Authorities were left dumbfounded after a Gold Coast woman found behind the wheel of her car recorded a breath alcohol reading of 0.48 – almost 10 times the legal limit. Paramedics found the woman passed out in her car outside a Runaway Bay cafe. She was transport to Gold Coast University Hospital where blood tests confirmed her high level reading.
This figure could set a new national record. According to the Director of the University of Queensland Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre, Professor Jake Najman, most people would be in a coma once they reached 0.3; a reading of 0.4 would generally mean unconsciousness or, in many cases, death.
Driving under the influence – quick facts
◉ 10 times over the breath alcohol level is probably the highest on record
◉ The number of people stopped for drink driving peaks in December
◉ Drink driving charges in Queensland rose from 25,611 in the year from November 2013 to 27,207 in the year from November 2014
◉ 1 in 4 drivers tested over the 2015 Christmas holiday period returned positive for drugs
‘In charge’ of a motor vehicle
The case raises an interesting legal question. The woman was charged with high-range drink driving. This offence, found in sections 79 and 79A of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (‘TORUMA’), requires that the accused:
- drove a vehicle, or
- attempted to put a vehicle in motion, or
- was in charge of a motor vehicle
- under the influence of liquor or a drug, and
- with a blood alcohol limit of 0.05 or more, or a breath alcohol limit of 0.15g/210L of breath.
Here, the alcohol limit is not in question. The TORUMA states that a person over the high alcohol limit is ‘conclusively presumed’ to be under the influence (TORUMA s 79(3)) – in other words, it cannot be argued otherwise.
Given the 42-year old was found slumped over the steering wheel, it is unlikely the case is based on driving the vehicle or attempting to put it into motion. This raises the question, then, as to whether a person with near-fatal blood alcohol levels can really be considered ‘in charge’ of the vehicle?
The short answer is ‘yes’. Under the terms of the legislation, a person is automatically presumed to be in charge of a vehicle if, at the time of the offence:
- they appeared, acted or behaved as the driver or rider of any vehicle
- they appeared, acted or behaved as the person in possession, custody, care, or management of any vehicle, or
- they used, drove, or attempted to use or drive any vehicle.
The provision goes on to say to that ‘it is immaterial that by reason of circumstances not known to such person it is impossible to drive or otherwise use’ the vehicle (TORUMA section 124(1)(t)).
Driving under the influence
The woman’s licence was automatically suspended, and she faces severe penalties when her case returns to court next month. Hopefully she has learned her lesson. If you plan to drink, plan ahead. Designate someone who is not drinking to drive you home, or catch a taxi.
Even better – limit your intake of alcohol. Not only will you be safer on the roads, you will be better able to protect yourself and you will feel better the next day. While the limit varies from person to person, generally for men, this means no more than 2 standard drinks in the first hour and 1 each hour thereafter. For women, this means 1 standard drink in the first hour and 1 each hour thereafter.
If you or someone you know has been charged with drink driving, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. Call 1300 636 846 or ask for a call-back at gotocourt.com.au.