Drinking, driving and Maltese(rs)

By Anna Sandiford 09/04/2010

Lowering the NZ drink drive limit to 50 milligrams alcohol/100 ml blood is big news this week. Will the government do it? Is that low enough? Should we do as the Maltese do (according to Google anyway) and have a zero blood alcohol level for driving?
I’ve written reports for a couple of thousand drink driving reports, mostly for the Defence because in England and Wales there are three standard defences to drink driving:
1. Drunk in Charge – e.g. too much alcohol consumed and no taxi money left, fall asleep in the car, get woken up by a cop at 3.00am and arrested because, in theory, the driver has the keys in their control, they are in charge of the vehicle and there’s a strong likelihood that the driver will drive home when they wake up, which is not necessarily when they are below the drink drive limit. The driver has to satisfy the court they wouldn’t have driven until they were below the legal limit.
2. Spiked drinks – e.g. driver thought they were drinking lemonade when they were in the pub. As it turns out, someone they may or may not know had put triple measures of vodka in each of their five drinks of lemonade. Lo and behold, they’re over the drink driving limit when the get stopped at a Booze Bus on the way home.
3. Post incident alcohol consumption – e.g. crash the car, before the Police arrive swig half a bottle of brandy that happens to be under the front seat.

Some would say that the English are perpetuating the problem by giving people a chance to provide a defence to drink driving. In New Zealand, there’s none of that nonsense – if you’re over the drink driving limit there’s very little you can do to defend the charge (in terms of the defences available in England and Wales) but you can apply for a work licence. I wonder whether that doesn’t give people a false sense of security about drink driving because there’s a good chance (or a very good chance if you have a specialist lawyer and haven’t done it too much before) that you’ll get a work licence. But I’m making the assumption that drunk people think rationally, which is not the case.
Personally, I would support any move to make the blood alcohol level for driving zero. That way people don’t try to guesstimate whether or not they’re above the legal limit because in my experience, they’re usually wrong.