Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On the despicable decision on blood alcohol driving limits

July 27th, 2010

Yesterday’s non-decision on the alcohol limit has underlined once again that the Key government is not interested in governing for the benefit of New Zealand – that process seems to scare it silly. Alcohol seems to bring out the worst in this tendency. A few months ago it ruled out of hand any form of deterrence of alcohol consumption that was based on taxing alcohol. Yesterday, it ran away and hid from doing anything substantive about drink driving.

The upshot is that the permissible drink driving alcohol level will stay at 0.08 % of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. The only crackdown will be on easy targets like young drivers, and repeat offenders. Health groups have been understandably enraged.


….Transport Minister Steven Joyce said he needed more public support and research into whether drivers with a level between 0.05g and 0.08g were involved in many crashes. Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams called the Government “gutless” as there was already ample evidence and public support for lowering the limit.”This is a regrettable failure that leaves our Government with blood on its hands.” Professor Doug Sellman, from the National Addiction Centre, said the Government lacked leadership, and the Alcohol Advisory Council said the decision was disappointing.

This rationale for kicking for touch could hardly be more contemptible. More research into what – whether alcohol at these levels really does impair driver judgment? That’s a no-brainer. Our current blood alcohol levels are already at world highs – four times what they are in Russia, for God’s sake – and are also far in excess of similar developed countries.

The limit in many countries, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, is 50mg. Countries such as Poland (30mg) and Norway, Russia and Sweden (all 20mg) have lower limits.
Prime Minister John Key said New Zealand could eventually move to a reduced limit. “For that to apply, we need New Zealanders to buy into that process.”

Really, Mr Key? The one certainty about yesterday’s decision is that more lives will be lost needlessly while John Key and his colleagues wait for New Zealanders to “buy into” the process of reduction. One wonders what focus group polling threw up this little nugget. Leadership usually means making decisions in the public good, and is about having the courage to try and convince people that you were right to do so. In this case public opinion is not dragging its feet on this issue – it wants to support meaningful action on drink driving and the carnage it causes. At the very least, it would like to see that New Zealand coming into line with international best practice on blood alcohol limits.

This government however, seems petrified at showing any form of leadership that might cost it votes. We appear to have an absentee government, one that only drops by every now and then to pick up the rent for its friends in business.

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Gillard and Abbott, hypocrites

As one commenter said yesterday about the Australian election…Isn’t it great to the campaign being fought over which prospective leader is willing to be the toughest on immigration? Especially when the would-be toughies are Tony Abbott from London, England, and Julia Gillard from Glamorgan, Wales. Yep, something has to be done about immigration, alright.

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    1. 13 Responses to “On the despicable decision on blood alcohol driving limits”

    2. By Colette on Jul 27, 2010 | Reply

      Thank you Gordon, for expressing outrage at this.
      We have no leadership in New Zealand, only a former currency trader PM who likes to use the language of money to impress those who voted for him. “Buy into that process?” Does this mean that the Nats need a referendum on everything in order to make changes? Not when it comes to the Auckland Super City, it turns out.

    3. By rob on Jul 27, 2010 | Reply

      Steven Joyce has been traditionally gutless. (see auckland harbour crossing or third party insurance)

      He doesnt seem to realise that driving while alcohol impaired, is different from just having some drinks.

      He is basically saying the public need to decide how impaired they wish to be before they hop in a car.

    4. By Jason on Jul 27, 2010 | Reply

      Hi Gordon, tis crazy indeed.
      On a related note, conservatives and speed cameras
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/26/evidence-real-war-motorists-look-mortuary

      Putting my tinfoil firmly in place, perhaps the lack of action is more to do with mandatory breath testing?

    5. By Rachael Ford on Jul 27, 2010 | Reply

      NZ already has a lower criminal limit than all the countries fining for 0.05-8.
      They don’t give more than wet bus ticket slaps until 0.1BAC.
      Having read hundreds of pages on the matter in my job it is clear 0.05-8ers cause under 1% of crashes and are a wrong focus.
      Countries with 0.05 mostly have no checkpoints – where it was tried with mandatory checkpoints the drunk related toll increased eg in Victoria in the late 90′s. This is due to previously low to no risk drivers taking to unsafe back roads to avoid checkpoints and getting kiled by real drunk drivers, also by substituting a wine or two for other mor risky drugs. The increased harm caused by a 0.05 limit in Victoria was only reverded by random drug testing. It’s playing with fire and if the anti alcohol groups get their way prepare for NZs impaired toll to rise under a lower limit. Thank god for the delay and the Govt deciding to properly assess it instead of being bullied. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    6. By peterlepaysan on Jul 27, 2010 | Reply

      What difference will lowering the legal bac make? Zilch.

      I suggest something like the Pareto Principle applies, i.e. 80% of the problems are caused by 20% of the population. Targeting that 20% is the tricky bit.

      The alcohol related mayhem on our roads (there are non alcohol related statistical associations) almost always involve ridiculously high bac.

      The idiots who are responsible for the mayhem could not care less what the bac is. Many of them mix it with other substances as well.

      OBTW the majority of kiwis enjoy drinking alcohol, very very few of them cause cause alcohol related accidents.

