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Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Wednesday 6 April 2011 Hansard source (external site)

Debate resumed.

FentonDARIEN FENTON (Labour) Link to this

Thank you so much, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson, for pronouncing my name correctly. It is very nice. I will take the opportunity to congratulate you on your new role. We know that you will be fantastic. You have done it before, and we have great faith in your ability to be fair to all of the members in this House.

QuinnPaul Quinn Link to this

Can I join with you, Darien?

FentonDARIEN FENTON Link to this

The member can. I will come to the matter at hand. I am very pleased to take a call in the second reading of the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2010. Labour supports the majority of the bill’s provisions, because there is much that is good in the bill. We support a zero limit for repeat drink-drivers, the alcohol interlocks for repeat offenders, the tightening of work-time requirements for truck drivers, and the doubling of the minimum prison time for drunk, drugged, or reckless driving causing death.

Although we will vote for the bill at its second reading, we will be putting forward a couple of amendments at the Committee stage, because we have some concerns about two aspects of the bill. Firstly, the Government has missed the opportunity to lower the blood-alcohol content limit from 0.08 to 0.05 grams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The public have been calling for the limit to be lowered, every poll supports it, and there is readily available research confirming that it would make a difference to our road safety. Secondly, Labour members have also thought very long and hard about the increase in the driver-licensing age from 15 to 16, and we have consulted widely on the matter. We remain unconvinced about the need for change, although we do support extending the learner-licensing period.

I will address the last matter first. Raising the minimum age for holding a driver’s licence to 16 effectively means that young people must be 16 before they can apply for a licence. After they apply for and pass the written and practical tests, there is still the learner-licensing period. The bill provides for an extension from 6 months to 12 months for that learner-licensing period before a driver can obtain a restricted licence. We support the extension, and we do so because research shows that the period of supervised driving under a learner’s licence is when young drivers—and in fact all drivers—are at their safest. However, the overall effect of the proposed changes is that young drivers will be 17 before they can obtain a restricted licence.

We have some difficulties with that situation, because we have seen no evidence that raising the age for holding a driver’s licence will reduce accidents for 15-year-olds. Let me make it very clear, and let me put on the record, that Labour, along with most New Zealanders, is concerned about our high teenage crash rate. New Zealand’s road death rate for 15-year-olds to 17-year-olds is the highest in the OECD, and our road death rate for 18-year-olds to 20-year-olds is fourth highest. No one—no one—wants to see our young people dying unnecessarily in horrific road crashes, but we have found no research that attributes the high rate to the age at which young drivers are able to begin their driver-licensing and education process.

There is no clarity about whether it is age, lack of experience, or lack of supervised driver training that is causing the problems, but we do know that the greatest risk for young drivers comes during their first 6 months of driving independently. That indicates to me that a lack of experience, rather than the driver-licensing age, is the problem. Could it be that an inexperienced 16-year-old or 17-year-old is just as likely to crash as an inexperienced 15-year-old?

Of course we support young drivers learning to drive well, through proper supervision and driver education, but the approach the bill takes is the low-hanging fruit approach that the Government is very, very fond of. The danger we see with the bill, and with this provision for raising the driver-licensing age, is that we are simply shifting the problem from one age band to another. Driving problems among the young are shown to occur when they shift from the restricted period to the time of being unsupervised.

There is a popular perception—there is no doubt about it—that everybody thinks that if we pick on the young and go after them with a driving-age increase, it will fix all the problems. The Government wants to be seen to be taking action. Sadly, young drivers and communities will pay with the provision for raising the driver-licensing age. Raising the driver-licensing age will have impacts on rural communities—

QuinnPaul Quinn Link to this

Is that the same for alcohol?

FentonDARIEN FENTON Link to this

—and on young workers and students who need to drive to work or study. Perhaps Mr Paul Quinn should have sat in on some of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee hearings where rural New Zealand Federated Farmers and young workers came along and expressed their real concerns about the impracticalities of raising the driver-licensing age. Let me emphasise that it is about the driver-licensing age; it is not about the age at which young people can drive. They cannot drive at 15, but they can apply to become licensed drivers.

The second issue I will address is the blood-alcohol content limit. We are deeply disappointed that the bill fails to deal with lowering the adult blood-alcohol content limit from 0.08 to 0.05. We all know that alcohol is involved in a significant number of vehicle crashes that result in death and injury. Loss of life, personal suffering, and costs are an enormous and preventable burden on our society. The Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce, had the opportunity to do something about the blood-alcohol content limit in the bill, but he has kicked it into touch.

Select committee members were aware of the concerns, because we heard—and I was on the select committee—from submitter after submitter that the bill was an opportunity to address something that we say, and that the Minister’s own advice says, would save 17 to 35 lives every year. The regulatory impact statement from the Ministry of Transport on the Safer Journeys strategy gives very clear advice to the Government on this matter. It states: “Currently alcohol impaired driving is one of the main causes of serious road crashes. In 2009, alcohol contributed to 33 percent of fatal crashes and 21 percent of serious injury crashes. Crashes involving alcohol resulted in 137 deaths, 565 serious injuries, and 1725 minor injuries at an estimated social cost of $875 million. Road crashes”—with or without alcohol—“place a substantial burden on the economy and the health sector, and lower the quality of life of many New Zealanders. The annual social cost of road crashes in New Zealand is approximately $3.8 billion … Drink driving is a significant contributor to this social cost and one of the main causes of serious road crashes.”

