4 Nov 2013

Government to lower blood alcohol limit

9:00 pm on 4 November 2013

The Government intends lowering the blood alcohol limit for drivers over the age of 20.

The limit will be reduced from the current level of 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, to 50 milligrams.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee. Photo: RNZ

In 2010, the Government introduced a zero blood alcohol limit for those aged under 20, but deferred a change for older drivers until more research was done.

Prime Minister John Key said on Monday the main purpose of the change is to improve road safety.

"What this means is that more than a hundred fewer people are likely to die on the roads this year than in 2009. This is no coincidence. Younger drivers have been a focus for the Government, we've bought in tougher testing, raised the driving age."

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says a breach of the new limit will be treated as a civil, not criminal, offence.

"Between 51 and 80 micrograms per litre of blood alcohol, that $200 fine applies with 50 demerit points as well."

The minister he told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme that lowering the blood alcohol limit will send a clear message that drink-driving is not a smart move.

"I think it's not an unreasonable threshold, otherwise you're casting a very large number of people potentially into the criminal zone, and I think people should be able to take time to adjust to these things."

Mr Brownlee says drivers should keep in mind that 100 demerit points in a two-year period can lead to a three-month suspension of their licence, and those caught with more than 80 milligrams will still face a criminal charge.

The Government's move pre-empts a members' bill put forward by Labour's Iain Lees-Galloway, but the MP says the law change is timely and well-supported.

"It's really good, I think they've made the right decision. I think Cabinet has finally seen sense, they've followed the evidence, they clearly followed public opinion.

"There's been a few polls out in the last few days and I'm sure the National Party's been doing their own polling that tells them that the vast majority of New Zealanders support this move."

Mr Lees-Galloway says it's a pity the law change wasn't introduced years earlier, but it's clear the Government was listening to key groups such as the Automobile Association and the hospitality industry, which he says at one stage were opposed to any change.

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams says a longer, more drawn-out fight to reduce the blood alcohol limit had been expected. She believes the decision is long overdue and will save lives.

"Bringing the level down is about bringing the whole public tolerance of drink-driving down. It's about shifting people's behaviour down just that little bit more than from where it is at the moment. Obviously, we can save lives within that threshold, but I think we can save lives by reducing the limit and sending that really strong message that drinking and driving really don't mix."

The legislation will have its first reading before Parliament rises for the Christmas break.