Shining a light on drink driving

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.
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.
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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
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
Penalties in NSW
Most people are aware that driving under the influence of alcohol or drink-driving is
an offence. The limits are a 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. However, the court is able to
reduce the period of disqualification. For example, if the person is convicted 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 period is 2 years.
However in some cases a magistrate can reduce that period to a minimum of three
Will the media be at Court?
It is extremely unlikely the media will be interested.
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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 9191 9293 or email