The advice to the Government from the Safer Journeys strategy, which is from the Minister’s own ministry, was that if the Government lowered the adult blood-alcohol content limit from 0.08 to 0.05, and if it also lowered the youth limit from 0.03 to zero and introduced infringement penalties for the proposed excess blood-alcohol content offences, then these actions could save between 17 and 35 lives and prevent between 363 and 729 serious injuries each year—let alone the millions of dollars it would save our communities.

There is an extensive body of research on the issue. I know that the Minister is saying we need New Zealand research, but actually the research is there. It concludes that impairment starts at a very low blood-alcohol content, and that the vast majority of drivers are affected or impaired at a level of 0.05, with significant impairment at 0.08. In fact, the Minister tested it out, did he not? He clearly agreed when he said that legal alcohol limits for drivers are just ridiculous, after he drank three-quarters of a bottle of wine and was surprised to find he could still legally get behind the wheel.

Labour offered an out to the Government. We put forward a member’s bill that would deal with this issue. It was a face-saving offer for the Government. We are prepared to work with the Government on this issue, but it has chosen not to. The Government has chosen not to work with us.

This issue is about public safety on our roads. This issue is about saving lives and preventing deaths on our roads. It is not a game; we are talking here about real people whose families and others will be affected. The Government has chosen to do nothing about the issue.

BennettDAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) Link to this

Thank you, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson. I congratulate you, as well, on your ascension to that role. I am sure you will do a very fine job, as you have done in your time in the House. Well done, and congratulations!

I will pick up from what the last speaker, Darien Fenton, said. She finished her speech by saying that this Government had done nothing for road safety, and that we were ineffective at dealing with the issue of road safety. But let us look at a little bit of history. The Labour Government had 9 years and did nothing on road safety. It said everything people wanted to hear but did nothing. It has taken National only 2 years to make the most effective changes with regard to road safety that this country has seen in recent times. We put out the Safer Journeys: discussion document, a document that went out for consultation, that was in the public view for nearly a year, and that was around for people to have their say about. It was a document that covered the bases; it went through all the options in road safety, and it delivered some real and tangible solutions in road safety. The Minister of Transport has taken those solutions on board and made positive and real change. I encourage the people of New Zealand to look at that record, and at the reality of actually doing something in the road safety area—not just talking about it but actually delivering solutions that are in the best interests of New Zealand drivers, especially our young people.

We have heard Labour members who have come to this House and talked about putting forward Supplementary Order Papers in the Committee stage. They stand up and do all the politics they can. They say they will change this and change that, but they never actually did anything when they had the chance to do something. We are doing something. We are setting up this legislation so that we can have a better and more stable roading environment that looks after the safety of our drivers as we go forward.

When we look at the big impetus of this legislation, or the big changes it encourages, we see there are two areas we have to look at. One is the driving age in relation to young drivers, and that is something for which I think we need also to commend Peter Dunne, who has always been an advocate in that area. As well, there are the sanctions for serious and repeat drink-driving offenders. Those are the two big changes in this bill. There are a number of other changes with regard to certain by-laws, issuing penalties and suchlike, and with regard to some parts of the demerit points system and the like, but those will pretty much go under the public radar. The first thing that the public will remember about the bill will be the raising of the driving age—that is, raising the driving age to 16 from 15—to give us consistency with Australia and the other international comparators that we use. The second thing is the toughening of sanctions for serious or repeat driving offenders. That provision basically lowers the breath-alcohol limit to zero for certain drivers, and brings in the introduction of alcohol interlocks for repeat drink-driving offenders, which is something I think the public is very supportive of. We hear a lot when we go around our communities—

JonesHon Shane Jones Link to this

Have you read the bill?

BennettDAVID BENNETT Link to this

That is the new spokesperson on transport for Labour, who was never even at the select committee, but he will stand up in 5 minutes’ time and say how he will change the bill. He was never even at the select committee. He would not even know what is in the bill, but he will be telling the world about the way he will change it and make things different. We look forward to your contribution tonight, Mr Jones—

RobertsonThe ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson) Link to this

When the member uses the word “you”, he brings the Speaker into the debate. That is not permitted. You are debating in the House; you debate through the Speaker, not to the Speaker.

BennettDAVID BENNETT Link to this

Yes, we understand.

JonesHon Shane Jones Link to this

Stop pinching Labour policy.

BennettDAVID BENNETT Link to this

They will try to change it, if it is Labour policy. Well, that is typical of Labour.

In conclusion, this bill is very simple. It has two main parts to it—that of the raising of the driving age, and that in relation to toughening the sanctions for serious and repeat driving offenders. Members of the community out there, when we talk them, are very serious about seeing something being done in relation to the drinking and driving components of our communities. That provision will meet with a lot of support in the community, I am sure, as people want to see the legislation toughened so there are better rules and regulations in that area. We commend this bill to the House.

JonesHon SHANE JONES (Labour) Link to this

It is disappointing that the speaker who has just resumed his seat, David Bennett, did not use the entire complement that democratically he was entitled to enjoy. That is largely because his understanding of these matters is threadbare, not unlike his physical appearance. More important—and I want to start with a controversial area—why is David Bennett being so antagonistic to the families of young 15 and 16-year-old drivers in the provinces? Those young people actually need access to a driver’s licence so that they do not run foul of the law. But, most important, if we continue to increase the steepness of the slope that our young drivers have to legitimise themselves through, it will impose a disproportionately large penalty on our Māori men and women—youngsters.

