On 3 December 2018, recent amendments to the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW) came into force increasing the penalties for certain drink driving offences and changing the way low-range PCA offences are dealt with. The Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight Melinda Pavey has justified these amendments on the basis that ‘[w]e needed a stronger deterrent. Last year 55 people lost their lives in alcohol related crashes and 81 people died in crashes involving someone with illicit drugs in their system.’ These amendments could have significant effects on how members of the public are charged with these offences
The thrust of these changes are as follows.
Those who blow a Blood Alcohol Content reading of or above 0.05 but less than 0.08 (low-range PCA) will now be dealt with by way of an infringement notice with an on-the-spot penalty of $561, if it is their first drink-driving offence. The Police can also now issue an immediate suspension of a person’s licence for 3 months for a low-range PCA offence.These new laws also apply to those found to be driving with a prescribed illicit drug (marijuana, speed or ecstasy) in their oral fluid. A person can choose to have these matters dealt with in the Local Court.
Prior to this new regime, persons charged with a low-range PCA offence or a drive with illicit substance present in oral fluid were required to attend court to have their matter dealt with by a Local Court Magistrate. Upon conviction by a Magistrate, the person would be subject to an automatic disqualification period of 6 months, which could be varied to the minimum period of not less than 3 months. The maximum fine that the Magistrate could impose was $1,100. However, now those who elect to take their infringement notice to the Local Court will be exposed to a maximum fine of up to $2,200.
As a result of these amendments, the alcohol interlock program now also encompasses those convicted of driving with a mid-range PCA (a reading of or above 0.08 but less than 0.15) for a first offence.A Magistrate can now make a mandatory interlock order for this offence, which means that at the end of any disqualification period for this offence (which will be for a minimum of 3 months or a maximum of 6 months), the person will be required to have installed in their vehicle an interlock device for at least 12 months. The interlock device prevents the vehicle from starting until the person has blown into the device and there is a negative reading for alcohol in the person’s breath. However, entry into the mandatory interlock program is not cheap, costing approximately $2,200 per year.
The new laws also allow the Police to confiscate the offender’s number plates and/or impound their vehicle where they are a repeat ‘drink driving’ offender.
It is clear, from these amendments, that the NSW Government is cracking down on first-time drink-driving offenders.
It should also be noted that the Local Court can still decide to proceed without recording a conviction. The effect of a non-conviction will mean that no fine is to be imposed, and that no disqualification period would be imposed.
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