I move, That the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill be now read a third time. I thank members for their work on this bill. It has been given a thorough examination, and the amendments have made a good bill even better.
The promotion of road safety is a very important task. Sadly, and despite the best efforts of lawmakers, enforcement staff, engineers, and others in the community road crashes still have a very significant impact in New Zealand. Far too many of us grieve the loss of loved ones killed in crashes on our roads. These crashes also impose considerable economic and social costs on our communities. For these reasons I have been pleased and privileged to be able to promote this bill, which I am confident will further reduce the trauma and social costs arising from road crashes.
It is worth noting that the Government has been very active in seeking to improve road safety during the short 2½ years it has been in office. We have not been afraid to take steps to help reduce the road toll where the evidence supports those steps. We have passed legislation dealing with illegal street-racing and drug-driving, and introduced a ban on using cellphones while driving. We are currently preparing legislation that will change the give-way rule and include measures to improve motorcycle safety.
We have reoriented our investment in new infrastructure to improve capacity and safety outcomes on our busiest and most dangerous highways with the roads of national significance programme. Today we have the final reading of the most significant road safety legislation this House has seen since the Land Transport Act was passed in 1998.
It is also noteworthy that the House is considering this important road safety legislation at this time, as 11 May marks the beginning of the UN-sponsored Decade of Action for Road Safety. New Zealand will be the first country in the world to mark this important date, and the provisions in this bill, along with the first action plan for Safer Journeys—our Road Safety Strategy—will provide an appropriate way to commemorate this global event.
The most significant road safety advances in this bill are improving the safety of young drivers, addressing the dangers posed by high-risk drivers, and improving the enforceability of existing road safety provisions. The bill aims to improve young driver safety by increasing the minimum licensing age from 15 to 16, introducing a zero breath-alcohol limit for drivers under 20, and allowing the New Zealand Transport Agency to toughen up the practical licensing test that is necessary to obtain a restricted driver’s licence.
These are important and vital steps in enabling us to reduce the number of young drivers who are killed on our roads. If we can match the safety levels that Australia has reached, we could, based on 2009 figures, save up to 25 young lives a year. The date from which this increased licensing age takes effect is 1 August this year. I consider that having a specific date—from the start of a month—in the legislation will assist young people, parents, and caregivers to be clear about when the change takes effect.
The harm caused by high-risk drivers is completely disproportionate to their numbers. These drivers include those who use our roads while grossly intoxicated and those who are repeat drink-driving offenders. The bill will allow the courts to require these drivers to have alcohol interlocks fitted to their car at their own expense. Alcohol interlocks are a new initiative for New Zealand, but they are well proven overseas. Although they are not a silver bullet, they are a new tool in the toolbox for dealing with these drivers, making it clear to them that they have to separate their drinking from their driving.
In the same light, the bill provides for a new zero breath-alcohol level for these drivers. This is another new tool, and it will apply for 3 years after a driver receives his or her licence back after a disqualification. These are major steps towards correcting these drivers’ dangerous behaviour on our roads, and it will be an important part of improving the safety of our road system.
I know that the Land Transport and Industrial Relations Committee received a lot of submissions requesting that the adult drink-drive limit be lowered. It is to the committee’s credit that it accepted that more specific New Zealand research needs to be carried out to identify the actual harm caused by blood-alcohol levels between the possible lower limit of 0.05 grams and the current limit of 0.08 grams. This bill will enable this work to be undertaken by police and Ministry of Transport officials, so that the Government can be properly informed as to the benefits of lowering the adult blood-alcohol level.
Finally, the bill will allow for the retirement of the Transport Act 1962. It will modernise and update laws and processes, especially around rule-making. It will allow road controlling authorities to make bylaws in respect of a greater range of issues, and it will make a number of improvements to existing provisions to improve their enforceability.
These changes will contribute to improved road safety and efficiency in the sector. An example of this is the amended definition of “work time”, coupled with a new power to enable the police to use search warrants to obtain evidence of breaches of work time. These provisions reflect the importance of ensuring that our heavy-vehicle drivers comply with work time and rest requirements. I know that industry bodies welcome these changes, as they will allow a more level playing field for the law-abiding. I hope these changes will, in turn, contribute to the very pleasing downward trend in fatal truck crashes that we are seeing.
The Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill is an important bill, and I am confident that it will support all our efforts to reduce the road toll, and in so doing make our country safer. I think we are doing a good thing today in passing this bill, and I commend the bill to the House.
I am very pleased to take a call in the third reading of the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. As Labour members have said previously, we support the majority of this bill. There is a lot that is good in it. We support a zero limit for repeat drunk drivers, the alcohol interlocks for repeat offenders, the tightening of work-time requirements for truckdrivers, and the doubling of the minimum prison time for drink-driving, drug-driving, or reckless driving causing death. This bill builds on the work Labour did while in Government.
We all want to see the road toll come down, and we should acknowledge that although we have different opinions about how that should be done and where the emphasis should be, we come to road safety issues—well, I hope we do—in the Parliament with a genuine desire across all parties to see lives saved and injuries reduced. Having said that, I resent the implication from the member opposite that Labour did nothing. We take this very seriously, along with all parties—and they are wrong. They are absolutely and utterly wrong.
One of the major differences we have on this bill is the Government’s decision to ignore the opportunity to reduce the blood-alcohol concentration limit from 0.08 grams to 0.05 grams. It is hard to understand why this Government has ignored the overwhelming will of the New Zealand public and of experts who want to see this matter resolved in this bill. We tried very hard to help the Government save face on this matter. During the Committee stage we put forward an amendment that would have reduced the blood-alcohol concentration limit. The Government voted against it. We have a member’s bill ready to go—and have had for some time—but the Government has shown no interest. It has instead chosen a very long-winded approach to sorting out the issues, and that will take 2 years, and the Government’s excuse is that it needs to gather evidence. I do not think that is good enough.
It is funny to look back to when the Minister released the Government’s Safer Journeys strategy last March. He acknowledged that the New Zealand public wanted change. We have made progress on reducing drink-driving but there are still real issues to be resolved. This bill, unfortunately, will leave out one of the most important remedies for reducing accidents caused by drunk-drivers, and it will be put on hold for another 2 years.
Everybody knows that reducing the blood-alcohol concentration limit makes a difference. In the Minister’s own language when he introduced restrictions on cellphone use: “This is a no-brainer.” But we have a no-brain response to reducing the blood-alcohol concentration limit, even though the Minister himself tried it out and found out how silly it is. He drank three-quarters of a bottle of wine and found he was still legally able to drive.
