Driving Offences including Drink Driving


Due to the carnage caused on the roads by the lethal combination of driving and alcohol, successive governments have instituted extensive educational and safety programmes about the dangers of drink driving, and have also passed laws which make driving under the influence of alcohol a serious offence.

Drink-driving, speeding and other traffic offences

Traffic offences vary in severity from parking through to drink-driving, dangerous driving and manslaughter. Most traffic offences are contained in the Traffic Act.


Most people are aware that driving under the influence of alcohol or drink-driving is an offence. You are above the limit if you have a reading of .05 or above, or .02 or above in the case of learner-drivers, P-plate holders, or drivers under 25 years of age who have had their licence for less than three years.

Police officers can require you to take a breath test. If you refuse to take the test, or, if the test is positive, you will be arrested and taken to a police station for breath testing within two hours of the first test or refusal.

Charged with drink-driving?

If you are charged with drink-driving, you will be required to appear before a magistrate in a Local Court. If you are found guilty or convicted, you can receive a fine, a period of disqualification of your licence, a jail sentence or a combination of these penalties. The range of penalties which the magistrate can impose depends on your blood alcohol reading and your prior record for similar offences. You should also be aware that if you have been convicted of a drink driving offence within the last five years, the penalties will increase considerably. In particular, the period of disqualification from driving will be greater.

Convicted of drink-driving?

If you are convicted of a drink-driving offence, there is an automatic period of disqualification during which you cannot hold a licence. However, magistrates are able to reduce the period of disqualification. For example, if you are convicted of driving with a reading of between .08 and .15, the automatic period of disqualification is one year. However a magistrate can reduce that period to a minimum of three months.

Although you cannot hold a licence during the period of disqualification, the magistrate can order that you be allowed a restricted licence after the minimum period of disqualification has expired. An example of a restricted licence is one that allows you to drive between the hours of say 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. In deciding what period of disqualification to order, a magistrate will consider: your need for a licence, the circumstances of the offence, your driving record, and evidence of your character. You should discuss your need for a restricted licence with Martin Bullock Lawyers.

What about speeding?

Driving above the speed limit is also an offence. The possible range of penalties depends upon how fast you were travelling. For speeding, you could lose some licence points, be fined or even lose your licence. If you travel 45 kilometres or more over the speed limit, you automatically lose your licence in addition to receiving a substantial fine. A conviction for speeding may appear on your criminal record.

If someone is killed or seriously injured while you are driving a car, you may be charged with manslaughter or dangerous driving. These are serious offences which could result in a jail sentence.

If you are charged with either of these offences you should see a solicitor as soon as possible.

Less serious offences

If you commit a less serious traffic offence, you will either be booked on the spot by a police officer or receive an infringement notice in the mail.

What can you do if this happens?

  • Firstly, you can pay the fine specified in the infringement notice. If you know you are guilty of a traffic offence, it is better to pay the fine within the required time to avoid further legal action and costs.
  • Secondly, you can contest the matter in court by completing the notice electing to go to court. If you go to court and win the case you will not have to pay the fine. However, if you lose the case you will have to pay the fine and the court costs by a certain date.
  • If you do not pay the fine and fail to return the notice electing to go to court, the infringement notice is referred to the Roads & Traffic Authority for action. If you hold a NSW licence or own a vehicle registered in NSW, the RTA will send you a letter of intended cancellation of your licence. If you do not pay the fine within the period specified in the letter, the RTA will cancel your licence or registration.

If you are driving someone else's car and are stopped by the police for committing a traffic offence, the police will ask to see your driver's licence and will give you the infringement notice. If however the police cannot identify you as the driver because for example you have been picked up by a speed camera, the notice will be sent to the registered owner of the vehicle who may in turn name you as the driver.

If you are charged with a traffic offence you should never ignore it, even if you think the offence is minor. Loss of your licence, a fine, imprisonment or a criminal conviction could seriously affect you and your family and may even cost you your job. You should seek legal advice from a solicitor about the charge, the likely penalty, and any defences that you could make to the charge.

