NEW Zealand drivers will still be able to have a couple of drinks under changes to the blood-alcohol limit, but the roads will be significantly safer, the government says.
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee on Monday announced the limit will drop from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg for drivers aged over 20.
Translated into the number of drinks, lowering the limit would cut men down from about five standard drinks to three and a half, and women from three and a half drinks to two.
Those over 51mg but under 80mg will face a new infringement regime, including a $NZ200 ($A176) fine and 50 demerit points.
If they are caught twice they will lose their licence for three months under the demerit points system.
Penalties for those over 80mg will remain the same, although officials are working on potentially harsher penalties.
Mr Brownlee says the government has tried to strike a balance between extra caution and drivers hitting a criminal threshold.
He says the AA has expressed support for the infringement regime between the two alcohol levels.
Prime Minister John Key says research shows cutting the limit will prevent at least three deaths and 64 injuries from crashes each year, and save about $NZ200 million in social costs over 10 years.
He believes the public will support the move.
“You will still be able to have a couple of drinks with dinner when you go out. It’s not going to prevent your ability to engage in normal social activities, but it does send a message that we are serious about alcohol-related harm on our roads.”
New legislation is expected to have its first reading before the end of the year, but the changes won’t come into effect until some time in 2014.
Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway has a private member’s bill to make the same limit change, although his would make driving over the 50mg limit a criminal offence.
Mr Brownlee says that bill would need multiple changes, so the government will instead create its own legislation.