Alcohol and driving: make it 0.0% or forget it

Good news  – the NZ Government wants to look at reducing the drink driving limit from 0.8 g/l to 0.5 g/l. 

It’s been 0.5g/l in Australia for years – folk over 40 will remember Peter Brock always had had 05 on his car, as that was the limit for drink driving.

But is it the right solution?


The problem is that we just don’t know whether 0.8g/l is ok for you and yet 0.01g/l is not ok for me. The problem is also that there are so many other reasons why one could be impaired – fatigue, drugs – legal and illegal, phone, screaming kids, adjusting the radio and a lousy vehicle.

So should we be judged on our alcohol levels in blood, or on our actual on the road behaviour? Here are three alternatives to the current policy – what do you think?

The Case for Zero Tolerance

By setting a limit above 0.0% g/l we are  promoting the thought that some drinking is ok when you are in charge of a motor vehicle. It’s not. Any alcohol in your system means that your ability to drive is affected.  I can feel myself being adversely affected after just one beer, and on a motorcycle it is particularly dangerous.

If you had asked me 10 years ago I certainly would have reacted against the thought of 0.0% as a limit, but after working in a zero tolerance environment I now understand the reasoning. It’s simply that it is dangerous to yourself and to others to operate machinery when you are impaired. It is also so simple in practice – you just don’t drink.

A Zero Tolerance environment is much easier to police – both on the road but far more importantly at a social event. If you see one of your friends drinking anything then that means they are not driving. It also applies if they take anything else that could affect their judgement.

 The Case for Zero Testing

Some people are able to drink and drive safely, and even do so at relatively high levels of alcohol. This occurs a lot in other countries, such as Italy, where the driver will drive safely and slowly, is 100% focused on the road (and not answering cell phones, chatting and so forth) and poses no threat to himself or others.

So is it really wrong to drive home drunk if you are driving well below the safe speed and when others know that you are impaired?

Here’s a proposal. If you have had anything to drink, then you can still drive, but must do three things:

  • Place large florescent “D” signs on the front, sides and back of your car – signifying that the driver is under the influence, and that others should give space
  • Drive at no more than 40kmph in cities and 75kmph in rural zones
  • Never ride a motorcycle, never drive at rush hour  

I found in my recent trip in Australia that a “P” plate was a solid indication that the driver was likely to be an idiot, and so I stayed well clear. Similarly with a “D” sign – other drivers will stay well clear and give you the space to survive.

Meanwhile police can easily identify the impaired drivers and pay special attention to how they are driving. Any hooning while impaired, speeding over the D limits or driving impaired without D signs can be harshly dealt with.

The case for increasing driving monitoring

Why not abandon alcohol testing and simply be more rigourous on monitoring driving quality by increasing the ability of police and public to catch people that are driving poorly? Let’s use the natural increase of cameras in society to allow police to monitor more roads at once. It’s Big Brother, but he is here already and by proposing it now we can do it right.

  • Make it easy to send videos of idiot drivers to police – e.g. we can expect in-car video recording systems (make them evidential quality)  to increase sharply in popularity over the next few years, and passengers can use cell phones to take videos – give them somewhere to send them to.
  • Increase fixed location roadside surveillance cameras, place them in known hoon areas and go after idiots. 
  • Use remote cameras before and after police checkpoints to check for and pull over idiot drivers.
  • Roll out in-car monitoring of speed and location – and give registration rebates to people that voluntarily set up their systems to report on instances where the driver exceed 115% of the speed limit in a location. Alternatively give ACC rebates to businesses that do the same for their vehicles, and push for insurance companies to do the same with premiums.  

Note that it is dangerous driving that we should be focussed on – not low-level speeding in a safe way. 

<update – via a comment by Matthew Sanders on SimpleandLoveable the police have a place to report poor driving:>

Published by Lance Wiggs


10 replies on “Alcohol and driving: make it 0.0% or forget it”

  1. The ideas you put forward are actually pretty clever if a little fasetious. There are lots of arguments around the topic, but a fatal flaw with your third proposal is that it only penalises erratic driving that doesn’t end in the death of the driver, passengers and innocent bystanders. What happens if they drove well and “safely” until they misjudged a corner or snoozed off? Game over man.

    I firmly believe in Darwinian survival of the fittest and stupid people really shouldn’t get given too many opportunities to procreate.

    The problem is that even with the current limits set relatively high, the people who are ignoring these limits are ludicrisly boozed and a hazard to themselves and others. A change to the limit is about as useful as a 100Km/h speed limit on an enjoyable stretch of back country road in a performance vehicle or an anti-smacking law change in a country where putting infant children in the tumble dryer is a “good Idea”.


  2. thanks for the comment Marcel

    Driving well then off the road:
    Sure – but I would think that a series of poor behaviour will lead to more fatalities rather than sudden outbreaks of stupidity from otherwise normal drivers.

    In industry fatality reduction starts with incident and hazard reduction. Incident reduction starts with changes in behaviour, so if we nail the idiot AND poor drivers first then we are mostly there. We also need to work on roads.

