Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Drink Driving - An issue of 'Conscience'

'When it comes to drinking and driving, you don't need the conscience of a saint to know it's not a good idea. However, nothing is black and white in the world of politics.'

John Key announced today that the issue of lowering the drink driving limit in New Zealand is likely to come down to a conscience vote - "I imagine it would be a conscience vote, that's generally how we deal with drink-driving issues - and I know there's a wide range of views in our caucus" (3news.co.nz)

Labour MP Darren Hughes has drafted a Private Member's Bill to lower the adult blood alcohol limit from 80 (almost twice the limit of Australia) to 60 micrograms. If this bill goes before Parliament it will be up to individual MP's to decide which way to vote.

Hughes says the government is "dithering" and that there is considerable public support for change. In April a Research NZ poll of 500 people found 63 percent support lowering the adult blood-alcohol limit and a staggering 84 percent were in favour of a zero blood-alcohol limit for under 20s.


The question that really needs to be asked is - do we condone drunk drivers on our roads? 

Campbell Live recently conducted an experiment to find out how much you can drink and still legally drive. The results were frightening. Journalist Tristram Clayton and four volunteers chose a common 5 percent lager beer and began drinking at roughly the same pace. After two beers everyone is well below the limit. After four drinks, despite obvious signs of intoxication, everyone is still under the adult limit. Five beers and everyone is still legal despite one volunteer admitting she is "Really, really drunk". By six drinks the female volunteers are finally over the limit. However, one male volunteer downed twelve drinks and was still below the adult blood-alcohol limit. Granted, he was 116kgs. But, so are a number of adult males in New Zealand - (watch the video here).

What concerns me about this information is that it not only reinforces the fact that there are a high number of drunk drivers on our roads in New Zealand, but they are legally within their rights to be there. The current blood-alcohol limit allows not only drink drivers, but drunk drivers - the law is essentially condoning what our Police and Transport Agency spend millions of dollars each year to prevent.

Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with drinking. If the law was amended and the limit was dropped to 50 or 60 micrograms you could still go out after work, have a drink or two with friends and safely drive home. The new law is there to ensure that those who are impaired by their alcohol consumption after four or five drinks are not able to lawfully drive. The purpose is to decrease the number of inebriated drivers on our roads and, in turn, the number of road deaths with alcohol as a contributing factor.

So far, the government has refrained from making a decision in relation to lowering the blood-alcohol level as they want to see more research on the level of risk posed by drivers with a blood alcohol limit between 50 and 80 micrograms, and that a change would be effective in bringing down road deaths.

There's your research Mr. Key

Science and statistics should serve to reinforce the argument to lower the blood-alcohol level in New Zealand. However, this is not an issue of sufficient research. It is an issue of conscience. Whether or not our government has one is yet to be seen.

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