Criminal Law, Government & Legislation

New drink driving laws

The government has announced details of its new package to limit the impact of drink drivers. The new legislation will be introduced next year and include:

  • A zero drink drive limit for recidivist drink drivers
  • A zero drink drive limit for drivers under 20 years of age
  • Much tougher penalties for serious offences causing death and drink driving causing death
  • The introduction of alcohol interlocks for repeat drink-drivers.

Increased penalties for the most serious repeat drink drive offenders are still considered as is lowering the legal blood alcohol limit from 0.08 to 0.05.

So, what is the law at the moment?

The legal limit is 400mg of alcohol per 1 litre of breath or 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (under 20: 150mg and 30mg). Driving while under the influence and with excess breath alcohol (“EBA”) carries a maximum term of 3 months imprisonment and a fine not exceeding $4500 (s56 Land Transport Act). When convicted for EBA the first time, the mandatory disqualification period is 6 months. The fine is usually calculated according to the level of alcohol found on the person’s breath, ie 500mg = $500.  A third or subsequent offence of drink driving faces a maximum penalty of imprisonment for not more than 2 years and a fine not exceeding $6000. The mandatory period of disqualification increases to more than 1 year (at least 1 year and 1 day).

The court can also order the confiscation of the offender’s vehicle and must order its confiscation if a second offence is committed within four years of the first offence.  A good lawyer will usually advice offenders who are at risk of such penalty to sell the vehicle asap as proceeds through a police sale are usually very low. Interesting enough, the High Court confirmed that a lawyer is not only allowed to advise a client to sell, but also has an obligation to do so.

There are further increased penalties if a person commits another offence within 5 years of the previous EBA and is over 1000mg per 1 litre breath or 200mg per 100ml blood. In that case the Court must also order the attendance of an assessment centre and the license is also suspended for an indefinite period. The same applies if one of the previous convictions was for failing to remain or accompany a police officer or refusal to undergo a blood test.

The Government says that alcohol is a factor in almost one in three fatal crashes and hopes to significant lower this rate. The problem with tougher sentences regarding addictive behaviour, however, is that they usually get the wrong end of the stick. Current penalties are already pretty harsh and its doubtful that a further increase will see any changes. Whats required is rather better education and training and preventing people as young as 15 getting a driver’s license in the first place. Raise the driving age to 18, introduce mandatory driving lessons with qualified instructors from the start plus a probation period of 2 years for new drivers and the road toll will drop. Guaranteed.

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