We already know, according to the Automobile Association statistics, that there is a different approach in relation to some of the skills and the orientations shown in the way young Māori view road rules and acquire a licence. It will make life more difficult for garden-variety families in rural New Zealand. This is evidence that the current Minister of Transport, and the colleagues of the Minister, are taking the heartland for granted. It is important that we show some trust, and introduce a suitable system where people in the heartland are not abandoned or neglected as they will be as a consequence of the bill.

It is a very simple change we are suggesting. It is relatively harmless, because the statistics show that there are not an inordinately large number of rural young men and women seeking to drive to rugby or netball, and to move around with their families. But they are being penalised, and we fear that they will be 17 or 18 before they actually get a licence. They have been shown that the current Government does not really care what happens in that part of provincial New Zealand. We have had the extraordinary situation in which Minister Joyce has said he is capable of drinking three or four glasses of wine—

FentonDarien Fenton Link to this

Three-quarters of a bottle.

JonesHon SHANE JONES Link to this

Well, I am not entirely sure how much deli plonk that represents—possibly two or three. I have had a bout of it once or thrice myself. The notion was that because he can do it—the “Minister of Dead Ends”—that is evidence that the rules should not be changed. We recently heard from an Australian expert who came over. I met that person whilst the Automobile Association staged its conference down in Te Wai Pounamu, in Queenstown. That expert was very, very judicious, unlike the behaviour of the National contributors to this debate. That expert said that if we change the legal threshold, it improves behaviour. It has a successful impact at the other end of the spectrum.

The Minister of Transport, I have to say, from time to time does have some very useful suggestions; they are just generally not about transport. They are about a host of other things more to do with improving the prospects he presumably enjoys as the “shadow Prime Minister”.

However, I come back to why we think the threshold ought to be changed. I want to be fair. When the threshold changes, it is going to be irritating, and it is going to be disruptive to the lifestyles of people who enjoy popping down to the golf club or to the rugby league club, having one or three drinks, and driving home without the fear they will be stopped by the cops and then suffer the ignominy of being processed through the courts. Quite frankly, I know that many of my own relations and many of my own rugby-playing mates probably suffer that misapprehension. But this is a pitch for the long term.

Hon Member

Rugby-playing mates?

JonesHon SHANE JONES Link to this

I used the word “mate” there, and, as Mr Quinn would know, that was not an inclusive term, in the event that he thought he was being included. But I have to acknowledge we have a great man, capable of great things on the rugby field, in our midst: Paul Quinn. We can never ever take that away from him. Unfortunately he continues to take it away from himself, so I will not add anything in that regard. As I said earlier today, I am not sure whether a rapid departure from his caucus represents transport policy, but it will be one-way traffic; there will be no more Mr Quinn.

However, let me come back to say, yes, a change of the threshold will be disruptive. A change in the threshold will mean that our lifestyle choices will have to go through a process of adaptation. Is that level of irritation or dislocation so severe that we ought not to change it? What we are actually dealing with here is that the “Minister of Dead Ends” knows there will be a change but he does not want the change under his watch. That is a political decision he is making and that is why we want to contest this point. It is more than credible that we should want to do that. It is a genuine point of difference between two political parties over a significant public policy issue.

Who has lobbied them? Who has brought this immovable force upon them that they have remained deaf and ignorant against the large overwhelming majority of the public? All the public want to see is a proactive step taken to improve the prospect of people driving under the influence of alcohol being caught and changing that behaviour. Would it have been the corporate alcohol interests, and is it possible that over the last 3 to 5 years they have contributed to this great journey? Is that why the Government is showing no interest in taking on those vested interests?

That might be the case, and if there are lobbyists paid to represent the corporate alcohol interests there is one area where I hope those lobbyists listen to the public. We have had a gutsful of these alcohol-lollipop drinks. They are creating a great deal of hazard and damage to the young—in many cases vulnerable, and in many cases coming from blighted areas. If we are going to continue, as a consequence of not changing this threshold, the option for those interests to ply that foul brew into our young people, then we should not be surprised if our young people continue to suffer, and worsen the tone in our community because they cannot handle it.

Who else might it have been? At the drop of a hat I would recognise that the Automobile Association is a very proud organisation capable of exerting a considerable level of influence, and its members are very open with their lobby, so I do not think there is anything nefarious from them. They more than likely welcome the opportunity to debate such a public policy issue in a transparent fashion. That takes me back to the small clusters of communities that make up the broad support base for the current Government and the current Minister. These are people who are unwilling to change, and these changes, as I have said, may represent some awkwardness, but in the long term they send a better message to the average Kiwi and his or her family that we have to improve and moderate our behaviour when we use our roads and we have been under the influence of alcohol. This is a group of politicians on that side of the House, and a Minister, who have to find the courage—

RobertsonThe ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson) Link to this

Order!

JonesHon SHANE JONES Link to this

—have to find the leadership and the vision to reflect something that will put the best interests of our young people at heart and convince them that it is not acceptable to continue to exercise drinking options and imagine that they can drive. One way to make that improvement is to change the threshold. As a consequence of their not doing that—naturally we all support the bill—we are disappointed. Kia ora tātou.

HughesGARETH HUGHES (Green) Link to this

Kia ora, Mr Assistant Speaker. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou, kia ora.

