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Alcohol and road safety
Politics can be deadly
  1. J Langley,
  2. K Kypri
  1. Injury Prevention Research Unit, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor J Langley
 Injury Prevention Research Unit, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, PO Box 913, Dunedin, New Zealand; john.langley{at}

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New Zealand’s low driver licence and alcohol purchase ages are a lethal combination

There is little doubt that we could make greater progress in preventing injury if we applied what we already know from research evidence. Politics can significantly hinder this process. In this paper we present the example of alcohol and road safety policy in relation to traffic crash injury among young people in New Zealand.


In New Zealand, as in many developed countries, injury causes three quarters of all deaths and is the leading cause of hospitalization in adolescence.1 Road traffic crashes account for over half of the fatalities2 and more than a quarter of inpatient hospitalizations.1 New Zealand’s motor vehicle traffic crash death rate for 15–24 year olds was 22.4 per 100 000 population in 2003, giving it the third highest rate of the 30 countries contributing to the Road Traffic and Accident Database ( Early initiation to driving3 and hazardous use of alcohol are major risk factors for road traffic crash injury.4 In the late 1990s the New Zealand government considered and rejected increasing the minimum age of driver licensing then lowered the minimum purchase age for alcohol. We discuss the research evidence and politics relating to these issues.


In New Zealand you can obtain a licence to drive a motor vehicle at 15 years of age and drive on a public road without supervision at 15½ years. This contrasts dramatically with most other nations (for example, Australia, member states of the European Union, and China) where the norm is 17 or 18 years of age. There is strong evidence that delaying the age at which a novice driver can drive without supervision reduces the incidence of traffic crashes.3,5–7 In the 1980s there were moves to raise the …

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  • Competing interests: none.