    Ignoring limits:
    If we all know that we are being watched while we drive, then that will moderate our behaviour pretty quickly.

    I’m all for throwing the book at people that abuse the alcohol limits. If you are dangerously high over the limit then why not confiscate the car (or even all registered vehicles) and ban driving for 2 years? By confiscate I mean take away and sell. If you are a repeat offender (e.g. driving while banned) then it becomes a serious criminal issue.


  3. It would be interesting to know how much use that form on the NZ Police website actually gets.

    For one, as Nat mentioned on her blog post, New Zealanders don’t have a culture of getting involved with “other people’s business” (however of course with drunk and dangerous driving it becomes everyones issue!).

    Secondly most people don’t even know such a form exists.

    Thirdly, it’s hard to find on the NZ Police website.

    Fourthly, it’s so much information to complete, without any information on what actually happens by submitting the information.

    Finally, it’s really more suited for browsing when you are at your home computer – not out on the road where you see these things happen.

    To make use of a tool like this, there really needs to be a chance in social norms (difficult, but not impossible), and an easier way to submit information about dangerous driving.

    A good starting point would be a service that lets you send a text message (maybe to *555) with a car registration number, and the network carrier could pass on info like the area (from local cell towers) and time of the message.

    Personally I think it would be great if Kiwis started taking more responsibility for the safety of each other on the roads.


  4. Brilliant post and very well said.

    A pictograph on the cover of yesterday’s NZ Herald that showed our male drink-drive limits as equal to four standard drinks in the first hour and then one per hour thereafter was confronting… and slightly alarming.

    If people are allowed a few drinks there will always be those who push the envelope. Zero tolerance keeps it black and white. A 0.0% limit forces people to make a choice between drinking and not drinking anything at all…sounds like a good way to eliminate room for error to me.

    Drink-drive legislation is just one step in addressing some immense issues, but making it clearer and simpler certainly seems like a sensible step to take.

    Thanks Lance for these timely insights.


  5. …P.S. If you or anyone you cared about was involved in an accident would you want there to have been ANY alcohol involved? !


  6. Non-profit/society Business Idea:

    Matthew – you have a very valid point – it’s too difficult to send incidents to police.

    So what we need is a simple way to capture idiot driving, to aggregate the results and send it to the police and also name and shame. I’d start with just naming and shaming and only sending the worst to the police.

    We can capture/aggregate input from email (pictures, video), mms pictures, flicr/youtube/whatever, facebook, sms, twittering and even blogging.

    We need a web design firm, some cunning programming, a really easy way to load (interact with perhaps) the site, some clever marketers and, sadly, a chunk of money that frankly probably won’t get any financial return. But then I’ll probably think of a revenue model somewhere along the line. There are some existing US and UK sites, but there seems to be a gap in NZ and Australia.

    So – is there anyone out there that is keen?

    If we are smart then perhaps we can form a non-profit and use it to capture donations of design/programming/etc time.


  7. Quick office debate over the 4 standard drinks – that’s 3 bottles of beer in an hour. If I saw a guy getting in a car after that i WOULD judge them… Not even knowing it’s perfectly legal.

    When I drive I wont drink a drop if I’m out – I gathered what Lance was saying that it’s easier just to avoid the calculations. Also I am a girl and I have a sneaky suspicion that depending on what stage of the month it is I could be over the limit with anything from one glass to 3 glasses of wine. That’s not based on science, just the light headedness I feel.

    However the other thing is the morning after.

    I now try not to drive at all the day after a big night. Not only am I tired from being up past my bedtime (which ALSO affects driving ability) there can be residual traces of alcohol swimming round your veins. If I killed someone, that would forever be on my conscience and I don’t think I need that.

    I think zero tolerance has it’s merits defo!



    Lowering the drink drive limit is not the answer…increasing the penaltys to that on-par with the UK is.

    Lowering the BAC will mean the police will just hound innocent motorists for driving the day after consuming 6 pints of stellar and do them for Drink Driving rather than the hardcore drunk who consumed 13 pints of stellar and immediatly drove.

    How would you feel being stopped and told to “accompany the police officer to the nearest cop shop for the purpse of an evidential breath/blood test” The following afternoon after downing 6 pints of stellar and taking a taxi home the night before? The funny thing is that the government does nothing to publicise the “dangers” whatever may be of driving the day after drinking 6 pints of stellar the night before.

    Even with an 80mg/100ml limit people are being convicted of DIC the day after, a 50mg will tenfold the number of DIC convictions, many of whom will be just a trivial fraction over the 0.05 limit.

    and lets not forget the number of restaurants and especially rural pubs that will be forced to close if the limit was lowered, another attack on the farming sector.

    Instead of lowering the limit, they should keep it as it is but increase the penaltys, a basic drink drive sentance in the UK is a six month jail term and mandatory disqualification of one year, compared to 3 months jail/6 month disqualification in New Zealand.


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