I was just reflecting on the very entertaining speech of the Hon Shane Jones and I wondered what type of drink it would be. I guess it is more akin to a mocktail or a shandy—colourful, filling, but not a great deal of substance. Let us be frank: the previous Labour Government had maybe two or three opportunities to act on its Cabinet discussions about the blood-alcohol level, but it did not act. I congratulate Labour on taking a strong stance now and introducing a member’s bill on the issue but we should have done this a decade ago. We have missed opportunities in the past; we cannot miss the opportunity as the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill passes through Parliament.

I acknowledge the new Mr Assistant Speaker, Mr H V Ross Robertson, in the Chair. Welcome to the new role, Mr Assistant Speaker, kia ora. I acknowledge the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee members, who heard a great number of submissions. I acknowledge the submitters. We heard some pretty powerful testimony.

The bill we are talking about is not academic; we are talking about real people’s lives. Many people in this country have had their whole lives changed, literally in a second, on a road or on a motorway, and, unfortunately, alcohol is such a massive problem in our country. When it comes to road safety the Green position is that we need to do everything we can to ensure our roads are safer.

Road safety should be a priority for the Government. Unfortunately it is not. Its priority at the moment is trying to find $10.7 billion to invest in just seven new roads. I did not bring my graph with me tonight, but a graph I have tried to table in this Parliament compares Government policy statements of the last Government and the current Government. What it shows is that Steven Joyce has raided the entire transport budget—across all the transport classes, from road sealing to road safety—to fund his pet roads of national significance.

The Green Party is proud to have always stood up for road safety in this Parliament. That is why we will vote in favour of the bill tonight, but we have some concerns. First, there are the good points. The Minister of Transport outlined some of the reasons why we support the bill. There are some good points in the bill even though the intent may be modest. We think it is important we do something about the terrible impact of alcohol on young and inexperienced drivers.

My story is that on my 15th birthday I went out and got my learner’s licence. As soon as I got my restricted licence I hit the McDonald’s drive-through to get my first drive-through meal, as I could drive by myself. I grew up in Gisborne, and among all of my mates the driving ambition was to get a car as soon as we could.

MappHon Dr Wayne Mapp Link to this

You would’ve got a bike, wouldn’t you, Gareth?

HughesGARETH HUGHES Link to this

A bike? No, as soon as I could I bought my car and drove to school every day. The Minister might not know.

QuinnPaul Quinn Link to this

He’s got a car.

HughesGARETH HUGHES Link to this

No, I think I might be the only member now who does not own a car, but I am also a member who knows how to change a car engine. I was a bit of a boy racer when I was growing up in high school. I admit I did some stupid things in my car as a 16-year-old and I think many in this Chamber would also have some similar, pretty dumb experiences. So it is important we raise the driving age.

It has been a challenge for the Green Party to decide what we would do on the driving age, but we support raising the age to 16, to move us into line with other countries. That will have an impact. We take an evidence-based approach to it. New Zealand’s accident rate for young drivers is 60 percent worse than Australia’s. We support the moves for interlocks and zero blood-alcohol levels for repeat offenders. We acknowledge the important but small-scale changes made by the select committee to cumulative workdays and to blood specimens, which make the use of vacutainers easier and empowers the New Zealand Transport Agency to take more powers with regard to taxis. We support those moves.

But when it comes to the key missing part of this legislation there are two things. On the one hand is the treatment of offenders and on the other hand is the reduction of the blood-alcohol level. Firstly, I will speak about the treatment of offenders. Much like other alcohol legislation going through this Parliament, there is a focus in the bill on the minutiae, the easy-to-do. When it comes to young people it is easy to scapegoat them as offenders. Across this country we know that drinking is not a youth problem; it is a cultural problem. We know that 92 percent of our problem drinkers are aged over 20. So when it comes to treatment, that is the missing part of the road safety puzzle in this legislation. We know that 80 percent of repeat drink-drivers meet the criteria for a drinking problem, yet only 5 percent of the 30,000 people who are annually convicted of drink-driving offences have a drug or alcohol assessment—only 5 percent. The Ministry of Transport said it would work with other Government departments on treatment options. It is a pity that the Minister of Transport is not here. I look forward to the Committee stage, to find out what progress has been made, because treatment is the key missing part of the puzzle.

When it comes to the blood-alcohol level we are an international outlier. We know that 23 similar Western nations have dropped their blood-alcohol level to 0.5. Why have they done that? They have done it because it works. What we are talking about, and what the officials are advising us on, is that we could be saving between 11 and 33 lives right now in this country, annually. We could be preventing between 300 and more than 600 serious accidents every year. The single most effective thing we could be doing, but we are not doing, is lowering the blood-alcohol level.

Why are we not doing that? I am just not sure, because the majority of the submissions to the select committee were clear. We had just a couple in favour of maintaining New Zealand’s international outlier position—

WoodhouseMichael Woodhouse Link to this

Like the AA, who represent 1.3 million drivers?

HughesGARETH HUGHES Link to this

I say to Mr Woodhouse that the Automobile Association is a really interesting point. The fact is that most of its members sign up to get its roadside assistance. I am not sure how much the association can talk on behalf of all its members, but I think it made a serious submission. It raised some excellent points, but the only submitters I can recall who submitted in favour of 0.8 were the Automobile Association, Clubs New Zealand, and the Hospitality Association. I asked them at the select committee whether their members had to be drunk to enjoy their premises. That is the thing: we need an entire cultural change. We do not need to be legally drunk. But Professor Doug Sellman in his submission said that driving with a blood-alcohol level of between 0.5 and 0.8 is driving legally drunk. We need to make a change.