The Minister did, and he said it was crazy. We agree it is crazy, but we have to ask what happened between the time he drank all that booze, found he was incompetent to drive and said the legal alcohol limits are ridiculous, and the time this bill was introduced. We can only speculate. I believe that the Minister is a very pragmatic and genuine Minister, but this time I think he got rolled by his Cabinet. They were happy enough to enforce a zero blood-alcohol limit on young people under 20, but, at the same time, they condoned a high blood-alcohol limit for adults. That is wrong. Of course Labour supports the zero blood-alcohol limit for those under 20, but what sort of example do we set for them when, on the one hand, we say they cannot be trusted with any alcohol but, on the other hand, adults can continue to drink in a crazy way, to use the Minister’s own words? What sort of example does that set for young drivers? I think they will be very annoyed that the Government is increasing the driver-licensing age from 15 to 16 while, at the same time, it is telling young people that adults know better when it comes to drinking, and particularly when it comes to drink-driving. It is a double standard. It is crazy.
The amount a driver can drink under our current regime is ridiculously high. The current blood-alcohol concentration limit allows people to become significantly impaired and still legally drive. It has been tested by people up and down the country. There have been many reports of that in the newspapers. The blood-alcohol concentration limit for adult drivers was set in 1978, a long time ago, and since then New Zealand and international research has consistently demonstrated the benefits associated with lowering the blood-alcohol concentration levels to 0.05 grams—or lower—in saving lives and preventing serious crashes.
The Minister of Transport referred in his speech to what the Australians are doing. Actually, let us look at what they have been doing. New South Wales achieved an 8 percent reduction in fatal crashes and a 7 percent reduction in serious-injury crashes—this is by lowering the blood-alcohol concentration limit—and Queensland achieved an 18 percent reduction in fatal crashes and a 14 percent reduction in serious crashes. Belgium achieved a 10 percent reduction in all alcohol-related fatalities, and France achieved a 30 percent reduction in alcohol-related fatal crashes. So why is New Zealand different? Why do we have to wait 2 years? Why do we need 2 more years’ research to prove what we already know? This has annoyed the public. They will be annoyed when they find out that the Government has missed an opportunity to deal with this. The polls have repeatedly shown that they are overwhelmingly in favour of this measure, and according to Alcohol Healthwatch, not reducing the limit is “gutless” and a missed opportunity to save at least 14 lives a year. I quote its director, Rebecca Williams. She said: “We simply do not need more research to tell us that this will effectively save lives and reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes on our roads. Nearly 300 studies showed driving skills were significantly impaired at the current 80mg limit and public support for lowering the limit was growing. This is a regrettable failure that leaves our Government with blood on its hands.”
I am sure most National members know in their hearts that this is a poor decision. Although, as I said, there is much in the bill that is good, this is a poor decision. It has missed the opportunity to save lives. I know that Jackie Blue, for example, will be gutted by her party’s decision. Actually, I know that the Minister does not really have his heart in it either. I am sorry, but the Government is playing irresponsibly with the lives of Kiwi road users by not taking this important—
—well, I am very polite—step now and instead delaying it for another 2 years.
Then there is the other part of the bill that Labour has had difficulty with, and that is the reduction in the driver-licensing age. Sure, it looks good on paper and sounds good. It looks good in the media. “Let’s have a go at the young. After all, they are not a particularly politically vocal group, and drivers under the age of 18 cannot vote.” We thought long and hard about this, but the difficulty is that the Government has grabbed a low-hanging fruit approach to this. “Let’s just put up the driver-licensing age.” The problem is it will impact on the rural communities, on young workers who have to go to work where there is no public transport, and where their families rely on that additional work to boost the family income, particularly at this time when the cost of living is so appallingly difficult for people.
We have difficulties with this measure because there is no evidence that raising the age will reduce the accident rate for young drivers. There is no evidence. No one is clear whether it is the age, the lack of experience, or the lack of supervised driver training that is causing the problems. We think this is a big step to take, given the impact it will have on the communities I have mentioned. We know that the greatest risk for young drivers is during their first 6 months of driving independently. I think what this provision will do is simply shift the age at which we have problems. We believe that young people learning to drive need to have proper education and proper supervision, and we support the extension in this bill from 6 to 12 months for the learner-licence period before a driver can obtain a restricted licence.
As I said, there are two problems with this bill. We have outlined them. We tried to assist the Government in the Committee stage. We are particularly regretful that the bill does not go far enough in dealing with the adult blood-alcohol concentration level. It is a missed opportunity. It is a sad time for New Zealanders and road users.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak on the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. First of all, I congratulate the Minister of Transport on bringing this series of legislation before the House. This legislation is here to deal with road safety issues. It is formulated on the basis of the Safer Journeys document, which is the Government’s road safety strategy to 2020, and represents real and positive steps being made in the road safety arena that have not been made in the last decade by the previous Government. It shows a fair and balanced approach, and is taking a measured approach, looking at what can be done now and what will set up for the future any further developments that the Parliament wishes to pursue.
I congratulate the Minister on taking these initiatives, on being bold and actually doing it, and on pressing the bill through the Parliament with the support of the other parties. I thank those other parties that will vote for this bill today. I understand that we will have a lot of support in passing this legislation, which is important in sending a signal that this Government and this Parliament are serious about road safety and wish the best for all our drivers, young and old, to make sure that they have the ability to use, and benefit from, our roads in a safe and secure manner.
I thank members of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee—some have already spoken and others will speak—for the way that they approached the issues involved. They took a very serious approach and looked to make as many changes as could be made in promoting this bill, so that we had the best possible legislation going forward through the select committee process. I also thank the officials. We acknowledge the work that they did through that process and thank them for their efforts in bringing this bill to fruition.
Basically the bill has two main parts to it. First is the driving age, which is now raised from 15 to 16 years. This is a major change to the driving laws, especially for young people in New Zealand. The second part is the toughening of sanctions for serious and repeat drink-driving offenders. Those two parts are the major policy initiatives that this legislation represents. There have been arguments around the driving age, as to whether 15, 16, or higher is appropriate. Effectively, the age of 16 brings New Zealand to an approach consistent with that of Australia and other States that have been shown to have an effective approach, and have shown results from increasing the driving age. There are also rules and regulations around supervision and the process of getting a full driver’s licence that should also ensure that young drivers become good drivers when they pass their test, and are able to look after themselves and other road users.
The other part of the legislation at the forefront is the sanctions for serious and repeat drink-driving offenders. Lowering the legal youth drink-driving blood-alcohol concentration to zero, which members have spoken about in this debate, is an important part of those sanctions. It is another signal to young drivers that drinking and driving is not acceptable. There will also be the introduction of alcohol interlocks for repeat offenders who have very high blood-alcohol levels, which will enable the introduction of zero drink-driving limits for those serious offenders.
