Over the weekend, the NZ Herald launched its ‘Two Drinks Max’ campaign, aimed at persuading the Government to lower the drink driving limit.

The campaign calls for the drink driving limit to be lowered from 0.08mg to 0.05mg (of alcohol per 100 ml of blood), the same as Australia, Japan and most of Europe. The Government contends that ‘more research’ is needed to establish the efficacy of such a change.

Rubbish … as the Herald eloquently argues in the editorial reproduced in full below. Their summation: “We don’t need local research any more than we need a local study of the health effects of cigarette smoking before we toughen laws governing the sale of tobacco. We need political conviction. We need politicians with guts.”

There are three steps you can take:

1. Go here to join the ‘Two Drinks Max’ campaign yourself and voice your opinion in the Herald’s national poll.

2. Make your views known to MPs Tremain and Foss.

3. Urge the Hastings and Napier Councils, and the District Health Board, to pass resolutions supporting the ‘Two Drinks Max’ campaign. Many of our Councillors during their campaigns railed against the personal and social harm caused by alcohol abuse. Here is their chance to put their votes behind their rhetoric … to show their guts.

Tom Belford

Here’s the case as made by the NZ Herald:

The Government believes New Zealand drivers aren’t ready to moderate their drinking. We know they are. So take responsibility for keeping our roads safe by signing up: Two Drinks Max.

– Sign up at nzherald.co.nz here
– Sign up on Facebook here
– Use #2DrinksMax to show support on Twitter

In matters of public policy, the default position should always be the one that confers the greatest likely benefit. Caution, not recklessness, should prevail.

That should go without saying. But politicians, fearful of offending sectional interests, often mistake caution for inaction. Preserving the status quo is least likely to have electoral consequences.

That has been the fate of the proposal to lower the blood-alcohol limit at which a driver may legally get behind the wheel of a car.

In August, the Government ruled out lowering the blood-alcohol limit from 80mg per 100ml of blood to 50mg, despite unambiguous advice from its officials that such a move would significantly reduce the number of people killed by drunk drivers.

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

The “could” is the important word here, of course: the figures are based not on research conducted in this country, but extrapolated from an aggregation of more than 300 international studies and from the experience of other developed countries that have cut the limit.

In Queensland, for example, they lowered the limit 25 years ago.

In the next year the number of deaths dropped by almost 20 per cent and serious injuries by almost 15. Lowering the limit also plainly moderated the behaviour of the drivers who were well over the 80mg limit: those who blew above 100mg dropped by up to two-thirds.

Yet, in line with the Key administration’s policy of never making a move without scenting the air, the Government has gutlessly decided it will wait for New Zealand-specific research before making a call.

That will take two years: before the research can even begin, the law will need to be changed so that the numbers of drivers involved in crashes who are under the existing limit but over the proposed one can be recorded. And in that two years, about 60 people will die needlessly.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce says that lowering the blood-alcohol limit is “an emotional and contentious issue that has been debated for years”. He’s got that right. And it’s time for the debate to stop and action to start.

Joyce also claims that many people “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”.

That is just plain wrong, either wilfully or ignorantly. As the name of the campaign we are launching today plainly shows, “one or two drinks” do not pose a problem.

Supervised experiments, conducted using staff of this paper and the New Zealand Herald, have shown how easy it is to drink to a level where your driving is seriously impaired, without exceeding the legal limit of 80mg/100ml.

An opinion poll conducted for the Ministry of Transport shows that 85 per cent of us already believe two drinks is the max.

We don’t need local research any more than we need a local study of the health effects of cigarette smoking before we toughen laws governing the sale of tobacco. We need political conviction. We need politicians with guts.

Drink driving is killing us and this morning the Herald on Sunday – and the personalities who have made the “two drinks max” pledge – are embarking on a campaign to shame the pollies into action. We make no apology for doing so. It’s a matter of life and death.

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4 Comments

  1. you read about drink driving deaths all the time, but how often does it say “killed by a driver that had been drinking but was within the legal limit”? Or even “gave a reading of 0.09, just over the legal limit”. No, the articles you see all the time are about someone 2 or 3 times the legal limit, with 5 past convictions and unable to speak at the time. Typical of all these initiatives, they look to tinker around the finges,but not confront the meat of the problem.

    There was some data presented a few years back and the risk profile shot up like a hockey stick after the 0.08 level – not before. The real problem is the drivers that are legless and don’t care. It’s time to take a hard line on our culture of excessive drinking. Go for a walk through Havelock North at 1am and you will see what I mean. For me there are people in an unacceptable condition to even walk home.

    Moving responsible people from ‘three drinks max’ to ‘two drinks max’ is trivial tinkering. Targeting the drivers at 0.06 simply does not address the problem. It’s like lifting the tax on cigarettes another 50c a packet. Government should leave well alone if it can’t come up with policies with balls. But the NZ public are a delicate bunch and of late seem to favour politicians that have a nice smile. We’d vote in the goddam Dalai Lama given the chance. In fact any lama would do. John Key even…

  2. Paul is completely right. I was at Tremain's public meeting on alcohol reform and saw you there Tom. I made essentially the same argument as the Herald.

    We need politicians with balls who are not afraid to stand up and do what they know is for the best, even if this may not be popular. The Maori party taking on smoking for example, was one of the few acts of genuine leadership I have seen in a very long time.

    We all know there is a problem. However, no one is willing to tackle it. The proposed alcohol reform produces a lot of smoke, but bugger all fire; it's the allusion of a solution.

    I for one, think it's fascicle to have admitted a problem with our drinking culture, but be waiting until after the RWC to implement any change. Time for one last big booze up aye?

  3. People need to appreciate that .05 is probably more than four drinks over two hours. I would not trust myself to drive if I had consumed that much. However I am a light drinker and have not built up a high tolerance to alcohol. I am glad about that because I respect my body and have no wish to die of the many alcohol related diseases, nor cause the taxpayer huge expense in the process. We have experimented with loosening policy around guns, gambling – unfortunate experiments. Lets get a bit sensible about alcohol, now officially the most harmful substance you can consume.

  4. Also, in my job, I have used a police calibrated breathalyser to detect if people have been drinking. We stopped using this device because, by the time it gave a positive reading, it was undeniably obvious that the person was intoxicated and impaired.

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