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Drink Driving Penalties (NSW)

Written by Michelle Makela

Michelle Makela is one of our Legal Practice Directors and the National Practice Manager. She holds a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) and a Master’s in Criminology. Michelle has had a varied career, working in commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning. Michelle joined Go To Court Lawyers in 2011. She now supervises a team of over 80 solicitors across Australia.

The penalties for drink driving offences in New South Wales changed in May 2019. The processes for dealing with a person caught drink driving have also changed. A person who is caught drink driving can now have their license suspended immediately. This is the case even for a low range offence where the driver is a first offender. On the spot fines can now be issued for a first offence if the BAC reading is below 0.079, meaning it is no longer always necessary to attend court for a drink driving offence.

Drink driving offences

Drink driving offences and the penalties they attract are set out in the Road Transport Act 2013. In NSW there are five levels of drink driving.

  • Novice range (0.00 to 0.019 for a Learner, P1 or P2 driver)
  • Special range (0.02 to 0.049 for a Learner, P1 or P2 driver or a bus or taxi driver)
  • Low range (0.05 to 0.079)
  • Mid-range (0.08 to 0.149)
  • High range (0.15 and higher)

Each range has a different maximum penalty and maximum and minimum licence suspension periods. The Road Transport Act also contains offences relating to driving under the influence of alcohol or a drug (Section 112) and driving with an illicit drug present in their system (Section 111).

Novice, low range or special range

A person found guilty of novice range, special range, or low range drink driving can expect to have their licence suspended for a period of three months and to be issued with an on-the-spot fine of $561.

If it is the person’s second or subsequent offence, they will be required to attend court. The court can impose a fine of up to $3300 and can disqualify them from driving for up to six months.

Mid-range

A person found guilty of mid-range drink driving faces a fine of up to $2,200 for a first offence and up to $3,300 for a second or subsequent offence. can be sentenced to up to nine months imprisonment for a first offence and up to 12 months for a second or subsequent offence.

The offender will receive an immediate licence suspension and may be disqualified from driving for up to nine months for a first offence and up to 12 months for a subsequent offence.

High range

A person found guilty of high range drink driving faces a fine of $3,300 for a first offence and up to $5,500 for a second or subsequent offence. This offence can attract a prison term of up to 18 months for a first offence and up to two years for a second or subsequent offence.

Anyone charged with high range drink driving will get an immediate licence suspension. A first offender may be disqualified from driving for up to 12 months and a subsequent offender for up to two years.

Driving under the influence

A person who is found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol or another drug faces a fine of $3030 or imprisonment for 18 months, or both, for a first offence or fined $5050 or imprisoned for two years, or both, for a second offence.

Driving with a drug present

A person who is found guilty of driving with an illicit drug present in their oral fluid, blood or urine faces a fine of $2020 for a first offence or $3030 for a second or subsequent offence.

However, it is a defence to this charge if the drug was consumed for a medicinal purpose.

Immediate licence suspension

If you receive an immediate licence suspension, you will be required to surrender your licence and make other arrangements for getting home.

If you are dealt with by way of an on-the-spot fine, you will be told your suspension period on the spot. If you are summonsed to attend court, the court will fix a disqualification period and backdate it to the day your licence was surrendered.

Interlock Devices

If you are convicted of certain drink driving offences, it is mandatory for the NSW courts to make Interlock Orders. Very few exceptions exist.

If you receive an Interlock Order, you must go to your doctor to obtain a ‘Drink-less’ medical certificate sometime within the four weeks prior to the end of your disqualification period. Once your disqualification period has ended, you may apply for an interlock driver’s licence. To qualify, you must have an interlock device expertly fitted to your vehicle.

An interlock device requires that, in order to start your car, you must blow into the device and register a zero BAC result. You may also, at random times, be required to repeat this process to continue driving. You must not drive any other car while you are under an interlock order.

The interlock device will keep a record of any time you record a BAC over zero. Police will be able to access the record and you may be charged with additional offences.

If you require legal advice or representation in a drink driving matter or in any other legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.

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