Also there will be further research on the risks posed by drivers with a blood-alcohol concentration between 0.05 grams and 0.08 grams, and there will be a strengthening of the penalties for offences causing death. Members will see that strengthening in clause 19 of the bill, which has imprisonment of 10 years as a possible penalty for somebody who causes death through drink-driving.
It will also allow the police to gather further evidence of those drivers involved in fatal or serious crashes. Road safety will be promoted in a number of other ways through the collection and analysis of blood specimens and the tightening of work-time requirements to prevent fatigue in certain drivers.
Essentially, the bill is based around road safety. It is in the best interests of all New Zealand drivers. The two key parts of it relate to the minimum age for driving and also drink-driving limits. We see this bill as an important step in making our roads safer and also in looking after our young and older drivers throughout New Zealand. I commend it to the House and congratulate all those involved in making this legislation a reality today. Thank you.
It is a great pleasure for me to rise and speak in support—for the most part—of the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. As Opposition members are wont to do, we have focused on the areas of the bill we disagree with and where we disagree with the Government. But it is important to reinforce the point that Labour endorses the overwhelming majority of this bill and endorses the intention of this bill to improve road safety, to lower the number of lives lost every year, and to lower the injury rate on the roads in New Zealand. To that end we support most of the measures in the bill.
We support measures like the zero limit for repeat drink-drivers. It is important that people who are caught drinking and driving receive the message when they are in court on that first offence that they should not have done it in the first place, that when they are allowed to drive again and get their licence back there is an expectation that they will not do it again, and that if they are caught doing it again then the penalties will be much, much harsher. That, I think, will help to provide the kind of incentive to keep people from becoming drink-drivers or, worse, repeat drink-drivers.
I would like to point out, though, that the point at which someone is caught drinking and driving is an excellent opportunity to get them assessed and to decide whether they could benefit from some form of alcohol treatment. It may prove that they have an alcohol addiction. It may prove that they are exhibiting behaviours that will indicate they are likely to become a repeat drink-driver regardless of the penalties. That is an excellent opportunity for the health system to step up and provide the kind of treatment that could actually prevent that drink-driving behaviour showing itself, and that could prevent possible accidents, injuries, and deaths from that behaviour further down the track.
Unfortunately, at the moment our health system is not very responsive; we do not have the capacity in our health system to respond in that kind of way. There is a significant waiting list for those who self-identify or are referred by whatever means. However people are identified as having a drug or alcohol problem, there is a significant waiting list for getting them into treatment. Often we find that by the time that treatment becomes available, particularly for those who are self-identified as being at risk, motivation is perhaps not there any more and they do not engage in that treatment in the way they might have had the treatment been available on the spot. So it would be great to see, going hand in hand with this legislation, improved funding and improved support for the health system to be able to respond to drink-drivers who are discovered, as a result of their being caught, to have a drinking problem.
Labour also supports the zero limit for drivers under 20. People under 20 are learning to drive, learning to become better drivers, and learning how to be part of the traffic system. That often has its issues, and that is why we see so many accidents and issues amongst those drivers who are learning. But, of course, many of them at that age are also learning to drink, and the two absolutely should not mix. We know amongst adults that the two should not mix, and these are the two things that should not go together for young people learning to drive and learning how to drink responsibly. So we absolutely support the zero limit for under 20 drivers.
We also support the introduction of alcohol interlocks for repeat offenders. Going back to what I was saying about harsher penalties, I repeat that if someone is silly enough to be a repeat offender or has not had the support to deal with an alcohol addiction, then some consequences are going to have to come with that, and I suppose the giving up of some liberties is going to have to come with that. The ability to drive without that interlock does not seem like a great liberty to have to give up, and this will ensure that drivers have not imbibed too much alcohol before they get behind the wheel.
There is much in this bill that Labour is supportive of, including doubling the minimum prison time for drunk, drugged, or reckless driving causing death. I know that that will be very, very well received by the New Zealand public, particularly by those who have lost loved ones at the hands of someone who has been behind the wheel when they should not have been—either through having had too much to drink or consuming other drugs—or who has taken a life as a result of reckless driving. I know that will certainly be well received.
Where the Labour Opposition departs from the Government’s view on this bill is that we think this was an ideal opportunity to reduce the adult blood-alcohol level from 0.08 grams to 0.05 grams. This was one of those rare—perhaps not so rare—opportunities that everybody in Parliament looks for when both the evidence and the court of public opinion come together. The evidence is strongly in favour of reducing the blood-alcohol limit, the public opinion is strongly in favour of reducing the blood-alcohol limit, and, indeed, the Minister of Transport’s own anecdotal research is in favour of reducing the blood-alcohol limit. So it really is a missed opportunity for this Parliament to carry out something that the evidence says not only is the right thing to do but would be extremely well received by the New Zealand public.
The Minister and the Government say that we need to gather more evidence on this issue. I have no doubt that once that evidence is gathered, this change will occur. I have absolutely no doubt that in the fullness of time the blood-alcohol limit in New Zealand will be reduced from 0.08 to 0.05. It is just a pity we are not doing it now. If we look overseas to Australia, we see that in New South Wales an 8 percent reduction in fatal crashes was achieved, and a 7 percent reduction in serious injury crashes was achieved, after the state reduced its blood-alcohol limit. In Queensland an 18 percent reduction was achieved in fatal crashes and a 14 percent reduction in serious crashes. Belgium achieved a 10 percent reduction in all alcohol-related fatalities, and France achieved a 30 percent reduction in alcohol-related fatal crashes. So the evidence is there. We do not really need to wait to gather more evidence, or to put at risk any more lives; we could be doing it now. But I do have hope that in the fullness of time this change will occur, and that Parliament will go ahead and do what is right—do what people are crying out for us to do, if we are honest.
The other area where we disagree with the Government concerns increasing the driver-licensing age from 15 to 16. That, I guess, is a slightly different situation from what we have seen with the blood-alcohol limit. I can imagine that a lot of people out there instinctively feel that increasing that driver-licensing age is the right thing to do. It just seems as if to increase the age from 15 to 16 is a sensible thing to do. We know that a lot of the crashes happen amongst those young people, and we know that if we allow someone to mature an extra year, then they will be that much more mature. But the evidence simply does not bear that out, and we have to be making evidence-based policy and passing evidence-based legislation in this Parliament. Much as the public might think instinctively that it is a good idea—and certainly when I first heard of the idea I thought it was a good idea—when we looked at the evidence we found that the evidence simply did not back it up. The problem is that young drivers in those first few years of driving are at a much higher risk. It does not matter whether they start driving at 15 or 16. Really, unless we were to increase the driver-licensing age to 25—the age when the frontal lobe is fully developed and, hopefully, when most people have achieved a much greater level of maturity—then increasing the age would not make sense. But the evidence does not back up the increase from 15 to 16.
