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What is the new drink-driving law in NSW?

Under the new drink-driving law, a first-time offender for low range drink-driving will immediately lose his license and pays a $561 fine. Low range drink-driving is when you have a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) between 0.05 and 0.079. Remember, learners and P plates can’t drink at all.

The New South Wales Department of Transport says alcohol is a factor in one of every seven crashes in the state. “You don’t have to be drunk to be affected by alcohol,” the department advises. “You might feel normal but no one drives well after drinking alcohol.”

These are some of the side effects that have convinced NSW authorities to act:

  • Your brain slows down, so you can’t respond to situations, make decisions or react quickly
  • Your judgement regarding how fast you are moving or your distance from objects is impaired
  • Increased self-confidence may encourage you to take risks or over-rate your driving skill
  • You can’t concentrate on more than one thing a time. A distraction may cause you not to see a pedestrian
  • Your balance is affected – not good for motorcyclists – you may feel drowsy and even fall asleep behind the wheel.

What the Law Says and What This Could Mean for You

It is good to remember that a drink driving charge in New South Wales includes the following possibilities:

  • Alcohol greater than what the law allows in your system
    • 0 BACC for learners and P plates,
    • 0.02 BAC for taxi & bus drivers, and drivers of vehicles of gross mass exceeding 13.9 tonnes or carrying dangerous goods
    • 0.05 BAC unrestricted license holder
  • Diving under the influence of alcohol as defined by law
  • Refusing or failing to provide a blood sample or breath analysis
  • Dangerous driving where alcohol is a contributing factor

If you are caught drink driving in NSW even in the low range of BAC, then you are guilty of an offence from May 20, 2019. You could potentially lose your driving licence on the spot and also have to pay a $561 fine.

Roads Minister Andrew Constance says NSW is taking a “zero-tolerance” approach to drink and drug-driving. If you break the law, you pay the price, he adds. The same rules apply to drug driving after a positive chemical analysis.

First-time offenders with a reading in the low level band (0.05 and 0.079) will be now under the radar and will face a penalty notice imposing three month suspension on the spot plus a $561 fine.

Mid-range offenders (BAC between 0.08 and 0.149) will have to fit an alcohol interlock in their car. 

What the NSW Government Hopes to Achieve from This

The Minister of Roads and Transport is concerned that 50% of low-level offenders walk away from court with a non-conviction. “That means no loss of licence, no fines attached, this now changes that,” he told ABC.Net.

Assistant Police Commissioner Michael Corboy also appears to be pleased with the changes. That’s because not having to prepare briefs and attend court will free his force to attend to other law enforcement activities.

However, the New South Wales Law Society has criticised the move because the new penalties will “decrease deterrence and increase offence and recidivism rates” according to a post on their website. That’s because an infringement notice to a first offender removes the need to attend court.

“We are particularly concerned that the effect of the ‘drink driving is a crime’ campaign will be diluted if low-range drink driving offences are dealt with by penalty notices rather than by the courts,” says NSW Law Society president Elizabeth Espinosa.

“The experience, and shame, of having to appear before a magistrate, undertake a traffic offender program, and be warned of the consequences of further offending may well have a significantly greater deterrent effect on future offending than a penalty notice, fine and suspension,” she adds.

Our Advice for Learner Drivers and Drink Driving Offenders

A conviction for drink or drug driving is a blot on your record that stays with you for a very long time. Many countries with zero-tolerance policies have developed a culture whereby one member in a party simply does not drink when going out.

This may sound a real pain at first, but when everybody takes their turn it becomes part of a sociable new way of doing things. There are some really cool non-alcohol cocktails available in restaurants and pubs. You also save money for next time when it’s somebody else’s turn.

Facing drug or drink charges can be a disaster for a learner driver with a month to go on their P2. They have to start all over again after a friend said ‘go on, one beer won’t hurt’.

It also makes a load of sense to stay away from alcohol or drugs while you are driving, when you think about the ways they affect drivers we mentioned in the beginning.

A Word about Cannabis and Prescription Drugs

Medical prescriptions and decriminalisation don’t reduce the effect medicines and social drugs have on our reaction times and ability to react to dangerous situations. Alcohol is legal but you still shouldn’t consume it and drive. Separate the issues: Only drive when you are completely in the clear, and then observe the rules of the road.

A Final Work on the Subject of Drink and Drug Driving

Some 68 people died in alcohol-related crashes in New South Wales in 2018. These included boyfriends, girlfriends, children, and parents sitting innocently in their seats. Others were innocent people going about their business. It’s an awesome responsibility driving a car. When you sit behind a wheel you take on that task.