21 Sep 2010

Deferral of lower blood alcohol limit was against official advice

1:20 pm on 21 September 2010

Official papers show the Cabinet ignored official evidence and advice when it deferred a decision on whether or not to lower the adult blood alcohol level.

Instead of reducing the blood alcohol limit from 0.08 to 0.05mg per 100 ml of blood, the Cabinet opted for two years of New Zealand-specific research to establish the level of risk posed by drivers between the current and proposed limit.

But documents obtained under the Official Information Act show Ministry of Transport officials asked the Government for time to lower the limit, saying this could save up to 33 lives a year.

In an email to the office of Transport Minister Steven Joyce, a ministry employee said statistics show people with a blood alcohol level between 0.8 and 0.5 caused 30 deaths between 2006 - 2008.

A cabinet paper also noted that continuing with the status quo will mean the goal of reducing the level of drink driving fatalities to a rate similar to Australia, will not be met.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said the Cabinet wants to establish first the actual level of harm caused by drivers between the current and proposed limit.

Alcohol Healthwatch says there is an overwhelming amount of international data which shows dropping the limit is the right move.

Director Rebecca Williams says the Government has missed an opportunity to put a dent in the country's drinking culture.

Police view on vehicle locking devices adopted

Official documents reveal the Cabinet sided with the police instead of two of its ministries and a department on alcohol locking devices in cars.

Papers show the police were adamant there had to be a mandatory period of disqualification of at least three months before a person is eligible to have the device fitted.

It was announced in July that alcohol interlocks will be introduced as a punishment for repeat drink drivers and drink drivers with high blood alcohol levels.

An alcohol interlock, which is a breath test type device fitted in a vehicle, won't allow it to start unless an alcohol-free reading is achieved.

The Automobile Association says it's concerned by the Government's decision.

Motoring affairs general manager Mike Noon says the alcohol locking device may be more effective, as disqualified drivers may just choose to drive anyway.