There are some areas where Labour differs from the Government’s position, but overall we are very pleased to support this legislation.
Kia ora, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou. Kia ora. It is great to take a call on the third reading of the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. I acknowledge the members of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, the officials, and everyone who came to the select committee and submitted. I acknowledge Darren Hughes, who introduced a Supplementary Order Paper, and who was involved in the submission process. The Green Party also acknowledges the importance of road safety; every death that occurs on our roads is a tragedy. Many of us in this Chamber have been impacted on by deaths or serious accidents on our roads, and every single one of those is a tragedy. We need to do everything we can to make sure we have fewer and fewer tragedies every year.
The Green Party will be supporting this bill, and we support the intent to make our roads safer. We believe genuinely that this bill will make our roads safer; however, we lament the missed opportunities. There are possibly some once-in-a-decade or once-in-a-generation opportunities that we could have taken in this bill, while the stars were aligned, to reduce the blood-alcohol content. We are also missing another opportunity, because while we are talking about Safer Journeys, the New Zealand Transport Agency’s discussion document, and while we are passing this legislation today to make our roads safer, what is happening with road transport planning and road transport funding in New Zealand is doing the opposite. In fact, what we are doing is becoming more dependent on our cars, more dependent on heavy trucks, and more dependent on oil, which will see more of us and more of our whānau impacted on by deaths on our roads.
The most effective thing we could be doing to reduce the road toll in New Zealand is reducing the number of cars on our roads by giving people real options to bike safely to work, to take a train that is reliable, or to take a bus that is affordable and convenient. Those are the things we need to talk about; those are the opportunities we have missed.
When we look at the context, we see that this Government—and it is a pity that Steven Joyce has left the Chamber, because he has just released his draft Government policy statement—and Steven Joyce have literally raided the transport pantry to fund his pet seven roads of national significance. In fact, with his latest Government policy statement he has actually obtained the crumbs to fund the four new roads of national significance. I do not want to speak badly of the Taupō to Cambridge Road, or the people who frequent that road, but I do not—
That is a good question. The fact is that more people drive on big-city arterial roads or on Kōpū Bridge than they do on that road. There is a distinct smell of hawk when it comes to that road, and to some of the other four new roads of national significance. The flipside is that as Steven Joyce has raided the pantry to fund his pet roads, there is just no more money for those alternatives, which we need in 2011 to deal with the climate crisis, the oil crisis, the inequality crisis, and the lack of real affordable options that many Kiwi families have in order to get to work.
In the latest Government policy statement, the budget for public transport infrastructure declines seriously over the next 10 years. It is necessary that we start work now on Auckland’s inner-city central business district rail loop and Wellington City’s light rail system. We need the Government to step up to the plate. At the moment, for every dollar it is spending on walking, cycling, buses, and trains it is pouring $7 on to its pet seven political “roads of National Government significance”. That is mad for the climate, when our emissions have increased 70 percent since 1990; it is mad, when we consider that oil is now at its most expensive ever in our country’s history, at $2.21 a litre; it is mad, when we consider we are in the midst of an obesity crisis, and more people die from air pollution from road transport than they do from road accidents on our roads; and it is mad, when road safety is what we are trying to achieve.
The Green Party supports the bill, but we want it to go further. We will be voting for it, but we lament those opportunities. We agree the driving age for 15-year-olds should be increased to 16. I think the member Mr Lees-Galloway might like to look at some of the evidence. I have seen the evidence, and I believe that it is compelling. I did not want to raise, or support raising, the driving age to 16. As soon as I turned 15 I went to get my driver’s licence. As soon as I could, I got a car, just like so many Kiwi kids do. The first thing they want to do is get around, driving their cars. The fact is that many Kiwi 15-year-olds just do not have realistic alternatives to get to work or to school.
We support alcohol interlocks, we support the zero blood-alcohol level for repeat drink-drivers, and we support the increased sanctions for repeat drink-driving offences. We even support changing the procedures in relation to how we deal with blood specimens, clarifying the roles of parking wardens, and a whole host of the smaller, less controversial measures in the bill. But the three parts of the bill we seriously disagree with are the youth blood-alcohol level, the treatment of drink-drivers, and again, which Labour has rightly pointed out, the need—the urgent need—to reduce the blood-alcohol level for over-20-year-olds to 0.05 grams.
Firstly, looking at the youth issue, we have effectively dropped the blood-alcohol level to zero—0.03 grams. We believe that this legislation is scapegoating our young people. The real issue is that 92 percent of heavy drinking in this country is by over-20-year-olds. It is politically expedient to focus on just the under-20-year-olds when many of them do not in fact vote for the governing party, for rightful reasons. It is convenient to target them and to ignore the big, important issue, which is adult drink-driving, and the broader issue, that we have a drinking problem in this country. Treatment is missing from the bill. Perhaps it did not have to be in this legislation, but I think the Government needs to step up to the plate with more support for alcohol treatment. We know that 80 percent of repeat drink-drivers in New Zealand have a drinking problem, yet only 5 percent of those 30,000 people convicted annually for drink-driving offences receive any sort of alcohol treatment—only 5 percent. We need to be stepping that up. Clearly as a nation we have a drinking problem. It is $4 billion in social costs.
At the same time that this legislation is going through we have the Alcohol Reform Bill, which comes from the Law Commission report, to try to tackle the serious issue of our cultural problem with drinking in New Zealand. Unfortunately, this bill adopts the same position as the Alcohol Reform Bill, which is that it is politically expedient to target young people and not look at the bigger, more fundamental structural reasons for why we have a drinking problem in New Zealand. Under the Alcohol Reform Bill, the focus is on the split regime, or whether we raise the age of purchasing alcohol from 18 and 19 years old, to 20. We are ignoring the pervasive $70 million - plus alcohol advertising industry. We are ignoring the pervasive sponsorship of events, university orientations, sports clubs—
I believe that it is in scope, I say to Mr Woodhouse. It ignores the accessibility—
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There are successive Speakers’ rulings on scope in third reading debates. I suggest Mr Hughes’ debate on the merits of the alcohol purchase age and advertising are well outside the scope.
I say that this is the third reading. Often it is a reading that encompasses everything that has been said in the debate, and the member is doing just that.
I do not want to waffle, because in fact I am running late. I am accepting on the steps of Parliament a petition from Gisborne to save their local rail line, so I will push on.
We have a drinking problem in this country, and the most effective thing we could have done was—
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Without wishing to challenge your ruling, I wonder whether you would explain Speakers’ ruling 117/4(1), which states that the member cannot discuss “Any matter not included in the clauses of the bill;”.
