asch and others were to be "commended for their attempts to stop Mr
Holland from driving", Coroner Robinson said it was apparent the group had little knowledge of the effects of alcohol.

Van Asch appeared to believe that he would have been sober enough to drive having waited "a couple of hours" before driving, Robinson said.


"Waiting two hours to 'sober up' after having consumed a dozen cans of beer was
naïve at best.

"Much concern has been expressed of late as to New Zealand's increasing road toll.

"Ultimately the safety of road users comes down to the decision-making of individuals.

"Mr Holland's death, and untold others like it, could have been prevented by individuals applying common sense."

In response to Robinson's recommendation to raise the drinking age, Minister of Police Stuart Nash said the recommendation fell under the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice.

Minister of Transport Phil Twyford advised the coroner the findings fell within the responsibilities of Acting Associate Minister of Transport James Shaw. No "substantive response" was received from Shaw.


Minister of Health Dr David Clark noted the Coroner's comments, while no reply was received from Minister of Justice Andrew Little.