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Drinking and driving

We’ve all seen the ads on TV and may know someone who’s been involved in a car crash where alcohol was a contributor...

If you make the decision to drink more than your legal limit, and then get behind the wheel of a car, you should make sure you are big enough to accept the possible ugly consequences of your choice. Things like losing a best mate, injuring a relative, killing someone’s kid, or maybe losing your ability to go to the toilet on your own. It's all pretty sobering stuff.

Drinking alcohol and driving is dangerous because drinking alcohol slows your reflexes down, causing you to react more slowly than usual. Obviously the best thing for you, your mates, family and strangers is that you don’t drink at all if you’re going to drive.

Taking turns to be the designated sober driver is a good way of keeping everyone safe. Otherwise, pooling some cash amongst your friends and putting this aside when you go out partying can mean that a cab ride home is affordable.

The amount of alcohol you can drink before you are over the limit depends on many things such as:

  • Your age
  • Weight
  • Body size,
  • Gender
  • What you’ve had to eat that day
  • Whether you are tired
  • Or have taken any medicine that might increase the effect of the alcohol.

If you drive, and are under the age of 20, make sure you are up to speed on the recent changes to the legal drink drive limit:

... The facts:

The legal drink drive limit for drivers under 20 has changed from 0.03 Blood Alcohol Concentration (or BAC) to zero. This is part of a government strategy to make the roads safer, as young people are at high risk of death or serious injury from road crashes in New Zealand – and for a significant portion of these, drink driving is a factor. BAC 0.03 is the same as 30mg alcohol per 100 ml blood or 150 mcg alcohol per litre breath.

If you are under 20 and have to go through the alcohol-testing process and are found to have a blood alcohol concentration level over zero, you will have to go to court. If you are found guilty you can be fined up to $2,250 or face imprisonment for up to three months; In addition you will be disqualified from driving for three months or more.

If you are over 20, you can drink a small amount of alcohol and be able to drive. If you come in at over 0.08 you will have to go to court. If you are found guilty by the court, the penalties are increased to a fine of up to $4,500 or imprisonment for up to three months. In addition you will be disqualified from driving for six months or more. BAC 0.08 is the same as 80 mg alcohol per 100 ml blood or 400 mcg alcohol per litre breath.

If you repeat-offend at alcohol levels beyond BAC 0.08, you may be looking at higher penalties than those stated above.

Additional penalties for high alcohol level offences:

If your alcohol level is higher than BAC 0.13 the Police will immediately suspend your licence for 28 days. This is in addition to any other penalties the court gives you if you are found guilty. BAC 0.13 is that same as 130 mg alcohol per 100 ml blood or 650 mcg alcohol per litre breath.

Don’t ever mix drugs and alcohol before driving. Mixing alcohol and drugs can significantly increase your chances of crashing.  You will also be increasing your chances of being picked up by the Police and prosecuted.

Aged 20 years or over:

If you are aged 20 years or older, the maximum penalties for a first or second offence are a fine up to $4500, or a maximum of 3 months imprisonment, and losing your licence for a minimum of 6 months. If you re-offend a third time or more, the fine can be as high as $6000 or a maximum prison term of 2 years and a disqualification from driving for more than one year.

If you kill or injure someone while drink driving, the penalties are much greater – a maximum 5 years in prison or a fine not exceeding $20,000 fine and disqualification of your drivers licence for at least 1 year.  In extremely serious cases involving the killing of another road user, the Police could charge you with manslaughter.   If you are convicted of manslaughter, you could be up for a very long prison sentence.

The Police also have the power to immediately suspend your driver licence (for 28 days) if you are caught  driving with a breath alcohol level exceeding 650 micrograms per litre breath or a blood alcohol level exceeding  130 milligrams per 100 ml blood.  This is more than four times the limit that applies to under 20 year old drivers.  

If the offence is your second offence within four years, the Police can suspend your licence for 28 days at levels beyond the legal limit that applies to drivers aged 20 and over.   If it is your third or subsequent offence within four years, the Police can suspend your licence for 28 days and impound your vehicle for 28 days if you exceed the breath or blood alcohol level that applies to drivers aged 20 and over.   These sanctions are additional to any other penalties that may be imposed by a court if you are convicted of the offence.

So aside from losing your licence after all your patience and perseverance involved in getting it, you also need to be willing to lose people’s trust in you, freedom to get around and ability to hang out with people you like, doing the stuff you enjoy. Other realities include possibly losing your job, friends and facing criminal charges all because you chose to have that extra drink and then drive.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure to consider your standard drinks... even if you do the right thing and wait til the next day to drive after a night out – you still may be over the limit. Your body can only process one standard drink per hour so if you have had 12 standard drinks over a night – that’s 12 hours for you to be back to zero. Check out our alcohol and you section for standard drink information or head to


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