3 Mar 2010

Government rejects criticism over drink-drive limit

10:37 pm on 3 March 2010

The Government is rejecting criticism it is not moving quickly enough to lower the blood-alcohol limit for adults.

Lobby group Alcohol Healthwatch made the claim on Wednesday after the Government released its proposed 10-year strategy to improve safety on New Zealand roads.

Young drivers and repeat drink-drivers are the main target of the plan, unveiled at Parliament, to cut the number of road deaths and injuries.

The strategy recommends a zero alcohol limit for drivers aged under 20 and the Government has already indicated it is likely to raise the driving age from 15 to 16.

The strategy proposes lowering the blood-alcohol concentration in adults from 80 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood (0.08) to 50mg per 100ml (0.05), or conducting more research on the issue.

It advocates changing the present law so that all traffic turning right at intersections must give way. It believes this would simplify decision-making and could reduce crashes by up to 7%, saving $17 million a year.

Other changes include licences for moped riders, boosting the number of supervised driving hours to 120 for restricted licences, and a zero-alcohol limit for repeat drink-drivers.

Transport Minster Steven Joyce says none of the measures are a silver bullet on their own, but combined, they can make a real difference to the road toll.

Mr Joyce defended the Government's targeting of young drivers, saying their safety remains a big issue.

"We can debate until the cows come home which of those initiatives is the most important. But the reality is, nearly all of Australian states have these laws in place today and their youth fatality rate is 60% lower than ours."

However, the minister said evidence of the benefits of lowering the breath-alcohol limit for all drivers is inconclusive, and there is no point legislating for something without widespread support.

The Cabinet will consider the proposals before May.

Unacceptable delay - lobby group

Alcohol Healthwatch says the Government is delaying life-saving moves to lower the drink-driving limit for adults.

The Government has suggested the possibility of more research as an alternative, but the lobby group says that is an unacceptable delay when there is already a large amount of research available.

It says adults set the standards for younger drivers, but the Government wants to avoid upsetting voters.

However, Transport Minister Steven Joyce says the reality is many drivers already think the alcohol limit is lower than it is.

Young drivers being made scapegoats - Greens

The Green Party accused the Government of making young drivers scapegoats while failing to address the wider issue of alcohol consumption.

Green MP Gareth Hughes says the Government needs to respond to the advice that between 15 and 30 lives a year could be saved from lowering the blood-alcohol limit.

The Labour Party says if National was serious about the safety of young drivers, it could adopt a bill introduced by Labour, which is now languishing at select committee stage.

The ACT Party says while it supports any initiative which improves road safety, it is concerned by plans to raise the driving age to 16, fearing it will disadvantage rural communities.