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The Government has been accused of "backing legal drunk driving" by ignoring official advice and delaying lowering the drink-driving limit.

Last month the Government announced it would wait for New Zealand-specific research over the next two years before deciding whether to lower the blood alcohol limit from 80mg per 100ml of blood to 50mg (0.08g to 0.05g).

Papers obtained under the Official Information Act showed lowering the limit was the best action to reduce the number of people killed by drunk drivers.

The Transport Ministry said reducing the level could save 33 lives, prevent up to 680 injuries, and save up to $238 million every year.

Professor Jennie Connor, from the University of Otago, said Prime Minister John Key and Transport Minister Steven Joyce needed to explain why they were prepared to sacrifice the lives of New Zealanders and the dollars in social costs each year.

"The fact that the Government is prepared to ignore 300 international studies, the experience of the majority of developed countries including Australia, and the advice of their own Ministry of Transport is staggering," Professor Connor said.

"It shows a callous disregard for victims of drink-driving,"

She said a clue to the Government's reluctance cames from recently revealed internal documents of the alcohol industry where lowering the blood alcohol level for driving was listed as "one of the main fears the industry has about changing social policy on alcohol".

National Addiction Centre director Professor Doug Sellman said the alcohol industry needed people to be able to drink a lot socially and still be legally able to drive their cars home.

"A standard scientific definition of intoxication is 50mg alcohol in 100ml of blood (0.05g), which means the current adult alcohol limit in New Zealand of 0.08 is legalised drunk driving."

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said lowering the blood alcohol limit was an emotional and contentious issue that had been debated for years.

"There is a sizeable body that wants it to happen and there is a sizeable body of people who are worried that they'll be criminalised for doing nothing more than having one or two drinks before they drive and they feel that they'd be quite safe in doing that."