A new law tabled in NSW Parliament introduces harsher penalties for combined drink and drug driving offences.
The ‘Four Angels’ law is named in honour of four children, siblings Antony, Angelina, Sienna Abdallah and their cousin Veronique Sakr who were tragically killed by a driver who was three times the legal alcohol limit and under the influence of drugs.
“This new law sends a clear message to the community that this high-risk behaviour will not be tolerated. It’s designed to act as a greater deterrence to drivers, so that we don’t have to see families like the Abdallahs and Sakrs experience such tragedy.” said Andrew Constance, Minister for Transport and Roads.
The proposed legislation will compound drug and drink driving charges.
Pursuant to section 111A(1) of the Road Transport Legislation Amendment (Drink and Drug Driving Offence) Bill 2021, if one high-range drink drives with the presence of a prescribed illicit drug in their system, they will face a $5,500 fine and/or 2 years in jail.
In the case of a second or subsequent offence, this maximum penalty rises to a $11,000 fine and/or 2 years in jail.
The maximum penalty for a first-time mid-range combined offence is a $3,300 fine and/or 18 months in jail, as prescribed by section 111A(2).
In the case of a second or subsequent offence, this maximum penalty rises to a $6,600 fine and/or 2 years in jail.
The Act defines a ‘second or subsequent offence’ as one committed within five years of the first combined drink and drug driving offence.
The minimum license disqualification period will be 12 months for a first mid-range combined offence, increasing to two years for a second mid-range combined offence.
For a first high range combined offence the minimum license disqualification period will be 18 months, increasing to 3 years in the event of a second or subsequent high range combined offence.
“Acknowledging the seriousness of the offence, penalties for second and subsequent combined drink and drug driving offences are around double that of a first combined offence. This is important to deterring repeat offending and is a current feature of road transport law.” explained Constance.
Leila Abdallah, the mother of Antony, Angelina, and Sienna, was present during the introduction of the legislation.
“It is a constant pain that will never go. Eventually you still have to get up and live on. We’ve got other kids that need us. But if we can save lives then we are happy to help in any way.” she said.
Under the proposed legislation, a driver who is breath-tested and returns a mid or high range alcohol level will then be asked to undertake a drug test.
In addition, if a driver returns a low range alcohol level and has a previous offence, they will also be required to undertake a drug test.
“We will be focusing on those with the highest risk: those with mid and high range alcohol levels, and those with low alcohol levels where they had a previous offence.” explained Constance.
The drug test will test for THC from cannabis, MDMA or ecstasy, methylamphetamine otherwise known as speed or ice, and cocaine.
The drug test is a three-stage process.
The first stage is a roadside drug test which acts as a screening test, with the second stage being the roadside confirmation test.
The third stage is where the roadside drug test results are sent for further testing at a laboratory.
“Over 95 per cent of positive roadside drug tests are confirmed as positive at the laboratory.” noted Constance.
If the roadside drug test result indicates the presence of a prescribed illicit drug, the driver will not be charged with the combined offence until confirmation from laboratory test results.
If the lab results confirm the presence of prescribed illicit drugs, a new charge for a combined offence will be issued.
The original drink driving offence will remain on the driver’s charge sheet, but if the driver is subsequently convicted of the combined offence, then this original offence will be withdrawn.
The person will have their licence suspended until they have the matter heard at court.
“Research has shown that you are 23 times more likely to crash while driving under the influence of both alcohol and drugs.” said Constance.
In NSW, from 2015 – 2019 there have been 101 serious casualty crashes involving drivers or riders with illegal levels of alcohol combined with prescribed illicit drug in their systems, occasioning 98 deaths.
Currently, there is no combined offence for driving under the influence of both drugs and alcohol.
One may be charged separately for drink driving and driving with an illicit drug present in your system.
In NSW, you do not have to be impaired by drugs to be charged with a drug driving offence.
The presence of the illicit substance in your system (within your saliva, blood, or urine) is sufficient to support a charge, pursuant to section 111 of the Road Transport Act 2013.
A defence may be available in some cases that the accused has made an ‘honest and reasonable mistake of fact’, which entails that they were truly unaware that the drug was in their system.
In the case of a first offence the maximum penalty for an offence under section 111 is a fine of $2,200 whereas this grows to $3,300 in the case of a second or subsequent offence.
The accused will also be automatically disqualified for 6 months from holding a driver licence or a minimum period of 3 months if the court thinks fit to order a shorter period, pursuant to section 205(2)(a) of the Road Transport Act 2013.
The maximum penalties associated with drink driving offences will depend upon a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC), pursuant to section 110 of the Road Transport Act 2013.
A BAC of 0.15g or more while driving will place an accused person in the ‘high range’.
A maximum penalty of one and a half years in jail and/or a $3,300 fine, a 6 to 9-month compulsory period of licence disqualification and a minimum of two years interlock period, is applicable to high-range drink driving.
A BAC of 0.08 and above but less than 0.15 will place an accused person in the ‘mid range’.
Mid-range drink driving attracts a maximum penalty of 9 months in prison, and/or a $2,200 fine, a 6-month disqualification period and an interlock period of one year.
Low range is classified as between 0.05g, but less than 0.08g.
Pursuant to section 224 of the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW), NSW police will issue an on-the-spot fine of $581, plus an immediate 3-months driver licence suspension to first-time low-range drink drivers.
If you court-elect the infringement notice, you face a maximum penalty of a fine of $2,200 and a criminal conviction.
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