If you need information on what type of penalties there are for different traffic offences, you can ring the Police Infringement Processing Bureau on (02) 9841 8000. You can also get information from the Roads & Traffic Authority which has many branches in New South Wales. You can telephone its main branch on 132 213 for the cost of a local call from anywhere within New South Wales, and from outside of NSW call 1800 624 384.

The NRMA will also provide information and advice to its members. Its main office is located at 74-76 King Street, Sydney and the telephone number is 132 132.

For further information and assistance on traffic offences contact your local community legal centre or Legal Aid Commission Office, or the Chamber Magistrate at your local court.

For legal advice about a traffic offence, contact Martin Bullock Lawyers.

If you have to deal with the police and/or the courts, the Attorney General's Department Lawlink website has information that will help.

Roads & Traffic Authority has many branches in New South Wales. You can telephone its main branch on 132 213 for the cost of a local call from anywhere within New South Wales, and from outside of NSW call 1800 624 384.

The NRMA provides information and advice to its members. It main office is located at 74-76 King Street, Sydney and the telephone number is 132 132.

Driving offences - how does the demerit point system work?

The demerit points system involves the allocation of penalty points (demerits) for a range of driving offences. When a licence holder accumulates a certain number of demerit points, his or her licence will be suspended. The number of points varies for different licence types (eg full unrestricted licence holders (gold, silver or magenta) – 12 demerit points in any 3 year period).

The current demerit points for traffic offences can be viewed on the RTA website.

Double Demerits

Double Demerit points apply during holiday periods and holiday weekends. They apply to speeding, seat belt and motorcycle helmet offences. An additional demerit point is added to other traffic offences.

Drink driving - alcohol interlock summary

Eligibility – You must apply to the court for the granting of the Interlock Licence. If you do not apply at the time, then it will not be granted.

The Court will issue a disqualification period in any event, followed by a minimum interlock participation period. Please see the table on pages 3 and 4 of the RTA handout. In summary the normal periods are:

  • High range PCA – Disqualification 12 months, interlock period 4 years
  • Low range PCA - Disqualification period 3 months, interlock period 12 months

If a court grants an Interlock Licence, then the procedure is as follows:

  • 28 days from the expiry of the disqualification compliance period see Guardian to have the device installed (phone 9688 6844). Approximate costs (as at 19 April 2005) are as follows:
    • Installation - $150
    • Monthly fee - $125 plus GST
    • Early termination and missed appointment fees are also charged
  • Obtain a Medical Intervention Certificate from a qualified medical practitioner – See the RTA website for a list of qualified doctors.
  • Submit to RTA the Installation Certificate, Brief Intervention Certificate, complete an Interlock Driver Licence declaration and have satisfied all the usual RTA requirements. This must be done between 28 days and the last day before the expiration of the disqualification period.

The Interlock Driver's Licence will only allow you to drive a vehicle fitted with the approved device. It is a conditional licence.

You are required to monitor on a monthly basis, and incur the fees for the monitoring. If you do not monitor then the car will lock and you will be unable to drive it. It will need to be towed to the appropriate installer. If you do not comply with the licence conditions then the licence may be cancelled.

At the end of the period the Interlock Licence will expire automatically. You will be notified by the RTA, and you will need to have the device removed and obtain a new licence.

For further information, please see the "NSW Alcohol Interlock Program" brochure, or visit the RTA website.

Penalties for drug and alcohol offences

The current penalties for drug and alcohol offences can be viewed on the RTA website.

It is illegal to refuse a breath test, and the penalties are the same as for a high-range drink-driving offence. Drivers and riders who accumulate 3 convictions for certain serious offences within 5 years will be subjected to heavier penalties when declared an "habitual offender" by the court.

Take care when you're driving. If you need advice about any driving offences, then contact Greg Martin on 9687 9322.