We do not need more research. We heard in the select committee that there are more than 300 international reports on lowering the blood-alcohol level. We would not be going out on a limb; we would simply be keeping within the World Health Organization’s guidelines. We know we could be saving a considerable number of lives. We know public opinion is on our side. One opinion poll put at 85 percent those who supported the 0.5 blood-alcohol concentration or the two drinks maximum. We are missing a massive opportunity in this country to save lives and the economy. We are talking about saving potentially $300 million or more at a time when we are borrowing $300 million a week internationally.

I finish on the submission of Professor Doug Sellman, one of the experts on alcohol use in New Zealand. I am glancing over his submission, which states: “We have legalised drunk driving in New Zealand …”, with our current blood-alcohol level. “Decisions like this make me ashamed to be a New Zealander.” As my last point, I will read out a substantive paragraph: “Let every death and every injury that occurs in fellow citizens over the next two years and the suffering of their families be felt by those Members of Parliament who are actively conspiring against the safety, health and well-being of ordinary New Zealanders for the sake of other agendas, by supporting ‘more research’ rather than ‘action now’ on legal drunk driving; and shame on those Members of Parliament who sit back and do nothing while this scandalous decision is passed into law.”

We are missing a massive opportunity. Will it happen in 5 years? Will it happen in 2 years? To finish on the words of Professor Sellman: “Do the right thing.”

BlueDr JACKIE BLUE (National) Link to this

I am pleased to speak to the second reading of the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. This Government is serious about providing the right levers for building safer communities, and that definitely includes safety on our roads. The bill forms part of the Government’s road safety strategy, Safer Journeys, which covers the period of the decade 2010 to 2020. The long-term goal for road safety in New Zealand is set out in the Safer Journeys vision: “A safe road system that is increasingly free of death and serious injury”. This vision recognises that although it will be impossible to prevent all road crashes from happening, we can stop many of them resulting in death and serious injuries. The main provisions of the bill will result in this, indeed—fewer injuries from death, and serious injuries.

The world is a very different place from when I first learnt to drive at age 16. There are far more cars on the road now and the cars are considerably more powerful. It is estimated there are over three million vehicles on the road at the current time. That is three times as many as when I learnt to drive. I absolutely support the raising of the driving age to 16. I believe that the world today is a much more dangerous place to drive in than it was all those years ago when I first drove.

The issue of road safety needs to be addressed. The fact is New Zealand still lags behind many other countries in road safety, and the Safer Journeys approach addresses this. It is aimed at improving the safety of young drivers and giving the courts more options and tougher sanctions for serious or repeat driving offenders. I would like to focus on the serious or repeat driving offenders. There is quite a frightening statistic that 72 percent of all alcohol-related deaths on our roads are caused by drivers who have either a prior drink-driving conviction or are more than 50 percent over the current adult legal limit for drink-driving. That is truly terrifying. Recently released Ministry of Transport figures showed that in 2009, 88 deaths—or 72 percent of all alcohol-related deaths—were caused by just 73 drivers, who were either at least 50 percent over the current drink-driving limit or had a previous conviction for drink-driving. Of those 88 deaths, 34 were caused by drivers with a previous conviction, and 50 of those deaths were caused by drivers who were at least double the current legal limit.

This bill is designed to help get that small, but dangerous, group of high-risk drivers off the road. It will do that in a number of ways: by subjecting repeat drink-driving offenders to a blood-alcohol concentration of zero for 3 years, after they receive their licence back; providing a new penalty regime for breaches of the proposed zero drink-driving limit; allowing courts the option of requiring repeat or serious drink-driving offenders to use alcohol interlocks, after a mandated 90-day disqualification; and, of course, doubling the prison sentence for dangerous driving causing death.

The offenders at this end of the spectrum are the Government’s first target, because of their high contribution to fatality statistics, and there is this hard core of drink-drivers who cannot separate their drinking from their driving. Obviously the answer is for them to stop drinking, but the answer also partly lies in technologies such as alcohol interlocks, which can prevent those people from driving. It is absolutely important that we no longer tolerate continued and high-level drink-driver offending, and this bill will address that issue. Although there is no silver bullet, this bill will go some way towards helping to decrease road fatalities. I commend this bill to the House. Thank you.

ShearerDAVID SHEARER (Labour—Mt Albert) Link to this

As previous speakers have said, Labour supports the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. We think that many aspects of the bill will improve safety on our roads. The previous speaker, Dr Jackie Blue, mentioned a number of those aspects, and we go along with them.

But there are a number of areas where we believe that we could have had a much better bill, and we oppose what has been put up. The ultimate test, I think, for anything on road safety has to be: let us do something that works, let us do something that is proven, and let us do something that has evidence to back it up—evidence to back it up. So when we have a bill that does not address the alcohol limit by dropping the limit from 0.8 to 0.5, it is a wasted opportunity. It is not only a wasted opportunity—it has much more profound effects than that—it is a waste of lives.

We know that if we bring that alcohol limit down, we can save in the order of 20 or 30 lives, according to people who have done the research on this sort of thing. I do not understand, when we know that the evidence is telling us that 0.5 is much safer than 0.8, why we do not bring it down. More than 300 reports internationally have done work on this. For some reason the Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce, seems to believe that we need to do more research on New Zealand, as if the human beings in New Zealand are somewhat different from the human beings anywhere else in the world. Somehow we have to have our own international research that applies to us.

