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Govt balks at lower alcohol limits for all

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Steven Joyce
Steven Joyce

Wellington, July 27 NZPA - Transport Minister Steven Joyce still thinks existing legal alcohol limits for drivers are "ridiculous" but he's not changing them.

The Government yesterday announced a zero drink drive limit for recidivist drink drivers and drivers aged under 20 from early next year but is reserving judgement on whether to lower the level for other drivers until more research is done.

Recidivist drivers would face the zero limit after their second drink driving conviction. It was proposed that after three years from the end of their disqualification period the zero limit would be lifted.

Drivers who caused death because of dangerous or drunken behaviour will face tougher jail sentences -- for example the maximum prison term for dangerous reckless driving causing death will be doubled to up to 10 years in prison. Charges of manslaughter or murder would remain at police discretion.

Also alcohol interlocks -- devices which stop a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking -- would be mandatory if ordered by a judge for repeat drink drivers. They will be user-pays, costing about $150 a month.

Alcohol is a factor in almost one in three fatal crashes.

"By targeting those identified as most likely to break the law - namely those with a history of offending and young people - we're confident we'll have a significant impact," Mr Joyce said.

Mr Joyce said the Government was yet to decide on whether to lower the blood alcohol limit from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 50mg for the rest of the population and wants more research done first.

Mr Joyce has previously said he could drink most of a bottle of wine in 1-1/2 hours but still drive legally and that was ridiculous. Yesterday he stood by that but said it was a personal remark about himself.

New Zealand-specific research would look at the level of risk posed by drivers with a blood alcohol limit of between 0.05 and 0.08 (50mg-80mg).

People involved in an accident where the police suspect alcohol was a factor will be asked to take a breath test. If they pass they will have to take a secondary test to measure their level of alcohol.

Currently people who pass the first test are not required to take a second one.

A law change is required to enable police to gather the data and the research would take two years from then.

Labour's Transport Safety spokeswoman Darien Fenton said her party supported lowering the limit and the announcement showed Mr Joyce had been over-ruled by his Cabinet colleagues.

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams said not reducing the limit was "gutless" and a missed opportunity.

At least 14 lives a year would be saved by lowering the limit, she said.

"We simply do not need more research to tell us this will effectively save lives and reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes on our roads."

Nearly 300 studies showed essential driving skills were significantly impaired at the current 80mg limit and public support for lowering the limit was growing, she said.

"This is a regrettable failure that leaves our Government with blood on its hands."

AA general manager of motoring affairs Mike Noon said the research was needed.

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