Alcohol is one of the biggest contributing factors to New Zealand’s road toll. In 2002, 27 percent of all road casualties were from alcohol-related crashes1.
In 2002 drinking and driving contributed to:
- 109 deaths
- 525 serious injuries
- 1841 minor injuries1
Impairment of Driving Skills
Since the present blood alcohol limit of 80mg alcohol/100ml blood was established in 1978 research has shown that important driving skills including vision, steering, braking, vigilance, information processing, and divided attention tasks are adversely affected by small amounts of alcohol2.
The relationship between blood-alcohol levels and risk of crashing is well established. As blood alcohol levels increase, the risk of having a fatal crash increases3. The relative risk of having a crash is even higher for those aged 16-19 years old4, and 20-295.
Most of the Western world now has a 50mg blood alcohol limit, and international trends have shown that a 50mg limit dramatically reduces drink driving, saves lives, and reduces injuries from alcohol-related road crashes2. The greatest reduction was seen in Queensland with an 18 percent reduction in fatal collisions and a 14 percent reduction in serious accidents2.
Why a 50mg Limit?
- International studies have suggested that lower blood alcohol levels may contribute to positive changes in public attitudes toward drinking and driving.
- Studies have shown that drivers with high blood alcohol concentrations are more likely to underestimate their blood alcohol concentration levels than people with low blood alcohol concentrations
- A lower blood alcohol limit allows the driver the opportunity to make more rational decisions about whether to stop drinking and whether or not to drive.
- When a 50mg limit is introduced some drivers further restrict their drinking for reasons including5
- The behavioural chain or sequence is more easily broken early on in the drinking session than in the later stages. By forcing people to consider the issue of drinking and driving at the start of their drinking session it is easier for them to "break the habit".
- Lower blood alcohol limits encourage drivers to keep a better count of the drinks they consume in order to stay below the limit. An Australian survey of drinking behaviour suggested that the lower limit made people more aware of the need to control their drinking before driving.
Opponents of a 50mg Blood Alcohol Limit
Many of the opponents to the 50mg blood alcohol level state arguments such as:
It is safe to drive at the current level:
This is incorrect. There has been much research since the current level was established showing that important driving skills including vision, steering, and braking are adversely affected by even small amounts of alcohol.
Lowering the level means that I cannot have my wine with my dinner and then drive home, it also takes the fun out of life:
A blood alcohol level of 50mg means that the sensible drinker can still enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner and then drive. Australian recommendations state that a male can consume two standard drinks (10g) of alcohol in the first hour, and one per hour after that. Females can consume one drink per hour, from the first hour. However there is information to indicate that it is possible to drink even more, and still remain below the lower limit.
A lower blood alcohol concentration would cost too much to enforce and is a waste of taxpayers money:
While enforcement costs may initially increase, the general deterrent effect of the lower limit should eventually lead to fewer charges and a reduction in the enforcement and courts costs. Moreover the benefits definitely outweigh the costs when considering the lives saved and injuries prevented.
Most drink drive deaths are caused by drivers with high blood alcohol levels not those between 50-80mg, therefore a lower limit won’t see great reductions:
This argument is only half true. While most of the alcohol-related crashes are caused by highly intoxicated drivers, there is much research showing that a lower limit reduces drink driving at all levels. Australian research from alcohol tests of crash-involved drivers and from police random breath testing found that the change to the 50mg limit had the greatest impact on reducing the number of drivers with a high blood alcohol concentration7
- Land Transport Safety Authority. 2003. Drinking and Driving Statistics. Retrieved 22/09/03. www.ltsa.govt.nz
- Chamberlain E, Solomon R. 2002. The Case for a 0.05% criminal law BAC limit for driving. Injury Prevention; 8 (III): III1-III17
- Acquire – Alcohol Concern’s Quarterly Information and Research Bulletin. Summer 2002
- Mayhew DR, Doneldson AC, Beirness DJ, Simpson HM. 1986. Youth alcohol and relative risk of crash involvement. Accident Analysis and Prevention: 18
- Road Safety 2010. 2003. National Road Safety Committee.
- Alcohol Advisory Council. 1995. The role of alcohol in road crashes: A taskgroup report to the Officials Committee on Road Safety
- Brooks and Zaal D. 1993. The impact of a reduced alcohol limit on driving. Paper presented to the 12th international conference on alcohol, drugs and traffic safety, Cologne, Germany