The latest drink-drive crash has reignited the debate over the legal blood/alcohol level. It’s clear from John Key’s excuse-making on Breakfast this morning that the Nats have no intention of reducing the limit from 0.8 to 0.5. The argument against a reduction is that most drink-drivers have accidents when they are well over 0.8 but that misses the point.
By the time you’re over 0.5 your judgement and motor skills are already becoming impaired. Crucially,the experts say that this is the point where people start to behave more irresponsibly and drink more. If people know they can drink up to the 0.8 level, they’re more likely to become irresponsible and drink more then drive at a dangerous level of intoxication. Tell people that they are not permitted to drink beyond 0.5 if they want to drive and they will have to confine themselves to a lower level of intoxication that is less likely to end up drinking to a more dangerous level.
Setting the legal blood/alcohol level for driving is not just about putting a line in the sand and saying ‘above this level, driving is too dangerous’ it’s also about reducing the likelihood of drinkers grossly exceeding this limit and then driving.
Last week Whale or the Penguin did a post with a highly selective group of countries that showed the country with the highest permissible blood/alcohol level (25% higher than ours), Sweden, also had the lowest road fatality rate (50% below ours). That’s obviously not the kind of data that either is going to spend the time to assemble themselves, so it came from the Nats, which reinforces the fact that National doesn’t want to lower the rate.
But why does Sweden have such low road fatalities?
– like the other Scandinavian countries, they control their populations’ love of the booze through very high taxation.
– Investment in safer roads. In particular, they make extensive use of wire median barriers, like we have on the Kapiti Coast and a few other places. These barriers make head-on crashes, the most deadly type of crash, virtually impossible. There are actually more accidents because of the barriers but they are far less likely to be serious because vehicles bounce of the barriers rather than crossing the centre line.
If they don’t want to lower the drink-drive level, maybe the Nats should look at what Sweden has done successfully to curtail drink driving and accidents. Sin tax on booze and investment in safer roading technology – can you see the Nats doing that? Nah, me neither. They’re going to do what they always do: nothing.