In New South Wales, driving after consuming alcohol is regulated by the Road Transport Act 2013 and the Road Transport (Alcohol and Drugs) Act 1977. These acts set out the legal framework for drink driving offences, prescribed blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits, and the penalties associated with violating these limits. These offences are taken very seriously by the court and it is important that those charged with drink driving receive effective legal advice.

Prescribed BAC Limits

The prescribed BAC limits determine the legal level of alcohol that a person can have in their system while operating a motor vehicle. The limits vary depending on the category of driver. Learner drivers, P1 provisional drivers (red P-plates), and P2 provisional drivers (green P-plates) must have a zero BAC. This means they cannot have any alcohol in their system while driving.

For general drivers, the BAC limit is under 0.05. This means general drivers must not exceed a BAC of 0.049 grams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. Professional drivers, including taxi drivers, bus drivers, and drivers of heavy vehicles, are subject to a stricter limit of under 0.02 BAC.

The ‘Low-Range’ Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol (PCA) is a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of more than 0.049 but less than 0.08 for general drivers. A ‘Mid-Range’ PCA is a BAC 0.08 and over but less than 0.15 for general drivers. A ‘High-Range’ PCA is a BAC 0.15 and over for general drivers.

Drink Driving Penalties

The severity of the penalty for a drink driving offence in NSW depends on factors such as the driver’s alcohol level at the time of the offence, whether it is a first or subsequent offence, and the category of driver involved in the offence. Possible penalties for drink driving offences include fines, disqualification periods, alcohol interlock orders, and even periods of imprisonment. The penalties imposed will vary depending on the specific circumstances of each case, including any aggravating factors or prior offences.

Alcohol Interlock Program

The Alcohol Interlock Program in NSW is a preventive measure designed to address the issue of drink driving. It requires individuals convicted of certain drink driving offences to install an interlock device in their vehicles. The device may be installed in a car, truck or motorcycle. The interlock device is connected to the vehicle’s ignition system and measures the driver’s breath alcohol concentration. A zero alcohol limit applies for all interlock drivers and if alcohol is detected, the vehicle will not start. Attempts to drink drive are recorded on the device.

Participation in the Alcohol Interlock Program is a court-ordered requirement for drivers who have been convicted of certain drink driving offences. Once the convicted driver has completed the mandatory disqualification period, they are then restricted to driving only vehicles fitted with an interlock device for a prescribed period.

In addition to a period of disqualification and any other penalties, a court must order participation in the Alcohol Interlock Program if a person is convicted of a mandatory interlock offence. These offences include, but are not limited to:

  • Low, novice or special range PCA – second or subsequent offence within 5 years
  • Mid range PCA
  • High range PCA
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol
  • Refuse to provide a sample for analysis

Mandatory interlock orders are also imposed for specified offences in circumstances where a person has been convicted of certain other offences within the previous 5 years. Interlock periods range from 12 to 48 months depending on the offence and whether there have been previous convictions.

In exceptional circumstances, a person convicted of an offence may be able to apply for an interlock exemption order.

How a Lawyer can Help

The Alcohol Interlock Program allows individuals convicted of drink driving to regain their driving privileges while minimising risk to road safety. By preventing alcohol-impaired driving, the program serves as an effective deterrent, potentially reducing the number of repeat offenders. However, the program also presents challenges. Mandatory installation and maintenance costs of the interlock device can be financially burdensome for some individuals.

Legal representation plays a crucial role in defending individuals facing drink driving charges and navigating the Alcohol Interlock Program. This involves examining the evidence presented by the prosecution and may involve challenging the accuracy of breathalyser tests, assessing the legality of police stops, and exploring potential defences.

Legal professionals can also help clients understand their obligations under the program, provide guidance on compliance, and assist with any breaches or administrative issues that may arise. In some cases, a lawyer representing a person subject to an interlock requirement may need to advocate for alternative sentencing options or support programs that address the root causes of drink driving, ensuring a holistic approach to rehabilitation.

This information is for general purposes only and you should obtain professional advice relevant to your circumstances. If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on (02) 9818 2888 or email [email protected]