Drink Driving

Alcohol affects how we drive. The risk rapidly increases as the blood-alcohol level rises. If we drink and drive with a blood-alcohol level over 80mg per 100ml we are at least three times more likely to be in a crash than a sober driver. People with a high blood alcohol level are more likely to be injured or killed in a crash than those who are sober.

Alcohol-affected drivers are involved in about 30% of fatal vehicle crashes. They are also involved in one-in-eight injury crashes. More than 85% of the alcohol-affected drivers in fatal crashes are male. The 2005 road toll was 405: study suggests that alcohol was a contributing factor in 115 of those deaths – 28%.

Some other key facts for 2005 based on crashes reported by Police:

  • Drinking and driving contributed to 100 fatal crashes, 390 serious injury crashes and 940 minor injury crashes.
  • Drinking and driving contributed to 518 serious injuries and 1474 minor injuries.
  • For every 100 drunk drivers killed, 55 of their own passengers and 36 other drivers, passengers, cyclists or pedestrians died with them.
  • The social cost of drink driving-related crashes was about $660 million (about 25% of the social cost associated with all injury crashes).
  • More than 85% of drivers with excess blood alcohol in fatal crashes were male.

Driving down the road toll

New Zealand’s annual road toll since 1990 has dropped about 38%, despite 27% more vehicles on the road and 17% more people. This is mainly because of a steady commitment to reduce road deaths by the Government and the Police.

Every year hundreds of people die and families and friends suffer because people endanger others’ lives by driving dangerously. The cost of road crashes – emergency services, medical care, reparation and human grief – is enormous. Long after the sirens have faded and the wreckage has been cleared away the impact continues to be felt, often for years.

The social cost of each fatality is $3,065,000, and each serious injury $535,000. Broadly, this is the cost of hospital and medical treatment and care, the loss of output, loss of life, disability, property damage, and legal and court costs.

Changing lethal behaviour

From 2004 the approach to road safety advertising has aimed at asking New Zealanders to demand that drivers improve their driving behaviour.

This approach focuses on facts, figures and physics, the impact of risky driving on the victim, families and communities, emotion and rationality, credibility and personality. It wants people to start asking whether they want to share the road with drivers who endanger the rest of us.

The advertising and enforcement campaign approach highlights the link between drink driving and road crashes. By presenting drink driving as socially unacceptable and by stimulating social pressure and intolerance to support this, it aims at changing attitudes and behaviour and a consequent reduction in road trauma caused by drink driving.

As well, the Police enforce this area of traffic law. Compulsory breath-testing is an effective deterrent. Tactics to combat drink driving are:

  • Conspicuous, compulsory breath-testing.
  • Passive alcohol-testing devices.
  • Vigorous enforcement of alcohol laws.

The legal drink drive limit for drivers under 20 years of age is a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of zero. The legal drink drive limits for drivers 20 years and over are a breath alcohol limit of 250 micrograms (mcg) of alcohol per litre of breath and a blood alcohol limit of 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.

Drugs and driving

It is illegal to drive while under the influence of any drug. Breaking this law carries heavy penalties, including disqualification, fines and even imprisonment. A pharmacist can give advice on what prescription and over-the-counter drugs affect driving.