Drink-driving law changes look likely
By JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 05:00 11/12/2009

The Government looks set to introduce tough new measures proposed by officials, including a zero alcohol limit for young drivers and mandatory breath-test devices in the cars of repeat drink-drivers.

Drivers under 20 were "very likely" to be stopped from drinking any alcohol at all, and would have to be 16 before they could get behind the wheel, Transport Minister Steven Joyce said.

The Government was also "very keen" to fit locking devices stopping repeat drink-drivers from starting their cars without first taking a breath test.

The proposals were outlined in a Transport Ministry discussion document earlier this year.

Mr Joyce's comments come as two new reports show New Zealand is "highly unlikely" to meet road safety targets.

"It's reasonably obvious when you look at the stats that an area where we are falling down is the safety of young drivers," Mr Joyce said last night.

The Cabinet would consider a series of changes aimed at young drivers in February or March next year.

"We are definitely getting there and starting to firm up some thoughts as to what should be in that package," Mr Joyce said.

"The restrictions on blood alcohol levels, in particular a nil level for under 20s, I think that's very likely to be in the package."

It was "most likely" a new driving age of 16 would be introduced.

"As well, yes, I think we will see some initiatives around recidivists, including alcohol interlocks, we're very keen to take that forward," Mr Joyce said.

A mandatory alcohol interlock scheme was set up in South Australia this year. Under that scheme, drivers who commit a serious drink driving offence have alcohol interlocks fitted to their cars for the same period of time for which their licences are revoked.

Before starting the vehicle, the driver must blow for a few seconds into the interlock device. Anything over a nil measurement incapacitates the car.

Mr Joyce said Australia had "a far better record than we do" on road deaths and had a number of different initiatives that New Zealand should consider.

"Culturally, of course, we're quite similar to Australia in many ways, so it's a logical laboratory for us to look at."

He issued two reports yesterday on road safety statistics.

The first showed that road safety targets on deaths and serious injuries set in 2000 were "highly unlikely" to be achieved.

While the 2008 road toll was the lowest since 1959, the 2009 road toll was tracking to be over 400 deaths, well ahead of the target for only 300 fatalities.

New Zealand had the worst rate of deaths per head of population in terms of distance travelled out of any comparable nation.

The number of serious injuries where alcohol or drugs was a factor increased from 473 in 2000 to 572 in 2008, despite "highly visible enforcement" and an increase in the number of breath tests.

The toll on young people was compounded by population growth in the 15-19 age group and a reduction in the minimum purchase age for alcohol from 20 to 18 years.

"Some of the predicted gains may not have been realised because of young drivers having increased access to alcohol," the report said.

From here.