Drink driving continues to be one of the main causes of road fatalities and injuries, responsible for 30% of fatalities and 9% of serious road injuries in Australia. If you consider the statistics it is clear why successive Governments and the Police support strong laws and why the Courts impose tough penalties.

In this article we take a step back and examine why we have the laws we do today. This may be of interest for parents of young drivers or a reminder for those who need to know more. If you looking for legal advice, our criminal and traffic lawyers are here to provide quality legal advice.

Random Breath Testing

Random Breath Testing was introduced at different times around Australia as a major drink driving deterrent. There have been numerous evaluations of RBT as a road safety measure and these have largely produced positive outcomes.

For example, in NSW the introduction of RBT in 1982 led to an initial (and massive) 48% reduction in fatal crashes over a four and a half month period and an average 15% reduction in fatal crashes over a subsequent 10 year period. In Queensland, RBT led to a reduction in fatal crashes of 35% and 28% in Western Australia over a four year period.

Police officers can require a driver to take a breath test. If the driver refuses to take the test or if the test is positive that person will be arrested and taken to a police station for breath testing within two hours of the first test or refusal.

The cost to the community

The statistics are staggering and it is little wonder all Governments are keen to minimise the costs to the community. In 2006, the cost of each fatal car crash to the Australian community was estimated at approximately $2.6m, while the cost of each hospitalisation crash was estimated at approximately $266,000!

What happens in Court?

As you can imagine the Court process can be confronting and worrying and of course there will be penalties imposed. The matter must be dealt with in a Court, requiring the attendance of the driver and the paperwork received by a driver will set out the day and time of that court appearance.

If the charged person is found guilty or convicted, they can receive a fine, a period of disqualification of their licence, a jail sentence or a combination of these penalties.

The range of penalties which the Court can impose depends on the blood alcohol reading and the person’s prior record for similar offences.

Court appearances should not be taken lightly and it is wise to first seek legal help well ahead of the intended court date so the details of the charge can be properly discussed.

Fundamentally the first issue to consider is if the person should plead guilty to the charge/s and review what the police assert the facts to be.

It may be appropriate to adjourn the matter so there is more time to prepare, or because the person’s lawyer may not be available on the first date. Essentially the person needs to get legal help in order to plan for the process properly.

If there is to be a guilty plea then the person needs to know what the likely penalties are and if they need to do anything that might assist in reducing that penalty such as:

  • enrolling in a driving or alcohol education course;
  • seeking character references; or
  • seeking other relevant evidence in support of any request for a reduced penalty.

Penalties in NSW

Most people are aware that driving under the influence of alcohol or drink-driving is an offence. The limits are a Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol (PCA) reading of .05 or above, or .02 or above in the case of drivers of vehicles greater than 13.9 tonnes, drivers carrying dangerous goods, taxi or bus drivers. Learner-drivers or P-plate holders have a Zero alcohol limit.

If a person is convicted of a drink-driving offence, there is an automatic period of disqualification during which they cannot hold a licence. The penalties imposed depend on the PCA reading and whether the person is a first-time offender or has had a previous offence or offences. For example, if the person is convicted (for the first time) of driving with a reading of between .08 and .15, the automatic period of disqualification is one year, and for a high reading (.15 or more) the automatic disqualification period is three years. However, in some cases a Court is able to reduce the period of disqualification.

Laws that commenced in May 2019 provide that drivers convicted of an offence for low-range PCA (readings from 0.05 to less than 0.08) for the first time, can have their licence immediately disqualified for three months and can be fined $561. These laws reflect the Government’s zero-tolerance approach to drink-driving. Before the reforms, low-range offenders generally had their penalty and disqualification period determined at Court and could usually retain their licence and continue driving until the hearing date. Although offenders may still have the matter heard in Court, and appeal a suspension, legal advice is recommended, as longer disqualification periods and higher penalties may be applied.

Will the media be at Court?

It is extremely unlikely the media will be interested.

As far as our firm is concerned we never talk about your case with anyone. We do not speak to the media under any circumstances. Having your case reported in the media does not help you. Having to go to Court is stressful enough without having your peers, your work colleagues or your local community hearing about it through the media.


The Courts treat traffic offences seriously, particularly drink driving offences. Therefore, for anyone confronting this issue it is important to get competent legal advice as early as possible and certainly before they need to attend Court.

If you know someone who might need assistance we can guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter, so contact us on (02) 9818 2888 or email [email protected].