The Drink Driving Debate

There's a great deal of debate, plus a "poll" which I believe is skewed (because no-one has revealed what the parameters were) around the issue of reducing the breath alcohol limit for driving.

However, as usual there are many facts - not theories - that are being ignored.

The most important of these is the actual figures supplied by the police, which indicate that virtually ALL crashes caused as a result of drink driving occur at a much higher incidence of blood alcohol than the 80 mg/100 ml legal limit.

What's more, this incidence of "deaths by drinking" is increasing, and accounted for 24 percent of all road deaths last year.

However, in Britain, where the same limit applies, the death toll DROPPED by nine percent last year.

Oh, and by the way, to put drink driving deaths into perspective, almost the same number of deaths were caused in 2009 by driving too fast for conditions. That doesn't mean exceeding the speed limit on a straight road, where most people are "pinged," but too fast in tricky conditions, such as winding roads and low traction road surfaces.

So, clearly the actual LIMIT is not a factor in deaths by drink driving (any more than it is in death by speeding), otherwise why have deaths risen in New Zealand and dropped in the UK?

The reason, and it's something the authorities have to address, is firstly, education, and secondly, policing.

Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the UK's Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, put it in a nutshell when he said: "This reduction in casualty figures is very encouraging, and we are pleased that the message that driving while under the influence of alcohol is dangerous and irresponsible seems to be getting through."

Since coming to New Zealand almost four years ago I have only been stopped once in a drink-driving road block, and that at Christmas time. My breath didn't even budge the "first level" meter and I went on my way. I had drunk two beers, and had a meal, in a period of three hours.

What I do see lots of, however, is speed traps set up in areas where it's safe to travel just a wee bit quicker than the limit - quite often at the bottom of a hill where you may have allowed your speed to build up to make it easier to get up the other side.

To get back to Kevin Clinton, it's the word "education" that rings in my ears like a cathedral bell.

Repeatedly flighting a few (bad) ads on TV is not education. Lowering the breath alcohol limit? As I said at the beginning, most drink-related crashes are caused by people who have drunk much more than the current limit.

Reducing the limit won't stop this, but may well create more "criminals" by catching more people over that limit even though it is an area where there is not a proven risk.

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