If he drinks three-quarters of a bottle of wine, it brings him up to the 0.8 limit. He said that with that amount of wine in his system he certainly would not drive, yet he is quite willing for everybody else to have that amount of alcohol in them and drive. The man is simply not being consistent and not looking at the evidence before him.

We need to have a blood-alcohol limit of 0.5; even the Prime Minister agrees with this. The Prime Minister said that that probably was the best thing to do, yet for some reason Mr Joyce felt he needed to go out and consult again. For some reason we need another 2 years of research, and for some reason he needed to test the polling, as this Government tends to do. It needs to test the polling before a decision is made, rather than trust the evidence. So we end up with a delay in the inevitable reduction of the blood-alcohol limit from 0.8 down to 0.5.

When Mr Joyce went out and checked the polling, he found, strangely, that people out there—70 percent of the public—wanted to bring the blood-alcohol limit down. Those people recognise, unlike him, that it will make our roads a safer place to be on.

That is one piece of evidence that this Government has chosen to ignore. The other one—which is not so critical in terms of driver safety, but is nevertheless based on evidence—is that somehow raising the driving age from 15 years to 16 years will make the roads much safer. Actually, the evidence proves that it does not make the roads safer. Bringing the driving age up does not improve the safety on our roads. It is the first 2 years after getting a licence that is the most dangerous time for young males up to the age of 25 years. There is absolutely no evidence to substantiate the claims that raising the age from 15 years to 16 years will make our roads safer.

It will, however, make it incredibly difficult for youth in rural areas to get to and from school and for young people to take on jobs. We all know that public transport, particularly in the city that I come from, is not provided with the sort of funding it needs, so people need cars. The people who suffer from this change will be 16 and 17-year-olds who maybe are starting a job, need to get to school, or need to get to sports clubs quite responsibly. As I said, there is no evidence that raising the age will somehow make an enormous amount of difference.

The third area that I will touch on—and this just shows that the Minister is not serious about road safety—is Mr Joyce’s famed “Holiday Highway” from Pūhoi to Wellsford. If he really was serious about road safety and if he really was concerned, then he would know that the piece of road that he will build between Pūhoi and Wellsford, at an incredible cost to the taxpayer, is a completely unnecessary road. We could have had the same benefits delivered for a fraction of the price by making safety changes, and we could spend the rest of that money on other things like, perhaps, the broken infrastructure in Christchurch. But, no, we will go ahead with a piece of road that will enable people in the holiday weekends to get to their holiday baches in Ōmaha much quicker, which is the only thing that this piece of roading will do. It will allow people to arrive about 7 or 8 minutes more quickly.

Approximately one person a year dies on that stretch of road. That is a tragedy, and it could be improved by making safety changes. The terrible statistic is that that the Warkworth to Wellsford road, the second piece of that road, kills five people a year, every year—certainly in the last 5 or 6 years—yet we will not get any progress on that part of the road.

I have submitted written questions asking about the plans of the Minister and the New Zealand Transport Agency to improve that stretch of road, including Dome Valley, which is a very dangerous piece of road. This road kills five people a year. We will not get any action on it for the next 10 years. As a result of that, at least 50 people will end up being killed on that piece of road, because the Minister has decided to build a fanciful white elephant “Holiday Highway” between Pūhoi and Wellsford so that he can get to his bach at Ōmaha quicker.

That is the bottom line here. It is really about getting people to their holiday homes. It is about helping the sorts of people Mr Joyce would like to help: his mates, the sorts of people he has just given a tax cut to, and the sorts of people he is looking to expand Auckland’s boundaries for so that they can make a killing on the property market. Those sorts of people do not necessarily use the trains; they like to use the motorways. Those are the sorts of people this Minister wants to help at the expense of those people who will die on the roads.

This Minister is not prepared to look at the evidence, which shows very clearly that a lot could be done to improve road safety. Here I hold the evidence. If members look at this front page of the New Zealand Herald from last week, they will see the heading “2 Killed, 5 Hurt”. This refers to the same piece of road on the “Holiday Highway” that Mr Joyce will not improve for another 10 or 20 years, because he will be focused on the area between Pūhoi and Wellsford that will get him to his holiday bach.

That is the sort of policy we are getting from this Government. It will not lower the blood-alcohol level, even though that happens to save lives. It will not invest in improving pieces of roading that are killing people. We get money spent on the rich, not on those who will suffer the most: people who are at the bottom of society. That is what separates that Government and that party from this party on this side of the House. This party goes by the evidence, does what is right, and stands up for those who will be hurt and killed because of crazy policies that this Minister is bringing into this House.

For that reason, I say very forcefully that although Labour supports this legislation and lots of the elements in it, there are elements that are seriously lacking, and I have outlined some of those today. Thank you.

HenareHon TAU HENARE (National) Link to this

Kia ora. Thank you, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson, and congratulations on your elevation to your old position. My advice to Labour members is to sit down, get out of the way, shut up, and let us do our job. That is all those members need to do: be quiet—

DavisKelvin Davis Link to this

Build the waka, build the “Tupper-waka”.

HenareHon TAU HENARE Link to this

That is right—No. 1 waka jumper, and proud of it. In fact, they are building a monument this very day, and I am very proud of that.

I am glad that Mr Shearer got up and spoke so eloquently.

