Coroner calls for higher drinking age
Following the death of Blenheim teenager George Holland in a drink-driving incident, a coroner is calling for the Government to return the minimum alcohol purchase age to 20 – with no exceptions.
Holland was killed in the early hours of August 6, 2017, when he failed to give way at a one-way bridge in Marlborough.
Coroner David Robinson said the crash could have been prevented if Holland adhered to zero alcohol for drivers under 20.
Holland had 133 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood – the legal limit for adults is 50mg – and MDMA (ecstasy) and cannabis in his system.
In Robinson’s findings, released on Wednesday, he referred to one study that found ‘‘significantly’’ more alcoholinvolved crashes amongst 15 to 19-year-olds in the four years after the alcohol age was reduced in December 1999. While a more recent study found the number of alcohol-related crashes in this age group increased from 102 in 2014, to 142 in 2017.
‘‘There appears to be incontrovertible evidence of a direct link between the lowering of the alcohol purchasing age in 1999 and an increase in the incidence of injury and fatal accidents involving alcohol impaired drivers aged 15-19 years,’’ Robinson said.
Professor Sally Casswell, a codirector of the SHORE and Whariki Research Centre at Massey University’s College of Health, said arguments were numerous on both sides but no one policy would solve the problems.
‘‘If you have a drug widely available, like alcohol is, you are going to have harm,’’ she said. ‘‘We know 18 to 24 are the heaviest drinking groups in our country. When you look at the whole population, half of them use alcohol in heavy drinking occasions, but in the youth it’s over 70 per cent.’’
Casswell agreed New Zealand’s drinking culture needed a shake up, and the best way to change was through legislation.
When asked if the Government would consider the coroner’s suggestion, Justice Minister Andrew Little said: ‘‘The Government is not looking at the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act at this point.’’
Professor Doug Sellman, of Otago University’s National Addiction Centre, urged the Government to listen to the coroner.
Sellman said increasing the age would have a significant impact on the ‘‘disconnected heavy drinking culture’’ amongst young people.