New Penalties for Low Range Drink Drivers: On-The-Spot Fines & Immediate Suspensions

 

As of 20 May 2019, a police officer can issue an on-the-spot fine of $561 and an immediate 3-months driver licence suspension period to people who are caught driving with a low-range concentration of alcohol level on a NSW Road if it is their first offence.

The low-range concentration of alcohol level is where a driver has at least a concentration of 0.05g, but less than 0.08g of alcohol in 210 litres of breath or 100 millilitres of blood (between 0.05-0.08).

In addition, as of 20 May 2019, a police officer can also issue a $561 on-the-spot fine and immediate 3-months driver licence suspension period to anyone who drives with the presence of illicit drugs (for first time offenders), if the presence of the drug in your body is confirmed by an analysis from the laboratory.

The low-range concentration of alcohol level is where a driver has at least a concentration of 0.05g, but less than 0.08g of alcohol in 210 litres of breath or 100 millilitres of blood (between 0.05-0.08).

It is reported that the Transport and Roads Minister, Andrew Constance is taking a zero-tolerance approach to drink driving in NSW, “This means anyone caught drink-driving in NSW, at any level, including low-range, can now lose their licence immediately”.

He is reported saying that more than half of low-range drink driving offenders avoid any punishment from the Courts.

It is reported that at least sixty-eight innocent peoples lives have been lost as a result of alcohol-related accidents on NSW roads in 2018.

Assistant Police Commissioner, Michael Corboy is reported saying that these new laws will reduce the time spent on police resources due to allowing police to spend less time in preparing for court matters.

On the other hand, issuing on-the-spot fines is not only taking discretion away from the judiciary (Courts) and into the hands of police officers, it’s also being criticised as another way to the Government to raise revenue. Especially in light of the fact that under the previous laws on this, more than half low-range-drink driving offenders walked away from court without a fine, conviction or disqualification period.

Appearing in court and pleading guilty for a low-range drink driving offence would at least allow the offender to provide an explanation for his/her reason for driving and personal circumstances. If the explanation and circumstances is extenuating or compelling enough, a Magistrate in court may exercise discretion to extend leniency by not imposing a licence disqualification period, fine and conviction.

In addition to this, the new laws have also been criticised for having a lesser deterrent effect. This is in the sense that the previous regime required first time low-range drink driving offenders to attend court to face a Magistrate with greater opportunity to reflect on his/her offending conduct. Being issued with an on-the-spot fine will allow the person to immediately pay the fine and move on in life without any reflection on the extent of harm this kind of offence can do and has done.

What are your Options after Receiving a Low-Range Drink Driving On-The-Spot Fine?

The on-the-spot-fine for a first time low-range drink driving offence will be in the form of a penalty notice.

When issued on the spot, the police officer can also issue you with an immediate 3-months driver licence suspension period.

You then have the following options:

  1. You may simply pay the fine, in which case you will not receive a criminal record, however, you will incur the demerit points and be suspended from driving for the 3-month period. The matter will then be finalised without attending court; or
  2. You may choose not to pay the fine, and instead ‘court-elect’ the penalty notice. This will result in being required to attend the Local Court where you may either enter a guilty plea or a not guilty plea to the low-range drink driving allegation.
    • If you enter a not guilty plea, your case will ultimately be adjourned to another court date for a hearing. On the day of hearing, the Magistrate will determine a verdict of guilty or not guilty after hearing the evidence from both sides.
    • If you enter a guilty plea, the Local Court Magistrate will hear any further evidence you wish to put forward before determining an appropriate penalty to impose on you during sentence.

If the court returns a not guilty verdict after a hearing, your low-range drink driving charge will get dismissed and you will be acquitted.

If you enter a guilty plea or where the court returns a guilty verdict after a hearing, the Magistrate, during the sentence, has the discretion to impose any one of the following types of penalties:

  1. A penalty without a criminal record under section 10 dismissal or conditional release order without conviction. This means your driver licence will not be suspended. It also means no loss of demerit points and no fine; or
  2. A penalty with a criminal record, which will also attract a licence suspension, heavier fine of up to $2,200 and loss of demerit points.

On the other hand, a low-range drink driving offence does not carry a penalty of imprisonment.

What are Your Options after Receiving an Immediate Police Suspension?

If also issued with an immediate police suspension at the time, your driver licence will be suspended until the Local Court Magistrate determines your case (if you court-elect) or the 3-month suspension period expires.

Upon being issued with an immediate police suspension, you may also apply to the Local Court, in a separate application to appeal the Police suspension of your licence.

Upon filing a police suspension appeal, you will be required to appear in court where a Local Court Magistrate will need to be convinced that there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ in order to justify the removal of the police suspension- which is a difficult test to meet.

What if this is Your Second or Subsequent Low-Range Drink Driving Offence?

The police cannot issue an on-the-spot fine to a second or subsequence low-range drink driving offender.

An example of a second or subsequent low-range drink driving offender is a person who, within the last 5-years has been convicted of a drink driving offence.

Where it is your second or subsequent offence of low-range drink driving, the police officer will issue you with a ‘Court Attendance Notice’ requiring you to attend court to answer to the charge. On the first court date, you may then enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

A second or subsequent low-range drink driving offender in NSW will face a maximum penalty of up to $2,200 fine if convicted (section 110(3) Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW)).

In addition, a second or subsequent low-range drink driving offender, if convicted (criminal record) will also be subject to the interlock program.

The interlock program in this case will mean that the court will disqualify the second or subsequent low-range drink driving offender’s licence for a minimum of 1-month to a maximum of 3-momths, in addition to then being required to participate in the interlock participation period of 12-months. (section 211 Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW)).

The interlock participation period requires the convicted offender to install and use an interlock device in his/her motor vehicle.

In the event that a Local Court Magistrate is convinced to not impose a criminal record, even after a plea of guilty is entered, the Magistrate may then impose a section 10 dismissal or conditional release order without conviction. This will result in avoiding a criminal record and walking away without a driver licence disqualification period. This will also mean, no fine and no loss of demerit points.

 

Have a question? Contact our office on our 24/7 hotline (02) 8606 2218.

Our Sydney drink driving lawyers appear in all courts with offices in 8 convenient locations in NSW.

About Jimmy Singh

Mr. Jimmy Singh is the Principal Lawyer at Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia - Australia's Leading Criminal Defence Lawyers, Delivering Exceptional Results in all Australian Courts.

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