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The Press-News column Nov 25

Booze policy makes sense.

It’s rather remarkable that one of New Zealand’s biggest road-related law changes in years, takes effect on Monday, yet the publicity blitz has barely spluttered. Along with Scotland, New Zealand’s adult drink-drive limit is cut from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood next week, bringing us into line with 90 other nations. I’m sure I’m not the only one who still feels a reflexive rush of nerves, everytime I’m ensnared in a checkpoint and obliged to count to ten. (Last week however, during such an encounter, despite having consumed a glass of wine, the sniffer device mystifyingly returned a “No Alcohol” reading.) Under the new two-tiered regime, breaching the 50mg or 250micrograms threshold will result in an instant $200 fine, 50 demerits and a 12 hour driving ban. Despite the tired rant from accusatory whingers that “this is just revenue gathering”, it’s a sensible, moderating amendment to our broader drink-drive laws. The official guidelines state the average male can have two “standard drinks” – equal to two 330ml cans of beer at 4 per cent alcohol – and women one drink in the first hour and stay under the new limit. Both sexes can have up to one further standard drink every hour after that. It underscores that to hit the current limit, which will remain the disqualification threshold of 80mg or 400mcg, you’re actually marinating in booze – if not completely plastered. Alongside the drink-drive reboot, the Christchurch City Council should stop faffing about with its Local Alcohol Policy ( LAP) and swiftly activate it. The council chose to park up its amended LAP, pending the outcome of legal action around the country. Such rulings, as was the case in Tasman last week, are emphatically upholding the right of councils to crack the whip on trading hours. The Christchurch LAP has struck an excellent balance. Central city bars can operate till 3am and nightclubs till 4am. Suburban bars must close at 1am. Given supermarkets and bottle stores account for 75% of all alcohol sales, Christchurch has rightly turned its tanks on restricting off-licence trading hours from 9am to 9pm. The bullying bluster from the supermarket barons, who threaten to close all their stores if they can’t sell booze around the clock, should be steered down. We all know there no silver bullets to the binge-booze culture, but the new drink-drive limit and an activated LAP should serve as helpful behaviour moderators. Christchurch would still enjoy a merry Christmas, without it being marred to the same abysmal extent by carnage, misery and tragedy.

Mike’s weekly current affairs column, as published in The Press. Nov 25.

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