HenareHon TAU HENARE Link to this

Well, I am. The great pity of it all is that not one member of the last Labour administration spoke as eloquently as that member did, and that is a shame. National will do the work that is required, and we will put in the hard yards that are required. I absolutely support these measures.

FaafoiKRIS FAAFOI (Labour—Mana) Link to this

Thank you, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson, for the opportunity to speak on the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. Before I get to the substance of the bill I will take this opportunity, as others have, to congratulate Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson on his elevation to the post. I know he has vast experience in the House, and I am sure he will be a fair-minded Assistant Speaker.

As many members on this side of the House have said, Labour supports the thrust of this bill and many of the measures in it. But there are a number of bones of contention that we have highlighted tonight. As my colleague David Shearer said previously, the move not to take any action on lowering the blood-alcohol level is a lost opportunity. It is a lost opportunity to take real action on a matter that has real public support. As David Shearer also mentioned, it is a real lost opportunity to save, every year, the lives of about 25 or 30 Kiwis on the roads.

There was an opportunity to have cross-party support to lower the blood-alcohol level from 0.08 to 0.05, and I believe that this House should have taken it. It was a lost opportunity to do what is right. We have the ability to save the lives of many Kiwis who are out on the roads now, driving innocently down the road when someone who has had too much to drink gets behind the wheel and takes lives. We have the ability to save 25 to 30 of those lives, but we are seeing a lost opportunity.

The Minister of Transport had the opportunity to get cross-party support through a member’s bill that Labour put forward. The Minister himself has already let the cat out of the bag and said he supports lowering the legal blood-alcohol limit from 0.08 to 0.05. He supports lowering the blood-alcohol limit. He said himself that it was just ridiculous that he could drink three-quarters of a bottle of wine and still be able to drive. The fact that the Government and the Minister did not have the courage of their convictions to do what is right and put some substantial changes in the bill to lower the blood-alcohol limit is a lost opportunity.

Instead, what has the Government done? It has made a commitment to carry out 2 more years of research to see whether there is a massive effect from drivers who are found with a blood-alcohol limit between 0.08 and 0.05. We do not need any more research. Over the last 50 years we have had 300 studies to find out the impact of drink-driving around these levels. They quite categorically say that lowering the blood-alcohol limit is the thing to do to make sure we can save lives. The lost opportunity—and the Government knows it—is that right now we could be taking concrete action against those who go out there, get behind the wheel, and cause grief.

We know what Steven Joyce wants to do, because he know the optics are right. A One News poll from Television New Zealand stated that 67 percent of Kiwis want a lowered blood-alcohol rate. Public opinion is there, and the Minister knows it. Let me have a look at what the media has had to say about this issue: “a UMR Research survey … found 70 per cent of respondents supported lowering the limit to 50mg”. That was in the New ZealandHerald on 19 May last year. The New ZealandHerald is not a fan of the Labour Party at the moment, but it is still talking sense around lowering the blood-alcohol limit.

An article in the Otago Daily Times of 9 April 2010states: “A Research NZ poll of 500 people has found 63% support lowering the adult blood-alcohol limit from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, to 50mg. Previous surveys have seen a 50-50 split.” There has been a mood change over the years, and the mood change has been that Kiwis want to see action on lowering the blood-alcohol limit. The Otago Daily Times continues: “The poll also found 84% in favour of a zero blood-alcohol limit for drivers under 20.”

Journalists in the Bay of Plenty took positive action, just to test the real impact of drinking and driving. They took it upon themselves to have a few drinks and then see where they tested and how they felt when they were at the limit. On 28 August the front page article in the Bay of Plenty Times said that four Bay of Plenty journalists had failed a breath test only after consuming eight bottles of beer or five glasses of wine. One of the female reporters was rolling drunk on wine, and, amazingly, she still blew under the limit. Importantly, they all felt they should not be driving, despite registering below the legal limit. They were journalists taking it upon themselves to be guinea pigs to test where they were on the scale of whether they were OK to be behind the wheel. They were—although one was rolling drunk and the other three knew they would not be safe behind the wheel. Again, in the Otago Daily Times on 9 April, Otago University public health physician and epidemiologist Jennie Connor said that drivers with a blood-alcohol level of 80mg were almost four times more likely to have a fatal crash than those with a reading of 50mg.

Why are we not taking action? There is support on this side of the House to make sure we can take action. The Government would absolutely and utterly have the mandate of this Parliament to make sure we could take some real action. In an earlier stage of this debate the Minister said there was a need for public support. That support is already out there, as I mentioned and as shown in the earlier public opinion polls, such as that from my former colleagues at One News, which showed 67 percent in favour of lowering the blood-alcohol rate.

It is wrong that we are heading down the one-way street against the tide of public opinion. People want the blood-alcohol level to be lowered. As I said before, there have been 300 studies over the last 50 years. We do not need to wait another 2 years. The members on the other side of the House can cry across at us “You did nothing over 9 years.” Well, those guys are there now and have the Treasury benches.

BlueDr Jackie Blue Link to this

We’re doing stuff.

FaafoiKRIS FAAFOI Link to this

You are not doing what is needed.

RobertsonThe ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson) Link to this

The member cannot bring the Speaker into the debate.