The member can actually do that. The reality is that this is a third reading debate. A third reading debate often refers to things that have gone on in the Committee stage of the House. I did not hear that debate, but it may well be that the member did. But if that member had just waited, the honourable member Gareth Hughes had changed his stance and was moving back towards what he started with.
That is correct; I was pushing on. Obviously alcohol is the key part of this bill, and that is what I was referring to. Today we should be reducing the blood-alcohol level to 0.05 grams. We know the New Zealand Transport Agency’s estimates: we could be saving between 15 and 33 lives; we could be saving 686 people in this country from serious injuries. The evidence is there. More than 300 international reports show we should be doing that. Public opinion, maybe for the first time in decades, is onside. I acknowledge that Labour members discussed the issue, but did not cross the bridge to reduce the blood-alcohol level when they were in Government. The evidence and public opinion are onside. We are not talking about going out on a limb; we are talking about moving into the international norm. Twenty-three other OECD nations have reduced their blood-alcohol level to 0.05 grams. It would be only going in line with World Health Organization guidelines.
I will finish with what I found to be the most compelling submission in the select committee process. It was from Professor Doug Sellman, and I will read a quote from him: “We have legalised drunk-driving in New Zealand [with our current blood-alcohol level.] … Decisions like this make me feel ashamed to be a New Zealander. … 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 once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tackle those serious issues. Although the Green Party supports the bill and its intent, we lament the missed opportunity. Kia ora.
Like Labour and the Green Party, the Māori Party has found that the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill is one of those pieces of legislation that present the most dreadful dilemma. As we have done our best to consider each of the implications and consequences of the issues encompassed in the bill, we have really had to sweat on our decision. It has not been an easy journey. For the sake of a simple yes or no, we have had to consider a mixed bag of options in repealing the Transport Act 1962 and amending the Land Transport Act 1998. The key changes proposed encompassed in the vote today take into account the push to raise the minimum licensing age from 15 to 16 years, a zero breath or blood-alcohol concentration for drivers aged 20 years of age and under, tougher sanctions for serious or repeat driving offenders, possibilities of an alcohol interlock sentence and a zero-alcohol licence, and a range of other measures for enforcement and control.
The question that has challenged us right throughout the process is how our vote can represent and give shape to the range of issues that any of these provisions provoke. Take, for example, what is undoubtedly the most contentious provision, which is raising the minimum licensing age from 15 to 16. Personally, I find it laughable that we think 1 year will make a huge difference. All of us entered the debate knowing that young Māori have the highest per capita fatality rate. Just on the youth demographic alone, young drivers make up 14.5 percent of New Zealand’s population and 16 percent of all licensed drivers, but in 2008 young drivers were involved in around 37 percent of all serious injury crashes.
When we add in ethnicity to the mix it becomes even more volatile. From a statistical basis, Census 2006 shows that Māori make up 19.5 percent of the 15-19 age group, yet Māori make up 26 percent of all drivers aged 15-17 who are involved in fatal accidents. Let us be quite clear: these statistics are an indictment on our nation and place an unacceptable burden on the Māori population. There is no debate over whether we have a problem with road safety. There is a difference in whether we have the right solutions to achieve change. The statistics for the years 2006 to 2008 show that of all the drivers involved in fatal crashes, the 20-24 and 25-29 year age groups were the most likely to be affected by alcohol or drugs. So should we focus on drug and alcohol treatment, rather than on lifting the licensing age? Our views among the caucus were inevitably based on a rural lifestyle where people drive from a young age, out of necessity. Country kids often assist with stock moving and droving on the farm. They might also help move stock on the road, acting as sentinels to slow down oncoming traffic, using either their farm bikes or sport utility vehicles. Given these realities, our caucus thought instead that we might support making the restrictive test more difficult and extending the learner licence period from 6 to 12 months. We believe that there are enough regulations in place to moderate driver behaviour, such as restricted licences and learner licences. We would also like to see more investment in defensive driving education. A common concern from across our constituencies is that driving education is too costly. We believe that rangatahi should have access to high-quality road safety education. We must improve road safety education for young people and increase access to it.
During the month leading up to the third reading of the bill, each of us in the caucus has looked more keenly around our rural communities to put to the test our theory that rural families will be particularly disadvantaged by raising the driving age. What we saw shocked us. We found that people do not buckle up, regardless of age. Adults model behaviour, and in too many cases their behaviour leaves a lot to be desired. Unrestrained children are regularly seen being held by an adult in a vehicle with the adult also not restrained. There seems to be a challenge to dare to drive unbuckled. In fact, those living in the city can be identified as driving buckled up and locking their cars when they get out of them. Fines do not work; they are just not paid. Referrals are made to the nearest social services driving courses, and applications are submitted to Work and Income to pay for the courses, but do the fines prevent further offending? It is hard to say. Will amending a by-law—a process requiring a special consultative procedure—or introducing a vehicle, be the superior answer?
As is no doubt self-evident, the questions kept coming, and with each new issue another set of questions arose. Then just 2 months ago in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health I came across an article by a team of writers, including a distinguished researcher from the Ngāi Tahu Māori health research unit at Otago University, John Broughton. The paper was entitled “Road safety attitudes and opinions of newly licensed Māori car drivers: New Zealand Drivers Study”. The article saw its genesis in the disproportionate impact of motor vehicle traffic crashes amongst Māori. In 2006 the age-standardised motor vehicle traffic crash death rate for Māori was 20 per 100,000 of the population, compared with 9 per 100,000 of the population for non-Māori.
Not content with the statistics, John and his colleagues Anna McDowell, Dorothy Begg, and Jennie Connor looked into the New Zealand drivers study of some 4,000 car drivers to find some answers. To encourage Māori participation, Māori community iwi organisations from Napier, Hastings, Wairoa, Gisborne, Ruatōria, Manukau and Māngere in South Auckland, and Dunedin were subcontracted to recruit study participants in their region. The study found that there was a surprising level of support for raising the minimum driver-licensing age and introducing a zero blood-alcohol limit for beginner drivers. That was encouraging from a safety perspective, as it came from a cohort of predominantly young drivers, who are often thought to oppose such moves. Of particular interest to us was the support indicated for raising the minimum driver-licensing age from 15 to 16 years. The data indicate that this change would have the support of 45 percent of the urban and 33 percent of the rural newly licensed Māori drivers in the study. Another interesting finding was that the lack of knowledge about the penalties for committing any offences would suggest that the penalty regime was having little, if any, detrimental or deterrent effect.
Where did we get to, then, with our vote? We decided that the disproportionate number of injuries and fatalities among the Māori population as a direct result of car accidents required our absolute commitment to getting it right. We want to protect and preserve life—the life of those driving, passengers, and those who wait at home for a loved one who never returns. We have no choice but to invest in the hope that this package of initiatives will this time make the difference that ultimately will keep people alive, particularly our rangatahi. We therefore make this, our final vote, one of support.
