Drink driving: bloody idiots

  • 27/10/2013

There was no way I should have been driving.

I was giggly, struggling to concentrate, stumbling over my words. My reactions were slower, and my judgement was off.

If this all sounds obvious, of course it bloody is – it's what happens when you drink.

And, legally speaking, I could have driven home.

There were four of us at Hampton Downs racetrack to see how our driving was affected by alcohol, and how long it would take to reach the legal limit.

We were a diverse group – aged 25 to 45, a split of male and female, and weighing anywhere from a whopping 130kg to a slight 63kg. Even so, it took a while.

That was because New Zealand’s drink drive limits are amongst the most lenient in the world – 400 microgrammes of alcohol per litre of breath (BrAC), or .08 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood (BAC). That's all quite wordy, so I'll simplify things a bit.

A bill from MP Iain-Lees Galloway, currently before Parliament, proposes reducing New Zealand's blood limit from 0.08 to 0.05 - that’s a reduction in the breath limit from 400 to 250. It would put New Zealand in line with Australia, parts of Canada and much of Europe, including France and Germany. Many countries go much further – such as Japan (0.03), and Sweden (0.02). In Brazil, the Czech Republic and Hungary, it's zero.

Our Australian cousins made the move to 0.05 decades ago – why is New Zealand dragging its heels?

The New Zealand Law Commission has recommended lowering the limit to 0.05, however the Government is expected to make an announcement by the end of the year. In my mind, the limit must come down. It's not like the evidence doesn't support the case for change.

According to the NZ Drug Foundation, a driver is twice as likely to crash at the current rate of 0.08 as a driver at 0.05.

In September, police bigwigs told the Law and Order select committee that a lower limit would prevent between 10 and 25 deaths, and between 320 and 686 injuries every year.

And hundreds of international studies have shown that reducing drink-drive limits invariably reduce chaos on the roads. When I spoke with Dr Soames Job, a professor of Transport and Road Safety at the University of NSW, he was unequivocal.

"It is absurd that a country so advanced on other fronts in road safety is held back by its excessive limit."

No-one is denying that some people still won't listen. It took a serious accident for one recidivist drink driver I spoke with to realise just how selfish his behaviour had been. He is disgusted in his past behaviour, as well he should be, and he believes we must send a stronger message that drink-driving will not be condoned.

"If you're drinking and driving, you're potentially murdering someone," he told me.

Will reducing the limit stop recidivist drink drivers? Possibly not. But will it cause a majority of people to think even harder about how much they have had, and whether they even need to be driving after drinking? I believe so, and already we are seeing attitudes change.

When Campbell Live asked people on the street how much they thought they could drink and safely drive, most said two to three drinks. That's encouraging to hear – and it really calls into questions why our existing limits need to be so high.

During our experiment, my breath alcohol was 180 after 4 beers, and I definitely felt tipsy. Already, I wouldn't have felt comfortable driving. After 6 beers, I was 290, and very tipsy. But it took me 8 full strength beers over almost four hours to exceed the limit of 400, by which time I was full-on drunk. Up until that point, despite my driving getting steadily worse, I would have been perfectly able to get behind the wheel.

I'm disgusted by that.

There should be no reason for being that intoxicated, and still legally being able to drive.

Surely, when it comes to consuming alcohol and being in control of two tonnes of metal on public roads, we should err on the side of caution?

Too many people are dying preventable deaths on our roads, hurting and maiming other innocent motorists, and this is an entirely appropriate response.

The evidence is undeniable.

We need to stop excusing dangerous behaviour, offering up the tired, old reasons why nothing should change.

"The limits are fine as they are."

"It won't stop recidivist drink-drivers."

"All it's going to do is put more people in front of the courts."

Rubbish. If you're excusing drink driving, you're a bloody idiot.

Watch the Campbell Live drink drive special tonight at 7pm.

source: newshub archive