Consequences of the new drink-driving limits for NZ employers

Employment

As of 1 December 2014 the breath and blood alcohol limits for drivers in New Zealand will be reduced. Employers will need to seriously consider the potential impacts this may have on their business and be proactive when putting in steps to mitigate the risks.

On 1 December 2014 new breath and blood alcohol limits for drivers will become law in New Zealand, reducing the breath alcohol limit for adult drivers 20 years and over from 400 micrograms (mcg) of alcohol per litre of breath to 250mcg, and the blood alcohol limit from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg.

Once the new law comes into effect, drivers who fail an evidential breath test with a reading of between 251 and 400mcg of alcohol per litre of breath will receive an infringement notice with a $200 infringement fee and 50 demerit points.  These drivers will not be able to elect an evidential blood test.

Drivers who fail an evidential breath test with a reading over 400mcg of alcohol per litre of breath will still be able to elect an evidential blood test, and will continue to face criminal sanctions.

What do the new limits mean in practice? 
Given that there are a number of factors that affect the amount of alcohol an individual can consume while remaining under the breath and blood alcohol limits, including body type, gender, weight and how much food they have consumed, the safest course is not to consume any alcohol if you intend to drive.  That said, many people will continue to drink in moderation and then drive. According to the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), most people will be able to drink two standard drinks over the course of two hours and still remain under the new adult drink-driving limit. 

One standard drink is:

  • 330ml of 4% alcohol beer; or
  • 100ml of 13% alcohol wine; or
  • 32ml of 40% alcohol spirits.

If you are an employer this new law will have some impact on your business, particularly if you have employees that are required to drive during the course of their employment; or if you provide employees with alcoholic drinks during work organised social functions.  Because of this, you should consider:

  1. Updating the drink-driving provisions in your current employment agreements, and your drug and alcohol and vehicle policies, to ensure that your expectations are clear and that the risk of drink-driving to your business is properly managed.  For example, many employment agreements require employees to notify their employer if convicted of a criminal offence, however as the infringement notice for failing an evidential breath test with a reading of between 251 and 400mcg of alcohol per litre of breath will not be a conviction, employees may argue that they are not obliged to inform their employer if they receive one of these infringement notices.  This may in turn have implications for things like your work vehicle insurance;
  2. how you protect your business from the risk of your employees having their driving licence suspended due to receiving demerit points from breaching the new law; and 
  3. whether you need to make any changes to how you manage employer arranged social events, like Friday night drinks or work Christmas functions.

Please contact us to discuss what this law change will mean for your business and what steps you need to take to ensure that the risk to your business is properly managed.

All Articles

Copyright © Cavell Leitch. All rights reserved. Redistribution is only permitted with express written permission. For enquiries please contact us. This article by its nature cannot be comprehensive and cannot be relied on by clients as advice. It is provided to assist clients to identify legal issues on which they should seek legal advice. Please consult the professional staff of Cavell Leitch for advice specific to your situation.