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Drink Driving, DUI and PCA

Criminal Defence Factsheets

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Drink driving offences‘ are a broad range of offences in New South Wales that the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW) legislates. They include PCA (Prescribed Content of Alcohol) offences and DUI (Driving Under the Influence) charges.

Most people facing drink driving charges do so because police stopped them for a random or roadside breath test (RBT).

A more extreme example might see you charged with a drink driving offence:

  • after involvement in a motor vehicle accident,
  • upon analysis of your blood,
  • or in circumstances where you might be facing a range of other offending after police pull you over and arrest you while driving.
nsw police conducting rbt

If you have a reading or blood result in excess of the prescribed concentration of alcohol (PCA)limits, police may issue you with one or more of the following penalties:

  • immediate suspension of your drivers’ licence;
  • a penalty notice;
  • a Court Attendance Notice (CAN) advising you are charged with an offence of the first mention date the proceeding is listed before the Local Court.

Note that at the time of issuing you with a Court Attendance Notice for a drink driving offence, a NSW police officer can immediately suspend your licence.

Drink Driving laws in NSW

Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol (PCA) limits

If you don’t already know your required alcohol limits, it’s best to memorise them now.

  • Learner or provisional driver (L or P platers) – 0.0 – no alcohol
  • Holders of full licence (car or motorcycle) – under 0.05. A very small quantity of alcohol permitted prior to driving.
  • Public passenger vehicle drivers – bus or taxi – under 0.02. Not even worth thinking about a drink as it may as well be 0.0.
  • Coach or heavy vehicle drivers – under 0.02. Not even worth thinking about a drink as it may as well be 0.0.
  • Dangerous goods driver – under 0.02. Not even worth thinking about a drink as it may as well be 0.0.

For full licence holders, there are three ranges you can fall into if you’re over the prescribed limit:

  1. LOW RANGE PCA – Blood alcohol is between 0.05 and 0.08
  2. MID-RANGE PCA – Blood alcohol is between 0.08 and 0.15
  3. HIGH-RANGE PCA – Blood alcohol is over 0.15

For those with an alcohol limit of 0, anything over that has classification as “NOVICE”.

For those with an alcohol limit of under 0.02, anything over that has classification as “SPECIAL”.

Immediate suspension of drivers licence

A NSW Police officer can, at the time of issuing a Court Attendance Notice for a charge of a drink driving offence, immediately suspend your drivers licence for a period of 3 months.

An immediate suspension will apply to drivers even with a charge of low range drink driving offences.

In addition to immediate licence suspension of 3 months, police will issue you with an on the spot fine, by way of penalty notice, of $572.00. This is as of the time of writing this article in February 2021.

Drink driving in NSW avoid RBT
A campaign from NSW Government on drink driving avoid RBT

Ability to appeal immediate suspension of drivers’ licence and fine

Whilst police powers continue to grow, you can appeal the issuing of immediate licence suspension and penalty notice by electing to have a magistrate in the Local Court determine the matter.

Should you receive an on the spot suspension and fine, we recommend that you speak with a driving offences lawyer to take steps to prepare your matter for Court. It’s critical to act quickly if you get an immediate licence suspension. This is because as it will remain suspended, and you cannot lawfully drive until your matter finalises before court. Or your licence suspension period concludes (whichever being earlier).

Importantly, a Court has the discretion to impose differing periods of licence suspension and penalties for a drink driving offences. In some circumstances, if the Court does not record a conviction, no licence suspension follows.

Failure to comply with breath testing

Drink Driving BreathalyserWhen a NSW Police officer requires a breath test from you, it’s best to comply.

Failure to comply with a request or signal given to participate in random breath test can result in a maximum penalty of $1100.

Refusal or failure to submit to test, analysis or assessment, including breath test & breath analysis can result in a maximum penalty of $1100 for a breath test, and $5500 and 2 years imprisonment for breath analysis if it’s not your first offence.

Refusal or failure to provide samples or preventing sample taking – blood samples can result in a maximum penalty of between $3300 & 18 months imprisonment or both (first offence), or $5500 & 2 years imprisonment or both (second offence).

Alcohol interlock devices

The punishment for drink driving offences does not stop at licence suspensions, fines and in serious cases, imprisonment. Regrettably alcohol interlock orders are further painful impositions that accompany a conviction for some drink driving offences.

An alcohol interlock order applies to persons convicted of ‘Mid Range’, ‘High Range’ or ‘Drive under the influence’ offences. The alcohol interlock device prevents the ignition working on a vehicle until the driver’s breath shows that they don’t have too high a level of alcohol.

An alcohol interlock order means you must pay any relevant installation and service fees for the device throughout the duration of the alcohol interlock order.

Loss of driver’s licence

A loss of licence by way of suspension and disqualification is commonplace for persons with drink driving convictions.

The length of a court-imposed disqualification varies depending on a range of factors including the

  • applicable law,
  • the relevant offence,
  • the circumstances of the offender
  • and any driving record of the offender.

A helpful table outlining offences and penalties for drink driving offences is below:

High range PCA (0.15 or above), refuse breath analysis, a blood sample and/or alter concentration in the blood

Note: If an offender receives an alcohol interlock order, the disqualification period may differ from the values in this table.

PenaltyFirst offenceSecond or subsequent offence
Maximum court- imposed fine$3,300$5,500
Maximum prison term18 months2 years
Minimum disqualification12 months2 years
Maximum disqualificationUnlimitedUnlimited
Automatic disqualification (disqualification period that applies in the absence of a specific court order)3 years5 years
Immediate licence suspsionYesYes
Subject to an alcohol interlock orderYesYes

Mid range PCA (blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 to less than 0.15)

Note: If an offender gets an alcohol interlock order, the disqualification period may differ from those listed in this table.

PenaltiesFirst offenceSecond or subsequent offence
Maximum court- imposed fine$2,200$3,300
Maximum prison term9 months12 months
Minimum disqualification6 months12 months
Maximum disqualificationUnlimitedUnlimited
Automatic disqualification (disqualification period that applies in the absence of a specific court order)12 months3 years
Immediate licence suspensionYesYes
Subject to an alcohol interlock orderYesYes

 Low, novice or special range PCA

  • Low range PCA:blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 to less than 0.08
  • Novice range PCA:blood alcohol concentration more than zero for learner, P1 or P2 drivers
  • Special range PCA:blood alcohol concentration over 0.02 for special category drivers

 Note: If an offender receives an alcohol interlock order, the disqualification period may differ from those listed in this table.

PenaltyFirst offenceSecond or subsequent offence
Penalty notice fine$572N/A
Immediate licence suspensionYesYes
Maximum court- imposed fine$2,200$3,300
Maximum prison termN/AN/A
Minimum disqualification3 months6 months
Maximum disqualification6 monthsUnlimited
Automatic disqualification (disqualification period that applies in the absence of a specific court order)6 months12 months
Subject to an alcohol interlock orderNoYes

Drive under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or other drug

Note: If an offender has an alcohol interlock order, the disqualification period may differ from those in this table.

PenaltyFirst offenceSecond or subsequent offence
Maximum court- imposed fine$3,300$5,500
Maximum prison term18 months2 years
Minimum disqualification12 months2 years
Maximum disqualificationUnlimitedUnlimited
Automatic disqualification (disqualification period that applies in the absence of a specific court order)3 years5 years
Subject to an alcohol interlock orderYes (alcohol offences only)Yes (alcohol offences only)

“I’ve been charged with drink driving, what do I do?” The first step is to consult a lawyer. We offer free initial consultations from our criminal solicitors. Contact us today!

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