      If the bac was reduced to zero (thereby criminalising most nzers) would the accident rate drop to zero?

      There are many,many factors confounding road accident statistics. To focus on one only is not very wise.

      No, i am not a National party supporter, never have been. I am a sceptic, especially when it comes to the use of statistics by various interest groups.

      I would have thought that scepticism was a virtue with working journalists, who should understand how lobby groups manipulate statistics to bamboozle both news messengers and the public.

    7. By John Elliott on Jul 27, 2010 | Reply

      Not sure you are dead right about this, Gordon.

      France is quoted as the country where the lowering of the limit (1995) made the biggest difference. But it actually made no difference for a year or two. Then the French increased the number of checkpoints. They have done so quite drastically ever since, and, strangely enough, accident stats have improved greatly!

      Enforcement has made the difference in France, and unless we also spend the big dollars on enforcement, I suspect we will make no difference here at all, wherever we set the limit. (Lowering it will clog the system up, but increase revenue.)

      I drive quite a lot, and have been tested only twice in the last 5 years. We have frightening numbers of drunk drivers on the road because we are not catching enough of them, and changing the limit will make no difference.

    8. By Robert Ashe on Jul 28, 2010 | Reply

      So are the people defending National’s back down on alcohol harm suggesting it’s alright to be driving on our roads with a blood alcohol level of 0.79? They’re insane…and conveniently overlooking the fact that our current blood alcohol limits allow dangerously drunk people to legally drive on our roads.

    9. By Ben on Jul 28, 2010 | Reply

      Hi Gordon, couldn’t agree with you more on the government’s lack of leadership on this, and other, issues.

      I was stunned to hear John Key say that he “doesn’t want to get ahead of the public” on this issue. Isn’t that exactly where a leader is meant to be, Leading?

    10. By nznative on Jul 28, 2010 | Reply

      The reason the Nats wont lower drink driving alcohol limit is because they are very friendly with the booze industry.

      They wont increase the tax on booze to make it pay for the damage that the consumption of this strong drug causes users and society.

      The Salvation army, all the city missions and soup kitchens, the extra staff required at our hospitals to patch up and repair the drunks who smash and crash, the prisons and courts filled with crimes committed by booze affected people …………. all of the above should be paid for by booze industry who make massive profits while causing all this harm.

      The Nats it seems will not take any actions which may result in less alcohol being drunk.

      They are very very Pro-drug ……. as long as the drug is booze.

      Just look how they gave a knighthood to the booze baron Doug Myers …….. Did over one thousand beaten woman qualify him for that. Or all the fetal alcohol baby’s that his products were behind.

      Also having lived in Victoria in the 1980′s I can dismiss Rachael Fords bizare statement about Victoria having no check points.

      They had booze bus’s before we’d even thought of the concept and checkpoints were very very common.

      They had a lower alcohol limit because it is safer for all drivers and they enforced it vigorously.

      Most Victorians live in city’s too.

      Having written rubbish about how Victoria policed its drink driving laws I’m not inclined to believe anything else she says.

      She seems to make it up as she goes.

    11. By Rachael Ford on Jul 29, 2010 | Reply

      NZ native your comprehension is not good – I did not say Vic has no checkpoints making the rest of your rant just that.

    12. By nznative on Aug 6, 2010 | Reply

      No Racheal what you said was …….”Countries with 0.05 mostly have no checkpoints – where it was tried with mandatory checkpoints the drunk related toll increased eg in Victoria in the late 90′s. This is due to previously low to no risk drivers taking to unsafe back roads to avoid checkpoints and getting kiled by real drunk drivers”

      I pointed out that booze buses and checkpoints were used in the early and mid 1980′s in Victoria, they were very common .

      You ( Rachael ) then get really weird with the second half of your statement …….. “This is due to previously low to no risk drivers taking to unsafe back roads to avoid checkpoints and getting kiled by real drunk drivers”

      So first off Racheal ford contends that Victoria did not start enforcing its drink driving laws until the late 1990′s ………. which is a total falsehood.

      She then builds on this falsehood by claiming tipsy or half drunk drivers were getting killed on back roads by really drunk drivers because they were trying to evade checkpoints.

      All without a shred of evidence.

      Its rather sad that wing-nut victims like Racheal get taken even half seriously.

      Blame the media and their cult of victim hood.

    13. By Trish Janes on Aug 8, 2010 | Reply

      John Key summarised his government’s philosophy in the week after his election. He said they would be a “middle of the road, pragmatic government”. It is no wonder that no-one has been able to predict what they are going to do next week. It is certainly no way to lead a country.

    14. By Elyse on Aug 10, 2010 | Reply

      Gordon, the blood alcohol level in California is .008 like here. You rarely encounter checkpoints, in fact never in 25 years of living there did I see one. In contrast, I have been stopped at 3 checkpoints in my 3 years back in NZ. So you might think we are ahead. Not so. The difference is that in the USA, if you are stopped and found to be over the limit you are immediately hand cuffed and it’s a night in jail no excuses. You are not asked to “pull over” and given the chance to drive off as happened here recently. You’ve got your hands above your head on your car roof and you’re being frisked by an officer with a gun, put into a paddy wagon, off you go, and you lose your license for at least 6 months.

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