Kia ora, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson. I love the third reading debate, because that is when everybody seems to become pious and nice, and there is no rough and tumble. I love how the Opposition members, when they have been in Opposition for only a couple of years, having come from a stint of being—
That member does not want to hear it. I know those members do not want to hear this, but they were in power for 9 years. Iain Lees-Galloway said that now is the most opportune time to do something. Why did it become the most opportune time? It became the most opportune time to do something because Labour became the Opposition. For 9 years those members did not do anything. We have heard what I consider to be nothing more than—
Well, that lady will not win out in west Auckland; we know that. She has not even found her way around west Auckland so far.
The fact of the matter is that the problem we face today is with the recidivist drink-driver. That is where the carnage is. It is not with the young person, and it is not with the older person who might be caught once, but it is actually with the recidivist drink-driver. That is where the problem is. I am proud to be a member of the Government that has attacked that area. My message to the recidivist drink-driver is that we are coming for you; you cannot hide any more. No, you cannot hide, even from the Assistant Speaker.
The member was referring to the Chair, and he has been around long enough to know he should not do that.
Well, at least I will—no, no, I will not say that, Mr Assistant Speaker.
No, I will not say that.
The idea that the Greens and Labour have found a new, heartfelt area of concern boggles the mind, because they were part of a Government that spent 9 years here and did not do a damn thing. I am quite proud to be part of a Government that clearly saw that there were things to do—that clearly saw we should raise the driver-licensing age. You know, I am with most people here in the House who say: “Yeah, I got my licence at 15 and could not wait to get it.”, but that was when there were Cortinas and the likes. Nowadays the sort of car that one can get would drag off anything from those days. Times have changed, so we must move with the times and put on more restrictions, purely and simply for safety reasons: purely and simply to save lives. I think this Road Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, as it states, is about road safety. It is about saving lives; it is about what we want to do as a contribution towards saving someone’s life.
I know that there are plenty of people here in this House who have had experience with somebody being either maimed or killed as the result of a drink-driver. I will say that the person out there who is most a target of this legislation is the recidivist drink-driver who gets into his car—and it is usually a “he”—and who does not think about what he has already been done for, which is drink-driving.
Again, I thank the Minister of Transport, I thank the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, and I thank the officials for doing such a wonderful job of putting the information there. The process has been one whereby we have been able to hear from young people, from older people, and from experts in this area. Our officials have done a very, very good job of clearing the way through all of that information, allowing us to make up our minds, and giving us the direction that we all needed to have. I think that it is time for members opposite to support this legislation and put on the back-burner their little populist issues. They can have their time when, and if, they get back to the Treasury benches. That is the time for it. They should get in behind us, let us do the job, and wait for their turn in 2035.
It is always a pleasure to follow Tau Henare after he has been speaking on a bill. He normally gives me so much material, but having listened to that speech, I have nothing, because he did not make a single useful point that was worthy of any rebuttal in those 10 minutes. I sat here thinking that that was 10 minutes of my life that I will never get back. That is the only thing I could think when Tau Henare was speaking, although he did raise one or two things. He talked about the fact that when he was growing up, there were Cortinas—the cars that people could get when he was growing up were Cortinas. Well, he must be younger than he looks. All I can say is that he must be younger than he looks, because I am pretty sure that there would have been much, much older cars on the road when Tau Henare was growing up. In fact, I am surprised people actually had motorcars back in those days. I am surprised they had motorcars, at all.
He talked about populist issues, as well. I thought that was kind of an interesting itch for him to scratch, because I think the most populist issue—
I know. Well, it is all coming back to me now. The most populist issue in this Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill is raising the driving age from 15 to 16, because there is no evidential base for doing that. The only thing it can be about is populism, because the Government has not established an evidence base.
The Government’s position on the two contentious issues in this bill—the raising of the driving age and the lowering of the blood-alcohol level—is very contradictory. There is a very compelling evidential base to say that lowering the blood-alcohol level for people driving will work. It will save lives and it will make our roads safer, yet the Government will not do it. There is clear evidence to suggest it will work, and the Government will not do it. There is very little evidence that can be nailed down that says that raising the driving age from 15 to 16 will work and will make our roads safer, but the Government is doing it. I do not know what the polling numbers are for raising the driving age, although I suspect it would be pretty popular with most of the people who are not in the age category that will be affected by it. But polls do not reflect whether it will work. In the case of decreasing the blood-alcohol level, I would not rely on an opinion poll for that. I would rely on the evidence, and the overwhelming evidence suggests that it will work and will make our roads safer. There is no evidential base that increasing the driving age from 15 to 16 will make our roads safer.
In fact, this bill does not just increase the driving age from 15 to 16; it effectively changes the system we have so that before young people get behind the wheel of a car independently and drive by themselves, they will be 17. That will have a significant impact on a number of young people, particularly those who live in rural or isolated areas or in suburban areas where there is no good public transport. It will impact on young people’s ability to participate in sport. It will impact on their ability to participate in any kind of community or team-focused activities. What will kids do when they cannot do that stuff? They will be more likely to get into trouble. They will be more likely to be out there tagging. They will be more likely to be out there doing stuff that we do not want them to be doing. If they had a bit more freedom, they would keep out of trouble and we would not have other problems that we might have to deal with as a result of this. If there was an evidential base that suggested that raising the driving age from 15 to 16—effectively to 17, which is what this bill does—then I would be open to that, but that has not yet been established.
Overall, when looking at the evidence that has been presented, we see there is no compelling case. Most of the crash statistics that the New Zealand Transport Agency collects is for the age band of 15 to 19-year-olds, so it is difficult to look at the raw statistics and paint a picture that justifies raising the age. It is also not clear from the evidence whether the crashes that happen in that 15 to 19-year-old age bracket are the result of a lack of experience, a lack of supervised driver training, or other factors rather than age itself. Are we simply delaying the accidents that will currently happen involving 15, 16, and 17-year-olds by a year or two? When young people get their licences, will they still end up going through that same phase? If that is the case, we have not made the roads any safer at all; we have simply delayed it. The cost of delaying it is that young people, particularly those in rural and isolated areas, have lost the freedom that comes with being able to drive a car.
One point that Tau Henare made that I have already alluded to was about his Ford Cortina. I assume his first car was a Ford Cortina—fine. He was correct that we now have much more souped-up cars on the road that young people can get behind the wheel of. Those cars are much, much faster. That is a concern, but it is not to do with the age at which they can get their driver’s licence; it is to do with the types of cars that we have on the road and the modifications that people make to them. There is a cost factor in there, as well. There are a whole lot of other issues that we would need to unpack and consider, but the age itself is not the proxy for dealing with the issue of young people getting in trouble behind the wheel.