FaafoiKRIS FAAFOI Link to this

I apologise, Mr Assistant Speaker. The Government is not doing what is needed and what is publicly supported in terms of lowering the blood-alcohol limit. At a Transport and Industrial Relations Committee hearing a number of submitters were urging the Government to take action. As Gareth Hughes mentioned earlier on in this debate, there was a submission by Professor Doug Sellman. I will take a moment to have a look at what he said. He said it was “an appalling decision by Government to deliberately delay the lowering of the adult level for drink driving from 0.08 to at least 0.05. Decisions like this make me feel ashamed to be a New Zealander. It makes me feel part of an increasingly backward little nation of plodders and plonkers, having previously been a world leader in progressive social change towards a safer and healthier human society.”

QuinnPaul Quinn Link to this

That’s OK; let him wander off to Australia. Cheerio, Doug.

FaafoiKRIS FAAFOI Link to this

Paul Quinn can sit on the other side of the House taking pot shots, but we are talking about people’s lives here. If he thinks it is funny that we are not taking action against lowering the blood-alcohol limit, then let the record show that. Professor Sellman went on: “Lives are going to be unnecessarily lost and severe maiming injuries suffered to innocent New Zealanders that could be prevented over the next two years, while research that even the researchers are not calling for is undertaken. The cost to the country has been predicted to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

In this case, although Labour supports the thrust of the bill, the Minister has the judgment wrong on this one. The public opinion is that we should take real action because too many New Zealanders—even young New Zealanders—have lost their lives on the road. The Minister has this wrong and he knows it. He himself has said that it is just ridiculous that someone like him can drink three-quarters of a bottle of wine and still be able to get behind the wheel. The judgment call is wrong. The judgment could have been made to reach across to this side of the House to take some affirmative action to make sure we can save lives, but that judgment was not made.

WoodhouseMICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) Link to this

Welcome back to the Chair, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson.

For all the huffing and puffing, I think there are just two questions we need to ask: are we safer on the road than we were 10 years ago, and what is Labour’s record during its 9 years in office when it had a chance to do something about it? I will tell members the answer to the second question: none, zilch, nada. Labour did absolutely nothing. We had a 12-month rolling road toll that had been steadily decreasing since the 1970s and then it flatlined under the Labour Government. When other countries’ safety records improved, ours did nothing. We now have road fatality rates per kilometres travelled 40 percent higher than Australia’s, 28 percent higher than America’s, and 82 percent higher than the UK’s. Labour members can spout sanctimonious sermons, but the fact is that Labour did absolutely nothing about it when it had its chance. The public should view Labour members’ crocodile tears for road safety for what they are: populist, dog-whistle politics.

I will move on to the question of blood-alcohol—[Interruption] They did; they microchipped the dogs.

I will move on to the issue of blood-alcohol concentration, because it has been the fixation of members opposite during the whole second reading debate. The second question is how many serious or fatal accidents in New Zealand involve drivers whose blood-alcohol concentration was between 0.05 and 0.08 where the driver was at fault. The fact is, we do not know. We can draw some inferences from the international data—

ShearerDavid Shearer Link to this

300 reports, though.

WoodhouseMICHAEL WOODHOUSE Link to this

Yes, but the member has not named a single report that actually answers that question. How many drivers driving between 0.05 and 0.08 caused an accident where they were at fault?

Even in the Safer Journeys document, in which the Automobile Association produced some data to support their position that at this stage 0.08 should not be dropped, the Ministry of Transport was quite critical of the Automobile Association’s data. In fact, the ministry criticised itself. When the Automobile Association pointed out that just 6 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes where alcohol was a factor had a blood-alcohol concentration of below 0.08, the ministry pointed out that of the 7,800 accidents in the 5-year period of the study, in only half of those accidents where alcohol was suspected was blood even taken for analysis. The simple fact is that we can draw lots of inferences from the data, but we cannot say whether it will save the lives that Mr Shearer claims it will.

However, it is true that increased blood-alcohol concentration raises relative risk, and that is also what SaferJourneys stated. But it does not raise risk evenly, does it? Those aged 15 to 19 years old are five times more at risk than 30-year-olds. So alcohol is a factor, but it is not the only factor. There are other factors at work; otherwise the accident rate would be extremely correlated. That is why this Government is moving to do better than 0.05 for those people who are at the greatest risk. People aged 15 to 19 years old will have to have a blood-alcohol concentration of zero. Recidivist drivers will have to have a blood-alcohol concentration of zero, and they will have to have interlocks. Maybe the evidence will suggest that that is the right thing to do.

Maybe if Labour members were pontificating over that for 9 years, they should have done something about it. I refer to Mr Hughes’ submission that 85 percent of the public supports that even though the Government is not doing it. Well, I could name a raft of legislation passed over the last 9 years where 85 percent of the public did not support much of the social engineering legislation that the Labour Government put through with the support of the Greens, but that Government did it nevertheless.

This is a Government that will work on evidence. Again, it is very ironic that Ms Fenton somehow is the friend of 15-year-olds. She never mentioned it once in the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, where Labour supported the raising of the licensing age to 16, and has now done a complete U-turn, despite the fact that the evidence is unequivocal that those 15-year-olds are at risk. Labour will sacrifice the 15-year-olds for the sake of a vote in 2014. Clearly it has lost those people for 2011, but it realises they will be turning 18 by 2014 and maybe then they might vote Labour. I say: “Good luck with that.” But there is not enough evidence to suggest that a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.05 will work. We are gathering it, and we will see how that goes. In the meantime, I am sure we have not heard the last of this.

Link to this

A party vote was called for on the question,

That the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill be now read a second time.

Ayes 116

Noes 4

Bill read a second time.

Speeches

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