One of the things that we could do is look at the structure of driver training in this country, because I think driver training in this country is not good; it is quite weak. I think we could beef that up and strengthen that considerably. That is not to do with age; it is simply to do with whether when somebody goes through driver training and learns to drive, they are taught to drive safely. They should be taught what to do in an unpredictable situation. Cars are very, very unpredictable. Roads are very unpredictable. Unfortunately, the way our driver training works in this country in terms of the driver’s test is incredibly predictable. When I was tested for my driver’s licence, I went out with the driving instructor an hour before I did my test and we drove the circuit that I was going to be tested on—and there were some roadworks—so that when the time came to do the test, I had already been through the roadworks, the driving instructor had reminded me that I needed to this, that, and the next thing when I went through the roadworks, and I passed the test with no problem at all. There was nothing unpredictable about it because I had already just driven around that circuit. I knew exactly what the testing officer was going to ask me to do. If we want young people or even older drivers when they are driving for the first time to be tested on whether they can cope, we need to look very seriously at the training system that we have in place and the testing system that we have in place for our drivers.
I would also argue that some of the most dangerous drivers on our roads have been driving for quite some time and have slipped into some quite bad habits. I think some of our most sensible drivers would be amongst some of the newest drivers who have just been through the theory tests, and so on—for example, they put both hands on the steering wheel. I would bet that not every member in this House—in fact, I would say the minority of members in this House—drives with both hands on the steering wheel; they might have one hand resting on the gear lever or on the arm rest. Most young people, of course, are so blimmin paranoid about it because they have just been through the test, and they are so worried about it, that they have both hands on the steering wheel. They are probably safer drivers than many older people who have slipped into bad habits. I think we could look a bit more at that if we want to make our roads safer.
I would argue that it is quite clear that an inexperienced 16 or 17-year-old driver is just as likely to have a crash as an inexperienced 15-year-old driver. So increasing the driving age by a year or two, as the bill effectively increases the driving age by 2 years because of the changes it makes to the beginner licensing period, will not change the problem; it will simply shift the problem from one age band to another.
I want to return briefly to the issue of lowering the blood-alcohol level, which Labour has been arguing for. The blood-alcohol limit we have now is dangerously high, and, if anything, the debate on it has simply highlighted to a number of people that they can drink more than they thought they could and still be allowed to drive. I think a lot of people—anyone who has paid attention to this debate—did not know that they could drink a heck of a lot more than they thought they could drink and still be legally allowed to drive. This debate, unfortunately, could have simply been counterproductive and let people know that they can drink more than they thought they could. I think people do drink and drive in this country and get away with it because they are legally within the limit, even though they are not fully in control and fully alert when they are behind the wheel of a vehicle. I think lowering the blood-alcohol limit from 0.08 to 0.05, as has happened in so many other countries and as the evidence suggests we should be doing, is one of the things the Government should be doing in this legislation. It is not, and I think that is a wasted opportunity.
On very important legislation regarding matters of safety, I am sure that every member of the House, when considering that legislation, wants to know that when it is passed things will be better—that the legislation will actually make a difference. The Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill is definitely one of those bills. We want to know that there will be a reduction in deaths and injuries on our roads when this bill becomes law.
We have heard right through the readings of this bill that there are members who, although they are generally supportive of the bill, would be doing things differently if they were in Government. That is the nature of democracy. There has been some quite vigorous debate in previous readings, and in the Committee stage, challenging parts of the bill, but I would have thought that by now the Opposition might be a little more generous in its support of the bill, particularly given the Opposition’s total inertia in its 9 years in power. The member Ms Fenton may have spent about 30 seconds pretending to be generous, and saying there were some good aspects of the bill, but she then spent about 9½ minutes bagging the various things she thinks we should have done and did not do, or things we did do but should not have done. That was generally the theme of a rather disingenuous contribution by a member on the other side.
In fact, Labour is now going to introduce a member’s bill to reduce the blood-alcohol concentration from 0.08 to 0.05. Well, I trust that those members will simultaneously stop their silly nonsense on members’ days, in terms of the sort of filibustering that has been going on, like the disgraceful display—
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This member, some time recently, raised a point of order to talk about the content of third reading speeches. He required another member to be focused narrowly on the third reading, and he was very disappointed to hear the presiding officer say that he would entertain someone referring to matters not strictly within the content of the bill but referred to in debate. I have sat through quite a considerable amount of the debate on this bill, but I have not heard any mention of the particular subject this member has raised. All I ask the member to do is to be consistent with his own requests.
I thank the member for those comments. The member is right, and I am sure the speaker will come back to the contents of the third reading, which relates to the bill as it has come back from the Committee of the whole House. The member has 8 minutes to try to do that.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Consistent with the Speaker’s ruling, I am playing exactly by the rules as laid down in that earlier decision.
If there is such a danger to public safety by not reducing the blood-alcohol concentration level to 0.05, and if the sky is going to fall in because we do not reduce the level, I do not actually understand why the Opposition would be satisfied with just an infringement notice regime, as it has suggested. The distinction in penalties acknowledges that the risk is actually lower with the lower blood-alcohol concentration, and that is what the 300 or so studies that the Opposition consistently quotes have actually showed: the more alcohol, the greater the risk—no real rocket science there. But what those studies did not do—and research will be done following the bill being passed—was answer the following question: how many deaths or serious injuries are caused in New Zealand by drivers who have a blood-alcohol content of between 0.05 and 0.08, where that driver is at fault? None of the research has answered that question, which is fundamental to a policy decision, and when we gather that information it will enable us to make sensible, evidence-based policy decisions. Maybe, as Mr Lees-Galloway says, the level will in the future go to 0.05, but at least it will do so on evidence, not on lots of arm-waving from an Opposition that did not do anything when it had the opportunity to act.
In the meantime, lives will be saved when this bill is passed. Lives will be saved because the blood-alcohol concentration level for younger drivers will go to zero. Lives will be saved because recidivist drink-drivers will have to have a zero blood-alcohol content. Lives will be saved because of the use of alcohol interlocks. Lives will be saved when the driving age goes from 15 to 16, and when there is a harder pathway to full licensing. Safety will be improved by those and the many other matters contained in this bill. Rather than hang my head in shame, as Professor Sellman might suggest I do, I am holding my head up very high. This is excellent progress. I congratulate the Minister. I thank the officials and the select committee, and I commend the bill.
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak on the third reading of the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. As many speakers before me have said—and I refer to the comments of the previous speaker, Michael Woodhouse—Labour supports this bill, but we do so with reservations about two specific areas. But, as we do support this bill, I will start by accentuating the positives.
Labour supports the zero limit for repeat drink-drivers. As Tau Henare mentioned earlier in the debate—and he has a habit of being in the House when I mention him—that issue is a real problem. Labour supports that particular aspect of this bill. Labour also supports the zero limit for drivers under 20. That sends a very clear message—as we thought that lowering the adult blood-alcohol content to 0.05 would have done—to those under 20 that drinking and driving will absolutely and utterly not be accepted by New Zealand as a whole.
Labour also supports the use of alcohol interlocks for repeat offenders. We think it is a great use of modern technology to ensure that those repeat drink-drivers, whom I have already spoken about, cannot get behind the wheel again. That technology should be utilised whenever possible. As the member for Palmerston North, Iain Lees-Galloway, suggested earlier, a very popular move in this bill is the one that doubles the minimum prison time for drink-driving, drug-driving, or reckless driving causing death.
They are positive aspects of this bill. I think I have been very generous in the time I have taken to focus on those aspects, and I will now take some time, probably against the wishes of Mr Woodhouse, to focus on the areas that Labour does not support. We do not support the blood-alcohol level and the increase in the driving age.
As the Minister said, the bill will have a good outcome—those were the words of the Minister—but it should have an excellent outcome. The Minister said he commended the bill to the House because he believes it will have a good outcome for the safety of drivers on our roads and for the general New Zealand public. But this bill was an opportunity to have an excellent outcome—and we do not have that.
This bill leaves us with a whole lot of question marks. Why did the Minister not lower the blood-alcohol content from 80 to 50 when there is great public support and a weight of research that says it will have an effect? There is a weight of public sentiment out there, which we saw in submissions to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, that would support lowering the blood-alcohol level back down to 50.
Why did the Government not do anything in this bill to address the real problems that drink-driving causes on the roads? In 2009, I believe, 33 percent of the fatal crashes on our roads were caused by drug-influenced or alcohol-influenced drivers. In 2009, 21 percent of accidents with serious injury were caused by drivers who were drunk or alcohol-influenced. What was the human cost? It was 137 lives lost and more than 560 injuries.
My message to Mr Woodhouse is that the Government had a real opportunity to send a clear message to the New Zealand public that drinking and driving would not be tolerated, but that opportunity was not taken.
During the process of this bill why did the Government not take the opportunity to listen to the weight of evidence that came through from the select committee? A submission from Rev. Graham Lamont and 77 others suggested we could make a serious difference in terms of reducing the harm on our roads if we decreased the blood-alcohol limit available to New Zealanders. Why did the Government not listen to a senior official who sent this email to someone in the Prime Minister’s office: “Drivers with a blood-alcohol content of 80 milligrams, who are legally entitled to drive right now, are significantly affected by the influence of alcohol.”?
Why did the Minister of Transport, who has just returned to the House, not listen to his own gut instinct? He has said it is just ridiculous that he could drink three-quarters of a bottle of wine—he is smiling because he knows that I am right—and still legally be entitled to drive on the roads, when he knows he would not be able to control a vehicle on the road. Why did he not listen to his own gut instinct? For that matter, why did his colleagues not back him?
Why did the Minister, who, as we all know, is a very keen watcher of the polls, not listen to the huge weight of evidence that was floating around at the time? Late last year a UMR Research poll showed that 70 percent of respondents supported lowering the blood-alcohol limit from 80 down to 50. A Research New Zealand poll of 500 people, which was published in the Otago Daily Times in April last year, showed that 63 percent supported lowering the adult blood-alcohol limit from 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood to 50 milligrams. The interesting thing about that survey was that a previous survey by the same outfit showed there was a fifty-fifty split. So there is a significant change in mood as to what New Zealanders want to see from the Government in respect of sending a message to drink-drivers.
The Waikato Times published a poll of 418 people last year. It showed that 68 percent wanted the blood-alcohol level lowered from 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres to 50 milligrams. Why is the Government ignoring that popular weight of support? Why is the Government also ignoring the sentiment that came through at the select committee?
Mr Woodhouse mentioned Professor Sellman in his speech, so let me refer to a letter, dated 23 October 2010, that Professor Sellman sent to the select committee that considered this bill. He said that the decision not to lower the rate 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.” He said these words: “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.”
He went on to say: “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 researchers are not calling for is undertaken. The cost to the country has been predicted to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.” Professor Sellman is right. I believe that the social cost to the country from drink-driving fatalities and injuries in 2009 was $875 million. That is huge, and we have an opportunity to reduce that real human hurt, and, of course, to reduce the financial cost caused by drink-driving on our roads.
Why did the Government not also take the opportunity to work with Labour when we put forward a bill to do exactly what we are calling for—to lower the rate from 0.08 grams to 0.05 grams? Why did it not take the opportunity? We have heard members opposite say that Labour did not do anything about it in 9 years in Government, but what happened to the “brighter future” that National talked about? They have an opportunity to supply a brighter future to Kiwis who may go out on the roads and be hit by drink-drivers.
So what happened to that brighter future? Why did those MPs not back the gut feeling of their Minister, who put forward this bill? They could have made sure that they took serious action and sent a real message to New Zealanders about drink-driving. Why did they not take the opportunity? This bill, although achieving some positives, leaves too many unanswered questions around why Government members did not take any action on drink-driving and why they are lifting the driving age from 15 to 16 years. It is a real lost opportunity. At worst it is gutless, and at best it is sad. Although Labour members support this bill, we support it with reservations.
I am pleased to speak to the third 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 includes road safety. The bill has come about as a result of Safer Journeys, the Government’s road strategy to 2020. This vision recognises that although it is impossible to prevent all road crashes from happening, we can stop many from resulting in death and serious injury.
The fact is that our progress in this area has lagged, and we are behind Australia in many of our statistics. The fact is that each year hundreds of people are killed on our roads, almost 3,000 are seriously injured, and thousands suffer minor injuries. The social and economic impact on our country is absolutely devastating.
The concerning fact is that young New Zealanders aged between 15 and 24 have a fatality rate that is 60 percent worse than that of Australia, and young drivers are overrepresented in our statistics. This bill is aimed at improving the safety of young drivers and giving the courts more options and tougher sanctions for serious or repeat driving offenders. The measures that target high-risk drivers include measures such as a zero blood-alcohol limit for repeat drink-drivers, and harsher prison sentences 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 the statistics. This Government will not tolerate persistent high-level offending.
Young people, sadly, are overrepresented in the crash statistics, and there are a number of measures regarding young drivers in the bill, including raising the driving age to 16—our members are certainly all supportive of that—and making a restricted driver’s licence more difficult to obtain. I commend this bill to the House.